Highlights from in and Around the World of Texas Politics

Lampkin, 35, has both intellectual disabilities and a mental illness, and without treatment, the court couldn’t reassess her competency to stand trial on an assault charge for allegedly slapping a child, which might at least allow her case to progress.

“I don’t think she understands why she remains in jail,” said her attorney, Elsie Craven. “She’s stressed because she doesn’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t believe she’s getting the treatment she needs. How could she? She’s in jail.”

Lampkin is one of hundreds of mentally ill Texas inmates who have been stuck in jail for months waiting for a spot at one of the state’s overcrowded and understaffed mental hospitals. Though such problems aren’t unique to Texas, its inmates face among the nation’s longest waits to receive psychiatric treatment and the problem is only getting worse despite recent efforts to improve the situation.

The average wait for a maximum security inmate to get in-patient psychiatric treatment has nearly doubled in the past two years to 127 days, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

For inmates like Lampkin with intellectual disabilities and a mental illness, the average wait is more than three times as long at 417 days. That’s partly because the state only has one unit dedicated to the treatment of such inmates, said Beth Mitchell, supervising attorney for the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas.

“People who are charged but not convicted are supposed to be let out on bond,” said Mitchell, whose group has a class-action lawsuit pending against the state that argues the long waits are unconstitutional. “But in this case, these people can’t get put out on bond because they don’t have the capacity to agree to bond.”

Texas had the fourth-longest waits among states for inmates to receive psychiatric treatment, according to a 2016 survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a Virginia-based group dedicated to getting treatment for the mentally ill. Since then, Texas’ average treatment delay has increased by more than 50 days, according to the state’s own figures.

“Texas is unique in that there have been multiple lawsuits dealing with this issue and it is still coming up,” said John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. “Texas has been struggling for years to effectively address this problem.”

The state has tried to improve the situation in the past couple of years, and the Legislature plans to allocate more funds for mental health before its current session ends Monday. But thus far, the efforts have only helped to slow a worsening problem, not reverse its course.

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VOUCHER STANDOFF KILLS SCHOOL FINANCE FIX

A standoff between Texas’ Republican-majority House and Senate over a modest school voucher program has killed a bipartisan $1.6 billion plan to begin overhauling the troubled way the state pays for public education.

The funding proposal sought to provide a road map to fixing school finance, an issue that the House has tried to address for years. The Senate injected one of its top priorities: vouchers offering state funding to children attending private and religious schools.

Those differences buried one of the legislative session’s most-watched bills — meaning lawmakers will adjourn Monday with neither a school finance fix nor vouchers.

Texas educates around 5.3 million public school students, more than any state except California. It relies on a “Robin Hood” funding scheme where school districts in wealthy areas share property tax revenue they collect with poorer counterparts. The Legislature frequently cuts classroom budgets so deeply that school districts sue.

But no school finance changes are legally required this session because Texas’ Supreme Court ruled last summer that the system was minimally constitutional, though flawed.

In April, the House nonetheless passed a school finance package that would increase annual, per-student funding by about $210 to $5,350, while raising state spending for school district transportation and educating dyslexic students. The Senate, after 1 a.m. on Monday, rolled the plan back to about $500 million in total costs and offered some special education students taxpayer-subsidized vouchers worth about $8,300 per year to attend private or religious schools.

Sponsored by the head of the Senate Education Committee, Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, the Senate version was designed for only about 6,000 special education students maximum to be eligible. But opponents argued that once Texas starts using public money to fund private schools, the program will expand exponentially as voucher plans have in other states.

That prompted the House on Wednesday to vote 134-15 to go to conference committee and try to reach a deal. Rep. Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican who heads the House Public Education Committee, said he wasn’t ready to give up even though the Senate’s actions “made virtually impossible for us to come to some meaningful financial reform on school finance.”

Hours later, the Senate refused to go to conference committee.

“Although Texas House leaders have been obstinate and closed-minded on this issue throughout this session, I was hopeful when we put this package together last week that we had found an opening that would break the logjam,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, said in a statement. “I was wrong. House Bill 21 is now dead.”

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The Senate was working until midnight Wednesday. The House had a less busy day but was still working into the night. Both chambers will be back in session on Thursday as the session approaches its final weekend.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The House does great work, but we can’t fix school finance by ourselves, and this hasn’t been a priority for the Senate,” House Speaker Joe Straus, reacting to the Senate’s refusal to go to conference committee on the school finance bill.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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