2011 Legislative Session Recap!

Learn about some of the great bills that passed this session:
Summer Food Programs
SB 89 (Lucio/Rodriguez) expands the number of children the state expects to serve in the federally funded Summer Food Service Program. The bill increases the number of school districts required to offer the summer meal program by stipulating that districts must offer summer meals if at least 50 percent of their students are eligible for free/reduced lunch. The prior regulation had set the limit at 60 percent of students eligible for free/reduce lunch, so the new law will increase the number of districts required to participate.

SNAP Access
HB 710 (Walle) makes it easier for people who need SNAP benefits to receive them by eliminating the fingerprinting requirement. This bill not only makes it easier for working families to receive the desperately needed benefits, it also decreases the foot traffic in eligibility offices, relieving the already taxed system. 
Texas has one of the largest “grocery gaps” in the nation, with the fewest number of supermarkets per capita of any state. Texas’ major cities, including Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, are also underserved compared to most of the nation’s major metropolitan areas. Strangely, our growing obesity problem is related to this. People who have food access difficulties must resort to the processed foods found in convenient stores. Currently, these processed foods are also much cheaper than healthy and fresh food.  The 82nd legislative session saw many gains for sustainability and local access to healthy foods. HB 2994 (Miles/Estes) creates a loan program for innovative urban agriculture projects. SB 81 (Nelson) allows local producers to sell baked goods out of their houses and deregulates stringent temperature requirements at farmers markets. 
The 82nd legislative session was a landmark session for urban agriculture in Texas. Through HB 2994, the Legislature opened up new directions for future work on the related issues of hunger, nutrition, economic development and local environmental planning. HB 2994 supports innovative urban farming technologies and research advancements through an innovation loan program. This bill promotes urban agriculture business development and increase the availability of fresh foods in underserved neighborhoods. Policies like these give Texans access to healthy & affordable foods. They also create jobs, increase economic investment in low-income areas, and revitalize neighborhoods.
SB 81 did a lot for local foods this session. It creates a provision for people who make jellies, jams, and baked goods to sell their goods in their homes as long as their income is less than $50,000 per year. For farmers markets, SB 81 clarifies that farmers and food vendors at farmers markets can obtain temporary food establishment permits for up to one year, without limiting permits based on the number of days during which the farmers market takes place.  It also prevents mandatory mechanical refrigeration or electric heating requirements.  While the state and local health departments can still adopt rules governing what temperatures foods must be kept at (i.e. to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot), they cannot dictate the specific method by which the farmer or vendor meets these requirements.  
Childhood obesity is among Texas’ fastest growing health challenges. While this crisis is impacting every segment of our society, children in our poorest communities and minority populations are affected the most. Faced with limited opportunities to obtain healthy foods and limited access to safe natural open areas to play, many of our communities are confronted with increasing obstacles and spiraling disease rates.
This legislative session, legislators worked hard on passing bills to address obesity in Texas.  SB 786 (Nelson/King) requires a one-time report on the costs of preventing and treating diabetes in Texas and mandates a biennial report on the HHSC Commissioner’s priorities addressing the diabetes issue. It also requires an assessment of programs to prevent and treat diabetes to better understand the impact of the disease in our state.
This session, Texas Food Policy Roundtable also wanted to address childhood obesity. SB 226 (Nelson) provides Texas Education Agency (TEA) with information about students’ fitness exams. Currently, school districts are required to compile data about the fitness of their kids, but do not provide this data to TEA. SB 226 will require school districts to report their fitness data to TEA, who can use this data to develop better policies and curriculum for all Texan students.