Bill proposing $3B Brain Institute of Texas progresses in Texas House

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A bill that could funnel $3 billion toward brain research in Texas passed an initial vote on the Texas House floor 114-29 on Tuesday.

House Bill 15, filed by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D – Houston), would establish the Brain Institute of Texas.

“What inspired me about the bill, in the beginning, was the uptick of suicide and depression among very young children,” Rep. Thompson explained mental health was the motivation behind the bill when she first authored it in 2017, but then it quickly became much more than that.

“What are those problems that are causing us Alzheimer’s, bipolar, dementia, and many, many other conditions? People are waiting, hoping that we can come and do this research and find out answers and be able to help them,” Rep. Thompson said on the House floor Tuesday.

Mental health advocates are watching the bill’s progress closely, including NAMI Texas.

“Of approximately the 30 million people that are in Texas, approximately one in five have a diagnosable mental health condition,” Matthew Lovitt with NAMI Texas said the impact of the research would be groundbreaking.

“If we can conduct or do research, that it makes it easier for people to receive care or maintain any kind of treatment that they may need for their mental health concern. Of course, this is going to have huge benefits for the individual, but also Texas collectively,” Lovitt said.

Rep. Thompson has been able to rack up bipartisan support this session, but asking Texans to support the $3 billion pricetag made some Republicans hesitate.

“I’m hoping that person would see the bigger picture and not look through a silo and say, ‘Oh, we’re talking about spending money for brain research,” Rep. Thompson said.

Lovitt explained the upfront investment would pay off in the long run.

“When we do make that investment, we’re gonna save a significantly greater amount of my downstream when people who are maybe not cycling in and out of the criminal justice system, or they’re not utilizing the emergency room as much as that as they otherwise may, or they’re able to maintain stable housing, get a job and then start contributing to the tax base and buying products,” Lovitt said.

Rep. Thompson’s same bill stalled during the last session, passing in the House but never making it on the Senate’s calendar. She’s hoping the pandemic’s impact on mental health will push it through this year.

“I’m hoping that that is going to be something that will help motivate those who may be on the fence to support this legislation,” Rep. Thompson said.

The bill now awaits a final vote in the House before it’s sent over to the Senate.

If the bill passes, voters would then decide in November whether to approve the $3 billion pricetag. If voters give it the greenlight, the Texas Public Finance Authroity would issue bonds that taxpayers would pay out over a 10-year period.

It’s the same funding structure that was used for a cancer research bill in 2007.

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