CPRIT reform bill passes out of committee

A bill that would reform the state’s top cancer fighting agency passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee Monday morning.

Filed by Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, SB 149 would restructure the leadership staff for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, and establish a new compliance program. The bill would also remove the Attorney General and Comptroller from the Oversight Committee.

CPRIT has been under scrutiny since a state audit revealed problems in its grant review process last year. At issue was an $11 million grant awarded to Dallas-based company Peleton Therapeutics, which auditors determined was awarded without the required scientific review. Since then, the agency head has resigned and been replaced by an interim executive director. The governor has also asked that all future CPRIT grants be put on hold. 

Other changes in the bill include:

  • Requiring CPRIT to issue an annual public report detailing the amount of grants awarded annually, grants that are currently in progress and agency money that goes towards operating costs. The report would also detail the amount spent on administrative expenses. In addition, foundation
  • Donors to CPRIT’s fundraising arm would no longer be eligible for grants, and CPRIT officials would be prohibited from having business relationships with companies that benefit from grants.
  • Establishing a Program Integration Committee to oversee peer review

The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote, which most likely will occur in March. 


Capital Tonight: Deciding the future of CPRIT and water

Cancer agency ready for reform

CPRIT officials went before members of the Senate Health and Human Services and Finance committees Tuesday afternoon to address issues uncovered last year. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has been under scrutiny since an audit discovered problems in the agency’s grant review process.

Sen. Wendy Davis also addressed the issue of CPRIT reform Tuesday. She filed a bill to make changes to the structure and guidelines of the organization. Davis’ bill calls for removing Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the Oversight Committee. The bill also moves up the agency’s review by the Sunset Advisory Commission to 2015. Davis spoke to Capital Tonight’s Karina Kling about some of her goals for CPRIT and regaining the trust of taxpayers.

Water planning takes center stage

Members of the Texas Water Development Board met Tuesday with lawmakers to discuss their plans for the future of water in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry called for dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure in his State of the State address last week, a move many lawmakers from both parties support.

Former Texas lawmakers Aaron Peña and Hector Uribe sat down with Paul Brown to discuss how the continuing drought might affect spending in the legislature this year. They also talked about education funding and potential changes to the Permanent Education Fund.

Jobs, training and education

Paul Brown sat down with Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken to discuss unemployment and education in Texas. Click the image below to see that interview, as well as the full episode.

Sen. Davis files CPRIT reform bill

After months of planning and discussion, Sen. Wendy Davis has filed a bill calling for major reforms to the state’s top agency for cancer research funding.

Sen. Davis has talked about plans for the bill since last December, when the head of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas resigned. At the same time, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation into the agency over its grant review process.

Sen. Davis’ bill calls for a number of changes, including a restriction on donations and political contributions to those sitting on the CPRIT Foundation board or the Oversight Committee . It would also prohibit donations to the agency from those applying for grants or recieving funding. At Sen. Davis’ request, the CPRIT Foundation released a list of donors last month that showed multiple potential conflicts of interest.

Many of the bill’s changes echo recommendations by the State Auditor. That includes a call for the removal of state Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the CPRIT Oversight Committee, a group Sen. Davis strongly criticized.

“Throughout the period of time that these egregious actions occurred, the CPRIT Oversight Committee […] apparently sat on its hands, with at least some of the oversight members actively participating in the agency’s missteps,” Davis said in a press release. “The committee’s failure to catch activities that gave rise to the problems in the agency it was tasked with overseeing begs the question: was the oversight committee overseeing anything at all?”

At a hearing on CPRIT earlier in the day, Interim Executive Director Wayne Roberts said he would adopt those recommendations.

Prominent CPRIT grant recipient out of businesses amid agency scandal

One of the biggest benefactors of the state’s embattled cancer research agency is folding amid scandal. The Clinical Trials Network of Texas announced today that it is out of money and now out of business. 

CTNeT was founded in 2010 with a $25.2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. It conducted clinical trials and had signed research agreements with 20 cancer research institutions across the state. CPRIT began withholding payments last month, after state auditors found some questionable expenses. 

The audit, released yesterday, recommended that CPRIT improve its management of the CTNeT research grant and identified weaknesses in the agency’s decision to award the grant. The audit found that “CPRIT’s relationship with CTNeT and its lack of enforcing contract requirements impair CPRIT’s ability to ensure that CTNeT is properly using grant funds and complying with grant requirements.”  

Questions were also raised over $160,000 in bonuses that were awarded to CTNeT’s chief operating officer.

CPRIT is currently the subject of several criminal and civil investigations over the way it awarded research grants. At the request of state leaders, the agency issued a moratorium on future grants, pending investigation.




State audit critical of CPRIT operations

The credibility of the state’s cancer research agency was dealt another blow, today.  As was first reported by the Dallas Morning News, state auditors are calling for extensive reforms at the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.  The 100-page report lays out problems in seven key areas including how CPRIT evaluated research grant applications to how it managed contract agreements.

The audit questions the agency’s transparency, addresses possible conflicts of interest, and raises red flags over relationship between some of its management and its donors.  It also urges the legislature to take a closer look at the laws governing the agency.

CPRIT is currently under criminal and civil investigations over the way it awarded cancer research grants.  The audit states that “By not ensuring that all grant applications are properly evaluated and documented, CPRIT weakens its ability to ensure that its award decisions best align with the agency’s mission.”

At least one bill aimed at overhauling the agency is expected to be filed, soon.  Sen. Wendy Davis called on Gov. Rick Perry to make that legislation an emergency item this legislative session.  Already the agency has put future grants on hold until some of the management and operational concerns are addressed.

In a statement today, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said:

“I appreciate the good work the State Auditor has performed in identifying areas the Legislature needs to address to make CPRIT more accountable and transparent to the taxpayers of Texas. When the problems were discovered, Governor Perry, Speaker Straus and I immediately called for a moratorium on all CPRIT’s funding. Going forward, funding for CPRIT will continue only once complete confidence and trust is restored to the agency by the people of Texas. Despite this setback, I’m still committed to the noble purpose approved by the voters to help deliver promising cures to cancer victims to save their lives. I fully expect to address the concerns this Session and return CPRIT to its original mission of defeating cancer.”


The full audit is posted, below: 


Capital Tonight: CPRIT cuts, school funding, and turning Texas blue

Lobbying for Education Funding

Educators made their case for more school funding, today.  It was the bi-annual school lobby day at the Texas State Capitol.  Dozens of teachers and administrators filled the halls of the Capitol.  They are asking lawmakers to restore some of the cuts made last legislative session. “If teachers are wiling to put in, if teachers are willing to take a very low salary to teach the children of Texas, why aren’t the legislators willing to ante up?” said Thomas Nichols with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

Meanwhile, another organization was at the Capitol today, pushing for education reform.  The group “Texans Deserve Great Schools” wants stricter rules for failing schools and expanded online options.  Members are also studying ways to give parents more options when it comes to where their children go to school. 

Senate Education Committee Chairman, Dan Patrick supports the group’s philosophy. “That reforming Texas education isn’t a simple one answer solution it’s a multi prong approach to choices,” Patrick said.

Senator Patrick is also a supporter of expanding charter schools and a voucher system that would allow parents to use state issued vouchers to send their children to private schools.


Cutting CPRIT funding

Should the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas continue to receive state money? And if so, where should it come from?  State Senator Kevin Eltife filed a measure today to put the issue on the November ballot.  He’s proposing cutting off bond funding to the state agency.  “In my opinion if it’s worth funding it should come out of general revenue and fund it on a yearly basis,” Eltife said.  “To go $3 billion in debt, makes no sense to me.”

CPRIT is under criminal and civil investigation for an $11 million grant given to start-up company Peloton Therapeutics.  An internal review found the Peleton application did not go through proper scientific and commercial review.  At the request of Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, a moratorium has already been placed on future grants.  Both the House and Senate budget drafts also cut off funding to the agency.


Turning Texas Blue

Could the Lone Star State be the next Battleground State?  The Democratic party might be getting the funds to help it happen.  A new independent group called “Battleground Texas, ” will focus effort – and importantly – money here in Texas. 

The organization is being run by former Obama campaign National Field Director, Jeremy Bird.  In a statement to Politico Friday, Bird said “Battleground Texas” would be “a grass-roots organization that will make Texas a battleground state by treating it like one.”  Click the video link below to hear reaction from Texas Democratic Party Communications Director, Tanene Allison.


Capital Tonight: Legislature gets down to business

Click on the link at the bottom of this post to watch tonight’s full show.

After a slow first week, lawmakers in the 83rd legislative session are ready to get to work.

Both chambers say they’ve finalized initial budget proposals. On the House side, money for increased Medicaid enrollment is factored in, while funding for statewide school testing is not.

Republican Rep. Jim Pitts is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He said lawmakers need to look more closely at whether current testing standards are working.

“We have seen the over-emphasis on testing over the last 10 years, and we want to see [if that is] all necessary. Do we want to spend all year long testing and teaching for a test?”

The Senate’s initial proposal is smaller, with $186.8 billion allocated, compared to the House’s $187.7 billion. In both proposals, money for the state’s Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas was cut out.

House lawmakers also went through the process of adopting rules Monday, but not without some friction. Rep. David Simpson, who withdrew his bid to challenge Rep. Joe Straus for the speakership, pursued rule changes that would have limited Straus’ power. Most of those changes weren’t adopted, and Simpson received some terse advice from fellow Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle.

“I think, Representative, when you’re here longer, when you understand the process and when you appreciate the process that we have had so that we can make the best use of the time that we are allotted,” Rep. Riddle said.

We also spoke to the head of the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas in tonight’s episode. The group’s president, Jack Gullahorn, says his chief responsibility is to raise the bar for lobbying in Texas, and to help people understand what lobbyists do.

Click the YNN Video link to watch tonight’s full show.



Capital Tonight: One-on-One with Governor Perry

Click the video at the bottom of this post to watch tonight’s show

Since the start of session Tuesday, we’ve been hearing a lot of vague plans and priorities from state leaders.  Thursday, in an interview with Capital Tonight, Gov. Rick Perry shared more specifics on his plans for the future. 

We talked to him about calls from some lawmakers to restore funding cuts made to education last year. 

“Why wouldn’t we want to have an open and very transparent discussion about which one of these programs delivers the best results for the people of state of Texas. Have that conversation,” the governor said. “And if the legislature agrees that this needs to be funded at a higher level, then I would suggest to you that’s what’s going to happen.

Gov. Perry also talked about the embattled Cancer Research Prevention Institute of Texas.

“We know that the best and quickest way to get cures into the marketplace is to have commercialization of those technologies,” Perry said.

Rep. Craig Eiland is among the lawmakers questioning that path for CPRIT, saying: “If you look at the ballot language that was sent to the voters, ‘commercialization’ was not mentioned to my recollection.”

Thursday’s show also digs into why some politicians are backpedaling on a bill passed last session. The Sunset Advisory Commission put the brakes on nine commercial projects slated for the Capitol Complex this week, including a proposed planetarium. Now, some lawmakers who voted for the bill that set those projects in motion are changing their minds.


Sen. Davis requesting internal CPRIT records

Texas Senator Wendy Davis is looking for more information about the how the Cancer Research and Prevention Research Institute conducts business.  Sen. Davis confirmed to Capital Tonight this morning that she has filed two open records request.

The state agency, which was approved by the legislature in 2009, is the subject of several investigations.  Most recently, the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity unit announced it was investigating an $11 million grant awarded to the Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics. An independent audit found CPRIT awarded the grant without the required scientific review.

Sen. Davis submitted has two separate disclosure requests, Monday.  In the first, she asked for any correspondence to or from any CPRIT employees related to the Peloton grant. Sen. Davis is also asking for a list of all donations made to the CPRIT foundation, as well as copies of any communications made between the Foundation and the CPRIT oversight board.

 In an email statement this afternoon, Sen. Davis said “In light of the recent revelations regarding Peloton and CPRIT commercialization grants, the people of Texas have a right to know how their government is run and how their money is spent.”

Last month, Davis announced that she would be filing a bill to reform the state agency.  She’s calling for more transparency and reevaluating how grants are awarded; and wants Gov. Rick Perry to declare it an emergency item.  In the meantime, CPRIT has agreed to a moratorium on future grants until

We will be hearing more from Sen. Davis, on this evening’s Capital Tonight.

State cancer research grants on hold, for now

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas says it will comply with a request from state leaders for a moratorium on grants until concerns about the agency are addressed.

Earlier today, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to the agency, asking it to halt the distribution of grants until it evaluates its processes and operations.

CPRIT is currently the subject of three investigations. Most recently, the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity unit announced it was investigating an $11 million grant awarded to the Dallas-based Peleton Therapeutics. An independent audit found CPRIT awarded the grant without the required scientific review.

CPRIT Committee Chairman Jimmy Mansour and Vice Chairman Joseph S. Bailes issued this statement in response to the moratorium request:

“The CPRIT Oversight Committee agrees with and endorses the call by Governor Perry, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst and House Speaker Straus for a moratorium on CPRIT grants until concerns about the agency are addressed. These issues need to be resolved to restore public confidence in CPRIT.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Wendy Davis is proposing to reform the agency. In an open letter to Gov. Perry, Sen. Davis asked that he add CPRIT reform to his list of legislation to be tackled first thing, in January. Those reforms include evaluating whether private donors should “be allowed to supplement the salaries of the agencies’ employees, particularly where those donors have an interest in the awarding of those funds.”