Mar 11th - 11:58 am
We’re getting a glimpse at how Senate leaders plan to tackle Governor Greg Abbott’s fifth emergency item: ethics reform. The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony Wednesday on Senate Bill 20, which aims to regulate the use of cooperative contracts.
Cooperative contracting is the controversial program that allows companies to bypass the usual bidding process for state contracts. The program, which was designed for smaller purchases, made headlines last year when Austin-based software company 21CT received a $20 million contract for Medicaid fraud detection software through that process. Subsequent accusations of corruption within the department led to several high-level resignations at HHSC, and a legislative push for more oversight in the state’s contracting process.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson (R – TX Senate District 12) filed Senate Bill 20, and dedicated Wednesday’s committee meeting to her legislation. It would require agency heads to approve the use of a cooperative contract for anything over $1 million and would prohibit any conflicts of interest with high-ranking department officials. It would also mandate an increasing number of competitive bids depending on the size of the contract, and would require agencies to develop an online database to post their contracts online.
“The recent reports of irregularities in contracts at our health and human services agencies have revealed what I perceive to be gaping holes in our laws on contracting,” Nelson said. “Those gaps need to be addressed across state government. Senate Bill 20 strengthens accountability, increases transparency and ensures the fair competitive bids in awarding of state contracts.”
The Finance Committee heard testimony from several departments, including the HHSC, but left the bill pending. The committee is expected to vote on the legislation next week.
May 21st - 3:33 pm
A bill to change the way Medicaid services are administered passed out of the Texas House, and with it a major roadblock to Medicaid expansion.
The bill itself directs state officials to come up with managed care plans for people with mental and physical disabilities. It also sets up a coordinating panel to help with the transition. But an amendment by Republican Rep. Jeff Leach would block the expansion of any services under the Affordable Care Act. That means that Gov. Rick Perry couldn’t simply direct the Health and Human Services commissioner to work out an acceptable plan with federal officials. Instead, he would have to get approval from the legislature.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation released a statement applauding the amendment. In it, the group’s executive director said:
“The House passage of SB 7 with the successful inclusion of Amendment 26 — the Leach Amendment to prohibit state participation in the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion — is a heartening sign that Texans are determined to resist Washington, D.C.’s ambitions for ever-greater control over our lives and economy. We urge the Senate to affirm the Leach Amendment, and send a unified message that Texas rejects the false promise of Medicaid run on D.C.’s terms.” – Arlene Wohlgemuth
The full bill is now headed back to the Senate, where significant changes made by the House need to be approved before it’s sent to the governor’s desk.
Apr 9th - 8:09 pm
Republicans and Democrats sparred once again over school vouchers Tuesday — including whether or not a newly proposed law counted as a voucher at all.
A bill filed by Sen. Dan Patrick would partially pay for private school tuition through scholarships funded by tax-exempt donations. The bill has the support of Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., but Sen. Wendy Davis expressed skepticism.
Another hearing Tuesday looked into oversight of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT has been under fire since last year, with questions of grant-rigging and even a criminal investigation. Trust, transparency and accountability were at the top of the committee’s list Tuesday.
Equal Under the Law
A bill extending the Romeo and Juliet provision passed out of a Senate committee Tuesday. It would extend the Romeo and Juliet defense to same-sex couples over the age of 14.
Earlier in the day, 600 women visited the Capitol hoping to turn it blue for the day. Blue Ribbon Lobby Day organizers are pushing lawmakers to say yes to Medicaid expansion, restoring public education cuts and returning Planned Parenthood to the Women’s Health Program.
Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including school choice bills, CPRIT and new border security legislation filed by Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Michael McCaul.
Mar 22nd - 11:05 pm
In his first speech since announcing his candidacy for Texas Land Commissioner, George P. Bush played it safe, touting Texas exceptionalism and support for military veterans, among other topics.
Emily Ramshaw from the Texas Tribune, Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report, and Colin Pope from the Austin Business Journal sat down to discuss this week’s events in politics, including Gov. Rick Perry’s discussion with the Shark Tank about his intentions to run for governor.
Democratic Rep. Elliott Naishtat sat down with Paul Brown to give an update on the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Texas. Naishtat also discussed a bill to extend health benefits to domestic partners at state university.
Mar 14th - 5:14 pm
Governor Rick Perry returned to Washington, D.C. and the national political spotlight Thursday as one of the featured speakers at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC.
He talked about the recent release of detainees due to the sequester, calling the move a federally-sponsored jail break.
He also addressed his resistance to Medicaid expansion in Texas under the Affordable Care Act.
“I say Medicaid doesn’t need to be expanded, it needs to be saved and reformed,” Perry told the crowd. “We care about our poorest Texans. We want them to have the best care possible, and that can’t happen with a program that is on its way to bankruptcy.”
Governor Perry added that President Obama four years ago called Medicaid a broken system.
This was not the governor’s first speech at CPAC. Before his presidential bid, he gave a well-received address in 2011, and also spoke at CPAC last year after dropping out of the race.
Mar 7th - 8:48 pm
Hundreds of activists rallied outside the Texas Capitol Thursday, as part of Planned Parenthood lobbying day.
This year’s efforts had particular urgency, now that the organization has been cut out of the state’s Women’s Health Program. A bill making its way through the House aims to reverse that decision and bring back federal and state funding.
Another question looming the 83rd Legislative Session is this: Should Texas expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act?
Proponents say it would pull down billions in federal dollars to help the uninsured. Critics, including the governor, say it forces Texas to spend too much money on a program that needs serious reform.
We spoke to John Davidson from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Anne Dunkleberg from the Center for Public Policy Priorities about the research behind the debate.
Sen. Rand Paul’s nearly 13-hour filibuster Wednesday made national headlines. It also resulted in a new bill, proposed by Sen. Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, that would explicitly outlaw a drone killing on U.S. soil of an American citizen who doesn’t represent an imminent threat.
Our Capital Commentators weighed in on the significance of the filibuster and the proposed bill.
Mar 5th - 8:10 pm
More than a thousand Texans gathered at the Capitol Tuesday, asking lawmakers to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Although Gov. Rick Perry has said he’s against expanding Medicaid in its current form, Democratic Rep. Lon Burnam has a proposal modeled after Arizona’s plan that could gain bipartisan support.
A proposed bill aimed at reducing the number of wrongful convictions in Texas drew emotional testimony at a House committee hearing Tuesday. The bill would establish a review commission to investigate the role prosecutors and judges play in the process.
Where do Texans stand on gun control?
James Henson with the Texas Politics Project joined Paul Brown to discuss recent polling numbers on gun control. The poll looks at where Texans stand on high-capacity magazines, semi-automatic weapons and gun laws in general.
Feb 26th - 8:30 pm
A bill to ban texting while driving is back before lawmakers this session. Texting behind the wheel is illegal in 39 states, and many local ordinances already ban the practice, but it’s a statewide measure that couldn’t get past the Governor’s pen in 2011. Click the image at the bottom to hear more about why it might stand a chance this time around.
Joshua Treviño of the Texas Public Policy Foundation discussed efforts to turn Texas into a swing state. Treviño also shared the strategy he would take if he were a Democrat.
Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss Gov. Chris Christie’s recent announcement that he would accept Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act. They also discussed Gov. Perry’s recent call to re-evaluate testing for Texas students.
Feb 21st - 1:06 pm
The Texas House of Representatives approved its Medicaid supplemental spending bill today. Last legislative session, lawmakers did not set aside enough money to fund the program through the end of this year. House Bill 10 closes that $4 billion gap.
The bill had bipartisan support, and today’s vote was unanimous. Democrats had sparked a small floor debate last week over a Republican-supported rules change. The measure prevented them from setting aside some of the money in the Medicaid bill to help offset the $5.4 billion in education cuts made in 2011.
Those lawmakers eventually withdrew their amendments. House Speaker Joe Straus has promised that education funding will be addressed in a separate appropriations bill in the next few weeks.