Updated: Straus Offers Details on Transparency Panel

House Speaker Joe Straus gavels out the ceremonial first session of the Texas House 83rd Session on January 8, 2013
House Speaker Joe Straus gavels out the ceremonial first session of the Texas House 83rd Session on January 8, 2013

Updated, 9:45 a.m., Feb. 1:

House Speaker Joe Straus says a new Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations will delve into the finances, compensation packages and public-private partnerships across state government — including the judicial branch and boards and commissions. 

"This arose from some conversations that the governor and I had recently about the proliferation of certain foundations and support organizations throughout state government and higher education and agencies and departments of our state government broadly, and that there's very little transparency associated with them," Straus said. "It's just time to take a look at why this happened, where it's happening, what they're doing."

Straus said the committee won't necessarily focus its work on "anything in the news," but will "gather the facts" and act as an investigative panel.

The speaker said he decided to put "capable researchers" on the committee, which has an equal number of members from the two major political parties. The panel has two co-chairs, Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. The other members are Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso; Charles Perry, R-Lubbock; Four Price, R-Amarillo; Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio; Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio; and Eric Johnson, D-Dallas.

Original Story: House Speaker Joe Straus will emphasize the importance of clean and open government when he announces a new bipartisan Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, officials said Thursday.

Straus is set to announce committee assignments when the House adjourns for the day on Thursday. The transparency committee is one of three select committees he will announce, according to sources close to Straus.

The eight-member panel will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. It will delve deep into the operations of state agencies, investigate contractual relationships with private vendors and examine relationships between private foundations and state agencies, including universities, the sources said.

The Austin American Statesman reported last year on controversial arrangements, involving forgivable loans and large salary supplements, between several foundations and various universities. Another controversy that could get some attention by the committee: the relationship between the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and the private foundation set up to supplement agency salaries and support the institute's operations. 

The new committee will also examine salaries and compensation packages in state government.

“There have just been a lot of inconsistencies in how people at the tops of agencies are paid and where people are paid from,” said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The Statesman recently reported on the odd compensation of package of Nim Kidd, the state’s top emergency management official, who has contractual agreements with three public entities and last year made more than his boss.

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