The Brief: Top Texas News for March 27, 2013

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, speaks with reporter on January 9, 2013
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, speaks with reporter on January 9, 2013

The Big Conversation

The bizarre tale of a prison gang's plot to murder a Texas state senator has quickly come to an end.

The Austin American-Statesman reported on Monday that authorities were investigating a tip that the notorious Mexican Mafia gang was planning to gun down state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, at a Mexican restaurant that he frequents.

Authorities deemed the threat credible and put Whitmire, who heads the Senate committee in charge of the state's prison system, under protection. 

"I was told a hit had been ordered on me because of the poor conditions on death row at the Polunsky Unit — like I have anything to do with that,” Whitmire, who has received similar threats in the past, said on Monday. "Did I take it seriously? Hell, yeah. I always take death threats seriously."

As The Associated Press reported on Tuesday, though, the threat appears to have been a scam.

Bruce Toney, the inspector general of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the AP that the threat came from an informant in prison who had made up the plot in an attempt to report the people who offered to help him.

"Once we started investigating, we found it basically was a scam he was working to try to get a bunch of ridiculous things for himself" like money or a reduced prison sentence, Toney said. "And we found he was the one actually trying to get other people interested so he could get them in trouble."

"There was no credible threat," Toney added. "He was trying to work an angle on us."

According to the AP, the informant, who had provided some credible information in the past, now faces a charge of lying to authorities. 

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

•    House Approves New Approach to High School Graduation: "The challenge of finding balance between rigor and flexibility in graduation requirements dominated Tuesday’s debate over legislation that would significantly change the courses students need for a high school diploma. The measure tentatively passed the Texas House. 'Every conversation I’ve had for months has revolved and swirled around this issue,' said House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, whose bill cleared the lower chamber 145 to 2."

•    Majority of Senators Sign Letter to UT System: "A majority of Texas senators have signed the letter calling the University of Texas System's planned review of the University of Texas Law School Foundation 'unnecessary' and contending that it is designed with 'the obvious purpose to discredit' University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers."

•    Senate Passes Prosecutor Accountability Bill: "The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that attempts to bring more accountability to prosecutors who are accused of withholding evidence in cases that result in a wrongful conviction."

Culled
Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    Bill to test welfare applicants for drugs approved (Austin American-Statesman): "Drug testing for Texas welfare applicants moved a step closer to reality Tuesday when the bill’s author accepted legislative changes to ensure that children would continue to receive benefits if a parent is caught using drugs."

•    Social conservative voters rally with confidence but feel besieged, even in Texas (The Dallas Morning News): "Nearly 300 Christian conservatives showed up for Texas Faith and Family Day. It was sponsored by several Christian-right groups, including the Eagle Forum, Texas Right to Life and Texas Values, which provides lawyers to defend prayer and other religious expression on government property. The Legislature, which in recent years has curtailed abortion rights and outlawed gay marriage, is considering a fresh agenda of social-conservative bills this year."

•    Austin looks to be backing away from idea of bidding for 2024 Olympics (Austin American-Statesman): "Austin’s Olympic flame appears to be flickering out. Odds now are the city will not be submitting a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Amy Everhart, Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s policy director, said Monday she was not aware of any action being taken on the matter, and city council member Kathie Tovo said the council had not had a discussion about a bid or received an update from the mayor’s staff."

Quote of the Day: "Part of the problem is people believe our values and faith make us somehow judgmental. We’re not, brother." — Gov. Rick Perry in response to a heckler at the Texas Faith and Family Day rally at the Capitol on Tuesday

Must-Read

Also, don't miss our inaugural issue of In the Flow, a new newsletter on Texas water issues co-produced by the Tribune and the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.

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