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The Brief: May 25, 2010

Rise and shine or you’ll miss the Sunset!

Dr. Ken Ford and attorney Cathy Lockhart, who until recently investigated medical fraud for the state Division of Workers' Compensation, say the agency has failed to properly sanction unscrupulous doctors over the last half decade.


Rise and shine or you’ll miss the Sunset!

Over the next two days, a number of state agencies will have their chance to make their case for continued existence before the Sunset Advisory Committee, the 12-person legislative committee tasked with reviewing and eliminating government waste.

The agencies making their staff presentations today include some heavy hitters. The complete lineup is as follows: the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Workers’ Compensation Division of the Texas Department of Insurance, the Office of Injured Employee Counsel and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel.

The Sunset Commission will also make decisions on the following agencies during this two-day session: the Coastal Coordination Council, the Commission on State Emergency Communications, the Texas Public Finance Authority and the State Soil and Water Conservation Board.

The presentation and public comment regarding the Division of Workers’ Compensation should be particularly intriguing considering recent whistle-blowing by former employees charging a less-than-effective record of sanctioning dishonest doctors, which has people talking. Both whistle-blowers are expected to testify today.

This will also mark the debut of state Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, on the commission. His recent appointment by Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio to fill the seat vacated by state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, has stirred up some unrest among House Democrats, who only fill one of the five seats available when they think, given the makeup of the House, they should get two.

Over the weekend, Democratic Houston state Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar released a statement saying, “Speaker Straus pledged inclusiveness when he became Speaker. He has ignored the Democrats that helped elect him and has stacked the Sunset Commission with conservative Republicans. … With the most recent vacancy, the Speaker had an opportunity to restore a semblance of parity to the Sunset Commission. Instead, he doubled down and appointed the Chair of the House Republican Caucus.”

Not only is he the chair of the House Republican Caucus, but expect Taylor, who is also an insurance agent, to be closely watched by his political opponents when the Texas Department of Insurance comes up for review.


• Mr. Skinner’s going to Washington. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner, a man who has maintained his innocence since his 1993 arrest for the murder of his live-in girlfriend and her two mentally disabled adult sons. Tribune reporter Brandi Grissom, who has covered this case extensively, points out that even a favorable opinion won’t get him off the hook. This case is about more technical matters: “Skinner is asking the high court to address a procedural question on which courts across the country have split: whether he should be allowed to press a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking to have additional DNA evidence in his case tested instead of pursuing a writ of habeas corpus.“

• Gov. Rick Perry is writing a book. Titled Fed Up, it is expected to come out this fall and, according to the publisher, is about how federal policies pose a "legitimate threat to America's continued leadership in the free world." A spokeswoman for his opponent, Democrat Bill White, told Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News that Perry needs to focus on the needs of Texas instead of his needs to go to press. Meanwhile, Perry's spokespeople say he is capable of multitasking.

• The families of the 11 workers, including two Texans, who died at the Deepwater Horizon explosion will gather today for the first time at a memorial service in Jackson, Miss.

"I'm just shooting from the hip here, but I'd say he thinks it's a pretty good little gun," Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, on the new “Coyote Special” gun created in his honor.


A Lousy Grade — The Texas Tribune

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