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The Brief: Feb. 19, 2015

Senate budget writers on Wednesday lit into Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek, a former senator himself, in a hearing that concluded with another call for him to resign.

Health and Human Services Commission head Kyle Janek (l.) and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who called for his resignation on Jan. 15, 2015.

The Big Conversation

Senate budget writers on Wednesday lit into Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek, a former senator himself, in a hearing that concluded with another call for him to resign.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, is now the third lawmaker and first Republican to call on Janek to step down, reported the Houston Chronicle's Brian Rosenthal. All this has happened after a series of controversies developed over the past several months over procurement procedures at the agency as well as reimbursement of tuition for some agency staff. Rosenthal writes:

Huffman, who in 2008 replaced Janek in the Senate when she beat a candidate supported by a political group he funded, said she respects him and previously had held off on calling for him to step down, but decided after seeing how he carried himself during the hearing that it was in the best interest of the state for him to move on.

"There were so many important issues that we should have been talking about today, and this should not have been one of them," she said. "It clearly is a very serious distraction. I just don't think he's in a position to lead a multi-billion-dollar agency."

Janek's treatment by the Senate panel is sure to intensify speculation about his future as the head of the agency. State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, described the proceedings as "pretty painful."

Houston Democrat John Whitmire, who had previously called on Janek to resign, was the lead inquisitor during large stretches of Wednesday's hearing, pressing Janek at times by saying his answers were not credible.

"How can this committee have confidence in your oversight of these agencies?" Whitmire asked. "You oversee these huge agencies when you have a series of poor judgments and conflicts of interest."

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 10 a.m.

•    House Appropriations subcommittees meet beginning at 7:30 a.m. — Article II (JHR 120); Article III (E1.030); Articles VI, VII & VIII (E1.026) and Articles I, IV & V (E2.030). House Transportation meets at 8 a.m. to get updates on the distribution of the Proposition 1 funds, an energy sector road update, a TxTag update and an update on the Department of Motor Vehicles' One Sticker program (E2.012).

•    Senate Finance meets at 9 a.m. to take public testimony on HHS agencies (E1.036). Senate Education meets at 10:30 a.m. to consider SB 149 by Seliger (E1.028). Senate Nominations meets at 8 a.m. to consider nominees for insurance commissioner, the Office of State-Federal Relations and the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents (2E.20).

•    Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith interviews U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, at 8 a.m. at the Austin Club. We will livestream the talk for those unable to attend in person.

Trib Must-Reads

Texas Parks Hoping For a Funding Boost, by Neena Satija

High School Seniors Who Fail Exams May Still Graduate, by Morgan Smith

Analysis: Taking Lobbyists' Money, Ignoring Their Calls, by Ross Ramsey

Abbott's Tune Has Changed on Gun Laws, by Jay Root

Texas Leaders Say State Will Win Immigration Case, by Julián Aguilar

Judge Tosses Ethics Case Against Conservative Activist, by John Reynolds

State Scrambling to Find Housing for Sex Offenders, by Alexa Ura

Paxton Moves to Squelch Gay Marriage Ruling, by Alexa Ura

Analysis: The "GOP" Strikes Back, by Ross Ramsey

Kindred Spirits: Wal-Mart, Kroger Align in Booze Bid, by Ryan McCrimmon

Texas Chief Justice Presses Lawmakers on Legal Aid for Veterans, by Terri Langford

Straus Opposes Long-Term Deployment of Guard at Border, by Aman Batheja


Dan Patrick reveals how he wants to pay for tax cuts, Austin American-Statesman

Abbott reiterates support for campus carry, notwithstanding ‘State of the State’ snub, The Dallas Morning News

Straus warns of 'emotional, divisive' issues, San Antonio Express-News

Senator launches online petition to freeze tuition, Houston Chronicle

LCRA: Current drought worst on record for Central Texas, KXAN-TV

Before he killed, Routh was paranoid, wanting to get married and needing a shower, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jeb Bush Tries to Distance Himself From Brother in Foreign Affairs Speech, The New York Times

Quote to Note

"I owe you an apology. I owe the taxpayers an apology. ... I love my job."

— HHS Commissioner Kyle Janek, concluding "emotional and sometimes awkward" testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday that touched on contracting problems and tuition reimbursements for agency staff

Today in TribTalk

I'm not done with politics, by Susan Combs

News From Home

As we follow bills on immigration and border-related issues during the 84th legislative session, we'll keep you updated on legislation addressing border security operations. Stay caught up on the session with our Texas Legislative Guide.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    Immigration: The Next Five Years on Feb. 27 at at the University of Texas at Brownsville

•    A Conversation With State Sen. Kel Seliger and State Rep. John Zerwas on March 5 at the Austin Club

•    Meet the Mayors: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price on March 12 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With UT-Austin Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston on March 26 at The Austin Club

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Explore related story topics

Energy Environment Health care Higher education Politics Charles Schwertner Dan Patrick Greg Abbott Joan Huffman Joe Straus John Whitmire Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa Ken Paxton Ted Cruz