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The Brief: March 19, 2015

Lawmakers late Wednesday afternoon signaled that they will tap the brakes on plans to consolidate the state's health and human services agencies.

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo and Sen Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, at the final Sunset Advisory Commission meeting on Jan. 14, 2015.

The Big Conversation

Lawmakers late Wednesday afternoon signaled that they will tap the brakes on plans to consolidate the state's health and human services agencies. The decision to slow things down reflects uncertainty that has cropped up after reports of irregularities in contracting procedures at HHS.

The Tribune's Edgar Walters reported that legislation proposed by Sunset Commission Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Vice Chairman Four Price, R-Amarillo, "would combine three agencies ... into one beginning next year. Texas' Department of State Health Services, which oversees public health, and the Department of Family and Protective Services, which manages child welfare, would be looped in starting in 2019."

In a statement, Nelson said: "I strongly support our Sunset decisions, but in light of recent events I propose that we implement these reforms over an extended timeline. ... This allows us more time to monitor the reorganization over the next two sessions."

Trib Must-Reads

U.S. Rep. Castro Moves Up the Democratic Ranks, by Abby Livingston — San Antonio sophomore U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has landed a spot as a chief deputy whip, making him one of House Democratic leadership's top vote counters on the House floor.

Lawmakers Hope to Steer Self-Driving Car Bills to Abbott's Desk, by Aman Batheja — Three lawmakers have filed bills aimed at encouraging the use of self-driving technology in Texas while allowing for some government oversight.

Analysis: Killing a Tax Without Saving Taxpayers a Dime, by Ross Ramsey — Senate legislation that cuts property and business margins taxes also includes a clause that would outlaw taxes on real estate transactions. Texas has no such tax.

Georgetown Goes All In on Renewable Energy, by Jim Malewitz — Georgetown’s municipal utility has unveiled plans to tap wind and solar energy to meet all of its customers’ power needs, making it the first Texas city-owned utility to abandon fossil fuels.

House Gives Tentative OK to Broad Border Security Bill, by Julián Aguilar — Texas House members overwhelmingly gave tentative approval to a sweeping border-security measure on Wednesday that would increase the number of state troopers on the border and establish a catchall intelligence center in Hidalgo County.

Costco Joins Wal-Mart, Kroger in Liquor Push, by Ryan McCrimmon — Wholesale giant Costco has joined Wal-Mart, Kroger and other retailers in the fight to loosen restrictions on the state liquor market and let public corporations sell hard alcohol in Texas.

Texas Sues Feds Over Benefits for Same-Sex Couples, by Edgar Walters — The state of Texas is suing the Obama administration for giving medical leave benefits to certain same-sex couples, according to an announcement Wednesday from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Judge Reaffirms Dismissal of Ruling Against Activist, by Patrick Svitek — A new judge Wednesday reaffirmed the dismissal of a ruling by the Texas Ethics Commission against conservative power broker Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Cruz's Digital Chief Heads to Likely 2016 Campaign, by Patrick Svitek — Josh Perry, Ted Cruz's top digital strategist, is joining the Texas senator's political operation in Houston.

Leading Candidate Drops Out of UT President Search, by Bobby Blanchard — The leading candidate to be the next president of the University of Texas at Austin, University of Oxford Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, has been named the next president of New York University.

Campus Carry Gets Initial OK in Senate, by Morgan Smith — Following a preliminary Senate vote on Wednesday, Texas is now a step closer to requiring public colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on campus — a policy opposed by many higher education leaders.

Committee Approves Bill Restricting Regents' Authority, by Bobby Blanchard — A bill that reins in the power of university regents was approved by a Texas Senate committee Wednesday morning. A similar piece of legislation was vetoed last session.

Abbott Picks Lewis to Head Transportation Panel, by Aman Batheja — Gov. Greg Abbott has tapped former state Rep. Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, to be the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission. The five-member panel oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.

The Day Ahead

•    The House and Senate convene at 10 a.m.

•    House Appropriations meets at 8 a.m. to take up the supplemental appropriations bill for the current fiscal year (E1.0130).

•    The House General Investigating & Ethics Committee meets on final adjournment to take testimony from the Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Criminal Justice (E2.026).

•    Senate Finance meets at 9 a.m. to take up legislation to enhance graduate medical education and to address pending legislation aimed at reforming state contracting processes (E1.036).

•    Senate Education meets at 9 a.m. to take up SB 14 by Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, that would give parents more options to compel action at schools that have failed to meet accountability standards after two years.


Houston’s Annise Parker Ponders Her Political Future, Washington Post

Texas senators weigh dying patients’ ‘right to try’ experimental drugs, Austin American-Statesman

Official and lobbyist in contract scandal talked dozens of times, records show, Houston Chronicle

Tarrant County bill ‘gives a hall pass to polluters,’ critics sayFort Worth Star-Telegram

Mayoral contenders stake out positions on property tax, San Antonio Express-News

John Otto makes case for altering rainy day fund cap, Austin American-Statesman

Lawmakers voice support for nearly $3 billion in bonds for universities, Houston Chronicle

Prosecutor accused of misconduct in disputed Texas execution case, Washington Post

The Trials And Triumphs Of Heidi Cruz, BuzzFeed

Quote to Note

“It’s sort of interesting to think of her now as a potential first lady sort of person because that’s not how I saw her back then. I just didn’t see her as making her career about her husband. … I see her as being a lot deeper than that.”

— Brock Blomberg to BuzzFeed News about his former Treasury Department colleague Heidi Cruz

Today in TribTalk

Tax cut giveaways mean trouble for cities and counties, by Ann Beeson — It's easy to tune out what's happening at the state Capitol if you live outside of Austin. But all Texans should listen up, because more tax breaks will mean less revenue for our growing cities and counties.

Trib Events for the Calendar

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

•    A Conversation With Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Joe Pickett on April 7 at The Austin Club

•    Transportation: The Next Five Years on April 10 at Austin College in Sherman

•    A Conversation With Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. John Zerwas on April 16 at The Austin Club

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Four Price Greg Abbott Jane Nelson Joaquin Castro Ken Paxton Ted Cruz