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The Brief: March 27, 2015

Agents with the FBI have spoken with Health and Human Services Commission about the troubled no-bid software contract with technology firm 21CT.

Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek whispers to an aide at a hearing of the Sunset Advisory Commis...

The Big Conversation

Agents with the FBI have spoken with Health and Human Services Commission workers about the troubled no-bid software contract with technology firm 21CT.

The Tribune's Terri Langford and Aman Batheja were told of the interviews by HHS Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek. This marks the first time, the two write, that "an official with direct knowledge of the federal probe has confirmed it."

Langford and Batheja also spoke with newly installed HHS procurement director Ron Pigott:

"The agency now competitively bids out any purchase it makes through DIR's Cooperative Contracts program. If such a protocol had been in place for the contract 21CT was granted, there might have been hundreds of possible contenders, and 21CT would not have won it, Pigott said."

Trib Must-Reads

Senate Panel Sets Sights on In-State Tuition Law, by Julián Aguilar — Efforts to ditch a law that allows some undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition appear to be on a fast track in the Senate, but key House leaders aren't on board with the idea.

Democrats Aim for Blake Farenthold's Seat, by Abby Livingston — The hunt is on in Southeast Texas for a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

See How Local Drilling Rules Vary Across Texas, by Jim Malewitz and Ryan Murphy — The debate over whether some Texas city drilling ordinances go too far has become a much-discussed issue during the Texas legislative session. Use our tool, with data from the Texas Municipal League, to see if your city has an ordinance.

Regents to Vote on UT-Austin President, by Bobby Blanchard — The University of Texas System Board of Regents is expected to name UT-Austin provost Gregory Fenves the sole finalist for the flagship's presidency in a Friday morning meeting, sources close to the proceedings say.

Border Trip Spotlights Walker's Immigration Views, by Patrick Svitek — When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sets foot Friday in the Rio Grande Valley, it won't be your typical photo op on the border.

Railroad Commissioner Rallies for Natural Gas, by Jim Malewitz — Railroad Commissioner David Porter has kicked off an initiative to tout the benefits of natural gas, whose low price has benefited some power generators but bedeviled operators and other energy companies that bet big on it years ago.

Citing Baldness, Gohmert Scraps Presidential Campaign, by Abby Livingston — One thing you can say about East Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert is that reporters listen carefully to his every word. But he did not mean it when he said he might form an exploratory committee to run for president.

Long Legislative Road for Voucher Bills Begins, by Morgan Smith — A preview of the looming battle over school vouchers played out Thursday as a state Senate panel considered two proposals to provide state financial support to parents who want to send their children to private schools.

Paxton: Court Blocks Benefits for Same-Sex Couples, by Alexa Ura — A federal court has temporarily blocked a federal rule change that would give medical leave benefits to certain same-sex couples, according to an announcement Thursday from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Texas vs. the Feds: A Look at the Lawsuits, by Neena Satija, Ryan McCrimmon and Becca Aaronson — With Attorney General Ken Paxton suing the U.S. Labor Department over federal medical leave benefits for certain same-sex couples, we've updated our interactive look at the lawsuits filed by Texas against the Obama administration.

Texas House Committee Approves Open Carry Bill, by Ryan McCrimmon — A Texas House committee on Thursday approved a bill from state Rep. Larry Phillips that would allow the open carry of handguns in the state. The legislation now goes to the House floor. A similar bill passed the Senate last week.

Ethics Bills Draw Ire of Conservative Activists' Lawyers, by Patrick Svitek — Lawyers for some of the state's most active conservative groups expressed vocal opposition Wednesday to a series of ethics reform proposals.

The Day Ahead

•    The 49th Annual Texas Legislative Conference takes place in New Braunfels, beginning at 7:45 a.m. The event features keynote speaker former First Lady Laura Bush as well as a speech from House Speaker Joe Straus, the recipient of the 2015 Texan of the Year award from the conference.

•    Gov. Greg Abbott will visit Weslaco where he will review the Department of Public Safety's border operations followed by an aerial tour of the border. Accompanying Abbott will be likely GOP presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

•    Walker and Abbott are also slated to appear Saturday night at the Harris County Republican Party's 2015 Lincoln-Reagan Dinner in Houston.

Elsewhere

Patrick defends private school tax credits and vouchers, The Dallas Morning News

Senator: Shame on budget writers if pensions, roads aren’t funded, The Dallas Morning News

Rules for viewing police videos depend on who is holding the camera, Houston Chronicle

State house member’s road financing plan steers away from tolls, The Dallas Morning News

The crowd rules in new Texas funding format, Houston Chronicle

Chasnoff: Van de Putte 'danced’ around lawsuit question, San Antonio Express-News

Jeb Bush in Fort Worth to raise money for potential presidential bid, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

A Wiser Rick Perry Takes Campaign Step By Step, RealClearPolitics

Quote to Note

“To more completely describe his actual beliefs, Congressman Gohmert notes the Kennedy-Nixon debates created a line of demarcation beyond which television became the critical factor in being elected President which also meant there would be no more bald Presidents in his lifetime.”

— From a Thursday email from the office of U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert making clear the Tyler Republican was joking when he said earlier in the day that he had not ruled out a run for president

Today in TribTalk

Why school finance data can be deceiving, by Christy Rome — A new plan in the Texas Legislature to finally fix the state’s broken school finance system is encouraging. But lawmakers should proceed carefully, because there’s more to the numbers than meets the eye.

News From Home

Check out the Texas Tribune's Texas Legislative Guide, your go-to resource for the 2015 Texas legislative session. You can stay updated on the issues our reporters are covering, look up bills, and watch livestreams of the House and Senate chambers.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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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