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The Brief: April 3, 2015

A state auditor's report that looked into the controversial no-bid fraud detection software contract awarded to the technology firm 21CT revealed "operational defects" in how the state's health and human services agency awards contracts.

Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek asks questions during the first public hearing of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response at the Texas Capitol on Oct. 23, 2014.

The Big Conversation

A state auditor's report that looked into the controversial no-bid fraud detection software contract awarded to the technology firm 21CT was released Thursday, revealing "operational defects" in how the state's health and human services agency awarded contracts.

The Tribune's Terri Langford and Aman Batheja have the rundown on the report:

According to the report, which was released Thursday, the pricy software deal was left in the hands of the agency's deputy inspector general to direct. He had no prior contracting experience, and the contract was irregular in that the state paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for work and services that were not provided. The report didn’t identify the deputy by name, but the only deputy at the time was Jack Stick.

The report contained many more findings, including one that 21CT was paid $405,000 for laptops that were never delivered due to an unusually structured payment arrangement.

Also, Langford and Batheja write, "Stick's promotion to chief counsel violated the health commission's employment policy regarding conflicts of interest because his wife, Erica, was chief of staff to Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek. This is the first time any entity has announced that there was a violation of employment policy."

Trib Must-Reads

Houston, Dallas Would Be Largest Cities to Allow Open Carry, by Morgan Smith, Jolie McCullough and Ryan McCrimmon — A Texas Tribune analysis of gun laws nationwide shows passing "open carry" legislation would make Texas an outlier among states with large urban populations. Many of the nation's biggest cities are located in states that prohibit it.

Analysis: Two Tax Cuts, but Only One with a Sales Pitch, by Ross Ramsey — The Texas Senate has touted its plans for cuts to property and business taxes publicly. The House has some alternatives, but it is way behind in the race to build public support.

The Texas Tribune's Local Debt Explorer Gets an Update, by Ryan Murphy and Aman Batheja — Use our Local Debt Explorer to find out how much tax-supported debt is held by your city, county and school district. The data is collected by the Texas Bond Review Board and reflects each entity’s debt load as of August 2014.

Water Ruling Cuts State's Power in Droughts, by Jim Malewitz — A state appeals court has sided with farmers, ranchers and other longstanding water rights holders in a Brazos River case with widespread implications for future water battles in drought-prone Texas.

HD-124 Special Election Sets Record for Low Turnout, by Patrick Svitek — Tuesday's special election to replace former state Rep. José Menéndez appears to have set a record low for voter turnout in races of its kind.

Will Hurd Rakes in More Than $500,000 in First Quarter, by Abby Livingston — U.S. Rep. Will Hurd raised over $500,000 in his first quarter in Congress. The figure comes hours after the man Hurd ousted last November, Democrat Pete Gallego, announced he would challenge Hurd to a rematch.

Cruz Offers to Speak at Texas A&M International Graduation, by Matthew Watkins — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has approached Texas A&M International University about speaking at the Laredo college's spring commencement, the A&M System confirmed Thursday.

Gallego to Seek Rematch With U.S. Rep. Hurd, by Abby Livingston — As expected, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, will run for Congress in a rematch against Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio. Hurd ousted Gallego in 2014 by a 2-point margin.


In the Texas Legislature, a budget brawl looming, Austin American-Statesman

In DPS report on border security, MS13 noted as constant threat, Houston Chronicle

Ag exec was paid advocate while on state payroll, records indicate, Austin American-Statesman

Cruz Gets Double Digits in Washington Post/ABC Poll, The Washington Post

Taxpayers paid portion of Cruz's political trips, USA Today

Conservatives go on the attack in religious freedom debate, Politico

Debate is loud, long in Irving on state’s foreign-law bill, The Dallas Morning News

A super PAC for journalists?, Center for Public Integrity

Quote to Note

"They would say, 'Well, we voted for José already,' and they didn't know there was already another election to fill his seat."

House District 124 candidate Ina Minjarez on the difficulties in getting people to turn out for this week's special election to replace the vacancy created by José Menéndez's election to the state Senate. Turnout was a rock-bottom 2.25 percent.

Trib Events for the Calendar

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

•    A Conversation With Sen. Kevin Eltife on April 9 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

•    A Conversation With John Sharp on May 7 at The Austin Club

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