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The Brief: April 17, 2015

Health and Human Services chief Kyle Janek finds himself in the spotlight again over a contract awarded to a single bidder.

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

The Big Conversation

Health and Human Services chief Kyle Janek finds himself in the spotlight again over a contract awarded to a single bidder.

That contract — to privatize Terrell State Hospital — was given to Geo Care, which changed its name to Correct Care Solutions. As the Tribune's Terri Langford and Aman Batheja report, the particulars of this case differ from an earlier no-bid contract on Medicaid fraud detection software that is the subject of ongoing investigations at the state and federal levels.

Langford and Batheja write, "The emailed communications between (Geo Care lobbyist Frank) Santos and Janek, as well as phone calls and meetings, appear to break no laws. In fact, the state's own statutes allow vendors to approach government agencies with 'public-private partnership' ideas.

"But the optics for Janek, who has been bombarded with calls for his resignation, are something else entirely."

Langford and Batheja note that in this case, HHSC asked for other bids but no other companies submitted a completed application. The Terrell contract was terminated last month after a state auditor's report faulted the commission for failings in awarding the deal. 

Still, they write: "The prospect that Geo Care's lobbyist was in close communication with Janek throughout the procurement process could provide further ammunition for critics who have already questioned whether the HHSC contracting process is fair. The agency handles about $60 billion in state contracts, more than any other Texas agency."

Trib Must-Reads

Texas House to Drill into "Denton Fracking Bill", by Jim Malewitz — State lawmakers are poised to crank up the volume on this message to city halls: We set the rules for drilling in Texas.

After Misfire, House Republicans Reload Open Carry, by Ryan McCrimmon and Morgan Smith — After a bit of a Democratic gamesmanship shot down a major gun debate before it started, a measure that would allow gun owners with a concealed handgun license to carry their weapons openly in public is back on the House schedule Friday.

Analysis: Winning and Losing Without Even Voting, by Ross Ramsey — Voting against legislation isn't the only way to kill it. Some of the most powerful tools available to Texas legislators are found in the dry pages of their parliamentary rulebooks.

Analysis: Abbott's Caution on Display in Tax Fight, by Jay Root — Texans grew accustomed to the swagger and bombast of Rick Perry, a governor who didn’t shy from confrontation with the Legislature and upended the notion that his office was inherently weak. Newly elected Gov. Greg Abbott, ever cautious and lawyerly, is cutting a different path.

Point of Order Ends Discussion on Integrity Unit Bill, by Eva Hershaw — Legislation that would relocate the state’s anti-corruption unit was temporarily derailed in the House on Thursday because of a missing element in the legislation.

A&M Chancellor Requests Resignation Letters at Flagship Campus, by Matthew Watkins — Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp has asked all vice presidents at the system's flagship College Station campus to submit letters of resignation prior to the arrival of the school's new president.

After Purple Hearts, Fort Hood Victims to Get Benefits, by Ryan McCrimmon — A week after dozens of Purple Heart medals were awarded to victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the Army announced Thursday that those victims will also receive all possible benefits that come along with the medals.

DPS Chief: Resume Border Security Contract Inquiry, by Terri Langford — Looking to clear the Texas Department of Public Safety's name, the agency’s top official is asking the head of the state's anti-corruption unit to renew a halted investigation into $20 million no-bid border security contracts.

How Texans in Congress are Spending Campaign Cash, by Abby Livingston — Midnight marked the deadline for Texas' members of Congress to file their campaign fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission. Here's a look at what they're raising — and spending.

Senate Ethics Reform Bill Heavily Watered Down, by Jay Root — Proposed ethics reform legislation underwent a significant overhaul Thursday in a Senate committee. Gone is the plan to take state pensions from lawbreaking lawmakers. Also out: a proposal to stop legislators from cashing in on a piece of the public debt business.

Cruz Aide Leading New Political Action Committee, by Abby Livingston — The campaign manager for Ted Cruz’s successful 2012 Senate bid, John Drogin, will run a new political action committee that endorsed the senator on its first day in operation Thursday.

The Day Ahead

•    The House convenes at 9 a.m. where bills to authorize licensed open carry and to curtail municipalities' authority to regulate oil and gas activity within their jurisdiction will be considered again. They both fell victim to points of order earlier this week.

•    Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at the grand opening of Amazon’s new fulfillment center in Schertz.

•    Early voting ends today ahead of Tuesday's House District 124 special election runoff between former Bexar County prosecutor Ina Minjarez and former San Antonio City Councilwoman Delicia Herrera.

Elsewhere

Two years after West explosion, crackdown on industry is unlikely, Austin American-Statesman

DART supports high-speed rail project, but its Austin lobbyist is working against the effort, The Dallas Morning News

Bedford lawmaker slows House work over Palcohol bill, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Dallas-area fraud case highlights closure of rural Texas hospitals, The Associated Press

Schlumberger cuts another 11,000 jobs in wake of oil crash, Houston Chronicle

R&B artist John Legend asks Texas lawmakers to end mass incarceration, Austin American-Statesman

Judges Hear Challenge to Proposed E.P.A. Rule to Curb Climate Change, The New York Times

Stakes higher with impasse called, experts say, Houston Chronicle

House quietly passes tax exemption for megadonors, Politico

Quote to Note

“These are kids who in some cases had spent their entire lives working to go represent America. To use them as a tool, I think was in particular bad judgment, and I don’t think it had a bit of influence.”

— Former Gov. Rick Perry, after a town hall Thursday in Milford, N.H., saying he is still mad about the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics made in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan

Today in TribTalk

Let parents hold Texas schools accountable, by Loretta Brock — All too often, the public education system slams the door in the faces of parents whose children attend failing schools. It's time for Texas to give parents the ability to force districts to make changes.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    Energy: The Next Five Years on April 24 at at SMU in Dallas

•    A One-Day Symposium on Health Care on May 4 at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin

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

•    A Conversation About Texas Monthly's Best and Worst Legislators 2015 on June 18 at The Austin Club

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