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A New Legislative Agency Review Is in Planning Stages

Also, new committees are names to study behavioral health issues, student assessment and accountability reforms.

The Texas Capitol, May 15, 2015.

The offices of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus are in the midst of serious discussions about kicking off a review of legislative agencies, the Tribune has learned.

A group of seven agencies guide the legislative process, including the Legislative Budget Board, the State Auditor's Office and the Sunset Advisory Commission. The overall structure of those agencies and how they influence the legislative process have drawn increased attention this year following LBB's challenge of Gov. Greg Abbott's budget vetoes. In July, Patrick wrote a letter to Straus recommending "a joint special committee" to examine all of the legislative agencies and recommend changes.

As of early this week, those discussions regarding how exactly such a review should be crafted are now well underway.


Straus announced Monday he has formed a select committee to examine the state's behavioral health system. The panel will include state Reps. Greg BonnenGarnet ColemanSarah DavisRick GalindoSergio MunozAndrew MurrToni Rose, Kenneth SheetsSenfronia ThompsonChris Turner and James White. State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, will chair the committee and Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, will be vice chairman.

Straus has charged the committee with reviewing issues related to substance abuse, care for veterans, identifying illnesses early and improving delivery of mental health care.


Abbott on Tuesday named his selections to a newly created commission that will make recommendations on how to rework the state’s student assessment and school accountability systems.

Abbott’s appointments are: Mike Morath of Dallas, Andrew Kim of New Braunfels, Theresa Trevino of Austin and Quinton Vance of Dallas.

In addition, Patrick and Straus named their appointees to the commission. The Patrick appointees are: Kim Alexander of Roscoe, Paul Castro of Houston and Michael McClendon of Waco. The Straus appointees are: Pauline Dow of San Antonio, Maria Hernandez Ferrier of San Antonio and Catherine Susser of Corpus Christi.

Morath will serve as the commission’s presiding officer. The panel’s recommendations are due by Sept. 1, 2016.


Texas' highest criminal court has granted a request by Rick Perry's lawyers to let a prominent law professor speak next week at a high-stakes hearing.

The state's Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that David Botsford, a lawyer for the former governor, can yield 10 minutes of his time to Eugene Volokh on Nov. 18. That's when oral arguments are being held in connection with Perry's efforts to get rid of the remaining charge against him, which accuses him of overstepping his executive authority when he vetoed state funding for a unit of the Travis County district attorney's office.

Volokh, who teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles and writes a blog for The Washington Post, has been involved in the case for months as a co-counsel on an amicus brief pushing for full dismissal of the charges. Volokh has written that the leftover allegation "unconstitutionally intrudes on the governor's veto power."


A federal appeals court will consider whether a Houston-based company artificially — and illegally — drove up Texas power prices by withholding electricity at a time of tight supply.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday agreed to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit against GDF Suez Energy North America and its subsidiaries, reviving a complicated case that a lower court dismissed earlier this year.

Aspire Commodities and Raiden Commodities — two companies that trade on the market run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas  — accuse GDF Suez of withholding electricity generation during times of tight supply to artificially drive up energy prices and later reap millions of dollars in its trades on the commodities futures market.

GDF Suez has denied the allegations, and said it believes “all of our actions have been fully transparent and compliant with applicable regulations.”

The lawsuit says the company of violating the federal Commodities Exchange Act and using the state's “small fish” rule — which critics call a loophole — to escape scrutiny from state regulators.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas rule gives small electricity generators — those said to individually control less than 5 percent of installed capacity on the Texas grid — an absolute defense against allegations of market power abuse. GDF Suez sits just below the 5 percent generation threshold.

For some background analysis on the small fish rule, see this Texas Tribune story from last year.

The New Orleans-based appeals court is set to hear arguments on Jan. 4.

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