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A Surprise Endorsement in SD-1 Contest From Bill Ratliff

Also, lawmakers grill state agencies on new legislation regulating vendor contracts and a new round of grants is announced for construction at Texas military installations.

Bill Ratliff in the Senate 2003

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff has announced his support of David Simpson in the SD-1 Republican runoff election.

Ratliff represented the Northeast Texas-based Senate district for 15 years, resigning in January 2004. He was succeeded by Kevin Eltife, who announced last year that he was not running for re-election.

Simpson qualified for the runoff by a scant 13 votes and squares off against current House colleague Bryan Hughes in the second round of voting. Hughes has already nabbed high-profile endorsements from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and former Gov. Rick Perry.

The Ratliff name is not exactly cherished these days among the conservative voices that are especially strong in the region.

Ratliff and Simpson both seemed to anticipate criticism and work to defuse it in the endorsement announcement.

Here’s Ratliff: "While we don't agree on every issue, we agree that Northeast Texas needs a Senator who represents us and is not beholden to anyone or any special interests.”

And here’s Simpson: “I'm sure some will attempt to twist and diminish this endorsement against me, but that's okay. Senator Ratliff and I have stood on principle and what we believe is right, not what is popular. I will continue to stand on principle.”

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State lawmakers questioned the effectiveness and necessity of a bill passed during last year's session regulating vendor contracts with state agencies during a Tuesday hearing of the House Committee for Government Transparency and Operation.

"Are there enough teeth in the bill to go after some of these folks who, particularly internally, are not complying with the law?" state Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, asked a panel of experts invited to testify at the hearing. "The reason for the bill was to prevent what was happening at (the Health and Human Services Commission). Does this bill, would it have prevented something like what happened at HHSC?"

The legislation was pursued after a contract between HHSC and the Austin-based software company 21st Century Technologies led to multiple investigations, forced resignations at the commission and a lawsuit.

One section of the law called on the Legislative Budget Board to develop a contract database to log contracts between state agencies and vendors — and to make the data accessible by the public.

Jacob Pugh, manager of the Legislative Budget Board, said the group is working to assist larger agencies — including HHSC — with entering contracts into the new database. He said since the commission is so large, "it's quite slow."

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, asked the panel if the state was "getting better" and if the legislation was too much of a "knee-jerk reaction" to the situation with HHSC.

Bobby Pounds, assistant director of the Texas Procurement and Support Services Division in the Comptroller's office, said the measures approved by the Legislature are significant improvements and appear to be far ahead of other states.

"In a lot of ways, we're being looked at as having set a bar," he said.

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Five areas of Texas home to military installations are recipients of the latest round of grant money awarded to support new or expanded missions.

The 84th Legislature appropriated $30 million for the next two years to help installations pay for new construction and renovate older facilities.

Officials also want to make the base's value clear enough that it won't be in danger the next time the U.S. Department of Defense chooses military bases to shutter. The program distributed its first $15 million in grants last September.

The following entities received funding during the second round of DEAAG disbursements:

•    City of Killeen, Fort Hood – $3.47 Million
•    Bexar County, Joint Base San Antonio - Randolph - $4.71 Million
•    Tom Green County, Goodfellow Air Force Base - $2.04 Million
•    City of El Paso, Fort Bliss - $2.00 Million
•    City of Del Rio, Laughlin Air Base  - $3.3 Million

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