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The Brief: On Bigger Stage, Controversy Dogs Sid Miller

The Tribune’s Morgan Smith and Terri Langford take a deep dive into the increasingly long list of controversies dogging Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who is not yet 16 months into his term of office.

Sid Miller, who was elected agriculture commissioner in November 2014, is shown at Day 3 of the Texas Republican Convention …

The Big Conversation

The Tribune’s Morgan Smith and Terri Langford take a deep dive into the increasingly long list of controversies dogging Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who is not yet 16 months into his term of office.

As part of their reporting, Smith and Langford were given a new explanation for the trip Miller made on the state’s dime to participate in a Mississippi rodeo. Under one previous explanation, it was said that Miller decided to set up a work meeting with Mississippi agriculture officials but that those meetings fell through. At another time, it was said the trip was intended to be personal in nature but that it was mistakenly booked as a business trip.

Smith and Langford write:

But on Thursday, Miller’s political consultant [Todd Smith] told the Tribune a new version of the Mississippi trip. He said it was always supposed to be a business trip to meet with Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith and that those meetings did occur, contrary to what his boss has previously said.

“I think there was some discrepancy about whether or not he had a meeting with her on that trip,” Smith said. “He met with her multiple times. He went to the rodeo with her.”

Tribune attempts to confirm whether Mississippi officials met with Miller have been unsuccessful.

Smith and Langford also write that a controversial set of fee hikes implemented by Miller spared his own family business. They write:

Over the objections of agriculture and industry groups — and many other elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — Miller then raised the department's fees for a wide variety of licenses, registrations and services it provides across the state.

Noticeably saved from the fee hikes are those in Miller’s own industry, nursery and floral businesses, which pay between $75 and $180 a year for state certifications.

When asked about the discrepancy, Jessica Escobar, an assistant general counsel for the agency, said in an email that “such fees have been in the review process by TDA to meet cost recovery requirements, which will likely result in fee increases for this program.”

Trib Must Reads

Analysis: Straus Stays Firm but Won’t Raise Voice in Texas House, by Ross Ramsey — Buried in a couple of vanilla announcements this week, House Speaker Joe Straus gently telegraphed some of his plans for next year’s legislative session. If you weren’t listening carefully, you probably missed it.

Texas Cities See Crime Rates Dropping, by Jolie McCullough — Crime rates in Texas cities fell more over the past two years than in other cities across the nation, a new study finds.

Cruz Looks to Make Indiana a Battleground, by Patrick Svitek — Anxious for the presidential race to move beyond the northeast, Ted Cruz is laying the groundwork for a vigorous effort in Indiana that could determine how close Donald Trump gets to securing the Republican nomination.

Texas Health Commissioner Reportedly Retiring, by Edgar Walters — Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor plans to retire at the end of May after 11 months on the job, according to sources briefed on the decision.

Bernie Tiede's Fate Will Soon Rest With Jury, by Johnathan Silver — Several witnesses doted on convicted murderer Bernie Tiede and others shared stories about victim Marjorie Nugent's temperament as an East Texas jury heard some of the final testimony Thursday in a trial to determine whether Tiede will return to prison.

Despite Indictments, Ken Paxton Plans to Run Again, by Patrick Svitek — Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, facing state criminal charges and a federal complaint about his private business affairs, plans to run for re-election.

Ted Cruz Hammers Trump Over North Carolina "Bathroom Law”, by Abby Livingston — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz laced into Donald Trump Thursday morning in Maryland for the billionaire's suggestion that North Carolina should back down from a law that says individuals must use the public restroom that corresponds with one’s birth certificate gender.

Court Tosses Lawsuit Over Medicaid Cuts to Therapy, by Edgar Walters — A Texas appeals court delivered a big loss on Thursday to a group of home health agencies and parents of children with disabilities who sued the state over payment cuts to in-home therapy providers.

Pro-Cruz Forces Raised $23 Million in March, Spent Almost as Much, by Patrick Svitek — Pro-Ted Cruz forces raised nearly $23 million in March and spent almost as much, showing a presidential effort in full swing as the U.S. senator from Texas navigated the thick of the primary season.

Elsewhere

With state hospitals packed, mentally ill inmates wait in county jails that aren’t equipped for them, The Dallas Morning News 

Cruz assails Trump for 'political correctness' on bathroom law, The Hill

City to use nearly $1.2 million to eliminate Austin’s rape kit backlog, Austin American-Statesman

Federal judge says Dallas was within its rights to ban Exxxotica sex expo from convention center, The Dallas Morning News 

Refugee fears demand response, Texas GOP senators say, Austin American-Statesman 

Private polls reveal a Trump-Cruz Indiana dogfight, Politico 

Ethics panel may strip anonymity from those asking for rulings, such as in Ken Paxton case, The Dallas Morning News 

GOP veepstakes begin: Candidates start building lists and vetting prospects, The Washington Post 

‘America lying on her back’ and other awkward moments with Ted Cruz, The Dallas Morning News 

Abbott blasts Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts, San Antonio Express-News 

Quote to Note

“I am waiting with anticipation for the new baseball cap, ‘Make P.C. Great Again.’”

Ted Cruz attacking Donald Trump for his recent comments about a North Carolina state law that says individuals must use the public restroom that corresponds with their birth gender.

Today in TribTalk

Texas engages students to avoid “summer melt”, by Raymund Paredes — As the end of the school year approaches, many high school seniors and their parents are looking ahead to the next big step in life — going to college. But for far too many, that excitement somehow fades between spring graduation and fall enrollment. 

News From Home

•    On The Ticket this week, KUT’s Ben Philpott and the Tribune’s Jay Root talk with FiveThirtyEight.com senior political writer Harry Enten about the results of the New York primary.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation on San Antonio & the Legislature: The Issues in the Interim on April 26 at the University of Texas at San Antonio

•    A Symposium on the Texas Economy on April 29 at the University of Houston

•    The Texas Tribune's third Texas-centric Trivia Night on May 1 at The Highball in Austin

•    A Conversation on Mental Health Matters on May 10 at KLRU Studio 6A in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 23-25 at the University of Texas at Austin

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