*Correction appended. 

The Big Conversation

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar stepped into the conversation around "emergency leave" on Wednesday, ordering state agencies to stop using the system as a form of severance pay.

State employees in Texas are not awarded severance pay when departing a job, but the Dallas Morning News and other media outlets have recently reported on the growing practice of state agencies placing employees on emergency leave when they're fired or leave their post.

The Tribune's Terri Langford wrote that Abbott and Hegar's directive will stay in place until the Legislature addresses the issue during next year's session. In May, state senators vowed to look at the issue in January and "tighten it up."

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Langford wrote that "the practice first came to light after reports that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid his first assistant attorney and communications director for months after they left the agency. Subsequent stories revealed the General Land Office continued to pay departing employees without using the emergency leave designation." 

Marc Rylander, spokesman for the attorney general's office, told Langford their office would follow the governor's new directive and added: "We appreciate Governor Abbott's leadership." 

The General Land Office will also obey Abbott's order, as spokeswoman Brittany Eck said the agency will stop using "separation agreements" until lawmakers decide how to move forward. 

"We look forward to continuing our work with the Governor, Comptroller, and members of the Texas Legislature to not only clarify the law on this issue but also discuss how state agencies should manage its workforce in an efficient and cost-effective manner," Eck said in a statement.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus also weighed in on the directive, writing a letter to Republican state Rep. John Kuempel, who chairs the General Investigating and Ethics Committee, asking him to examine how agencies use emergency leave payments.

“The public should have confidence that state agencies are being cautious with taxpayer dollars,” Straus wrote in the letter.

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Trib Must Reads

As Petroleum Royalties Dwindle, Questions Target Property Assessments, by Jim Malewitz – If there’s any silver lining for those royalty owners in these cloudy times, it’s this: Their property tax bills should also plummet. But some advocates are wondering whether many local governments are assigning values that are too high.

Advocates Push For Early Release of Severely Ill Sex Offenders, by Johnathan Silver – A prisoner rights advocate thinks lawmakers should loosen restrictions on medical parole eligibility for sex offenders. A top state lawmaker on criminal justice issues agrees with her but says the issue is just too politically toxic.

Texas Not Friendly Ground for Independent Hopefuls, by Patrick Svitek – It's not impossible — but it's close. If an independent presidential candidate wanted to get on the ballot in Texas at this point, they would face sky-high hurdles — not the least of which being that the deadline has already passed.

Appeals Court Upholds Fraud Charges Against Paxton, by Patrick Svitek – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has lost his latest bid for dismissal of state securities fraud charges he faces for business dealings before he took office.  

Judge Blocks License for Immigration Detention Facility, by Julián Aguilar – Immigrant rights groups were handed a significant victory on Wednesday when a Travis County judge ruled that the state temporarily cannot license an immigration detention center as a childcare facility.

Ken Starr Says He Has Resigned as Baylor Chancellor, by Matthew Watkins – Days after he was stripped of his job as Baylor University president over a scandal over how the school handled accusations of sexual assault, Ken Starr said he will also resign as chancellor of the private Baptist school.

The Day Ahead

•    Gov. Greg Abbott holds a press conference at the Hood County Emergency Operations Center in Granbury at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the state's response to severe weather. Abbott is also scheduled to visit Fort Bend and Brazoria counties on Friday.

•    The Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health meets at 10 a.m. in the Capitol extension to discuss mental and behavioral health care services in the state.

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•    The Texas House Committee on Defense and Veterans' Affairs meets at 9 a.m. in El Paso to discuss maintaining the military value of defense installations and potential education and employment barriers for veterans.

Elsewhere

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

‘One in the chamber’: What it means and why it matters in UT’s campus carry debate, The Dallas Morning News

Texas Ethics Commission tightens rules on trips paid by lobbyistsAustin American-Statesman

HUD Sec. Castro to keynote Texas Dems’ conventionSan Antonio Express-News

One unassuming North Texas well 35 years ago introduced fracking to the world, The Dallas Morning News

I-35 corridor could see more groundwater from Burleson CountySan Antonio Express-News

Texas' Brazos River hits century high, Houston braces for floods, Reuters

Blue Cross Blue Shield seeks 60% rate hikes in 2017Houston Chronicle

U.S. death rate rises first time in a decadeHouston Chronicle

Officials investigating death of jail inmateWaco Tribune

I-35 corridor could see more groundwater from Burleson CountySan Antonio Express News

Quote to Note

"The captain goes down with the ship."

 — Ken Starr during an interview with ESPN announcing his decision to resign as chancellor of Baylor University, days after he lost his job as the university's president

Today in TribTalk

The 5th Circuit Court must uphold Voter ID, by Tom Mechler – Voter ID is critical to maintaining the integrity of the ballot box and ensuring fair and honest elections. Despite the outlandish accusations by liberals, there is absolutely nothing discriminatory about Voter ID, and its intended purpose is and always has been to prevent fraud in the election process. 

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation with Ryan Sitton, Texas Railroad Commissioner, on June 3 at The Austin Club

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

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter had the incorrect first name for the attorney general's spokesman. His name is Marc Rylander.

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