August 26, 2016      5:36 PM

Smith: What Happened to "Best"?

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that while politics used to be seen as bringing out the best and the worst in us, there’s less “best” to be seen these days.

During years of reporting on and then working in political campaigns, I used to share with many the view that politics brings out the best and the worst in those involved. Now I wonder, what has happened to “the best?”

After each session of The Legislature, Texas Monthly still publishes “Best and Worst Legislators.” You have to admire their writers’ perseverance.

Medieval church scholars used to ask how many angels could be in the same place. If we ask that about the Texas Capitol we can quit with noting that there’s room for a lot more than there are.

There have been – and there are – angelic spirits in and around the Capitol. In fact, it was the passing of one such spirit, Nelda Laney, the kind and gracious wife of former House Speaker Pete Laney, that set me to wondering again about this. She – and the former Speaker as well – are among the all-time Best.

Don’t get me wrong.

The full column by Glenn W. Smith is in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

August 26, 2016      5:35 PM

Attorney General Paxton follows other agencies in releasing organizational chart

Most major agencies were happy to provide the info, the AG required a public information request

The Office of the Attorney General’s organizational chart can be found here.

August 26, 2016      5:34 PM

Key additions to HHSC team

Kelly Garcia is new director of government and stakeholder relations; Carrie Williams is chief press officer and Molly Czepiel is now associate commissioner for policy and performance

Here’s the full announcement from the Health and Human Services Commission.

August 26, 2016      5:26 PM

Paxton guidance unlikely to alter school district accommodations for transgender students

The fact the federal guidance is not enforceable does not undermine the rationale of the accommodations public schools have – and will continue to provide – to students

The Texas Association of School Boards’ top lawyer agrees Attorney General Ken Paxton’s guidance on transgender bathroom policies is correct, but its existence probably won’t make a great deal of difference to Texas schools.

Texas has led a coalition of states that have blocked enforcement of guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, issued in May, that required schools to allow students to use facilities corresponding to the gender with which they identify. In turn, Paxton issued his own guidance yesterday, informing institutions in Texas they cannot be forced to implement changes to anti-discrimination policies while the injunction stands.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 25, 2016      5:45 PM

With exception of Paxton, most state agencies are happily forthcoming with organizational charts

Follow the release of new TEA organizational information, some Quorum Report readers were curious about the availability of that kind of info across state agencies

After the Texas Education Agency last week released its new organizational chart and it was published here on Quorum Report, some of our readers wondered aloud whether other agencies could quickly produce the same kind of chart if asked. After all, when lawmakers, Capitol staffers, and the lobby are interacting with state agencies, it's naturally helpful to know who is in charge of what.

So, we went to work to find out.

By James Russell

August 25, 2016      5:42 PM

Well ahead of session, Senate Transportation Chair makes early defense of toll roads

Chairman Nichols tells county officials “If people know the facts and then they still don’t want it, that’s fine. I want to make sure they make a decision based upon the facts.”

A key lawmaker is arguing that an additional $38 billion in transportation funding should be no reason for lawmakers to toss toll roads out as a transportation option next session.

Sen. Robert Nichols, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said a vocal, but small, group of lawmakers continue to lobby for the elimination of toll roads. So Nichols took out his calculator to determine the cost of a tax road versus a toll road.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 25, 2016      5:16 PM

Texas GOP announces Robert Morrow is out as Travis County Republican Chairman

“In accordance with state law, upon filing as a write-in candidate for President of the United States on August 19th, 2016, Robert Morrow became ineligible to hold the office of Travis County Republican Chair.”

Here is the statement issued Thursday afternoon by Tom Mechler, Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas:

“In accordance with state law, upon filing as a write-in candidate for President of the United States on August 19th, 2016, Robert Morrow became ineligible to hold the office of Travis County Republican Chair. There is absolutely no place for rhetoric as distasteful as Mr. Morrow’s in the Republican Party of Texas. We are excited to move forward with the Travis County GOP and the new incoming Chair as soon as an election is held to fill the position.”

Here is Morrow’s filing for President of the United States.

August 25, 2016      4:46 PM

Federal judge sets deadlines for arguments on discriminatory intent in Voter ID case

“The Court rejects Defendants’ argument that the Fifth Circuit directed this Court to defer consideration of this matter until after the next Texas legislative session.”

Oral arguments are set for January. You can download the order from the judge by clicking here.

August 24, 2016      5:30 PM

AN ODE TO NELDA LANEY AND HER CAPITOL CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

This was originally submitted to QR and published thirteen years ago, on Februay 21, 2003. Speaker Craddick had just been elected and the State Preservation Board took responsibility for Nelda's cherished Christmas ornaments away from her

Last week, the State Preservation Board under Governor Rick Perry and Speaker Tom Craddick withdrew its support of Nelda Laney's seven year involvement with the Capitol Christmas ornament project that was her brain child.

One of our readers sent the following tribute:

"Throughout the years, the people who have committed their time, talents and effort to our state have blessed Texas. Far too often, when we count our blessings, we in the political arena think of our elected leaders. We sometimes tend to forget the spouses of those that made the commitment to serve their spouse, their family and Texas. Just as great leaders have blessed us, we have been blessed by their spouses.

In this time of change, it is only appropriate that we take the time to recognize one who has served and continues to serve this great state. She never ran for public office, though she has been through a number of campaigns. She never introduced or passed a bill, though she has sat through many a committee hearing and a floor vote. She never said the words "Mr. Speaker" from the back mike, though she has heard many say those words to her spouse in public and in private.

Nelda Laney is a special lady and a blessing to Texas. She has come full circle in her political life. From the wife of a freshman, to the wife of a Chairman, to the wife of a Speaker, to the wife of a member. In all those roles, she has served and continues to serve her husband, her family and Texas.

Let me give you just one example of how Texas is a better place because of her service. Christmas and our Capitol are all a little more special because of Nelda Laney. When your son, daughter, mother, father, uncle, aunt or old college roommate puts that Texas Christmas ornament on the tree, all of us can?t help but feel good about Texas.

No one thinks about how they got started. No one thinks about how much money those ornaments have raised to make our Capitol the best in the Nation. No one thinks about the thousands of Texans, out of state visitors or the people from foreign countries that have visited our Capitol that are all having the same memories about that special day at the Capitol. Nelda Laney, through her work, determination and love, gave all of us this gift that we can celebrate for years to come. Something we can pass on to those that come behind us.

She has touched all of us around the Capitol in some way. She has hugged us. She has teased us. She has told us to "get to work" when we needed to "get to work". She has in some way made all of us part of her family and we are better for that. I am confident she will keep doing that in her new role.

So, this Christmas honor her service and Texas. Buy a Texas Christmas Ornament. Heck, buy the whole set if you don?t have them. A great lady started this tradition. Honor her by continuing it. If you can?t do that, then buy a poinsettia and give it to someone in her name. We understand she loves to give them as gifts at Christmas."

August 24, 2016      5:29 PM

Audit critical of TxDOT approach to design-build contracts

State Auditor finds “weaknesses and inconsistencies” in TxDOT’s procurement for the four audited design-build projects

An audit of the Texas Department of Transportation’s design-build projects uncovered a surprising lack of consistency in its approach to design-build contracts.

The design-build option for highway projects was added to the TxDOT toolbox in 2011, at the same time lawmakers reeled in the number of comprehensive development agreements the agency could pursue. According to Senate Bill 1420, TxDOT could enter up to three design-build contracts each year on projects worth at least $50 million. "Design-build" is a way of delivering a construction project in which the design and construction services are contracted by a single entity known as the design–builder or design–build contractor.

That means the dozen or so design-build contracts that TxDOT has pursued in the last four years are some of the agency’s biggest expenditures, totaling $8 billion in construction. The State Auditor’s Office reviewed the contract documents around four of the projects, and while TxDOT did meet the letter of the law, the agency lacked a common framework of policies and procedures for design-build projects.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 24, 2016      4:54 PM

Press Releases: Cruz talks jobs, EpiPen crisis, property tax relief, and more

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August 24, 2016      4:53 PM

Lawmakers discuss rolling TEA program spending into school funding formulas

Chair Ashby announces a deeper dive into school finance is coming in September

Education lobbyists were put on notice with a discussion of non-Foundation School Program funding at Wednesdays’ House Appropriations subcommittee meeting.

With the exception of the drastic budget cuts in the 82nd legislative session, lawmakers have always found ways to attach riders to the budget to fund pet projects or favorite causes within Article III, which is the home of K12 and higher education. Sometimes the funding is as direct as a rider; other times, a vendor will target a particular allotment for his or her product.

A rider inserted into the budget last session, however, instructed the legislature to review programs administered by the Texas Education Agency that sit outside the basic school allotment. Some, like the Center for Public Policy Priorities, would like to see that agency funding rolled into the basic allotment.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 24, 2016      4:52 PM

Nelda Laney funeral to be held at 2PM Saturday, First United Methodist Church in Lubbock, burial service at Texas State Cemetary sometime next week.

August 24, 2016      4:13 PM

Speaker Straus says Nelda Laney took care of the Texas House family for many years

"We knew Nelda as a devoted wife and mother and an enormously proud grandmother, and we will forever be grateful for her service to her fellow Texans.”

This statement was released by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus Wednesday afternoon:

“The Texas House is a family, and Nelda Laney took great care of that family for many years. Julie and I are deeply saddened to hear that she has passed away. Nelda was a woman of incredible wit and spirit who was completely committed to the Texas Capitol and all who work there. It is largely because of her dedication that today the Capitol is more beautiful and welcoming than ever. We knew Nelda as a devoted wife and mother and an enormously proud grandmother, and we will forever be grateful for her service to her fellow Texans.”

August 24, 2016      1:21 PM

Nelda Laney has passed

Former Speaker Pete Laney's wife; no more gracious woman of many accomplishments, who welcomed all to the Texas House

Details to follow

August 23, 2016      4:39 PM

Sunset picks up ERS contracting issues as new benefits contract goes out for bid

Sen. Taylor of Collin raised concerns about a recommendation to provide more transparency around alternative investments, Chair Flynn acknowledged actuarial soundness was a continuing concern

The review of Sunset Commission recommendations on the Employee Retirement System veered into investment strategies far more than contracting reforms.

ERS is not an agency in the rotation for Sunset review. It’s constitutionally created. Lawmakers added the agency to the queue after the State Auditor’s Office raised concerns about the selection of United Healthcare as a vendor and whether it represented the “best value.” That audit, completed at the end of 2014, can be found here.

Last night’s discussion, which came at the tail end of a lengthy hearing on the Railroad Commission, tended to focus more on the agency’s investment strategy than anything else.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 23, 2016      4:37 PM

Press Releases: TWIA rate decision, County Affairs roadtrip, bathroom outrage, and more

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August 23, 2016      4:37 PM

HK: Has alpha-male Donald Trump actually met his equal in alpha-female Kellyanne Conway?

After promising not to pivot, what influenced Trump to do just that?

Not two weeks after GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump forcefully told interviewers that he was not going to pivot, it appears he has pivoted. Backtracking on the wall, mass deportations and even quasi-apologizing for hurting feelings, this “reset” has so far lasted longer than any other.

So what is different this time?

Well, plummeting polls in battleground states and converting once safe Republican states into new potential battlegrounds with constant background chatter of the RNC cutting back on presidential expenditures in order to double down on holding the Senate and reduce the casualties in the House must have certainly broken through, even in Trump land.

By Harvey Kronberg

August 23, 2016      4:00 PM

Texas Education Agency moves forward with controversial ETS testing contract

But not without a long list of sanctions for the vendor

Editor’s note: A copy of the memo outlining the sanctions is available to our subscribers in this story – SB

Texas will hold onto its $280 million four-year testing contact with ETS, but force the vendor to spend $15 million of its own money to shore up its infrastructure.

The Texas Education Agency calls the $5.7 million penalty it slaps on ETS “liquidated damages.” Those can be found in this email to ETS Vice President John Oswald. Then, under separate cover, a memo instructs ETS to spend its own money to address a laundry list of concerns.

By Kimberly Reeves

August 23, 2016      12:35 AM

In Texas Energy Report: Railroad Commission gliding along a kinder, gentler sunset path?

Lawmaker equates 12-year review to an angry “attack” on agency

The state’s powerful oil and gas industry and its obscurely named regulators might be in for a kinder, gentler sunset bill next spring, based on industry-friendly questions posed by members of the Sunset Advisory Commission on Monday.

The Texas Railroad Commission underwent two failed sunset reviews in a row (2011 and 2013) to reform and reauthorize the agency for 12 more years. But, if first-blush impressions are a reliable guide, it could find the third time in five years the charm.

At the Railroad Commission’s first formal hearing before the Sunset Commission, charged with adopting or rejecting reform-minded recommendations, the staff conducting the review appeared more under the gun than the target agency itself.

Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, told sunset staffers that when he read their report recommending good-government-type changes, “I thought to myself, why are you so angry at the Railroad Commission? They’ve done a pretty good job.”

“The oil and gas industry is the heart and soul of Texas. For us to go and attack an agency that’s done a pretty good job, for us to change something that’s been working pretty well, that just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

Sunset Commission Executive Director Ken Levine said he felt obliged to respond to Flynn.

The rest of the story is in the Texas Energy Report.

By Polly Ross Hughes

August 22, 2016      5:44 PM

Emmert: Tortured Logic, How the Left Is Highjacking the Voter ID Debate

Former Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Emmert writes “How would the left, the media, or anyone for that matter, know how pervasive in-person voter fraud is? The answer is they don't, nor do they want to.”

I've grown weary of hearing how infrequent in-person voter fraud is nationally and particularly in Texas. I have a simple question for the people spinning that tale: How would you know?

I've heard the left's talking points for years now. They say, "Well, so few people are getting prosecuted for it, so it must not be happening." Then, recognizing the failure of logic in that statement, they throw in a few racial arguments about how minorities usually vote Democrat, and since minorities apparently cannot get a picture ID, this all must be a scheme by Republicans to keep them from voting.

Geez, give me a break.

The mainstream media is complicit in this fable. They write stories parroting those talking points and using the same tortured logic all while lamenting Texas' efforts to disenfranchise voters at the ballot box.

The complete column by former Dallas County GOP Chairman Wade Emmert is in the R&D Department.

By Wade Emmert

August 22, 2016      4:35 PM

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