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August 4, 2015      9:14 AM

State refuses to disclose supposed data used to achieve massive funding cuts for Medicaid reimbursement rates

Falsely sold as research based on Texas A&M studies, policy makers prevent university from vetting their work

With the deadline looming to finalize new Medicaid therapy rates, stakeholders fear they’ll never get answers to several questions about how the Health and Human Services Commission arrived at its newly proposed, dramatically lower pay rates.

The new rates are based on research that patient and therapy industry advocates claim is fundamentally flawed and has never been fully released to the public. HHSC, however, says the study was conducted in a way meant to protect its independence and that its methodology produced smaller rate cuts than other methods would have.

The new rates will be finalized some time in the next week and take effect September 1st.

As written, they’ll slash by 25 to 90 percent what Texas pays for medically necessary physical, occupational and speech therapy through the Texas Medicaid Acute Care Therapy Program, which serves about 440,000 poor people with severe disabilities each year, most of them children. Advocates say at least 7,500 therapists will lose their jobs and 60,000 children will lose access to medical care because of the cuts. HHSC can’t refute these claims because it conducted no research in potential impact before announcing the new rates on July 8th.  

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By Emily DePrang

August 3, 2015      5:04 PM

HK: Paxton jeopardy fundamentally different and has possibility of metastasizing

Allegations not about political chicanery but instead swindling innocent civilians, the same kind of financial corruption that spawned the Tea Party after the Lehman Brothers collapse.

Among the dozen or so statewide officeholders indicted over the last couple of decades, few have ever been convicted or served time.  In many cases, the prosecution case was weak as when a state district judge directed the acquittal of Kay Bailey Hutchison because, as he told the jury, “the prosecution apparently has no theory of its case.”

With the exception of the Tom DeLay case which was needlessly dragged out because an all-Republican appellate court ignored then prosecutor Ronnie Earle’s request for an expedited review of the challenge to the finding of guilt and let the case languish for four years.

In others, the high-priced defense lawyers simply out-lawyered the public sector prosecutor.  Nevertheless, jurors have generally leaned sympathetically to political chicanery.

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By Harvey Kronberg

August 3, 2015      5:03 PM

In wake of Paxton indictment, First Assistant AG tries to assure OAG staff

“…as you all know, life brings us lots of curve balls.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s likely immediate successor if he were to resign, Chip Roy, on Monday sent out a personal note to agency staff after Paxton was booked into the Collin County Jail on three securities-related charges.

“The Attorney General emphasized to me that he hoped this wouldn’t in any way harm any of the good people who work at the agency, whom, he has come to know and respect tremendously,” Roy wrote to agency staff. “But as you all know, life brings us lots of curve balls.”

Roy went on to describe his own diagnosis, four years ago to the day, of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He described the conversation to tell his wife “the most challenging moment of my life.” He went on to say everyone had similar challenges.

Roy, a former chief of staff in U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s office, went on to write the office would continue to do its job, and that Paxton would continue to do his job. At the end of the day, “there are Texans whom we need to serve,” he wrote.

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By Kimberly Reeves

August 3, 2015      4:57 PM

Former UT Austin President Bill Powers lands job at Jackson Walker Law Firm

“He would top just about anyone’s list of the most influential attorneys in the State of Texas.”

The announcement is here.

August 3, 2015      4:52 PM

Press Releases: Bill Powers lands law firm job, appointments, EPA Clean Power Plan reactions, and more

August 3, 2015      2:49 PM

Abbott and Patrick both issue terse statements on Paxton indictment

"Ken Paxton, like anyone else, will be afforded his day in court."

Here’s Gov. Greg Abbott’s full statement:

"Everyone is entitled to due process under the law. As a former judge, I recognize this is the first step in a lengthy process and will respect that process as it moves forward."

The statement from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in full:

"It is important to recognize that an indictment is not a conviction. Under our Constitution, every person is innocent until proven guilty. I am confident our judicial system will weigh all the facts and applicable law with a blind eye for justice and Ken Paxton, like anyone else, will be afforded his day in court."

August 3, 2015      2:12 PM

Full text of the Paxton indictment

The three counts against Attorney General Ken Paxton can be found by clicking here.

August 3, 2015      12:14 PM

SB: Paxton situation presents the Texas GOP with an opportunity

Supreme Court Justices Don Willett and Eva Guzman along with Rep. Jason Villalba are now among those mentioned as potential successors to the AG who was hand-picked by Ted Cruz and Tim Dunn

Now that the worst-kept secret in Texas politics has been revealed and Attorney General Ken Paxton has surrendered to law enforcement because he’s been indicted on three felony fraud charges in the Metroplex, much of the chatter in the Austin lobby is focused on what Gov. Greg Abbott will do if it turns out Paxton is unable to serve out his term.

Conspiracy theories have already emerged as to why “God’s Lawyer” is facing persecution – er, a prosecution that is partially based on Paxton's own admission to state regulators last year that he violated securities law.

Some might argue it is premature to speculate about how Abbott might handle the appointment of a successor to the Attorney General hand-picked by Ted Cruz and Tim Dunn. After all, the indictment is closer to the beginning of due process than the end and does not force his resignation.

But believe us at Buzz Central when we tell you that some of those who wish to step into the role have been working overtime behind the scenes to jockey for position. And unlike Paxton, none of the names we have heard so far would necessarily have the full-throated support of Sen. Cruz or Midland oilman Dunn’s Empower Texans and allied organizations.

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By Scott Braddock

August 3, 2015      12:13 PM

Rep. Crownover will not seek reelection

"It has been a great privilege and honor serving in the Texas House of Representatives on behalf of the people of Denton County."

Her announcement, which can be found here, was issued this morning.

August 3, 2015      11:16 AM

AG Ken Paxton surrenders to law enforcement in Collin County

Paxton was booked at the Collin County Jail at about 10:30am

The Austin American-Statesman has the smiling mugshot.

From the story:

“According to the indictment, Paxton failed to tell stock buyers that he had been compensated with 100,000 shares of Servergy and by saying he was an investor in Servergy when he was not. Complainants on the two charges were state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and businessman Joel Hochberg.

First-degree felonies can be punished by up to life in prison. 

A third charge, a third-degree felony, accused Paxton of acting as an investment adviser representative in July 2012 without registering with the State Securities Board.”

August 1, 2015      1:33 PM

Sources tell NBC News in Dallas that Ken Paxton has been indicted on 3 felony charges

Paxton was secretly indicted Tuesday on three felony charges by Collin County grand jury, sources close to case tell NBC 5

From the report by NBC 5 in Dallas/Fort Worth:

“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been indicted on three charges by a grand jury in Collin County, two people close to the case told NBC 5 on Saturday. The indictments were issued on Tuesday and immediately sealed, the sources said, adding they are set to be unsealed as early as Monday in Collin County.

A Tarrant County judge has been appointed to hear the case, the sources said.”

July 31, 2015      4:47 PM

Realtors come out swinging for Props 1 and 7

“The Texas Association of Realtors applauds our state’s leaders for prioritizing meaningful, lasting tax relief for Texas private property owners and long-term transportation funding…”

The powerful Texas Association of Realtors on Friday signaled it will be working actively this fall to help pass two ballot propositions - Props 1 and 7.

In doing so, the trade group with roughly 90,000 members said that the regular session of The Legislature this year was a "success for Texas homeowners." 

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By Scott Braddock

July 31, 2015      4:46 PM

O'Donnell: Time for some predictions on politics and public personalities

Quorum Report’s Curmudgeon in Chief Edd O’Donnell finds a way, yet again, to give everyone something to be angry about even during the happy, sunny, days of Summer

The 2016 election cycle has started and the preliminary lunacy promises a plethora of inanity, lameness and outright stupidity on every front. Pop culture will weave into the political process as never before. Here are some predictions and observations FYE (For Your Entertainment) because substance will be as hard to find as an Astros fan in Arlington.

The Republican National Committee will secretly send money to support the Trump campaign to ensure his antics continue to distract from the fact that party candidates don’t have any realistic, workable answers to the nation’s most intractable problems.

The Democratic National Committee will secretly send money to support the Trump campaign to ensure his antics continue to distract from the fact that party candidates don’t have any realistic, workable answers to the nation’s most intractable problems.

Donald Trump – The Donald will soar on in various polls until October when he will announce he is merging his empire with the Kardashian holdings. In November, he will pick as his running mate rapper Kanye West. In April he will end third party speculation and become chairman of the board for the Hair Club for Men.

The full column from Edd O’Donnell can be found – if you dare to check it out – in the R&D Department.

By Edd O'Donnell

July 31, 2015      4:32 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, announcements, jail standards, and more

July 31, 2015      4:29 PM

Dunn Spokesman MQ Sullivan and the TEC set to do battle in court again next month

Attorney Joe Nixon has now asked for a protective order against the Texas Ethics Commission

Here’s the latest on the story from San Antonio Express-News reporter extraordinaire David Saleh Rauf, who tells us the next hearing in the case is coming in Travis County on August 18.

July 31, 2015      1:57 PM

Smith: Welcome to the Videoverse

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues dash cams, body cams, phone cameras, ubiquitous security cameras bring both good and bad; good, in the case of exposing police violence and other injustices; bad in the case of citizen versus citizen spying and loss of privacy.

It is a new world as law enforcement dash cameras and body cameras reveal a level of police violence, especially against minorities, that has been invisible to the public for far too long.

At the same time, we have the news covering illicit videos made by liars who fraudulently pretend to be people they are not. They set out with hidden cameras to entrap their fellow citizens they consider their enemies. I’m speaking, of course, of the James O’Keefe video storm troops or O’Keefe-inspired dirty tricksters like those recently in the news with their heavily edited Planned Parenthood videos.

They are, in effect, little Nixons mainstreaming dirty tricks into a citizen-versus-citizen racket that destroys trust, weakens society’s bonds and somehow mysteriously captivates the press, which should know better. It’s a mistake to feed these anti-social subterfugers (Can I can coin that word? Maybe spoken with a hard “g”?). If I lied and misled the press as often as these dirty tricksters do, I doubt reporters would even return my phone calls.

The complete column from Glenn W. Smith can be found in the R&D Department.

By Glenn W. Smith

July 30, 2015      6:12 PM

Congress remains hamstrung while Texas moves forward on long-term funding source for transportation

US Senate's 3-month extension delays real discussion until this fall

The U.S. Senate approved a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund Thursday afternon, effectively delaying future debate on funding sources until October.

This would be the 34th extension of the legislation to underwrite transportation funding since 2009. Earlier this month, the Senate was able to pass its own $47 billion three-year fix of the funding pool, the DRIVE Act, with an approach the House neither supported nor reached. Instead, House leaders tapped U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to lead an effort to create tax code changes that could provide a long-term funding source.

Back in Texas, lawmakers have put an initiative on the ballot this fall, Proposition 7, to create a predictable revenue stream for transportation projects. The message at the Texas Transportation Commission is “accountability,” and agency staff is geared to roll out its new governance plan, mandated by House Bill 20, in September to assure voters TxDOT is serious about accountability.

Any effort by the state would be only the start of funding the estimated $5 billion per year needed for new construction. Tryon Lewis, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, estimated the bottom line on transportation at $100 billion.

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 30, 2015      6:11 PM

Press Releases: Cruz celebrates anti-business win, announcements, appointments, electricity conservation, and more

July 30, 2015      5:59 PM

DPS Director McCraw is slammed by lawmakers but will not address specifics about Sandra Bland arrest

Chairman Coleman becomes momentarily irate with McCraw; says McCraw should reprimand his officer by telling him “don't ever throw a black woman on the ground again.”

The Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday came hat in hand before the Texas House Committee on County Affairs as the panel investigated the death of Sandra Bland, the young woman who was stopped by a DPS officer who became quite irate with her for no good reason. Bland refused to extinguish a cigarette when the officer asked her to, which was followed by a threat to shock her with a Taser and a promise to “light you up.”

Republicans and Democrats alike raked DPS Director Steve McCraw over the coals for the way Trooper Brian Encinia treated bland during the traffic stop that preceded her death a few days later in a Waller County Jail cell. She apparently committed suicide.

When it came to specific questions about the arrest, McCraw demurred and said he would “hold in abeyance” any inquiries from lawmakers until multiple investigations by the Texas Rangers and FBI are completed.

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By Scott Braddock

July 30, 2015      5:23 PM

Superintendents express skepticism over rebirth of financial accountability system

The conservative strategy of using data as a weapon or a label, rather than as a tool, has stunted efforts to utilize data to make schools better in Texas.

School districts, and especially the Fast-Growth School Coalition, are far from eager to see new life for a data-driven financial accountability system once housed at the Comptroller’s Office and now turned over to a conservative-leaning group.  

Texas continues to remain a state with one of the longest, and most comprehensive, histories of data collection. But as other states have begun to leverage data collection as a tool for school improvement, Texas has lagged behind, refusing to link teacher and student data and only sporadically considering data in policy decisions.

That’s due, in part, to the conservative strategy of using data as a weapon or a label, rather than as a tool. It gets personal in fast-growth school districts, which saw a lot of finger pointing about bond debt but little in the way of support or funding for growth.

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 30, 2015      3:56 PM

House County Affairs opens investigation of the death of Sandra Bland

Rep. Stickland shines as hearing gets underway, earning accolades from Democrats for suggesting Bland has possibly been smeared by Waller County officials; Stickland says of inmates: "If one innocent person suffers then we've messed this up.”

The Texas House County Affairs Committee on Thursday afternoon started to dig into the conditions in local lockups across the state following the death of Sandra Bland. Bland is believed to have committed suicide in a Waller County Jail cell days after a traffic stop in which a Department of Public Safety Officer acted irate toward her on video and violated department policies.

In opening the proceedings, Chairman Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, noted that Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith could not be present for the hearing. However, Coleman commended Smith for the way the sheriff has handled the aftermath of the death of Bland and the intense national scrutiny that has gone along with the circumstances.

Sheriff Smith has been open, honest, and transparent, Coleman said. "Usually the lawyer would have gotten to him before then and he would have said nothing," Coleman said.

As has often been noted, Rep. Coleman pointed out that county jails have become the biggest mental health facilities in many communities around Texas. At one point, 2,500 people per day were in the Harris County Jail in Houston primarily because they suffer from mental health issues.

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By Scott Braddock

July 30, 2015      2:33 PM

Small businessman Glenn Rex announces for House seat being vacated by Rep. Harless

“I want to thank Representative Harless for her years of service, and I pledge to continue her strong record of leadership for the entire district.”

The announcement from Glenn Rex can be found right here.

July 30, 2015      1:32 PM

Former State Senator Jack Strong is remembered in Longview

"Strong leaves a legacy of commitment to civil rights as well as community service, volunteering with numerous nonprofit agencies in Longview."

Here is the story from the Longview News-Journal about former State Sen. Jack Strong, who was 86.

July 29, 2015      6:16 PM

Very little, if any, new information comes to light in Texas Senate hearing on Planned Parenthood

Anti-abortion activist puts state health officials in awkward position because of her claims under oath

An investigative hearing that many Capitol observers described as bizarre ended with a bang Wednesday when members of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee called state officials back to the witness stand to ask whether they’d lied during testimony given just hours before.

Specifically, Department of State Health Services assistant commissioner Kathy Perkins was asked to respond to Abby Johnson, a former employee of Planned Parenthood and current full-time anti-abortion activist who claimed under oath that HHSC always gave abortion clinics advance notice of inspections, which would be a felony.

The answer was “no.”

It was perhaps a fittingly strange close to the tense and wandering four-and-a-half hour hearing which had a specific goal that remained unclear throughout. Ostensibly, the committee met to investigate whether any laws had been broken in Texas related to the handling of fetal remains, a concern prompted by recently released videos of Planned Parenthood officials in other states discussing providing fetal tissue for medical research.

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By Emily DePrang

July 29, 2015      5:31 PM

Former Sen. Jack Strong passed away

Represented parts of East Texas in the 60's and early 70's. Details to follow...

July 29, 2015      4:59 PM

Press Releases: Planned Parenthood hearing reactions, appointments, and more

July 29, 2015      3:10 PM

Abbott appoints billionaire Dan Friedkin as chair of Parks and Wildlife commission

July 29, 2015      2:55 PM

Patterson: My response to the GLO audit

In op-ed, former Land Commissioner of Texas Jerry Patterson says “I can’t speak to the motive of the current Commissioner for apparently endeavoring to drop his predecessor ‘in the grease’ but I would suggest he put more focus on doing his job and less on covering his derriere.”

Audits are a good thing. State agencies always learn things that help them improve their ability to perform their mission, and the recently released audit of the Texas General Land Office is no exception.

The State Auditor’s Office is a credit to Texas government. If I were going to engage an auditor, I would pick John Keel and his extremely professional crew. They are the best.  

However, an audit should be a two way endeavor where both the auditor and audit subject are engaged in the process. It is the responsibility of the agency to provide the rationale for certain decisions when the auditor finds an apparent discrepancy.

At least in one part of the recent Texas GLO audit that I have personal knowledge of, that appears not to have been the case.

The complete column from Jerry Patterson can be found in the R&D Department.

By Jerry Patterson

July 29, 2015      8:08 AM

Planned Parenthood declines to testify at Senate hearing today

President questions fairness of hearing; says never participated in fetal tissue donation or research

From Kenneth Lambrecht, President and CEO of Planned Parent of Greater Texas:

“The health centers and ambulatory surgical centers affiliated with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas have never participated in fetal tissue donation or research, though we recognize it is a standard practice within the medical community. Furthermore, the Committee has made it abundantly clear that it has no desire to hold a responsible, fair, fact-driven hearing. Therefore, we decline the request to testify in person."

July 28, 2015      5:46 PM

Pointed questions expected in Texas House hearing on death of Sandra Bland

“We’re actually going to talk about it for what it is,” Chairman Coleman said. "Black people are sick and tired of this. I’m sick and tired of this.”

Expect Rep. Garnet Coleman to have some pointed questions about race when the House County Affairs Committee convenes on Thursday.

Chairman Coleman, D-Houston, has called on a panel to testify that includes Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steven McCraw, Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith and Executive Director Brandon Woods of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to discuss the death of Sandra Bland in the Waller County Jail on July 13. Coleman’s committee will convene in Austin on Thursday afternoon.

Coleman is best known as an advocate for health care and mental health. He negotiated funding for mental health services for indigent care in jails. In this case, however, Coleman’s real questions are for the county leaders who would have had some role in the Bland case, including the sheriff and district attorney.

“We’re actually going to talk about it for what it is,” Coleman said on Tuesday afternoon. “There is a racial component to this. People don’t get it. Black people are sick and tired of this. I’m sick and tired of this.”

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By Kimberly Reeves

July 28, 2015      5:45 PM

Press Releases: Appointments, announcements, IRS outrage, and the "Washington Cartel"

July 28, 2015      4:58 PM

Congressional conservative moves to remove Boehner from the Chair

Politico reporting Mark Meadows (R-N.C) has presented a motion to "vacate the chair", a method reminiscent of the 2007 Texas House

July 28, 2015      4:14 PM

Sen. Ted Cruz chooses Tyler activist JoAnn Fleming as his Texas Tea Party Chair

Fleming also chaired Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's now-defunct Grassroots Advisory Board - the group which called Gov. Abbott's pre-k initiative "Godless" and "socialistic."

July 28, 2015      2:05 PM

WFAA: Grand jury now hearing case against Paxton

"Special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice were seen entering the Collin County Courthouse Tuesday morning, along with the Texas Rangers."

The full story can be found