May 13th - 3:56 pm
The state’s top cancer fighting agency appears to be back in lawmakers’ good graces.
Members of the conference committee on the budget have agreed to restore more than $594 million in funding to the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The organization has been under fire since last year, when the approval of a grant worth $11 million came into question, sparking a criminal investigation. Funding for CPRIT was cut in the Legislature’s original budget proposals.
The restoration of funds is contingent on the passage of Senate Bill 149, however. Sen. Jane Nelson’s bill would ban agency executives from having business relationships with award recipients and create a new oversight position to make sure agency rules are followed.
She released a statement today, saying:
“I am grateful to the conference committee for allowing CPRIT to move forward and approving these funds. I was very disappointed in the poor decision making and mistakes that came to light this session, but believe we must keep up our fight against cancer. SB 149, which was approved by the House Public Health Committee last week, will ensure CPRIT operates in a transparent and accountable way in the future and that these issues will be solved. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support CPRIT during this time. I am looking forward to a bright future for the Institute.”
Apr 30th - 7:51 pm
Planning for Growth
The need to fund water infrastructure has been at the forefront of the legislative session this year, especially with the growing population in Texas. A plan to draw out $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund failed to pass Monday, but Gov. Perry said lawmakers can expect to be in session until they find a resolution.
A bill passed out of committee Tuesday that would allow students to store their licensed concealed handgun in their vehicle on campus. Lawmakers said they want to give students the same rights that others have.
The house voted Tuesday to make changes to standardized tests for fourth and seventh grades. The changes include removing the standardized writing test and limiting the time needed to take the required tests.
Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment is one of the grass roots groups supporting the changes. Joanne Salazar joined Paul Brown to discuss their campaign and the changes they hope to bring about.
Harold Cook and Steve Munisteri sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including the Rainy Day Fund and Battleground Texas.
The Transparency Committee is continuing its look into CPRIT, and a bill that will make changes to the embattled agency is headed to the House.
Apr 9th - 8:09 pm
Republicans and Democrats sparred once again over school vouchers Tuesday — including whether or not a newly proposed law counted as a voucher at all.
A bill filed by Sen. Dan Patrick would partially pay for private school tuition through scholarships funded by tax-exempt donations. The bill has the support of Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., but Sen. Wendy Davis expressed skepticism.
Another hearing Tuesday looked into oversight of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT has been under fire since last year, with questions of grant-rigging and even a criminal investigation. Trust, transparency and accountability were at the top of the committee’s list Tuesday.
Equal Under the Law
A bill extending the Romeo and Juliet provision passed out of a Senate committee Tuesday. It would extend the Romeo and Juliet defense to same-sex couples over the age of 14.
Earlier in the day, 600 women visited the Capitol hoping to turn it blue for the day. Blue Ribbon Lobby Day organizers are pushing lawmakers to say yes to Medicaid expansion, restoring public education cuts and returning Planned Parenthood to the Women’s Health Program.
Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including school choice bills, CPRIT and new border security legislation filed by Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Michael McCaul.
Apr 3rd - 2:37 pm
The Texas Senate has unanimously passed two bills to overhaul the state’s embattled cancer fighting agency. Republican Sen. Jane Nelson authored both bills, which will in part, restructure CPRIT’s leadership to make sure agency rules are followed and ban agency executives from having business relationships with award recipients.
CPRIT has been under fire for several grants being awarded without going through the proper approval process. Tuesday, the private foundation linked to the state agency announced it was shutting down. The move follows an investigation by the State Attorney General’s Office over what it calls “serious legal concerns” surrounding the nonprofit.
On today’s legislation, Sen. Nelson said she’s pleased the Senate unanimously passed a bill she believes will restore confidence to the public.
In 2007, Texas voters approved spending $3 billion on cancer research.
The bill to overhaul the agency now goes to the House for consideration.
Feb 12th - 3:20 pm
A bill that would reform the state’s top cancer fighting agency passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee Monday morning.
Filed by Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, SB 149 would restructure the leadership staff for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, and establish a new compliance program. The bill would also remove the Attorney General and Comptroller from the Oversight Committee.
CPRIT has been under scrutiny since a state audit revealed problems in its grant review process last year. At issue was an $11 million grant awarded to Dallas-based company Peleton Therapeutics, which auditors determined was awarded without the required scientific review. Since then, the agency head has resigned and been replaced by an interim executive director. The governor has also asked that all future CPRIT grants be put on hold.
Other changes in the bill include:
- Requiring CPRIT to issue an annual public report detailing the amount of grants awarded annually, grants that are currently in progress and agency money that goes towards operating costs. The report would also detail the amount spent on administrative expenses. In addition, foundation
- Donors to CPRIT’s fundraising arm would no longer be eligible for grants, and CPRIT officials would be prohibited from having business relationships with companies that benefit from grants.
- Establishing a Program Integration Committee to oversee peer review
The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote, which most likely will occur in March.
Feb 5th - 9:23 pm
Cancer agency ready for reform
CPRIT officials went before members of the Senate Health and Human Services and Finance committees Tuesday afternoon to address issues uncovered last year. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has been under scrutiny since an audit discovered problems in the agency’s grant review process.
Sen. Wendy Davis also addressed the issue of CPRIT reform Tuesday. She filed a bill to make changes to the structure and guidelines of the organization. Davis’ bill calls for removing Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the Oversight Committee. The bill also moves up the agency’s review by the Sunset Advisory Commission to 2015. Davis spoke to Capital Tonight’s Karina Kling about some of her goals for CPRIT and regaining the trust of taxpayers.
Members of the Texas Water Development Board met Tuesday with lawmakers to discuss their plans for the future of water in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry called for dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure in his State of the State address last week, a move many lawmakers from both parties support.
Former Texas lawmakers Aaron Peña and Hector Uribe sat down with Paul Brown to discuss how the continuing drought might affect spending in the legislature this year. They also talked about education funding and potential changes to the Permanent Education Fund.
Jobs, training and education
Paul Brown sat down with Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken to discuss unemployment and education in Texas. Click the image below to see that interview, as well as the full episode.
Feb 5th - 3:29 pm
Sen. Davis has talked about plans for the bill since last December, when the head of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas resigned. At the same time, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation into the agency over its grant review process.
Sen. Davis’ bill calls for a number of changes, including a restriction on donations and political contributions to those sitting on the CPRIT Foundation board or the Oversight Committee . It would also prohibit donations to the agency from those applying for grants or recieving funding. At Sen. Davis’ request, the CPRIT Foundation released a list of donors last month that showed multiple potential conflicts of interest.
Many of the bill’s changes echo recommendations by the State Auditor. That includes a call for the removal of state Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the CPRIT Oversight Committee, a group Sen. Davis strongly criticized.
“Throughout the period of time that these egregious actions occurred, the CPRIT Oversight Committee [...] apparently sat on its hands, with at least some of the oversight members actively participating in the agency’s missteps,” Davis said in a press release. ”The committee’s failure to catch activities that gave rise to the problems in the agency it was tasked with overseeing begs the question: was the oversight committee overseeing anything at all?”
At a hearing on CPRIT earlier in the day, Interim Executive Director Wayne Roberts said he would adopt those recommendations.
Jan 29th - 5:50 pm
One of the biggest benefactors of the state’s embattled cancer research agency is folding amid scandal. The Clinical Trials Network of Texas announced today that it is out of money and now out of business.
CTNeT was founded in 2010 with a $25.2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. It conducted clinical trials and had signed research agreements with 20 cancer research institutions across the state. CPRIT began withholding payments last month, after state auditors found some questionable expenses.
The audit, released yesterday, recommended that CPRIT improve its management of the CTNeT research grant and identified weaknesses in the agency’s decision to award the grant. The audit found that ”CPRIT’s relationship with CTNeT and its lack of enforcing contract requirements impair CPRIT’s ability to ensure that CTNeT is properly using grant funds and complying with grant requirements.”
Questions were also raised over $160,000 in bonuses that were awarded to CTNeT’s chief operating officer.
CPRIT is currently the subject of several criminal and civil investigations over the way it awarded research grants. At the request of state leaders, the agency issued a moratorium on future grants, pending investigation.
Jan 28th - 3:22 pm
The credibility of the state’s cancer research agency was dealt another blow, today. As was first reported by the Dallas Morning News, state auditors are calling for extensive reforms at the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The 100-page report lays out problems in seven key areas including how CPRIT evaluated research grant applications to how it managed contract agreements.
The audit questions the agency’s transparency, addresses possible conflicts of interest, and raises red flags over relationship between some of its management and its donors. It also urges the legislature to take a closer look at the laws governing the agency.
CPRIT is currently under criminal and civil investigations over the way it awarded cancer research grants. The audit states that “By not ensuring that all grant applications are properly evaluated and documented, CPRIT weakens its ability to ensure that its award decisions best align with the agency’s mission.”
At least one bill aimed at overhauling the agency is expected to be filed, soon. Sen. Wendy Davis called on Gov. Rick Perry to make that legislation an emergency item this legislative session. Already the agency has put future grants on hold until some of the management and operational concerns are addressed.
In a statement today, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said:
“I appreciate the good work the State Auditor has performed in identifying areas the Legislature needs to address to make CPRIT more accountable and transparent to the taxpayers of Texas. When the problems were discovered, Governor Perry, Speaker Straus and I immediately called for a moratorium on all CPRIT’s funding. Going forward, funding for CPRIT will continue only once complete confidence and trust is restored to the agency by the people of Texas. Despite this setback, I’m still committed to the noble purpose approved by the voters to help deliver promising cures to cancer victims to save their lives. I fully expect to address the concerns this Session and return CPRIT to its original mission of defeating cancer.”
The full audit is posted, below:
Jan 28th - 1:51 pm
Lobbying for Education Funding
Educators made their case for more school funding, today. It was the bi-annual school lobby day at the Texas State Capitol. Dozens of teachers and administrators filled the halls of the Capitol. They are asking lawmakers to restore some of the cuts made last legislative session. “If teachers are wiling to put in, if teachers are willing to take a very low salary to teach the children of Texas, why aren’t the legislators willing to ante up?” said Thomas Nichols with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.
Meanwhile, another organization was at the Capitol today, pushing for education reform. The group ”Texans Deserve Great Schools” wants stricter rules for failing schools and expanded online options. Members are also studying ways to give parents more options when it comes to where their children go to school.
Senate Education Committee Chairman, Dan Patrick supports the group’s philosophy. ”That reforming Texas education isn’t a simple one answer solution it’s a multi prong approach to choices,” Patrick said.
Senator Patrick is also a supporter of expanding charter schools and a voucher system that would allow parents to use state issued vouchers to send their children to private schools.
Cutting CPRIT funding
Should the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas continue to receive state money? And if so, where should it come from? State Senator Kevin Eltife filed a measure today to put the issue on the November ballot. He’s proposing cutting off bond funding to the state agency. “In my opinion if it’s worth funding it should come out of general revenue and fund it on a yearly basis,” Eltife said. “To go $3 billion in debt, makes no sense to me.”
CPRIT is under criminal and civil investigation for an $11 million grant given to start-up company Peloton Therapeutics. An internal review found the Peleton application did not go through proper scientific and commercial review. At the request of Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, a moratorium has already been placed on future grants. Both the House and Senate budget drafts also cut off funding to the agency.
Turning Texas Blue
Could the Lone Star State be the next Battleground State? The Democratic party might be getting the funds to help it happen. A new independent group called “Battleground Texas, ” will focus effort – and importantly – money here in Texas.
The organization is being run by former Obama campaign National Field Director, Jeremy Bird. In a statement to Politico Friday, Bird said “Battleground Texas” would be “a grass-roots organization that will make Texas a battleground state by treating it like one.” Click the video link below to hear reaction from Texas Democratic Party Communications Director, Tanene Allison.