State Capital Highlights

State contract with tech firm prompts calls for probe



State Sen. John Whitmire, DHouston, on Dec. 18 requested that the special prosecution unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office “begin a formal and thorough investigation” into transactions between the State of Texas and 21CT, a software intelligence firm with offices here and in Vienna, Virginia.

Information about the transactions came to light via an ongoing investigation and stories published by the Austin American- Statesman.

“I am particularly concerned about the reported involvement of Jack Stick and any other state employees in the negotiation and approval of the contract with 21CT,” Whitmire wrote in a letter to Gregg Cox, director of the special prosecution unit.

Stick resigned Dec. 12 as general counsel for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission after the agency’s executive commissioner, Kyle Janek, questioned a $20 million contract and a $90 million contract extension with 21CT to provide healthcare fraud detection and neutralization services. Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Joe Straus, through their spokespeople, have called for investigations.

DPS to post more patrols

Texas Department of Public Safety on Dec. 18 announced the number of DWI patrols will increase for a 15-day period that includes both the Christmas and New Year holidays, Dec. 19 through Jan. 2.

State troopers will focus DWI patrols in high-risk locations at times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent. DPS Director Steven McCraw said, “Holiday celebrations create the increased potential for drinking and driving incidents and we urge Texans to designate a sober driver or find alternative transportation if they plan to drink.”

During the Christmas/ New Year holiday enforcement effort last year, state troopers made 1,505 DWI arrests and enforcement also resulted in 24,928 speeding citations, 2,997 seat belt/child safety seat citations, 1,078 fugitive arrests and 797 felony arrests during the enforcement period, according to the DPS.

Student loan debt grows

The Office of the State Comptroller on Dec. 9 released a report, “Footing the Bill: Rising College Costs, Deepening Debt,” examining the growth of college tuition costs and student loan debt.

According to the report, in Texas, average in-state public university tuition and fees rose by 90 percent between 2003 and 2012. Yet enrollment in Texas degree-granting institutions rose 49 percent from 2000 to 2012 “despite rising tuition costs and student loan burdens.”

Furthermore, the agency pointed out, the rise in enrollment is expected to continue, “making it imperative for students to know how their tuition and fees are spent and to have better access to tools to help them get a full picture of college costs.”

The report can be accessed at www.window. loan.

Also related and noteworthy is an Oct. 27, 2014, release by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, reporting that Texas ranks ninthbest overall in a WalletHub analysis of student debt in the United States. Seven key metrics went into the analysis, such as average student debt, unemployment rate and percentage of students with past-due loan balances.

Decrease in injuries noted

Texas Department of Insurance on Dec. 16 published information showing the number and rate of work-related injuries and illnesses requiring days off work decreased in 2013.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, the state agency said, “private industry employers in Texas reported 51,890 cases involving days away from work and an incidence rate of 66.6 injuries and illnesses per 10,000 fulltime equivalent employees in 2013. These are decreases from 53,290 cases and a rate of 70.1 in 2012. The Texas rate is below the national rate of 99.9.”

Gansu delegation visits

Texas Agriculture Commissioner-elect Sid Miller in early December hosted a group of officials from the northwest China province of Gansu, population 26 million.

Meeting with Miller “to grow agriculture trade opportunities between Texas and Gansu” were the province’s Executive Vice Governor H.E. Luo Xiaohu and five other high-ranking officials.

Exporting Texas beef to Gansu, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture, is one of the first items on Miller’s list of trade opportunities to facilitate.

Texans asked to waste less

Texas Commission of Environmental Quality on Dec. 15 encouraged citizens to generate less holiday-related garbage through its Take Care of Texas campaign.

Examples of recommended actions to generate less garbage:

1. Plan an eco-friendly party. Choose reusable plates, cups, linens and utensils instead of disposable ones; and avoid disposable hats, noisemakers, streamers, balloons or other throwaways.

2. Use reusable bags.

3. Buy local.

4. Recycle your tree.

5. Reuse gift wrap.

Tesla’s founder to speak

Texas Department of Transportation on Dec. 17 announced Tesla Motors CEO and co-founder Elon Musk will deliver the keynote address at the 10th Annual Texas Transportation Forum on Jan. 15 at the Hilton Austin Hotel.

Transportation leaders will meet at the forum, Jan. 14-16, to explore ways to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.

ED STERLING is the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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