By Ed Sterling
Member services director for the Texas Press Association.
His column is a weekly aggregation of news about the state’s government.
House Speaker Joe Straus on Jan. 31 said a new state audit raises questions about the management of the state Health and Human Services Commission and illustrates the need for legislative hearings.
A report released last week by the State Auditor’s Office found that HHSC allowed Superior Health Plan Inc. to report approximately $29.6 million in bonus and incentive payments paid to affiliates’ employees, even though those payments were not allowed under the state’s contract with Superior. The state agency also approved Superior’s request to report affiliate profits as costs without following the approval process contained in the state’s contract with Superior.
“This audit highlights serious weaknesses in HHSC’s oversight of its own contracts. Taxpayers have a right to expect that the Commission will hold providers to contract requirements. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first example of HHSC failing to properly enforce requirements in taxpayer-funded contracts. This audit shows that there is a lot of room for improvement at HHSC,” Straus said.
Some $80 billion of the state’s $217 billion budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal biennium is funding the Health and Human Services Commission and the agencies it oversees.
Revenue total increases
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Feb. 2 announced that state sales tax revenue totaled $2.67 billion in January, an amount 9.1 percent more than the total recorded for January 2017.
Sales tax revenue is the largest source of funding for the state budget, accounting for 58 percent of all tax collections. Growth in sales tax revenue occurred across all major economic sectors in January, led by collections from the mining, construction and wholesale trade sectors.
Manufacturing, retail trade and restaurant sectors also saw strong gains. Hegar reported total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in January was up 10.8 percent compared to the same period in 2017.
Revenue from other major taxes on motor vehicle sales and rentals, motor fuels and oil and natural gas production also rose in January. Notably, oil and natural gas production taxes, which totaled an estimated $407 million for the month, were up 63.9 percent from January 2017.
Get ready to vote, Texans
Feb. 5 was the voter registration deadline.
On Jan. 31, Secretary of State Rolando Pablos reminded Texans to be ready to cast their vote in the March 6 Primary Election.
Pablos encouraged eligible voters to ensure that they (1) are registered to vote in their county of residence; (2) are aware of what they need to bring to the polls in order to cast a ballot; and (3) contact their county elections office to (a) become familiar with their ballot; (b) locate their appropriate polling location; and (c) plan their trip to the polls.
“I commend all Texans who take responsibility for their civic duty by exercising their right to vote,” Pablos said, adding: “Most importantly, I encourage all Texans to work together to ensure that our youngest generation is instilled with a tradition of voting and encouraged to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”
Paxton hails court ruling
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised a Lubbock federal court’s Feb. 1 ruling in his lawsuit seeking relief from obeying 2012 guidelines issued under President Obama by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The guidelines limit the ability of employers, including the state and its agencies, from categorically excluding convicted felons from certain employment positions.
In part of his multi-pronged order, Senior U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings ruled in partial agreement with the state’s position, saying, “There are certainly many categories of employment for which specific criminal history profiles of applicants would be a poor fit and pose far too great a risk to the state of Texas and its citizens.”
However, Cummings added that “a categorical denial of employment opportunities to all job applicants convicted of a prior felony paints too broad a brush and denies meaningful opportunities of employment to many who could benefit greatly from such employment in certain positions.”
Cummings ordered the EEOC to promulgate an enforceable, substantive rule.
Abbott comments on arrests
Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement following the announcement by the Texas Department of Public Safety that the Texas Rangers on Feb. 1 had arrested four suspects on charges of misconduct at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
“Misconduct on the part of employees entrusted with the responsibility of protecting our youth will not be tolerated,” Abbott said.
The arrests come after Abbott directed the Texas Rangers to investigate reports of sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships at state youth detention facilities.