Senate Considers Cancer Fund Reform
Senators heard testimony Tuesday relating to possible abuses at the state’s cancer research institute. Last session, the Legislature created the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), endowing it with $300 million to sponsor cancer research in Texas. During the interim, allegations have arisen about the relationships between CPRIT employees and potential grant recipients. An audit of the organization revealed at least three instances where CPRIT officials did not follow proper protocols in awarding grants.
Health and Human Services Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, who authored the bill that created CPRIT, was dismayed at the testimony before her committee. “They interpreted policies in ways I don’t think any reasonable person would. And in doing so they let us all down,” she said. “We need to revamp our laws to prevent creative interpretations of what I believe was our clear legislative intent.” She has filed a bill, SB 149, that would increase state oversight over CPRIT by changing the leadership staff and requiring public reporting of CPRIT spending. That bill was left pending before her committee and will be decided on at a future date.
Also Tuesday, legislators learned that Texas remains in a state of drought, one that isn’t likely to end in the next few months. Members of the Senate and House Natural Resource Committees held a joint meeting to receive a briefing on the drought, as well as preview ways the state is planning to mitigate drought conditions. State Ecologist John Nielsen-Gammon told the panel that the current drought is the third worst in Texas history, and if it lasts into the summer, will become second to the 1950-1957 drought in severity. He testified that over the past two years, the state has received only two-thirds of its normal rainfall and that reservoir levels are at their lowest point since 1990.
The joint committee also heard about ways the Texas Water Development board is planning to change the way it responds to drought conditions. Agency official Carolyn Brittan told lawmakers the next round of state water planning would require entities with a population of less than 7500 to come up with contingency plans for drought conditions, as well as thresholds for implementing those plans. These new plans will include fresh population data from the 2010 census.
Water has been a big issue this session. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst told the Senate in his opening speech this session that water infrastructure development must be a top priority for the Legislature this year. Governor Rick Perry in his State of the State address advocated using just over $3 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to pay for water development projects.
The Senate passed its first bill of the session this week. SB 135, by Senate Education Committee Chair Senator Dan Patrick of Houston, would remove the requirement that high school end-of-course examinations make up 15 percent of a student’s final grade. Instead, the bill would permit local districts to decide how much of that exam affects final grades, ranging from zero to fifteen percent. That bill now heads to the House for approval.