There’s bee a soap opera going for several months in Williamson County. If you not familiar with it go here and here.
Over the summer we learned that Judge Rick Kennon will be running against Jana Duty in the upcoming GOP Primary for Williamson County DA.
The latest shows us the kind of mess we get when one party holds every political office in the county, Williamson County DA attacks judge’s ruling in capital murder case.
The fight over the Williamson County capital murder case of Crispin Harmel has heated up again, with the district attorney alleging in a court document that a judge retaliated against her for examining his divorce records.
That’s right this whole fight might stem from the current DA doing opposition research on a potential future political opponent. All the while a murder case twists in the wind.
Take it offline you two and stop wasting our time and money.
It’s becoming clear that the GOP in Texas has no problem with the cuts to Medicaid therapy reimbursement rates for physical, occupational, and speech therapy for the disabled. They just don’t want to be blamed for it.
And Gov. Greg Abbott may have emails that proved just that. Via Scott Braddock at QR, Amid Medicaid controversy, Gov. Abbott refuses to release emails between his office and HHSC.
As a bipartisan backlash grew against the cuts, sources told QR on August 26 that Abbott had told the agency to stick to its guns on the issue while staying publicly silent about it.
A spokesman for Gov. Abbott repeatedly declined to comment to QR and later declined to comment to the Houston Chronicle.
On September 2, Quorum Report submitted a Texas Public Information Act request for emails between Abbott’s office and top HHSC officials dated between July 1 and September 1.
After 5pm on Thursday evening, Abbott’s office informed QR that the request is being appealed to the Office of the Attorney General.
Here is the letter from Abbott’s office notifying QR of their decision to involve the AG’s office in the process.
Obviously those emails contain things Abbott would rather not see the light of day. It’s clear the GOP still wants these cuts – Abbott included – they just don’t want to be blamed for it. If they don’t go through with the cuts, at this point, it’s would be them admitting that government health care works and the government can actually do good in people’s lives. And that they cannot have.
[UPDATE]: More on Abbott’s lack of transperancy, Abbott concealing Medicaid emails contrasts with campaign promise.
Promising transparency is easy while campaigning, delivering while in office is another matter
In seeking refuge in an AG Opinion on delivering his emails to HHSC about controversial Medicaid cuts in services to disabled children, Governor Greg Abbott cited virtually the entire Public Information Act instead of the provision under which he was seeking an exemption. That lack of specificity is certainly unique in Quorum Report experience and a quick check among the Texas Capitol community suggests we are not alone in thinking it may be unprecedented.
The blanket claim for exemption is both absurd and silly.
The Texas GOP has a problem with health care. They hate it, for everyone other then themselves of course. But what they really hate is Medicaid – (and Medicare and Social Security). But they hate Medicaid
so much so that they did this, Cuts Threaten Therapy Services for Disabled Texas Kids.
Jaxon doesn’t respond to anti-epilepsy medication, and taking him to a crowded hospital or outpatient clinic for therapy would trigger even more seizures and spasms, his mother said. Instead, the family relies on three therapists who each visit their Corsicana home twice a week to help Jaxon cope with his disability.
The speech, occupational and physical therapy that Jaxon receives are all covered by the Texas Medicaid Acute Care Therapy Program, which provides in-home pediatric services for low-income children with birth defects, genetic disorders or cognitive disabilities. Adults recovering from injuries or coping with diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s also use the program.
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a budget rider directing the Health and Human Services Commission to find ways to save on Medicaid therapy costs. The commission settled on a scheme that would cut reimbursement rates for Medicaid therapy providers that disabled Texans like Jaxon rely on. The cuts amount to a loss of $150 million in state money over the next two fiscal years, and jeopardize another $200 million in federal matching funds.
Rachel Hammon, executive director of the Texas Association of Home Care and Hospice, said home health agencies won’t be able to sustain such a drastic financial hit.
The reimbursement rate reduction “will most certainly impact individuals’ ability to access care,” she said. As many as 60,000 children will bear the brunt of these cuts. The jobs of thousands of therapists statewide are also in peril.
Since word got out late last month about just how cruel the Texas GOP’s cuts are, some…and I emphasize some, in the Texas GOP are backpedaling on this.
It’s not that they don’t want cuts to Medicaid, it seems they’re trying to find some way to make these cut without it being so noticeable. Not sure that’s going to happen. Cue Joe Straus, “so-called” compassionate conservative, The agency needs to tell lawmakers if cuts will harm access to care for disabled kids.
I expect the Commission to keep us in compliance with federal law as it works through a new proposal. I also believe it is the agency’s responsibility to inform the Legislature if the proposed reductions would harm access to care and network adequacy.
(Sen. Jane Nelson too). When was the last time the Texas GOP cared about federal law? Anyway. Hey Joe, I’ve got a news flash for you, the cuts are going to hurt disabled kids! But they knew that going in, and they didn’t care. Most in the GOP still don’t. See they think Medicaid is broken and they want the “freedom” to revamp it.
Repeating a familiar GOP argument, Schwertner said that Medicaid is “broken and ailing.” It cramps the Legislature’s ability to fund education, law enforcement and roads, he said.
He said that after Texans pay federal income tax and other federal taxes, some of their money comes back to the state as federal Medicaid matching dollars – but with too many conditions.
Schwertner called them “gold-plated handcuffs that stand in the way of common sense, conservative reforms that could otherwise help contain these exploding costs.”
Expanding Medicaid as Obamacare envisions is out of the question, he said, despite calls by hospitals and other health-care providers for a “Texas solution” that would draw down the extra federal money available.
“Until we receive the kind of flexibility we are calling for today, … any expansion of Medicaid in Texas is simply not worth discussing,” Schwertner said. [Emphasis added]
If they’ll do stuff like this without freedom, just imagine if we took away Sen. Schwertner’s gold plated hand cuffs. Many of us wouldn’t survive such common sense conservatism.
State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) urges Straus and Lt. Gov.Patrick to use their power to stop these cuts.
Via KVUE, Lawyer claims WilCo Commissioners want Baptist employees only.
It all began when Robert Lloyd, a 25-year veteran in law enforcement interviewed for a job as constable in 2013.
He claims the Williamson County Commissioners asked him illegal questions about his views on gay marriage, religion and abortion.
“I was shocked,” said Lloyd. “I was sick to my stomach when I left because I had never believed that things like this in government would go on.”
He filed a lawsuit against the commissioners for civil rights violations.
“Everybody knows those are illegal employment questions and they never should have been asked,” said Lloyd’s lawyer, Wayne Krause Yang, who is also the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
In a deposition video obtained by KVUE through Krause Yang, Williamson County Commissioner Lisa Birkman admits to asking the questions.
“I asked a question on their view on gay marriage to all the applicants for Precinct 3 Constable and their view on abortion,” Birkman said.
So far the county has spent close to $200,000 defending their line of questioning.
“It has been pretty draining but for me; it’s the reason that I got into this, so it doesn’t happen to someone else,” Lloyd said.
His lawyer said commissioners asked the questions about gay marriage, abortion and religion because they are all Baptist and wanted a Baptist candidate.
“If you don’t go to the church that they go to, you can’t have a job as a public employee in Williamson County,” said Krause Yang.
Now a judge will decide what happens, and whether Williamson County will be forced to pay once more in federal court.
The DA goes to jail, and now this. What’s a one-party rule county to do? There are definitely some fallible humans running things in Williamson County.
There have been two interesting article recently that shed some light on how GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott governs. The first is from Scott Braddock, Texas is officially sending mixed signals to business. There are many funny parts to this article. Chief among them how thin-skinned the business community is to the bloviating of Ted Cruz and Konni Burton.
General Electric delivered a blow to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s economic development efforts on Friday as Bloomberg let us know that GE “dropped the Dallas area as a site for a possible headquarters move because of concern that Texas’s political climate is unfavorable to the company’s business.” The company is apparently considering other places like Atlanta, for example.
Whether or not Texas has become unfavorable to business, likely depends on the business. I doubt anyone newcomers are unlikely to stop the flow of corporate welfare in Texas. As evidenced by this from later in the article.
Back in June, Gov. Abbott sent a letter to General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, informing him about recently-passed tax cuts as well as the state’s economic incentives programs for businesses.
“How many of my colleagues (other governors) just passed a total tax package of $3.8 billion like we did last week in Texas?” Abbott asked Immelt. “The Lone Star State already offers one of the lowest overall tax burdens in the nation, with no corporate income tax, no individual tax and no property tax at the state level – not to mention one of the most competitive deal-closing incentives programs,” Abbbott said.
Like his predecessor, Gov. Abbott is making the pitch to businesses that government should work with them to achieve the goals of job creation and investment in the communities where they are located.
That makes it seem like there’s nothing Abbott wouldn’t do to satisfy the needs of a business. It’s too bad he won’t go to such lengths for the needs of the people of Texas. Texans who need health care, a better education system, roads, and a living wage. All of which Texas is struggling with right now and make for an unfavorable business climate. Much more then the carping of Cruz and Burton.
Did someone say health care? Oh yeah, about that. The second article has to do with Abbott’s scheming on health care. Via the Texas Tribune, Abbott Courting Feds for Health Care Money, Emails Show.
Shortly before 1 a.m. on July 15, Gov. Greg Abbott sent an email from his personal account to his top advisers about an editorial published by the Houston Chronicle.
Its author, Ken Janda, had written that Texas’ health care safety net system for the poor and uninsured was “in serious danger of meltdown” because state leaders were refusing to expand health coverage to a million uninsured Texans living in poverty.
The governor told aides he wanted to “see the financials” of Janda’s nonprofit Community Health Choice, a health insurer affiliated with the Harris Health System, one of Texas’ largest public hospitals.
“I’m told by informed sources that most of these entities are rolling in dough,” Abbott wrote.
Paradise in Hell sums it up this way:
Abbott, who must be seen doing everything he can to oppose “Obamacare”, hasn’t been shy about attempting to hang onto another source of critical funding for Texas hospitals. The federal government provides a huge amount of money to Texas hospitals through the uncompensated care pool. For four years, the feds have reimbursed Texas’ safety-net hospitals for care they provide to people who cannot afford to pay because Texas refuses to embrace Medicaid expansion. Now that the feds are threatening to cut off this funding, Abbott is up in arms and has his administration attacking those who are arguing for Medicaid expansion.
What this shows is that Abbott is not concerned with the issues that the people of Texas are in need of the most. And that corporations and ideology are at the top of his list. If anyone was still holding out hope that Abbott would not govern like Perry, it’s time to forget about that.
There was some hope yesterday that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission was rethinking their position on cutting therapy service rates in Medicaid. That’s not the case, via DMN, Texas says it still plans same Medicaid cuts for therapists.
A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Commission has confirmed a lawmaker’s account that the Texas Medicaid program will press ahead with deep cuts to the fees it pays to providers of acute care therapy services.
The only difference in the situation from earlier in the summer is that the commission will re-start its rate-cutting process, so the lower rates won’t kick in Tuesday, as originally planned.
Commission spokesman Bryan Black wouldn’t comment but people with knowledge of the agency’s plans said the lower rates probably would take effect in early October.
In a statement, Black said commission leaders tried to work with home health agencies that sued them in state court in Travis County, seeking to block the rate reductions.
“[The commission] attempted to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs that would have required Legislative Budget Board approval,” he said. “Those attempts were rejected by the plaintiffs.”
It is expected to take about a month to re-issue the same lists of reduced rates, hold a public hearing and then issue an administrative rule.
A Democratic budget writer says a top official at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission told her Wednesday that the state still would pursue the same deep cuts to Medicaid therapy providers’ payments, despite statements to a judge earlier in the day that seemed to sound a retreat.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said the only alternative now to disruptions in disabled children’s care would be for the Legislative Budget Board to intervene and tell the commission it doesn’t have to meet savings goals outlined in a provision of the state budget.
Howard said a commission executive, whom she declined to name, told her Wednesday morning that the agency only was withdrawing a revised rate-cut proposal that it had submitted recently to state District Judge Amy Clark Meachum and plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the reimbursement changes. It will reissue the same rate cuts that have been discussed all summer, she said.
While the commission may hold a public hearing, the event “will not be meaningful,” she said.
“This is not the legislative intent of a good portion of the legislative body,” Howard said of the rate cuts, which would save $50 million of state funds per year in the coming two-year budget cycle. It begins Tuesday. It’s not clear exactly when the rate cuts would take effect.
The budget board, made up of 10 influential lawmakers, has to step in “so we are not depriving disabled children of the services they need and not cutting off small businesses at the knees,” Howard said.
The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) has only 2 Democrats out of 10 members on it. Which means, like everything else in Texas, the GOP broke it and they’re the only ones that can fix it. Probably not a good sign. Especially when we should be expanding Medicaid, not cutting it.
The hits keep coming for GOP Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. If you’re not aware he’s been indicted and re-indicted on felony securities fraud charges.
On Tuesday afternoon, the prosecutors re-filed two of the three charges Paxton faces — two counts of first-degree felony securities fraud. The third charge — accusing Paxton of acting as an investment adviser or representative without registering – remained untouched.
Paxton is accused of offering to sell two people more than $100,000 worth of stock in Servergy, a McKinney technology company, but not disclosing that the company was compensating him.
Paxton also didn’t make clear that he hadn’t personally invested in the company, the indictments allege. He received 100,000 shares, but that was in the form of compensation, according to the indictment.
Over the weekend the HChron published an article about his shady dealings in another case, Paxton’s role in Hunt family probate case called ill-defined and unorthodox.
Paxton’s role in the case from 2012-2014 was not publicly reported last year during his successful campaign for attorney general. Paxton took office in January as the state’s highest legal official. He was indicted last month on three felony counts for alleged violations of securities law in an unrelated case by a Collin County grand jury.
Paxton did not respond to the Chronicle’s specific questions about his actions in the case. Through a private attorney spokesman, he said via e-mail: “This case was settled by all parties and the settlement was approved by the presiding Judge. The Houston Chronicle’s questions indicate a gross misunderstanding of this case and the settlement. General Paxton was appointed by the Court to strictly be an advocate for the children to the Court.”
Two experts, Robert Schuwerk, a retired law professor and author of the Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics, and Judge Kathleen Stone, a senior district and former probate judge with 25 years’ experience, said Paxton’s actions in the Hunt probate case raised significant questions about his ethical conduct as the daughters’ court-appointed attorney ad litem – a role in which he was required to protect their interests as if he were their hired lawyer under both Texas case law and ethics rules. Both reviewed documents in the case at the request of the Houston Chronicle.
The settlement Paxton negotiated on the two small girls’ behalf was in their view clearly not in the girls’ best interest and ran counter to his legal and ethical obligations, Schuwerk and Stone said.
“I don’t think a competent lawyer for the child could do that, especially without looking into both the asserted legal basis for proposing to award the girls less than the entirety of the decedent’s estate (and trust) and without examining the underlying Hunt family trusts … in order to assess the strength of any claim they might have to those other assets,” Schuwerk said.
And in an article this week about a poll that shows Most GOP voters think Paxton should resign, a new issue is brought to light. The so-called “Mont Blanc pen story”.
A majority of Texas Republican voters think Attorney General Ken Paxton should resign, a new statewide poll has found.
The poll, being released Monday by the Longview-based Texas Bipartisan Justice Committee, found 78 percent of respondents were aware of the felony fraud indictments Paxton is facing and 62 percent said he should resign because of them. More than 53 percent of those who identified themselves as tea party voters agreed the Republican should resign the job he won in November.
Dr. John Coppedge, treasurer of the committee that commissioned the poll, said that as more becomes known about Paxton’s past — including what he calls “the Mont Blanc pen story” — the drumbeat for Paxton’s resignation will grow louder.
The poll, conducted Aug. 15 by Gravis Marketing of Florida, found 18 percent of GOP voters were aware of the Mont Blanc pen story. The 2013 episode, in which Paxton walked away from a courthouse metal detector with a $1,000 pen that didn’t belong to him, was reported a few weeks after the November election.
“This story is important because everybody can understand it and the moral issues involved,” Coppedge said in an interview. “Vague securities fraud issues don’t resonate with their day-to-day lives. This does.”
It’s unlikely he’ll resign and of course. Especially when GOP officials say Paxton should not resign.
Gov. Greg Abbott brushed off the idea Monday that indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton should resign, while the state GOP chairman said Texas’ chief law enforcement officer “absolutely” should stay in office while he faces the charges against him.
Innocent until proven guilty, of course. But Paxton’s problems are piling up.
In a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post it appears there may be some good news with regard to the HHSC therapy issue. Via the HChron, Bipartisan coalition forms against Medicaid cuts.
One longtime Texas senator and six state representatives have joined several Democrats who have called on the Health and Human Services Commission to pump the brakes on slashing Medicaid provider rates. They have sent letters to the agency’s chief, Chris Traylor, asking him to delay or reconsider the cuts.
It’s encouraging that some in the GOP may be coming to their senses on this issue. But no one should go so far as to give them credit for fixing something they broke on purpose. The lesson is don’t be cruel to being with, and then things like this won’t be necessary.
Try to remember back to January 2015 and how the Texas budget situation looked.
But [Comptroller Glenn] Hegar’s estimate is comparatively rosy, actually. The comptroller’s office estimates that the state is going to pull in a little over $110 billion dollars during the next biennium, plus $7.5 billion in “surplus” revenue at the end of the current one. With $5 billion of that $110 billion being split between the state highway fund and the state’s rainy day fund, the men and women of the 84th session will have, Hegar says, about $113 billion for the next budget.
To put that into perspective, the budget for the 2014-15 biennium was about $95 billion. According to the left-leaning think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities, it would take $101 billion this session just to maintain the level of services that were provided for in the old budget—new money needed in part because of the state’s rapid population growth. But that would still leave $12 billion for legislators to play with.
On one hand, it’s not a crisis budget, and it’s not one that will require legislators to make cuts (though they might anyway.) The office of Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick released a brief statement that characterized the comptroller’s estimate as a green light for his agenda, which has included the promise of significant tax cuts: It provided “adequate revenue to secure our border, provide property and business tax relief while focusing on education and infrastructure. I intend to accomplish these goals.” [Emphasis added]
The budget situation looked pretty good, but the GOP had plans already in place.
It’s estimated that just keeping up with population growth will require $6 billion to $7 billion more in state spending on services. Much of that $5 billion is already spoken for. There remains supplemental Medicaid funding needs in the current budget. The state is appealing a court ruling that might require a revamping of state school financing, a key part of the ruling having to do with how underfunded the system is. The price of oil, taxes on which contribute much to the state budget, is on a downward spiral at the moment. And existing programs need more money than any of these extra dollars can address — likely more need than can be covered even if better-than-expected economic growth pumps in more than $5 billion extra into the budget.
In other words, unmet need atop unmet need in Texas.
So, of course, tax relief is said to be a priority for the Legislature next year. Huh?
They did pass tax cuts for business.
The budget leaves $6.4 billion unspent, including $2.9 billion under the state’s constitutional spending cap, which limits the growth of some state funds. Lawmakers also left untouched another $11 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which is fed by oil and gas production taxes.
The budget also includes funding to cover $3.8 billion in property tax relief and franchise tax cuts for Texas businesses.
But vulnerable kids and the elderly were not part of the plan.
Even though there was enough to go around to triple spending on border security, the state Legislature directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to slash Medicaid reimbursement rates for therapists who work with Texas’ most vulnerable children. Legitimate questions are percolating about the reasons for the jump in the number of Medicaid clients now served by therapists. Nevertheless, there exists a very real likelihood that the extreme cuts proposed will be catastrophic for many Texas families.
The $150 million reduction in state funding over the biennium represents nearly a quarter of the overall budget for acute care – or outpatient – therapy, and it will trigger an estimated additional loss of $200 million in federal funding over the biennium. Acute care therapy can help ensure some children who receive the services will not require state aid for the rest of their lives and instead will be able to lead self-sufficient, productive lives.
While the cuts will primarily affect children, they will also affect adults. Of the seniors who need therapy, many have experienced strokes and need to re-learn to walk or speak. [Emphasis added]
Some in the GOP “say” they regret what they did. Hopefully they do and it’s not too late to do something about it. Maybe they could ask businesses to give back some of their $3.8 billion in tax cuts?
Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty has been found in contempt of court.
A judge has found Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty in contempt of court for violating a judge’s gag order during a hearing Thursday.
Williamson County Judge Rick Kennon filed the contempt motion against Duty in May after she refused to come to a hearing. Duty was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a $500 fine for the charges against her.
The judge wanted to discuss the claims that she violated a gag order on a murder case. Duty fought to have the gag order removed — essentially voiding the case against her — three times, and each attempt failed.
Duty was fingerprinted and released on bond, pending the completion of the appeals process.
Oh well, I guess a mug shot is what it takes to be a member of the GOP these days.
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