The Brief: Dec. 11, 2015

Accounts of a planned update to the state's child support enforcement system that is behind schedule and over budget left at least one lawmaker "kind of speechless."

The Big Conversation

Accounts of a planned update to the state's child support enforcement system that is behind schedule and over budget left at least one lawmaker "kind of speechless."

As the Tribune's Edgar Walters reports, members of the House's budget writing committee on Thursday "grilled state officials and the tech companies, wondering aloud whom they should hold accountable for the contract failures and questioning why part of that money was paid to workers in India. Committee chairman Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, invited testimony about the two contracts at Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office, vowing to 'take up this matter again' as more information is turned up about what went wrong."

Walters added, "The work was supposed to cost $1.8 million, but the contract was renewed five times for a total cost of $46 million. Still, the finished product 'wasn’t worth the paper it was written on,' according to testimony from Herbert Krasner, a technology expert from the University of Texas at Austin who evaluated the contract for the federal government."

“I am kind of speechless,” said state Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto.

Elsewhere in the Capitol on Thursday, lawmakers looking into immigration enforcement heard from a local law enforcement official who has borne the brunt of criticism from Gov. Greg Abbott for allegedly not cooperating fully with federal immigration authorities.

“That is a rumor that has grown like a field weed spread with cow manure. It has grown like crazy,” Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said, as reported by the Tribune's Julián Aguilar. “At one point [ICE] said to us ‘Sometimes we’ll ask for somebody who you just have on a stop sign violation’ and I was very uncomfortable with that. And they said, ‘But we have other information behind it for that person.’”

Lawmakers also heard from Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, who raised concerns about a law passed this year that contained a provision ordering the agency "to delete its current collection of full sets of fingerprints and only take a thumb or forefinger print from applicants for driver’s licenses and other ID cards."

According to McCraw, the language "has 'absolutely' taken from the department a valuable tool to help identify people who may have committed crimes."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Trib Must Reads

Prison Teacher Almost Missed Her Calling, by Johnathan Silver – Every day, teacher Jody Addy walks through a metal detector, waits for a pat down, shows her ID and passes through locked gates before walking to her classroom in the middle of a maximum security prison in west central Texas.

Texas Taxpayers Foot $2.7 Million Bill for WrestleMania, by Aman Batheja – Gov. Greg Abbott has committed $2.7 million in taxpayer dollars to bring WrestleMania to AT&T Stadium in Arlington next year, one of 20 events his office has approved such funding for since September.

Cruz Talks Foreign Policy, Deflects Question on Trump, Carson, by Abby Livingston – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz declined to refute a report he questioned the foreign policy judgment of his two GOP rivals, real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. 

UIL Gears Up to Hold New Statewide Robotics Competition, by Luqman Adeniyi – High school students creating robotic arms and small electronic vehicles will compete for a new championship title as the University Interscholastic League is launching a pilot robotics program for Texas schools.

State Rep. Naishtat Changes Mind, Will Not Seek Re-election, by Madlin Mekelburg – Longtime state Rep. Elliott Naishtat announced Thursday he will not seek re-election to the House seat he first won in 1990, despite saying earlier this week that he would.

UT-Austin Panel: Ban Guns in Dorms, But Not Classrooms, by Madlin Mekelburg – A task force at the University of Texas at Austin has recommended guns be prohibited in residence halls, at sporting events and in certain laboratories. But the suggestions do not call for banning handguns in classrooms.

Railroad Commissioner Porter Drops Re-election Bid, by Jim Malewitz – Railroad Commissioner David Porter announced Thursday that he will exit his primary battle against Republican activist John Greytok. Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is exploring a run for the seat. 

The Day Ahead

•    Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick addresses "the Senate's New Christmas Tree Tradition" at a 1 p.m. press appearance in the Senate Chamber. 

•    Houston voters go to the polls on Saturday to select their next mayor. Sylvester Turner and Bill King are competing in a runoff election to determine who will succeed Annise Parker as the city's next leader.

Elsewhere

At Accenture hearing, Greg Abbott is the unnamed elephant in the room, The Dallas Morning News

Ted Cruz is positioned to win Iowa, insiders sayDes Moines Register

Senate panel scolds Trump’s Muslim ban – minus Cruz, 3 others, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Judge says he will rule on Wallace Hall’s suit for documents next week, The Dallas Morning News

Deadly Dentistry - An Investigation, The Dallas Morning News

Steve McCraw says tea party-backed law hampering Texas law enforcement, Austin American-Statesman 

With Remarks in Affirmative Action Case, Scalia Steps Into ‘Mismatch’ Debate, The New York Times

Theft of guns from Waller Co. sheriff's vehicle raises questions, Houston Chronicle 

Today in TribTalk

What minority students bring to my physics classes, by Michael Marder – At yesterday's Fisher v. University of Texas hearing, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts asked, "What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?" A UT-Austin physics professor has an answer.

Quote to Note

"Every member of the working group believes it would be better to not have concealed handguns in classes, but (campus carry) is the law."

– Steve Goode, a UT-Austin law professor and chair of the university's campus carry working group, on UT-Austin's recommendations released Thursday on how to implement the campus carry law on campus

News From Home

This week, we are pushing out Texas Public Schools Explorer 2.0 — a completely redesigned, revamped version of our public schools app. It includes extensive records on EVERY public and charter school in Texas, and lets you easily find graduation rates, test scores and more for all of the 1,219 school districts and 8,646 public schools in Texas.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A conversation about Houston & the Legislature: What's Next? on Dec. 15 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston

•    A conversation with former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove on Dec. 17 at the Austin Club

•    A conversation with state Reps. Celia Israel, Eddie Rodriguez and Paul Workman on Jan. 14 at St. Edward's University in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune's second Texas-centric Trivia Night on Jan. 31 at The Highball in Austin