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Senate Bill Could Change How Texas Agencies Make Deals

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT News
State senators are reviewing a bill that would change Texas laws on how state agencies award contracts.

A state senator says Texas has "gaping holes" in the laws on contracting. To change that, a panel of lawmakers is reviewing a bill from State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, that would overhaul how billions of dollars in state funding are awarded.

Under the bill, the more money involved in a state agency contract, the more competitive bids required before signing a deal. Agencies would have to post their contracts online and develop a contract management database, for instance.

"There’s no room for even the appearance of favoritism or unethical behavior from our state agencies," says Nelson, who chairs the Texas Senate Committee on Finance. She filed the bill after controversies, including a deal between the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and an Austin company, 21 CT, that makes Medicaid fraud software. Investigators are looking at whether a competitive bidding process was avoided. The person who brokered the deal was forced to resign. 

State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) says the bill is a job well done, but he said the state should prosecute people equally.

"We prosecute people for welfare fraud, and that's $1,000 when we have issues after media investigations where people have appears they have engaged in improprieties where millions of dollars are at issue," Royce said at the Capitol hearing. "Will we go after them with equal vigor? I've been here long enough to know also that we pass these laws but then we turn around and leave and the question then becomes whether or not our intent is actually carried out."

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