Author Archives: Shannon Najmabadi

Senate gives early OK to must-pass “sunset” legislation

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, talks with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on the dais during the Senate session on July 19, 2017.  After passing SB20 the sunset bill, the Senate will reconvene at midnight to pass the bills to third reading. 

A fast-moving Senate gave unanimous early approval to critical “sunset legislation” on Wednesday afternoon, using two bills to extend the life of five state agencies held political hostage at the end of the regular legislative session.

The special session’s Senate Bill 20 and Senate Bill 60, authored by state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, would reauthorize the Texas Medical Board and four other state agencies. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he won’t add other hot-button items to legislators’ agenda until after they keep those agencies afloat. 

The Senate will reconvene one minute after midnight, when lawmakers in the upper chamber can take a final vote on both bills. 

“I will bring the pizza and the soda pop,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joked. 

If they pass, as expected, they’ll head across the hall to the Texas House, which has made clear it’s not motivated by a speedy timetable. 

Senators also announced that several committees would hold public hearings Friday, including on the controversial “bathroom bill” that has yet to be filed. 

The House State Affairs committee on Wednesday approved sunset legislation of its own — House Bill 1 by Round Rock Republican Larry Gonzales — which would leave the five state agencies open for another two years. It’s unclear how soon that bill will head to the full chamber.

The House would also need to pass House Bill 2 to fund the agencies.

Andy Duehren contributed to this report. 

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Licensing director is seventh official out at troubled Texas liquor agency

Pictured second from left is liquor lobbyist Dewey Brackin. Next to him, in the center, is Amy Harrison, licensing director at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The photo was taken in San Antonio at a conference of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators. Brackin forwarded the photo to Harrison with the caption, "Feeling no pain ..."

Licensing Director Amy Harrison is the seventh official out at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission since April. TABC spokesman Chris Porter said Friday Harrison “separated” from the agency Wednesday.

Jo Ann Joseph, previously the deputy director of licensing, will act as licensing director until a decision is made about Harrison’s permanent replacement, Porter said.

Harrison helped oversee the creation of a controversial flyer depicting agency honchos partying during out-of-state junkets. Her departure comes less than a week after the acting executive director abruptly quit, saying he did not want to participate in the “termination” of Harrison.

“I believe you are a good man who faces a very challenging situation and who must make some difficult decisions,” the acting executive director wrote in a letter to TABC Chairman Kevin Lilly. “However my conscience will not allow me to take part in the termination of Amy Harrison from the commission.”

The TABC has seen a spate of departures since The Texas Tribune began reporting a series of stories about the agency, including lavish trips officials took to out-of-state resorts, questionable use of peace officer status by agency brass, and failures to accurately maintain records of state-owned vehicles.

Gov. Greg Abbott tapped Lilly to clean up the agency’s mess. And on Tuesday, a decorated military officer and practicing lawyer, Adrian Bentley Nettles, was picked to head TABC after the acting executive director’s departure. 

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New executive director appointed to troubled Texas liquor agency

Bentley Nettles, a decorated military officer and practicing lawyer, was appointed executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. 

A lawyer with a lengthy military background has been tapped to clean up the embattled Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, after a series of controversies and high-level departures at the agency.

TABC commissioners appointed Adrian Bentley Nettles, a decorated military officer and practicing lawyer, to head the Texas liquor agency after a closed-door session on Tuesday.

Nettles will replace Sherry Cook, who announced in April she would step down from the executive directorship amid a series of spending controversies at the TABC.

“Brigadier General Bentley Nettles is a tested leader whose integrity, skills and experience, in both the military and the private sector, make him the ideal choice to get the TABC back on track,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “As a highly decorated military officer, and Texas lawyer, General Nettles has dedicated his life to serving Texans and his country, and I am confident he will continue to be a dedicated public servant in his new role. I have no doubt that his steady hand will restore trust in the agency, and I look forward to working with him in his new role.”

Nettles was released from active duty in 2015 and now has a law office in Bryan, focused on assisting veterans with issues related to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, estate planning, Medicaid and small business. Over the course of his military career, he was awarded 24 awards and badges, including a Purple Heart.

TABC Chairman Kevin Lilly said six candidates were interviewed for the executive director position on Tuesday. Lilly praised Nettles’ leadership, strong legal background, character and history of public service. “I think he’s a great American and a great Texan and his history of public service is unblemished,” he added in a brief interview Tuesday.

Lilly was tapped by Abbott, who has expressed public concern about TABC, to reform the agency. After Cook announced she would step down, Abbott said in a tweet, “It’s time to clean house from regulators not spending taxpayer money wisely.” He added, “This is a good start.”

Robert Saenz, executive chief of field operations, will serve as acting executive director until Nettles can take over, likely in three to four weeks. Julia Allen, an assistant general counsel at the agency, will serve as acting general counsel.

Six high-level officials have left TABC in the past few months, including Ed Swedberg, who became acting executive director after Cook’s departure. He quit Friday after a few weeks on the job.

The TABC has seen a spate of departures since The Texas Tribune began reporting a series of stories about the agency, including lavish trips officials took to out-of-state resorts, questionable use of peace officer status by agency brass, and failures to accurately maintain records of state-owned vehicles.

Since the Tribune began its reporting, Texas lawmakers have also voted to ban most out-of-state travel for agency personnel.

In June, the Tribune reported that the TABC tried to cancel every permit held by Spec’s liquor stores or fine the retailer up to $713 million. In a blunt ruling, a panel of judges said the TABC failed to prove any serious infractions made by Spec’s and recommended that no fines be imposed on the Houston-based liquor store chain.

Besides Swedberg and Cook, the agency’s general counsel, chief of enforcement and head of internal affairs have all left the agency since the beginning of July.

When Swedberg quit on Friday, he said he did not want to participate in the “termination” of another high-ranking official, Licensing Director Amy Harrison. Harrison, who helped oversee the creation of a controversial flyer depicting agency honchos partying during out-of-state junkets, still had her job Tuesday, TABC spokesman Chris Porter said.

Additional reporting by Jay Root.

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