Adding to the fast-developing CPRIT story this week, the Texas legislature on Wednesday moved quickly to pass Senate Bill 149 in an effort to reform the embattled cancer research-funding organization before the end of this year’s legislative term. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the author of the Senate Bill, highlighted the fact that “CPRIT isn’t the first agency to stumble and it won’t be the last,” but that ” . . .CPRIT must be held to a higher standard because its mission is so important.”
Senator Nelson, who helped form CPRIT in 2007, has remained at the forefront of criticizing the organization’s missteps, and has worked to spearhead the reform efforts in the Senate. The bill will also have to pass the Texas House as well before Governor Perry can sign it into law.
Nelson’s bill strives to put sweeping reforms into place for CPRIT going forward, including provisions to add tighter controls and limitations on grant distribution, increased transparency and internal oversight, and measures to prevent conflicts of interest between CPRIT staff members and the private sector. According to the Star-Telegram:
“Nelson’s bill incorporates the recommendations of a critical 2012 state audit that exposed potential conflicts of interest within the agency and called on CPRIT to “significantly improve the transparency and accountability” of its grant process.
One of the audit recommendations included in SB149 would remove the state attorney general and the comptroller as members of CPRIT’s oversight committee. State Auditor Tom Keel suggested that the two officials’ participation on the CPRIT panel could impair them from conducting a critical outside review.”
The Senate bill did stop short of several other measures and amendments suggested by Senator Davis, such as an increase in the amount of CPRIT funding for cancer prevention, as well as another amendment that
. . . would have required CPRIT records to be subject to disclosure under the state’s open records law. Nelson said she worried that the requirement could possibly expose proprietary information, but she and Davis agreed to work on the amendment to remove any proprietary threats.
The fast-tracked passage of the Senate bill comes as a surprise, in the midst of a week that has seen the CPRIT scandal intensify with a new probe into the CPRIT Foundation, which announced earlier in the week that it will officially close in 60 days. With the Texas state budget due to be passed, it is likely that the legislature is looking to fast-track CPRIT reforms into law so that it can be included into the 2013-2014 budget. At present, CPRIT has been left out of the budget plan.