Texas Monitor Week In Review — July 30, 2017

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A Houston bribery scandal continued to make waves this week with The Texas Monitor
obtaining records that provided more details about how Houston Community College Trustee Chris Oliver solicited bribes from a local businessman.

According to these records, Oliver promised that he would make local business icon Karun
Sreerama “a millionaire.” If Sreerama paid the trustee $2,500 a month, Oliver promised he
could deliver lucrative college contracts.

Sreerama began giving Oliver cash stuffed in envelopes in May 2015, ultimately paying Oliver $12,000. The businessman finally stopped paying in May 2016 after Oliver didn’t deliver on his promise of millions.

The monthly payments — bankrolled by the FBI — came several years after Sreerama made $77,000 in “loans” to Oliver. And it was after those loans when Sreerama began cooperating with the feds. He is described as a “victim” in court documents and on Friday Sreerama emphasized that he was a victim and being a good citizen by helping the FBI.

Sreerama was long known as a wheeler-dealer, hobnobbing with powerful elected officials and getting business from many government entities.

He was appointed by Mayor Sylvester Turner this past spring to head the city’s Public Works Department. Turner announced on Friday that Sreerama was out.

It looks like Attorney General Ken Paxton will finally get his day in court.A Harris County District judge has set Dec. 11 as the trial date for Paxton to fight allegations

A Harris County District judge has set Dec. 11 as the trial date for Paxton to fight allegations that he broke securities law.

The case, which will be tried before a jury, should wrap up no later than Dec. 22, although attorneys said it’s unlikely to take that long.

“I want to make sure everybody has a chance to make a full case,” Judge Robert Johnson told the court Thursday afternoon.

Paxton is a former state senator who won the attorney general’s seat in 2014. He is accused of misleading investors in technology startup company when he served in the Texas Legislature.

Powerful state House Committee Chairman Byron Cook can no longer bar a conservative activist from recording during his State Affairs Committee hearings.

That was the ruling this week from a Travis County Judge. Her order is a blow against Cook, a Republican from Corsicana, who has long tried to restrict recording to credentialed media.

But the ruling is limited. It only applies to Amy Hedtke — who sued Cook after she was forcibly removed from a hearing in March for continuing to record the event using Facebook Live — and to Cook, even though several other committee chairs follow a similar practice.

Special session legislation that would prohibit state and local governments from collecting dues for public unions passed the Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee last week.

No surprise there in the Republican-controlled committee.

What was a surprise was that Republican Robert Nichols of Jacksonville voted against the bill.

Nichols, who is up for election in 2018, voted in favor of similar legislation during this year’s regular legislative session, as well as during the 2015 legislative session.

Nichols’ vote also comes in the wake of an overwhelming majority vote by GOP voters on the 2016 Republican Primary ballot supporting this kind of legislation.

Supporters of the bill say that the government should have no official role in collecting dues
from public union paychecks since taxpayer money is used to do so. Many public union
members say this is yet another effort to tear down union power.

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Chris is the former news anchor for KENS 5-TV in San Antonio. He commanded the anchor chair from 1973 to 2009. He consistently was lauded by the Associated Press for best news-writing awards and was a viewer favorite. He was inducted into the Texas Emmy Silver Circle in 2010. Chris also has a law degree from St. Mary’s University and passed the Texas bar exam in November 2007.

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