TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of Mar 22, 2010

Hank Skinner was set to die Wednesday for the 1993 murders of his live-in girlfriend and her two mentally disabled adult sons — a crime he insists he did not commit. About an hour before he was to have poison pushed through his veins, the U.S. Supreme Court spared his life.

Despite all the handwringing about the influence of Texas on the textbook market nationally, it's just not so, publishing insiders say. The state's clout has been on the wane for years and will diminish more as technological advances and political shifts transform the industry.

“I was taught evolution, and it didn’t shake my /faith in the Almighty whatsoever,” says George Clayton, who pulled off a stunning upset of incumbent Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, R-Dallas, in the GOP primary to win a seat on the State Board of Education. “Should creationism be taught as a counter to evolution? ... No, I don’t think so. I think evolution is in the science book. It should be taught as a science.”

Behind the fiery health care rhetoric in Washington is a measure expected to dramatically expand Texas’ Medicaid program, adding up to 1 million adults to the state’s insurance roll — but at a steep cost. Under the historic bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed Sunday night, citizens making less than $14,000 a year or families of four with household incomes under $29,000 would qualify for Medicaid coverage starting in 2014. In seven years, Texas will have to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue to foot its share of the bill.

The just-passed federal health care reform bill would prohibit states from dropping kids off the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid until 2019. Texas budget writers used changes in CHIP eligibility to help balance the state's books in 2003.

The state says that if it has the power to ban alcohol in strip clubs, then it can levy a $5 "pole tax." But the clubs argued before the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday that nude dancing is a form of protected speech and that the tax violates the First Amendment.

The first political ads bought by a corporation in Texas appeared in East Texas newspapers just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended the state's ban on that kind of spending. They challenged the Republican bona fides of state Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, a Democrat who switched parties in November and ran in a three-way GOP primary.

In 2011, political mapmakers will take the latest census numbers (Texas is expected to have a population of more than 25 million) and use them to draw new congressional and legislative districts. The last time this was done, in 2003, Republican mappers took control of the U.S. House by peeling away seats from the Democrats. This time, Texas is poised to add up to four seats to its congressional delegation — and early numbers indicate bad news ahead for West Texas and other areas that haven't kept up with the state's phenomenal growth.

Seven Texas counties — Rockwall, Williamson, Collin, Hays, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Denton — are listed among the nation's 30 fastest-growing areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today. They also voted for John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.

When high-ranking officials in the Obama administration travel to Mexico today to discuss that country's role in combating border violence, one key member of the team will be missing: the commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security, whose nomination has languished in the U.S. Senate since September.

Texas' wind power prowess is well known: Turbines have been popping up like weeds, and we now have three times the wind power installed as the next closest state. But other renewable energy sources have lagged here.

Texans have always been far better at making energy than saving it. But if a proposal before the Public Utility Commission gets approved this year, buildings and appliances would need to become much more energy efficient by 2014. Electric providers across the state would be required to offset 50 percent of their customers' growth in usage with energy-efficiency measures — well above the current 20 percent requirement set by the Legislature.

Two Republicans are battling for the chance to win back a Williamson County legislative seat from first-term state Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock. They differ more in style than substance. One says he has deeper ties to the district. The other touts more than a decade's worth of experience as a Capitol insider.

Primary night was humming along swimmingly for Humble school board president Dan Huberty, and after the early vote he seemed headed to victory. Then the numbers dipped and his fortunes changed, and now he's in a heated GOP runoff with Dr. Susan Curling. As another Election Day draws closer, the contest is getting personal.

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