TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of May 17, 2010

Four members of the State Board of Education who are exiting their seats in January cast decisive votes this week on controversial curriculum revisions that could alter social studies textbooks for 4.7 million public school children in Texas. But, just maybe, not so fast: some of their probable successors say they'll reopen the books later. … A member of the SBOE's internationally notorious conservative wing trotted out Barack Obama's middle name late in a marathon meeting Thursday, a fitting end to a debate over social studies curriculum standards that was marked by irritable outbursts and inane dialogue. Members fought over slavery, Jefferson Davis, Joseph McCarthy — even over when they could finally adjourn.

Top professors and administrators at Texas universities routinely earn between to $250,000 and $500,000 year, while presidents and chancellors earn up to $900,000, according to salary data for more than a dozen universities and university systems newly added to the Tribune's public employee salary database.

Before adopting the Fair Defense Act in 2001, Texas was considered abysmal in legal circles when it came to providing representation for the poor. Proponents and critics of the current system agree the situation has improved since lawmakers started requiring counties to implement minimum representation standards. But has it improved enough?

Five members of the U.S. House are lashing out at Gov. Rick Perry for what they say is his refusal to allocate more of the federal funding that moves through his office to the border. Perry claims his hands are tied and insists the congressmen need to check their math.

In Texas, nurse practitioners’ livelihoods are tied to physicians: By law, they can’t treat patients without a doctor’s permission. That means if they want to open their own practice, they must petition, and pay, a doctor to grant them “prescriptive authority” — to essentially keep an eye on their work and, in some cases, to be held liable for it. Doctors say this is as it should be. Nurse practitioners and their allies say doctors don't want the competition and charge them enough to run them out of business. “It borders on an immoral situation,” says state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center.

For many of the more than 150,000 Texans who have returned from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the struggle to cope with the horrors they've seen can result in drug addiction and violent outbursts. To deal with those harsh realities, 10 counties are working to establish "veterans courts" that would emphasize treatment or counseling over punishment.

While Congress investigates the April 20 explosion that killed 11 people and spiked an underwater oil leak that continues to spill more than 210,000 gallons a day, another BP rig is at the center of its own firestorm.

Lawmakers are pledging to take a closer look at the Texas Department of Insurance’s Division of Workers' Compensation in light of allegations by former employees that their higher-ups failed to sanction or remove dozens of doctors accused of overmedicating patients and overbilling insurers. The chairman of the House panel that oversees workers' compensation says he's planning a hearing on the matter this summer, and the chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission plans to question the division's commissioner at a public hearing next week.

Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, may be 50, but he's only been in the House for three sessions. He's part of a youth movement in the power corridors of the Legislature — one that's less about age than lack of seniority.

Which part of "this is a red state" doesn't Luke Hayes understand? Undaunted and optimistic, the 26-year-old state director of Organizing for America, the forward operating base for the president's reelection bid, sees blue in our future — perhaps as soon as 2012.

It's an impulse most of us learn to suppress in the seventh grade — the need give your enemies wedgies, tape "kick me" signs to their backs and put lizards in their lunchboxes. Political people don't suppress it — they channel it into goofy stunts to attract attention, ridicule opponents and blow off steam.

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