Vol 29, Issue 48 Print Issue

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Flawn Academic Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Austin, Texas.
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Flawn Academic Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Austin, Texas.

State Officials Seek End to Federal Election Oversight

The U.S. Supreme Court may determine the fate of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that became an Achilles' heel for Republican lawmakers this year. That could free Texas from federal oversight in election laws. 

School Finance Trial Will Influence Session, With or Without a Final Decision

A final decision in the school finance trial against the state involving more than two-thirds of its districts and charter schools likely won’t happen until after the lights go out in the 83rd Legislature. But that doesn’t mean what’s happening inside of the courtroom now won’t have an impact on policy under the pink dome.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Lawmakers condemned grant policies at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas that left room for potential conflicts of interest, and criticized a lack of transparency at the CPRIT Foundation, a non-profit that supplements the salaries of some of the institute’s leaders. And top leaders have called on the CPRIT oversight board to place a moratorium on new CPRIT grants until things are sorted out.

In response to last week's Connecticut school shooting, state Rep.-elect Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, says he will file legislation to allow public school teachers to carry concealed weapons while on campus. He wasn't alone. Attorney General Greg Abbott said 78 Texas school districts do not meet state-mandated safety standards to protect students. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, have both said publicly that the events in Connecticut could have been avoided if school officials had been armed. And Gov. Rick Perry suggested that local control should rule — and school districts should decide for themselves whether to allow their employees to carry firearms.

Texas comes in dead last in funding for mental health, according to the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. The study cited was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and showed that per capita spending on mental health was lower than any of the other 49 states and also the District of Columbia. 

Students who were discouraged from enrolling in the El Paso Independent School District might be visited by district officials working on the testing scandal that led to sanctions by the Texas Education Agency. A group called the Alpha Initiative is reaching out to students, and hopes to offer them a chance to return to school and earn their diplomas.

Having students wear name badges with embedded radio chips is a violation of their religious freedom according to federal court testimony in a lawsuit that arose in Northside ISD. Andrea Hernandez and her father Steven both testified that they object to the radio frequency identification tags because they are a sign of submission to the Antichrist detailed in the Bible. 

Texans pay the highest homeowner premiums in the nation, rising more than 3 percent in one year, according to a report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The 2010 figures show an average policy in Texas cost $1,560, against a national average of $909. Insurance officials blame the high cost of insuring Texas homes, which are subject to hailstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes and increasingly, damages from extreme drought.

The Port of Houston is anxiously watching negotiations between longshoremen and the organization representing ports, the United States Maritime Alliance. They haven’t been able to reach an agreement and when the longshoremen’s contract expires on December 29. A strike or a lockout could be costly for the port; a lockout on the West Coast in 2002 was estimated to have a $1-billion-a-day impact on the economy.

Political People and their Moves

Ray Martinez and Jason Smith are joining the Cross Oaks Group, a lobby shop founded by Jim Dow and former Rep. Mark Homer. Martinez was most recently chief of staff to Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Smith is a lobbyist and political consultant who worked in the House and also on Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. 

Former Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, is joining Austin-based Crosswind Media and Public Relations. He was first elected to the House in 2002 and didn’t seek reelection this year. 

Spencer Yendell will be the new communications director at the Republican Party of Texas, replacing Chris Elam, who is leaving to work on Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s 2014 bid for lieutenant governor. Yendell was most recently a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Francisco Canseco, R-San Antonio.

The federal complex in Midland has a new name, honoring the last two presidents from Texas as well as a former congressman. It’s a mouthful: the “George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush United States Courthouse and George Mahon Federal Building.”