Vol 29, Issue 9 Print Issue

Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 31, 2011, discussing Texas' lawsuit against federal health care reform.
Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 31, 2011, discussing Texas' lawsuit against federal health care reform.

Vindicated, More or Less

Greg Abbott's decision to go to the U.S. Supreme Court provided fuel for his supporters and his critics.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The latest legal challenge to the state's school finance system diverges slightly from the previous four. Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education has filed a suit challenging not how much the state of Texas provides for public education, but how the money is used. The suit also recommends that the state lift the cap on the number of charter schools it allows. Because the group wants to promote competition, the suit also proposes that public school systems be governed by the same rules as charters, which are exempted from minimum employee salaries, class size limits and enrollment requirements. The four lawsuits already pending against the latest school funding formulas charge that the state has inadequately funded education.

Although court-drawn maps are finally ready for the primary that’s expected to be held in May, voters across the state still face confusion about voter registration cards. The cards expired at the end of 2011, and none have been reissued while the redistricting debate has raged on. Officials have attempted to reassure voters that they are still registered and eligible to vote, and that new cards will be mailed out as soon as the redrawn maps are finalized.

The future of the state’s Women’s Health Program remained up in the air as Texas and the federal government continued to squabble over whether Planned Parenthood would be allowed to participate. Low-income women receive reproductive health services under the jointly funded program, in which every dollar spent by the state is matched by $9 from the federal government. But legislators' attempts to exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in the program have led to uncertainty about what will become of the program come March 14, when the new state rule takes effect.  Texas’s Health and Human Services Commission is waiting for a ruling from the federal agency, which is expected to come before that date.

After the state failed to adopt a rule mandating a time frame for releasing prisoners from jails, the largest jail in Texas has incorporated the policy. Harris County Jail now releases inmates only during daylight hours, which advocates call a safety issue. Following stories of inmates being attacked or killed after their late-night releases, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, introduced a bill in the last legislative session requiring that prisoners only be released during daylight hours — even if they have to be released up to 18 hours early. The bill failed, and most counties continued their previous policies; Harris County is the sole lockup to institute the practice so far.

A prime-time ad that aired during the Academy Awards on Sunday is kicking up new controversy in the U.S. House race in El Paso. In the ad, incumbent Silvestre Reyes accuses his fellow Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke of favoring drug legalization. O’Rourke co-authored a book in which he advocated legalizing marijuana to weaken the power of the cartels in northern Mexico. When Reyes was later asked to document his claim, he was unable to produce clear evidence.

Now that Gov. Rick Perry is off the campaign trail, he found time to undergo surgery on his right collarbone. He broke the bone in a 2009 mountain biking accident, and it had not healed properly. Perry had back surgery last summer and acknowledged that he suffered continuing fatigue during his presidential campaign.

Worried employees gathered at a theater on the Texas A&M campus to try to understand what a plan for outsourcing services at the university will mean for them. A&M System Chancellor John Sharp announced this week that he was seeking proposals from private companies to take over food services, landscaping, building maintenance and custodial services in an effort to cut costs without affecting teaching or research. Rodney McLendon, the school’s vice president for administration, presided over the meeting and read a statement from Sharp that sought to reassure employees that their jobs would be a top priority in assessing the proposals received.

Indictments were handed down this week against a Dallas-area doctor and six other Texans for health care fraud. Dr. Jacques Roy and his associates are accused of defrauding Medicare of nearly $375 million by billing the agency for home health care services that either weren’t necessary or weren’t provided.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison attended a gathering of business leaders from San Antonio and reassured them that proposed military base closings were unlikely to happen. The plan to close and realign some bases, known as BRAC, has drawn concern from members of the Bexar County groups that visited Washington.

Political People and their Moves

Jesse Ancira takes over as acting chief of staff to House Speaker Joe Straus on Texas Independence Day. Chief of Staff Denise Davis and Director of Policy and Budget Lisa Kaufman are leaving to form a law and lobby practice. Ancira, until now the general counsel, will fill in for now. 

Mark Miner, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry and for his presidential campaign, is joining McGuireWoods Consulting's Austin office. He joins Luis Saenz, a former Perry campaign manager, in that operation. 

Deaths: Bobby Holt of Midland, a longtime support of Republicans in general and Bushes in particular. Holt served in a number of appointed positions, including the state's Public Safety Board, which oversees the state police; he was there under four different governors. Holt was 79.

Reggie Bashur, a well-regarded lobbyist and political and media consultant, after a fight with cancer. Bashur first appeared in Texas politics as a press aide to Bill Clements, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Over the years, he worked for most of the state's top Republicans and on any number of high-profile issues as a lobbyist and spokesperson. He was 59.