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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Thevenot on the fastest-growing charter school chain in Texas, Hu on the continuing legal fights between tort reformers and trial lawyers over the state's windstorm insurance pool, Hamilton on the push for accountability in Texas colleges, Philpott on legislative skirmishing over federal education funds, Grissom on misdemeanor convicts choosing jail time instead of probation that's more expensive for them but cheaper for the state, M. Smith on Bill Flores' challenge in what's billed as the hottest congressional race in the country, Ramshaw looks at scandals that have put some otherwise safe statehouse incumbents in deep electoral trouble, yours truly on the closest and ugliest race on the statewide ballot and Galbraith and Titus on pollution from idling vehicles and why it's so hard to control: The best of our best from September 27 to October 1, 2010.

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Across Texas, defendants charged with misdemeanor offenses are choosing to spend time in the local lockup rather than endure months on probation. They don’t want to deal with the hassle of probation's conditions, and they can’t afford the thousands of dollars in fees that it requires. People on both sides of the criminal justice system agree that the trend is troubling: It’s helping to fill local jails beyond capacity, and even worse, it means that people charged with DWI, possession of small amounts of drugs and family violence are not getting the treatment they need.

Harmony Public Schools is the largest and fastest-growing charter school network in Texas, with eight new schools open this year and a total of 33 schools statewide serving about 16,500 students. Founded by Turkish academics, Harmony boasts small classes, a worldly faculty with advanced degrees and outstanding TAKS scores — which is why, perhaps, it's one of just three charter operators given permission by the Texas Education Agency to open new schools without going through the usual bureaucratic channels.

Bill Flores is the latest in a line of Republicans to try to dislodge U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, from the country’s most Republican district held by a Democrat. But this time, he swears, it’s going to come out differently. The pundit class thinks he may be right.

A Galveston County judge temporarily decided not to release details of millions of dollars in fees earned by attorneys in the largest class-action settlement paid out by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.

The halls of public universities are buzzing about the push for accountability, especially as Texas works to catch up with states that have already taken up the mantle — and dealt with some of the inherent difficulties — of a data-driven examination of higher education.

Double-billing taxpayers for travel expenses, driving a luxury car owned by a state transportation contractor and repeatedly failing to pay taxes won’t put a lawmaker in good standing with the ethics police, as state Reps. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco; Joe Driver, R-Garland; and Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, are finding. The three hope the headlines dogging their re-election bids won’t follow them to the polls, while their Democratic opponents are reveling in their misery at every campaign stop. Yet whether a scandal forces an incumbent from office depends on the scenario.

Tension between Texas and the federal government has been a major focus of Rick Perry's re-election campaign. But on Monday, two top Democratic leaders in the Texas House ganged up on Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and, by proxy, the governor over the recent federal education funds fight.

In a year that appears to be custom-made for GOP statewide candidates, the last thing Todd Staples wanted was for Hank Gilbert to make the race for agriculture commissioner interesting, let alone turn it into a minor spectacle. "I have an opponent who is a pathological political liar," says Staples, the Republican incumbent, citing a list of transgressions. "This guy is likely the most unfit person to run for office in recent Texas history." Gilbert says things are going just the way he'd hoped. "I like where we are," the Democratic challenger says. "I like that we've gotten under his skin a little bit."

Each year in the United States, idling trucks and cars burn several billion gallons of fuel, emitting various pollutants without driving a single mile. The Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2005 limiting big trucks to five minutes of idling time, but local governments aren't obligated to enforce the law, and the debate over exemptions continues to roil.

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