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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Ramsey on what a GOP supermajority means, Ramshaw on a crime victim not eligible for crime victims' compensation, M. Smith on grave matters and state regulation, Hamilton on the college pipeline at San Antonio's Jefferson High, Hu on a senator's anticlimactic return, Grissom on the coming closure of juvenile lockups, Aguilar on the return of residents to their drug-war-torn Mexican town, Galbraith on next session's energy agenda, Philpott on the legal fight over federal health care reform and Stiles on the travel expenses of House members: The best of our best from Dec. 13 to 17, 2010.

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When state Rep. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, switched parties Tuesday, he gave the Republicans the votes to do anything they want. With a two-thirds majority, the GOP will be able to suspend the rules that govern House business and will have the numbers to keep working even if the Democrats take a walk. On a practical level, Ritter's switch gives Republicans an even bigger buffer on votes that just require a majority of the 150-member House. "It means we can lose 24 votes and still win," says state Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

British tourist Thomas Reeve's murder in an Amarillo bar last fall shattered his family, which has been unable to claim financial assistance from the state’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund because he wasn't a U.S. resident.

In October 2001, Marcos Guerra’s wife and three daughters laid him to rest at the cemetery in San Benito where members of his family had been buried for three decades. Almost four years later, they were at his graveside again, burying him a second time, after the cemetery moved his body without their permission and exhumed his remains. Now the family’s legal battle with one of the largest funeral services providers in North America, which has faced class-action lawsuits in several states, has reached the Texas Supreme Court — and is raising questions about the state’s regulation of after-life care.

The interim principal of San Antonio's Thomas Jefferson High believes that the current juniors will be the school’s first with a 100 percent graduation rate and that many will go on to respected universities. One key factor: Allison Najera, a 2010 University of Texas graduate placed at Jefferson through a new program: the Texas College Advising Corps.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, wasn’t expected back at the Capitol this session after seeking two high-profile higher education jobs over the summer. But both opportunities fizzled, and now the 70-year-old says he’s “gunned up and ready to go” for his seventh term in the Senate — even if he'll return with clout resembling that of a freshman. He’s without the aides who knew him best and stripped of the Jurisprudence Committee he used to chair. Still, his insistence on putting his own political views ahead of his party's could make him a key player at a time when Senate Republicans are a few votes short of a two-thirds majority.

Lawmakers, bureaucrats and criminal justice advocates all agree that the state’s trouble-ridden Texas Youth Commission ought to close down two of its correctional facilities. Like other state agencies, TYC has been asked to cut its budget for the next biennium by 10 percent, or $40 million. But no one at TYC is saying which lockups should get shuttered. “They don’t want to bite that bullet and show leadership,” says state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

A month after cartel warfare forced residents of the Mexican city of Ciudad Mier to abandon their homes and seek refuge on the Texas side of the border, they have tentatively started to make their way back, buoyed by the presence of three military battalions. What happens when the soldiers leave is anyone's guess.

Energy is never far from the agenda at the Legislature. This year, Sunset Advisory Commission reviews of oil and gas and electricity regulators will keep the sector in the spotlight, as will renewed clamor for legislation — however unlikely to happen in a tough budget environment — to aid clean energy.

The Virginia court ruling declaring parts of federal health care reform unconstitutional elicited plenty of reaction in Texas, which is part of a separate attempt to repeal the new law.

Retiring state Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, led all Texas House members in government-funded travel expenses in the last fiscal year, according to a Texas Tribune review of expense reports obtained from the state comptroller. Crabb spent $48,400, versus a per-member average of about $11,000. In all, 14 members spent more than $30,000. View a sortable table of travel totals by member.

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