Criminal justice

Graphic by Matt Stiles

The Senate's Biggest Spenders

The 31-member body spent nearly $16 million last fiscal year on travel, staff and office expenses, according to records from the office of the Secretary of the Senate. Overall spending by individual senators ranged from $206,000, by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, to $637,000, by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

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Morgan Smith

2010: Lubbock or Leave It

Low voter turnout means that in a downballot statewide race like that between Debra Lehrmann and Rick Green the winner could be decided by chance — whose name comes first, or whose name sounds the friendliest. Green and Lehrmann are working to combat that dynamic in an unlikely place: Lubbock.

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Jacob Villanueva

"I Won't Stop Dispensing Justice"

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins won’t go so far as to compare his support to the near-divine fervor of President Obama’s. But Watkins, who gained national prominence for using DNA evidence to exonerate nearly two dozen wrongfully convicted people in one of Texas’ notoriously tough-on-crime jurisdictions, will come close. “It’s a religious experience to vote for Craig Watkins,” Texas’ first African-American D.A. says without irony. Like Obama, he says, other Democratic candidates are “hanging their hats” on his re-election — and on the minority voters he draws to the polls. Like Obama, he’s got “a big target” on his back. “I’ve got to fight the political attacks coming at me from all directions," he insists. “I’ll say it publicly: If you throw punches at us, we’ll drop a bomb on you.”

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Sun on the Horizon

A small but growing number of state officials are warming to the idea of greater transparency and open access to raw government data, following a budding trend across the country. In the latest example, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, wrote to numerous Texas agencies, urging them to post "high-value" databases online in open-standard formats.

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Graphic by Matt Stiles

Down for the Count

As of Friday, three-quarters of Texans hadn't returned their census forms. Only five states have a worse rate of participation so far.

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U.S. Census Bureau

On the Records: The Census Gets Interactive

The U.S. Census Bureau recently launched an interactive map that makes it easy to track participation in the decennial count of households. The map application, which relies on the Google Maps API, visualizes the participation rates by color — orange for higher rates, and blue for lower rates.

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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Grissom on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to stay Hank Skinner's execution, Thevenot on the myth of Texas textbook influence, Rapoport on the wild card who was just elected to the State Board of Education, Ramshaw on the price of health care reform, Philpott on the just-enacted prohibition on dropping kids from the state's health insurance rolls, M. Smith on the best little pole tax in Texas, Ramsey on the first corporate political ad and the reality of 2011 redistricting, Stiles on the fastest-growing Texas counties, Aguilar on the vacany at top of Customs and Border Protection at the worst possible time, Galbraith on the state's lack of renewable energy sources other than wind and its investment in efficiency, and Hu and Hamilton on the runoffs to come in House districts 52 and 127. The best of our best from March 22 to 26, 2010.

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Barely Speaking

The state says that if it has the power to ban alcohol in strip clubs, then it can levy a $5 "pole tax." But the clubs argued before the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday that nude dancing is a form of protected speech and that the tax violates the First Amendment.

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Callie Richmond, Caleb Bryant MIller

2010: White Attacks Perry's Border Crime Claims

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White today called on GOP Gov. Rick Perry to remove claims on his public and campaign Web sites that crime on the Texas border has dropped 65 percent. Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner defended the claims. He said Perry's claim refers to temporary crime drops in discreet areas during so-called "border surge" operations.

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Caleb Bryant Miller

Skinner Gets a Stay

Hank Skinner was set to die Wednesday for the 1993 murders of his live-in girlfriend and her two mentally disabled adult sons — a crime he insists he did not commit. About an hour before he was to have poison pushed through his veins, the U.S. Supreme Court spared his life.

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Caleb Bryant Miller

TribBlog: Lawmakers Urge Perry to Grant Skinner Reprieve

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, wrote Gov. Rick Perry letters today urging him to grant a 30-day reprieve for death-row inmate Hank Skinner, who is scheduled for execution tomorrow.

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Caleb Bryant Miller, Jacob Villanueva

Data App: Even More Payroll

We've added 14 school districts (from Aldine to San Antonio) and five counties (Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis) to our government payroll app — an addition of 140,000 public employees earning roughly $6 billion.

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