The Week in the Rearview Mirror

State budget cuts became tangible this week with the announcement that the Texas Education Agency plans to lay off 178 employees, following a first round of layoffs and attrition totaling 165 workers. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has also announced it will be laying off more than 100 people, forced by a 21 percent budget cut. Statewide, the Legislative Budget Board estimates that the final budget will force about 5,700 state worker layoffs.

Texas teachers can’t catch a break. With current teachers worrying about layoffs, retired teachers now face cuts to their health care trust funds. The fund was created in 1985 to bridge the gap between employment and Medicare for teachers who retire early. It’s funded by contributions from teachers, school districts and the state, which are expected to fall based on layoffs and reduced state spending. The fund, in fact, is already showing a deficit for the current fiscal year. By the time the Legislature convenes again, it may have to consider changes to the program, including benefit changes or premium increases.

After struggling for years, the North Forest Independent School District is set to be closed next July. Education Commissioner Robert Scott announced in a letter to the district that its accreditation was being revoked and it would be shut down. The Texas Education Agency managed the district from 2008 to 2010 but was forced by state law to step aside after two years, turning control back to the local school board and superintendent. Nothing seemed to make a difference in student test scores, and after the latest dismal ratings, the state decided to close the 7,500-student district and recommend that it be incorporated into the nearby Houston ISD.

Another casualty of Texas’ record drought: lakes. Water levels in 109 lakes monitored across the state dropped 4 percent in just one month, according to a Texas Water Development Board report. The end of June saw the lakes down 13 percent from a year ago and only one monitored reservoir, Lake Livingston, listed as full. Businesses around the lakes have seen a corresponding drop with the closing of boat ramps in response to the lower levels.

Even after taking criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United Nations' top human rights official, Gov. Rick Perry stood by his decision to let the execution of Humberto Leal Jr. proceed. In a case that drew heated international debate, lawyers said Leal, convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl, hadn't been informed of his right to seek legal help from the Mexican consulate, as granted by the U.N.'s Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

In spite of the state’s contentious relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 100 plants reached an agreement with federal authorities to receive new permits. The EPA had declared that the state’s flexible permitting process violated federal rules, forcing companies to deal directly with the feds if they wanted to continue their operations without being threatened by a new permitting process. The state of Texas still contends that its permitting process is both legal and pro-business, and has filed suit against the EPA.

As the federal government seeks to phase out incandescent bulbs in favor of the more energy-efficient compact fluorescent model, state lawmakers hope to give Texans the opportunity to continue using the bulbs by skirting the interstate commerce authority of the federal government. The new measure, which the Legislature passed this session, states that if bulbs are made and sold within the borders of Texas, they are not subject to federal regulation.