Vol 29, Issue 25 Print Issue

Heated Arguments

While advocates worry particularly about heat conditions in a prison unit with recent water shortages, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering arguments in a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice alleging that the sweltering living quarters constitute cruel and unusual punishment. 

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The big announcement this week that the Texas A&M University System had been awarded a $176 million grant was greeted with enthusiasm throughout the state. The federal grant, along with millions from the state and private donors, will be used to build a facility that will develop and manufacture drugs that fight pandemic infections, as well as potential bioterrorism. A&M’s contract with the federal government will be in place for 25 years, giving the center the opportunity to attract additional public and private funding.

Historic furnishings were returned to the Texas Governor’s Mansion this week in preparation for the homecoming of Gov. Rick Perry and his wife in late July. The family moved out for a renovation of the historic house in 2007 and were prevented from coming back sooner by an arson attack in the summer of 2008. The furnishings had been removed in advance of the remodeling project and were protected from fire damage. Returning to the mansion: Sam Houston’s four-poster bed, Stephen F. Austin’s writing desk, as well as valuable art works and the Governor’s Memento Collection, an accumulation of gifts received by Texas governors over the years.

Lawmakers got an earful in hearings this week about the new public school standardized test, known as STAAR. Results for the test, which replaced the TAKS exam, were recently released and showed an unexpectedly large number of ninth graders failing the test in multiple areas. Officials concede that there’s always an adjustment period when a new test is introduced, and education officials have been given a four-year period to finalize the standards. But the results were so poor in algebra, biology, English and world geography that school districts are already allocating extra money for summer school. And the suspended rule that the test count toward 15 percent of a student’s final course grade continues to be a contentious issue. It’s unclear whether the rule will ever take effect.

The Obama administration’s announcement that it will consider issuing work permits to immigrants who entered the country as children has resulted in a flood of phone calls and contacts to attorneys and organizations specializing in immigration law. But without a process in place, it’s unclear to even those specialists what steps immigrants need to take. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security have said that it will take them up to two months to create an application process for eligible participants.

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t review a ruling that went in Time Warner Cable’s favor against the state of Texas. The state had appealed a lower court’s decision that it had discriminated against Time Warner when it allowed smaller cable television companies to use a statewide franchising system, but required Time Warner to also maintain municipal agreements with cities that had a population of 215,000 or more. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, without comment.

Following the announcement of $2 billion in state funds earmarked for relieving road congestion, a Houston-area organization is publicizing the need to rework U.S. 290 in that city. Growth in the northwest quadrant of Houston has led to excessive backups that last throughout the day, and projections say it will get worse with continued population growth. The Houston-Galveston Area Council predicts that improvements to 290 will garner about $350 million of the funds, and will allow work that would have been spread over 20 years to be completed in five to six years.

Four species of salamanders are up for listing as endangered, and U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, announced that he would file legislation to stop any proposals to list the Central Texas salamander. His legislation would take the form of an amendment to an environment appropriations bill, and would specify that no funds could be spent to add the blind salamanders to the endangered list. Carter’s concern is that listing the salamanders would hinder development in Williamson, Travis and Bell counties by imposing specific rules on future building. Environmental groups protested that the area’s rapid growth warrants the protection of the salamander’s rapidly declining habitat.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry set a special election to replace the late Rep. Ken Legler for November 6 — the same day as the general election. Legler's widow, Barbara Legler, is planning to run for the rest of his term, which ends in January; filing for that election ends August 23. The winner of the special election will be replaced by the winner in a newly drawn HD-144. That general election race will pit Republican David Pineda against Democrat Mary Ann Perez against Libertarian Robb Rourke

Ray Sullivan, late of Perry's presidential campaign, is reopening his public affairs business. Sullivan was Perry's chief of staff and worked in the George W. Bush administration, too. 

Jay Pritchard joins The Richards Group, where he'll work for political and lobby clients. He's a veteran of several campaigns and worked in the Legislature a decade ago.

Jesse Lewis resigns as executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, and will lobby. He'll be replaced by Beth Cubriel, the party's organization director. And Chris Elam adds the deputy executive director title to his job handling communications. 

This week's endorsements include:

Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, for Steve Nguyen in the HD-115 runoff against Bennett Ratliff.

Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston for Greg Bonnen in the HD-24 runoff against Ryan Sitton.

Heidi Theiss, the third-place finisher in that HD-24 race, for Sitton.

The Texas Hospital Association's PAC for Ken Sapp in the HD-91 Republican runoff against Stephanie Klick.

Scott Sanford, the only candidate still standing in Collin County's HD-70, for Jeff Leach over Jon Cole in the GOP's HD-67 runoff.

The PAC affiliated with the Texas Association of Manufacturers for Barry Smitherman, who's seeking election to the Texas Railroad Commission.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, for Rep. Randy Weber, in the race for Paul's CD-14 seat. Paul, running for president, decided not to seek another term in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Conroe, for Felicia Harris in that CD-14 race.

U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, for Jamaal Smith in the Democratic runoff for HD-137 against Gene Wu.