The Week in the Rearview Mirror

A new state law requiring periodic voter purges has rankled some residents and county officials. The law requires the secretary of state’s office to compare its lists of qualified voters against Social Security master death lists and remove from the rolls anyone who shows up as deceased. More than 72,000 Texans have been targeted as potentially dead, and the majority of them will have to respond to letters within 30 days or face having their names removed from the rolls. Harris County received a list of more than 9,000 such voters but has decided not to purge the names until after the November election, drawing criticism from state officials. But Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners responded that his department wanted more time to verify voters status. 

A new executive director, Mike Griffiths, is making big changes at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Griffiths has a plan for the agency that’s a combination of the former juvenile corrections and probation programs. The agencies had been in hot water for years following abuse and cover-up scandals. Lawmakers were happy with the progress being made, which included a cancellation of raises announced in April by the agency’s former executive director, Cherie Townsend. Griffiths also announced that the new department will be reorganized, and he met with staff to let them know about the jobs that would be available to them. As part of the reorganization, executives were asked to justify their value to the agency.

A whistle-blower who helped expose misdeeds at the Texas Youth Commission has won an appeal upholding the $1 million awarded to him resulting from his firing. Dallas attorney Chris Koustoubardis sued the state after he was fired from his administrative law judicial position at the agency. He claimed that he was owed damages under the whistle-blower protection law because he reported on illegal activities he witnessed. A jury awarded him almost $700,000 in 2010, and a judge added to the total an amount that Koustoubardis would have been paid if he hadn’t been fired. That amount has been accruing interest, bringing the award up to about $1 million.

The party just kept on going for Julián Castro (and his brother, Joaquin) upon returning home after their appearance at the Democratic National Convention. Per their custom, the brothers hosted a birthday party for themselves and were surprised to find a record crowd in attendance. Their new popularity helped Joaquin Castro’s final fundraiser of the season surpass expectations, drawing more than 250 attendees and an estimated $50,000 in donations. Julián did his part for his brother: In his speech at the party, he asked the crowd to vote for his brother on Election Day and to also to endorse his plan for expanded pre-K in the San Antonio area.

Following a vote by the Texas Transportation Commission to set the speed limit at 85 on two sections of toll road 130, TxDOT and the builder of the road, the SH 130 Concession Company, found themselves on the defensive. They claimed charges that the speed limit was unsafe don’t apply to this stretch of road because it is flat and straight and has been engineered for the higher speed limit. 

In advance of the November Formula One race, Gov. Rick Perry and his wife traveled to Italy to tout the event and Texas business. Perry scheduled meetings with business and government leaders to promote investment and trade between Italy and the Lone Star State and took in the Italian Grand Prix. The race prompted him to wax poetic about the upcoming debut of Formula One in Austin, saying the race is more viewer-friendly and that drivers are showing interest in the layout of the track.

The University of Texas at Austin scored big when it was awarded a federal grant to spend on nanotechnology research. The school expects to expand its engineering faculty and graduate student program with the $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, which will be paid out over the next five years to UT and two academic partners, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of New Mexico. Researchers will focus on how nanoscience can be applied to innovations in the marketplace, and the grant is expected to stimulate local economies and help Austin maintain its high-tech reputation.