The Week in the Rearview Mirror

An ongoing dispute about the Texas Open Meetings Act and its legal consequences is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The group contesting the law contends that it’s outdated in the modern age of social media and emails and that officials can easily break the law inadvertently. But Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office defended the statute, stressing his office’s commitment to transparency in government. The case has been around since 2009, and the law was recently upheld by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The group is sidestepping an appeal to the entire circuit court and electing to take the case directly to the Supreme Court.

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office released an opinion this week on whether to allow employees to store concealed handguns in their locked cars at work. Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, had asked the AG’s office for clarification on the matter, following the passage of a law in the 2011 session allowing holders of concealed handgun licenses to bring their guns to work, even when their employers prohibited it, as long as they were stored in their locked cars. Abbott confirmed that employers must allow the practice and that there’s nothing in the statute that runs counter to state laws.

After widespread problems getting its voting machines up and running on Election Day, Galveston County officials asked a judge to order that polls remain open late. District Judge John Ellisor agreed to let the polls stay open until 8:54 p.m. to compensate for the late start faced by voters at all 45 polling places in the county.

Voters not only had to choose between candidates on the ballot, but also to give a thumbs up or down to local propositions and initiatives. Austin voters approved a controversial measure that raises property taxes to provide for regional health initiatives, including the building of a medical school affiliated with the University of Texas. El Paso voters were asked to approve a hotel tax that would fund a new baseball field downtown on the site of the current City Hall. In San Antonio, Mayor Julián Castro led the fight for approval of a sales tax increase to fund a full-day pre-kindergarten program, which cruised to victory. And Houston and Dallas had bond packages on the ballot for improvements to public facilities. Both cities approved the billions of dollars in funding for the projects.

Former prosecutor and Williamson County State District Judge Ken Anderson responded to ethics violations charges filed against him by the State Bar. He faces charges that he withheld evidence and made false statements to a court in the Michael Morton case. Morton’s conviction was nullified last year when DNA evidence proved that he was innocent. But Anderson’s attorneys allege that the disciplinary case cannot move forward because of the statute of limitations, which limits action against an attorney to conduct that took place within four years of being brought to the attention of the disciplinary committee.

Early voting totals varied statewide, but overall the state saw a drop in the percentage of people who cast their votes before Election Day. Early voting in 2008 clocked in at 42 percent, while this year officials reported a 39.3 percent turnout. Districts with contentious races tended to have larger early turnouts, but top-of-the-ticket races weren’t expected to draw voters in droves. The presidential and senate races were widely expected to go to Republicans, tending to depress turnout. The 2012 total still beats the 2004 percentage of 29.6 percent.

Protesters returned to the scene of a fatal shooting near the border town of La Joya, where last month a police officer opened fire on a pickup truck. The truck was fleeing from police who assumed the cargo in the back of the truck was illegal drugs. A police helicopter joined in, and the officer fired shots that killed two men. It was then discovered that the cargo in the truck was a group of illegal immigrants from Guatemala being smuggled across the border. Police claim the sharpshooter was attempting to stop the vehicle by shooting out the tires, but protesters object to law enforcement opening fire on the truck when it appeared to be unarmed. The publicity drew the attention of two state representatives from the area who’ve called for a review of the policy allowing officers to shoot at vehicles.