Vol 29, Issue 5 Print Issue

Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott answers questions at TASA midwinter conference in Austin, Texas February 1st, 2011
Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott answers questions at TASA midwinter conference in Austin, Texas February 1st, 2011

Scott vs. The World

Texas Education Agency commissioner Robert Scott touched off political controversy this week when he told a gathering of 4,000 school officials in Austin that standardized testing had gone too far in Texas.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Several thousand protesters held a march and rally at the state Capitol last weekend to mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Speakers including Attorney General Greg Abbott promised to keep fighting for abortion restrictions and pointed to the success of the state’s new sonogram law. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the law and gave the state the green light to enforce it.

A convicted murderer serving time at a state prison in Beeville is suing the state for the right to grow a beard. Kenneth Hickman claims the beard is a requirement of his religion, Islam, but prison officials have not allowed him to grow any facial hair. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice mandates that inmates be clean-shaven because beards, it says, hinder officers' ability to identify prisoners and can provide a hiding place for weapons and contraband.

Texas’ science curriculum has been awarded a grade of "C" from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute — an improvement from the "F" it got two years ago from the National Center for Science Education. The state's standards are too vague and largely ignore evolution, particularly in middle school, according to the Fordham study. Evolution standards that famously provoked battles on the State Board of Education in 2009 have been assessed as acceptable at the high school level but were criticized as not providing students with a foundation to adequately handle the material. Texas’ grade put it ahead of 27 other states.

Attorneys for Craig James, the former ESPN analyst now running for U.S. Senate, who want to depose publishers of two books that portray James negatively get a hearing on March 7. The books, related to allegations by James against former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach, were both published by out-of-state companies, which claim they are not subject to Texas’ jurisdiction. James contends the books are defamatory.

The director of the Emerging Technology Fund told the Senate Committee on Economic Development that some of the state's newest reporting requirements may be too intrusive. More than 100 companies have received money from the fund since its creation in 2005 and have created 820 jobs. The companies have objected to requirements that job creation results be reported, and director Jonathan Taylor said such information could benefit companies' competitors.

Record drought across Texas has forced restrictions on water use across the state. Recent rainfall may not be enough to change that. After storms last week dumped water into some reservoirs, increasing their volume by as much as 15 percent, the Tarrant County Regional Water Board said it is waiting to see what the spring and summer will bring. Wholesale customers like the city of Fort Worth are also reluctant to change any restrictions, fearing that it will confuse consumers if limitations need to be reimposed. The long-range forecast is for lower-than-normal rainfall to continue.

After a high-profile denunciation by Rush Limbaugh and the severing of a deal to write a chapter in Newt Gingrich’s upcoming book, Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe has found herself deluged with hate mail. Gingrich’s co-author had asked Hayhoe, the director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center and widely regarded as an expert on climate-projection models and regional impacts of climate change, to write a chapter of their book on environmental issues. After Limbaugh criticized her, the offer was withdrawn, and Hayhoe began to receive countless emails attacking her personally.

A state district court has dismissed a case filed against Range Resources for contaminating a homeowner’s well with methane gas. Judge Trey Loftin outlined the lack of legal standing in the suit brought by Steve and Shyla Lipsky, contending that because the Texas Railroad Commission ruled that Range was not responsible for the contaminated well, the couple cannot sue the company. His ruling directed the couple to challenge the findings of the Railroad Commission, although the deadline for appealing that decision is long past. The couple’s sole recourse now, if they want to pursue it, is to file an appeal with the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth.

Political People and their Moves

Julie Caruthers Parsley and Bryan Hebert are fronting the new Texas Conservative Roundtable, which they describe as a conservative advocacy group, backed by businesses and trade groups, to try to reach consensus on things like tax policy, infrastructure and education issues.

They won't have a political action committee, but plan to be active during election season with social media and grassroots and possibly some advertising. During legislative sessions, they'll be an advocacy group, speaking to voters and groups around the state and to the people in the Pink Building.

Parsley, an attorney and former Public Utility Commissioner, comes in as president; Hebert, an attorney most recently with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, will be executive director.

They're still organizing and won't yet name sponsors or backers. The setup resembles that of other advocacy groups around state government; they say the roundtable isn't intended to be a counter to any particular group. That said, they also are talking about issues that have been corked in recent years by officeholders' reluctance to come up with new funding for roads, the state's water plan, or other programs.

Jay Kimbrough, the former deputy chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, has has been hired as an assistant director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Adam Jones is leaving the Texas Education Agency, where he was deputy commissioner and COO for the Weaver and Tidwell accounting firm, where he'll be director of state government services. He's been in that TEA job since 2003 and worked on the Senate Education Committee before joining TEA.

Former state Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, is joining the Texas Public Policy Foundation as a senior policy analyst.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to the Medicaid Reform Waiver Legislative Oversight Committee.

Perry appointed three members to the Finance Commission of Texas. Darby Byrd Sr. of Orange is the retired president and CEO of Orange Savings Bank and the current vice chairman of the bank’s board of directors. H. “Jay” Shands III of Lufkin is president and CEO of First Bank and Trust East Texas and board chairman of First Bank of Conroe and Balcones Recycling. Victor Leal of Amarillo is president and CEO of V. Leals’s Management and Leal’s Mexican Restaurants and is former mayor of Muleshoe.

Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced House appointments to the Medicaid Reform Waiver Legislative Oversight Committee: Reps. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; and John Zerwas, R-Richmond.

Straus also announced appointments to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Alzheimer's Disease. Straus appointed Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, as co-chairman of the committee, and the committee members include Reps. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas; Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving; Susan King, R-Abilene; and Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso.

Deaths: Former state Rep. Ed Watson, D-Deer Park. He was 91.