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The State of Texas: February 5, 2015

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Yesterday was committee-assignment day for the Texas House of Representatives! For the big dogs, it meant chairmanships and powerful positions. For their poor, lowly staffers, it meant having to wait for their marching orders in the most mundance way possible. Props to that one young, bow-tied staffer in the front not on his cellphone:

Daily Roundup

The Sorting Hat – While most of the country focused on National Signing Day, politicos in Texas focused on a somewhat nerdier selection process. As is his right (and job) as Speaker, Representative Joe Straus released the list of committee assignments, and Democrats took all the main chairmanships. Kidding! Although Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, now chairs Transportation and “Straus picked 27 Republicans and 12 Democrats to chair 39 committees. Thirteen of his chairs are minorities and nine are women,” according to the Texas Tribune, which has a full list of the committee assignments. The two major moves were in the knighting of John Otto, R-Dayton, as chair of the House Appropriations Committee and Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, for the House Ways and Means Committee. Meanwhile, one Senate committee is already at work griping about the uphill battle they face in hammering out a budget. As the Austin American-Statesman reports, “Senate budget writers on Wednesday bemoaned escalating state and local debt, although who’s to blame and how big of a deal it really is emerged as points of contention during the in-depth discussion.” Republican Senator Kevin Eltife was in particularly sharp form, saying “It’s interesting to me that (in) the last 10 years we had all these people out there thumping their chest how we haven’t raised taxes in the state of Texas. … No, we haven’t raised taxes. … We’ve doubled the state’s debt in the last 10 years,” which is “a tax on a future generation.”

The Less-Appealing Sequel  – A super successful, Oscar-nominated movie. A state day dedicated to the fallen hero. That’s all well and good, but the uglier part of Chris Kyle’s story is about to take place. Jury selection begins today in the trial of Eddie Routh, who is accused of gunning down Kyle and a friend two years ago. Stephenville, where the trial will take place, is bracing for some heavy outside exposure. “Erath County law officers have other concerns, expecting to spend about $1 million on security for the trial, which will take place at a courthouse annex a block from the square,” writes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “National and international media, not to mention 800 residents in the jury pool, will descend on the city of 18,561 for the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.” As noted, the area’s previous experience in national exposure include “stories of UFO sightings in the area. And in March 2007, two dozen Ku Klux Klan members had a rally here that drew about 500 people who booed and held anti-hate signs.”

Well, That Backfired – The figurehead of the most vocal open carry group, Kory Watkins, again caused a stir yesterday with a rather, er, eye-opening Facebook video. In the video, which was posted and then quickly removed after it started generating real alarm, Watkins said a number of things, including “Going against the Constitution is treason. And, my friend, that is punishable by death. That’s how serious this is We should be demanding these people give us our rights back or it’s punishable by death. Treason! You understand how serious this is, Texas?” This is threatening rhetoric from anyone, but was all the more creepy and unnerving, because Watkins’ group advocates for the open carry of, um, firearms. The video sure grabbed a lot of people’s intention and as the Houston Chronicle reported, “Watkins later took to Facebook to explain the video and why he took it down, saying he removed it ‘because I thought there were those that would intentionally misinterpret my words. … I simply wished to point out the seriousness of the constitution.’”

Goodbye Oil, Hello Lawyers – There’s always money to be made in oil, especially if you’re a lawyer. With oil below $50 a barrel, Texas Lawyer wondered what kind of work there will be for law sharks looking for fresh blood. The resulting article was illuminating: “If prices remain depressed, certain small and midsize E&P (exploration and production) companies will need to restructure, particularly once their borrowing bases are adjusted to reflect the diminished value of their reserves,” said lawyer Lydia Protopapas. “If these reduced revenues result in an inability to service existing debt loads, restructurings in this segment of the oil and gas (O&G) industry will be required. In the interim, companies will be seeking to ride out the storm through liquidity enhancing and deleveraging transactions such as asset sales, discounted debt buybacks and the procurement of senior secured credit.” Other work for lawyers in the near future, said Protopapas, will include handling bankruptcy cases, which will see “increased activity.” At least someone’s making money!

No Longer The (‘Roid) Rage – Good new, helicopter parents. You can go back to injecting little Jimmy full of steroids so he has that edge he needs to make the all-state football team. “Seven years after it started, it appears high school athletes in Texas will no longer face the threat of a random steroid test,” according to WFAA. Actually, the decision seems to be a pretty reasonable once as “Texas lawmakers appear to be done with the program that has so far yielded very few results. In the 2013-14 school year, 2,633 high school athletes were checked for anabolic steroids. For one, “There are more than 120 different types of steroids … but Texas only tests for 10. Of that number, only two tested positive, according to the University Interscholastic League.” The results simply don’t justify the effort. “Lawmakers lost interest in the state’s steroid testing program years ago. When it began in 2007, it had a budget of $6 million, the UIL said. But that figure has dwindled ever since.”

Clickity Bits

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Texans Bringing Back Pot From Their Colorado Vacations

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