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The State of Texas: January 15, 2015

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Awww of the Day

J.J. Watts is a machine on the field. But The Houston Texans player is proving over and over again that he is the world’s greatest, sweetest, most wonderful big brother when it comes to young fans. In this latest example, Watt returned the favor of a seven-year-old fan who sent the NFL star an autographed copy of his peewee jersey and a note explaining how he’s basically the Watt of his peewee league. In return, the kid received a lot of pre-worn Watt swag along with a letter that congratulated both of them for being the “most feared” players in their respective leagues.

Twitter Thursday

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey took some time for a Twitter Q&A yesterday. The result was, um, interesting. In particular is the tweet below which is not only juvenile but also a bit creepy. It also inadvertently proved that Morey has never actually been to the the kind of doctor he mentions, because anyone who’s had to make that visit knows there is nothing sexy or fun about it.

 

Daily Roundup

Layers of Tragedy — Some pretty gruesome news came out of the Odessa area yesterday when a state prison transport bus slid off the highway and collided with an oncoming freight train. The accident resulted in ten dead—eight prisoners and two correctional officers. “It’s as bad as you can imagine. In 32 years it’s as bad as anything I’ve seen,” said the local fire chief, according to the Odessa American. “At the scene, bodies under white sheets and hundreds of packages lay along the train tracks. The crash mangled the bus, tearing off the front and much of the undercarriage, with pieces strewn more than 50 yards.” The prisoners were reportedly handcuffed in pairs and at least three more people were critically injured, reports CNN. Kudos to officials who have avoided making a distinction between officers and prisoners when mourning the loss of life. “It’s with a heavy heart that we mourn the loss of those killed and injured this morning in a tragic accident. Their loved ones will be in our thoughts and prayers,” said the executive director for the Department of Criminal Justice. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick also offered unreserved condolences, saying, “I also pray for a speedy recovery of a third correctional staff member and four offenders who were transported with injuries.”

More Fraud Treatment — Things just keep getting worse and worse for the Health and Human Services Commission, which is still embroiled in the 21CT scandal. 21CT, the Medicaid fraud detection tech company under investigation, can now add the FBI and a special state “strike force” to the ever-increasing list of agencies scrutinizing the no-bid contract with HHSC. While the “scope of the federal inquiry [into 21CT] is unclear,” according to the Austin American-Statesman, the strike force launched by Governor-elect Greg Abbott will be a “full and thorough outside review of management, operations, and contracting at the [state] agency.” Thanks to some new digging from the Houston Chronicle, the strike force knows now where it can start its investigation: right at the top. “The director of Texas’ massive state health agency [Kyle Janek] personally pushed lawmakers to approve a $90 million extension of a major contract even after news reports showed the initial deal was awarded without competition and potentially subject to conflicts of interest,” reads the piece. As the story notes, several higher-level people have fallen like dominoes since the scandal hit. Janek “has never mentioned how active he was in pushing the extension, however,” and “the acknowledgement from the agency marked the third time it has had to backtrack on statements about Janek’s involvement in the contract.” The whole, damning piece is worth a read.

Well’s Goin’ Dry — And the slow but steady leaking of bad energy-related stories keeps coming, with negative news popping up as fast as oil rigs during the boom. First, in San Antonio, “Lewis Energy Group, one of the earliest companies to drill in the Eagle Ford Shale, is trimming its workforce by about 20 percent,” according to Fuel Fix. “Lewis Energy is the latest energy company to announce job cuts or plans to pull back its drilling program.” And while the company hasn’t released how many employees it has, it does operate “more than 1,400 wells in South Texas.” Then the Dallas Fed said that “The sharp decline in oil prices started taking its toll on the regional economy over the past six weeks, slowing the pace of growth in Texas and parts of neighboring state,” according to the Austin American Statesman. Fortunately, “despite the concerns, employment held steady in most industries, but hiring reports were less widespread and scattered layoffs were reported, including cuts and hiring freezes at energy firms.” As with all bad things, there is a silver lining, if you know where to look for it. One Houston expert says that “plunging oil prices may finally curb runaway apartment rents,” according to the Houston Business Journal. Then again, that same expert says that “Rents may rise, hold or fall, largely depending on the submarket,” so who the hell knows what’s going to happen to the Texas Miracle.

Boozey Business —Great news for people who want hard liquor: big business is on your side. Two separate stories from the Dallas Morning News detail some efforts to allow Texans their God given right to buy the hard stuff at certain retailers and on Sundays. First is the news that Walmart has begun a new push against “a Texas law that prevents publicly traded companies from selling spirits at the retail level.” Walmart has been “challenging the state’s free market mantra one restrictive law at a time.” and this time they say the liquor law is “unconstitutional.” No word yet on any lawmakers’ response. Apart from Walmart, the DMN’s Robert Wilonsky has a fun look at the party behind the guerrilla Twitter campaign “Boot the Ban,” which aims to get rid of the Sunday liquor sales ban. After numerous calls to various groups involved in alcohol lobbying, the answer turns out to be the Texas Hospitality Association. The big reveal is perhaps less exciting than the other details in the piece, including the fact that most local liquor stores apparently don’t want to do Sunday liquor sales for reasons that have nothing to do with the ban’s original, religious roots. “It’s a financial thing,” said the executive director of the Texas Package Stores Association. “If you look at states that have implemented Sunday sales, retailers aren’t getting rich. As a matter of fact, they’re going out of business. Your overhead goes up, you gotta hire more people, and your profits go down.” Efforts to repeal the ban are as classic as Jack and Coke, but those hoping for a change are likely reaching too high on the liquor shelf.

The Clone Wars — In what is considered a “ruling of international significance,” the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “overturned an Amarillo jury’s decision that found the Amarillo-based American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) violated anti-trust laws by barring cloned quarter horses from its registry,” according to the Globe-News. For horse people, it’s a BFD. For the rest of us, it’s a bit confusing. ABC News put it a bit more into perspective when writing that the ruling means “The United States’ pre-eminent quarter horse organization may refuse to register cloned animals. The lower-court ruling would have set a precedent as no American horse-breeding groups allow cloned horses to be registered.” ABC News also details the cloning method, which is essentially the same as when the world created the first cloned animal, “Dolly” the sheep. Put in that context, the significance, particularly within a multi-billion dollar breeding industry, seems pretty clear: the definition of “purebred” is now even more strict, cool science and “fake copies” be damned. The court said that “Plaintiffs (Abraham and Veneklasen) here contend that AQHA monopolized the relevant market for elite quarter horses.” Then argued, a little disingenuously, it seems, that “Nothing in the record, however, shows that AQHA competes in the elite quarter horse market. AQHA is a member organization; it is not engaged in breeding, racing, selling or showing elite quarter horses.” In terms of legal precedents involving animals, things could be stranger. At least the court didn’t grant horses the same human rights as an orangutan.

Clickity Bits

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Houston’s Underwater Car Lots May Soon Be Emptied

The Twenty Most Dangerous Cities in Texas

Man Who Made Infamous Drunken Scene at DFW Airport Fined $474

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