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The State of Texas: March 16, 2015

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Everyone’s focused on Austin this week thanks to South by Southwest, but there was a much older (and cooler) party happening in Texas last weekend. The 58th annual Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup involved some pretty wild “interactive” elements too:

Daily Roundup

Bad Teachers – It’s been noted in the recent past that Texas has a bad reputation for illegal teacher-student relationships, and recent data is not helping to erase that notion. The Texas Education Agency has “opened more than 70 cases since September to look into fresh allegations of inappropriate sexual relations between educators and students,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. Those believing they see way too many headlines in this regard are not imagining things. “The agency previously reported a 27 percent jump in investigations into alleged student-teacher relationships over the past three school years.” In a Washington Post op-ed last year, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education noted that his research firm—the only one keeping tabs on this problem“found that Texas has the largest number of teacher sexual misconduct cases in the country.” There’s still no real explanation as to why Texas is so terrible in this regard.

Listeria Hysteria – Everyone may now go back to eating ice cream. Over the weekend, it was suspected that bacteria in ice cream from Brenham-based Blue Bell Creameries was the cause of three deaths, but while the people did eat listeria-contaminated ice cream and it “might have been a contributing factor,” it apparently wasn’t the main cause of their deaths, according to officials. The Wall Street Journal reports that five elderly people ate Blue Bell–based milkshakes while being hospitalized for unrelated reasons. Details about the deaths are slim, but Blue Bell has “recovered all recalled products from all 23 states where they were sold, as well as those that were in storage.” As the story notes, “it’s not unusual to see listeria outbreaks linked to dairy products.” None of the contaminated products are sold in grocery stores.

Secret Court – In yet another solid investigative piece, the Austin American-Statesman reports that the state “has been improperly concealing public information about thousands of legal settlements and court judgments worth millions of dollars.” The response from the state has been a mixed bag with officials saying they would “re-examine their policies to make such information more easily available to the public,” while “some conceded the payments have been mislabeled as secret” and agencies “split hairs,” saying “they weren’t going to advertise the information” meant to be available to the public. The legal settlements all involved taxpayer dollars “typically . . . made to resolve legal claims against the government.” Some agencies were more secret than others, with the Department of Criminal Justice classifying all of its settlements in recent years as “secret.” The Statesman’s “analysis of comptroller records shows Texas state agencies made about 3,000 legal settlements and judgments from fiscal 2009 through the first quarter of 2015 totaling about $30 million. Yet about a third of those are listed as confidential, providing no information about their recipients.”

Who’s on Duty – Now that Daughters of the Republic of Texas have been booted from managing the Alamo, there’s the looming question of who will keep watch over our state’s most cherished landmark. As the Texas Tribune writes, “          It’s a new-found uncertainty that the General Land Office has promised to resolve over the next four months as it searches across the country for a management company.” Those worried that some cold and calculating business (or worse, Yankees) will oversee the landmark, to the detriment of everyone should rest easy, says one lawmaker. “Jim Suydam, a land office spokesman, insisted the move will not result in the ‘privatization of the Alamo.’” Then again, his remark was in response to some very legitimate concerns by U.S. representative Joaquin Castro, from San Antonio, who rightly noted that “the state has a horrible record of bloated, no-bid sweetheart deals to friends and cronies.” Naturally, the other, kinda fringe-y concern is that foreigners would/will take over the Alamo. That, apparently, won’t be a problem, according to officials.

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