The State of Texas: November 14, 2014
Big Health — Although one would think our politicians hate the idea of super-sized governmental agencies, there is that whole bigger-in-Texas mentality we tout. As such, lawmakers are now looking at creating a “mega-agency” for five of the health and human services agencies “so massive that it would have a bigger budget than many states,” according to the Houston Chronicle. As the story notes, “The proposal would mark a big change in the structure of state government, although services probably would not significantly be affected. … Together, the agencies spend about $35 billion and provide services to more than 5 million Texans, mostly through the state’s Medicaid program.” The proposal was pitched by the state’s Sunshine Commission and seems to be “a popular idea among lawmakers who examined the audit Wednesday and many health advocates and industry lobbyists who testified,” according to the Austin American-Statesman. Another popular idea in the healthcare field? A change in Medicaid, in general. Two days after a panel of Rick Perry-appointed medical professionals said the state should most certainly provide more Obamacare-like coverage, it appears that governor-elect Greg Abbott’s Secretary of State appointee has pretty much said the same thing. At least, Carlos Cascos “voted for a local resolution last year endorsing the expansion of Medicaid” and during an interview with Texas Tribune reiterated “that on health care issues there would be ‘policy disagreement’ among Republican officials.” Cascos said his appointment demonstrated Abbot’s concern for the Rio Grande Valley, but maybe it also demonstrates his desire for a more centrist-style state.
Revisions — Texas students should be required to read an entire book on how politically charged their other textbooks have become. A week before Texas Board of Education casts its final vote for textbook adoption, “the largest educational publisher in the world … has cut material from a proposed Texas social-studies textbook that cast doubt on the human causes of global warming,” according to the National Journal. The change is a big win for liberals and/or people who believe 95 percent of scientists (depending on how you want to cut it). If you have doubts about climate change, however, fear not. At least half the students will be taught differently. Two of the four textbook publishers have not made the above changes because they are, according to a liberal watchdog group, “trying to increase their odds of gaining approval from an education board that used to be dominated by staunchly conservative Republicans,” reports the Statesman. The acknowledgement of climate change is a fairly significant win for the liberal-and-science lobby since the books “may wind up in classrooms outside the state as well. Texas is the second-largest textbook market in the country, and publishers often resell Texas textbooks in other states.”
Last-Minute Surge — Looking to go out with a surge, “Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are pushing fellow state officials to provide funding to extend the surge of law enforcement officers on the southern border until next August,” reports the Houston Chronicle. “Perry and Dewhurst said they hope to strike a deal in the next month to use a process called “budget execution” to reallocate about $20 million per month for the extension. That would continue the deployment of up to 1,000 Texas National Guard troops, as well as hundreds of Department of Public Safety officers who were sent last summer to fight crime on the border as a wave of unaccompanied children overwhelmed authorities.” The dynamic duo, however, is running into two problems. The first being other lawmakers, who “think the decision should be left to the new class of leaders taking office early next year.” Those lawmakers include the speaker of the house, Joe Straus, and other Republicans. It might be a nice way of them saying that the surge is pretty much political theatre that they might prefer to close the curtain on, for now at least. The second problem faced by surge-happy leaders is that the federal government really doesn’t care that much any more. A recent study found that “federal requests that a state or local jail delay releasing someone for 48 hours so deportation might be pursued … has dropped” by the thousands since 2012, according to the Texas Tribune. “While unable to pinpoint the drop’s exact cause, analysts said in part it is the result of a growing number of state and local jails that have stopped honoring the requests.” If you’re worried about another invasion like the one this summer, fear not. “The U.S. government now patrols nearly half the Mexican border by drones alone,” according to the Associated Press.
Reduce, Reuse, Litigate — Apart from climate change in textbooks, the environment had some legal victories this week as well. A U.S. District judge is not second guessing his previous ruling that BP’s “conduct in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster amounted to ‘gross negligence,'” according to the Associated Press. Perhaps a bit foolishly, BP had the gumption to request that the judge reconsider September ruling because it was “based on expert testimony that had been excluded from the earlier trial.” Reaffirming the decision means BP is one step closer to forking over $18 billion dollars. In another case, one that’s not dealing money equivalent to numerous country’s total GDP, two companies “accused of fouling the San Jacinto River with toxic waste for decades have settled a lawsuit,” reports the San Antonio Express-News. The settlement amount has not been disclosed, but “more than $1 billion was at stake in the lawsuit, which claimed that the three companies intentionally abandoned three pits holding waste from a Pasadena paper mill, allowing the poisonous sludge to leak into the river every day for decades.”
Case By Case — This was apparently the week of “remember that terrible criminal case?” The “affluenza” teen responsible for killing four people has left rehab. After months of rehab that has presumably helped him get over being rich and deadly, the teen will now “enter another type of treatment facility near Amarillo,” reports the DFW affiliate of CBS. Then there’s the officer whose shooting of a seemingly benign dog went viral; he won’t be investigated by the Texas Rangers, according to WFAA. The officer has been on leave since the video surfaced and criminal charges are still pending. Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said “once the city’s own external investigation is complete, they’ll take the findings to the Johnson County district attorney, who could bring charges if he sees fit.” While these cases are “to be continued,” the saga of the potty-mouthed teacher appears to have ended. The Duncanville teacher, whose nasty tweets and subsequent defiant tweets got her in a bit of hot water, has resigned. In her public statement (not on Twitter), the teacher said “My reaction in no way reflects the standards to which I have held myself and my students for the last 20 years of teaching … I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I regret the embarrassment that it has caused the school district.”