STATE CAPITAL HIGHLIGHTS
AUSTIN — A field of nine Republican candidates participated in the Fox News-Google GOP Presidential Debate on Sept. 22 in Orlando, Fla. As the top-polling candidate present, Gov. Rick Perry drew extra fire from rivals over his positions and/or record on Social Security, border security, job creation, health care and education.
For example, he took heat over his withdrawn executive order that would have required pre-teen girls to get vaccinated against human papilloma virus. And he defended his support of in-state college tuition for children of undocumented workers.
Meanwhile, as national media attention to campaign issues continued to build over the week, it was learned that questions over the legality of redistricting maps passed by the Texas Legislature would have to be addressed.
The U.S. Department of Justice elected not to “preclear” the proposed Texas House and congressional district maps, alleging possible dilution of the voting rights of minority populations in some districts. Most of the growth of the state’s population over the last 10 years was among minority groups and pursuant to the 2010 Census, Texas picked up four congressional seats to bring its total to 36.
Texas is among a group of states required to have its redistricting maps precleared under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On July 19 Texas submitted its redrawn district maps to the Department of Justice for preclearance.
If the maps prove unacceptable, Gov. Perry has the option of calling a special session of the Texas Legislature to have the maps adjusted and any other voting issues fixed. Another possibility is that U.S. district courts could be tasked with fixing the maps. In either case, the pressure is on to have any voting rights issues resolved in time for the 2012 elections. 2 Texas Senate leaders to retire State Sens. Steve Ogden, RBryan, and Florence Shapiro, RPlano, announced they would not seek re-election.
As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Ogden has been one of the state’s chief budget writers in addition to serving in other high-profile capacities. Before serving in the Texas House from 1992-97 he was an officer in the U.S. Navy. He won the Senate Dist. 5 seat by special election in 1997. Shapiro, a member of the Senate since 1993 and a former Plano mayor and city council member, is chair of the body’s powerful Education Committee and former chair of the State Affairs Commission.
Among her accomplishments is principal authorship of a series of laws to protect children from sexual predators.
Widespread wildfire threat remains
Last week the extraordinary drought continued its merciless encampment in the Lone Star State with an unwelcome development.
The Texas Forest Service on Sept. 24 warned of a cold front bringing high winds that could make many parts of the state even more susceptible to wildfires and flare-ups.
“Since wildfire season started on Nov. 15, 2010, firefighters have responded to 23,519 fires that have burned almost 3.8 million acres and destroyed 2,742 homes,” the Forest Service reported, adding nearly 35,000 homes have been saved by firefighting efforts, so far.
The Texas Railroad Commission brought up another dimension to the wildfire problem: propane storage containers.
If a container has been involved in one of the state’s recent wildfires, it must be replaced or evaluated by a licensed propane supplier before use, the agency said.
Last meal practice discontinued
Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, stopped the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their last meal, effective Sept. 22.
“They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit,” Livingston said. The change was made after state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, wrote a letter to Livingston in disapproval of the last meal tradition after death row inmate Lawrence Brewer ordered a long list of food for his last meal before execution and did not eat it.
Whitmire is dean of the Senate and chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
Holiday road arrests top 2,000
Texas Highway Patrol troopers arrested 2,033 intoxicated drivers statewide during a Labor Day holiday enforcement program conducted Aug. 19 through Sept. 6, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Sept. 20.
Troopers focused on looking for and stopping intoxicated drivers in high-risk locations during the times when alcoholrelated crashes occur most often.