State Capital Highlights

Redistricting issues could force primary even later



Merits arguments from parties in the lawsuits over the contested Texas redistricting maps were scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 9.

A Dec. 16, 2011, federal court order optimistically set April 3 as the Texas Primary Election date. Whatever the fate of maps drawn by the Legislature and maps drawn by a three-judge panel of the San Antonio-based U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, potential court maneuvers by plaintiffs and defendants could chew through the calendar and render April 3 useless as a date for the primary.

On the subject of primaries, last year and in other years past there have been calls from the electorate, and legislative attempts, to move the Texas Primary Election date earlier on the calendar to increase the Lone Star State’s relevance in the nationwide process.

One often-stated argument for moving the primary election date earlier — meaning earlier than a normal Super Tuesday, first Tuesday in March, primary — is that doing so could make Texas more influential in the outcome of presidential races.

With its increase from 32 congressional seats to 36 thanks to population growth and the 2010 U.S. Census, Texas arguably deserves a higher-profile position in the process, but moving the primary to an earlier date shortens the window of time candidates have to raise campaign funds. Some candidates would suffer and some would benefit from that, but voters would have less time to observe, question, scrutinize, and decide.

In any case, the presidential race goes on.Both Texas candidates, while not at the head of the pack, show signs of completing the January portion of the Republican primary hopscotch, which at this writing includes New Hampshire, Jan. 10; South Carolina, Jan. 21; and Florida, Jan. 31. The Iowa caucus was Jan. 3.

Gov. Rick Perry, who jumped into the race in August, soared for a few weeks, hit turbulence in televised debates and dropped into a descent path, still has more campaign money in his tank than his rivals. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, on the other hand, enjoys a following that seems to grow as the weeks pass.

Air pollution rule put on hold

Texas’ request for a stay to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule was granted by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 30.

The intent of the rule known by the acronym CSAPR is to improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine particle pollution that blows into other states. Environmentalists and public health advocates praised the rule because of its potential to reduce diseases traced to chemicals contained in smokestack releases.

Last year, however, the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker, attorney general, comptroller, railroad commissioners, land commissioner and other state officials protested the rule before and after it was finalized last summer. Most objections were based on the idea that curbing releases from smokestack industries hurts the Texas economy and kills jobs.

After the court granted the stay, the EPA officially expressed its view that the rule, which originally took effect on July 6, 2011, would be upheld after judicial review.

New water plan is released

The Texas Water Development Board on Jan. 5 released the 2012 State Water Plan.

Among its recommendations, the document asks state lawmakers to change laws in order to to lift restrictions on the transfer of surface water from one basin to another.

The plan also calls for the creation of new reservoirs, increased water loss audits and sustainable financing for water projects.

Aerial vaccine drop in progress

On Jan. 2, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced it had begun its annual airdrop of rabies vaccine baits over portions of south and west Texas.

Planes are scheduled to drop some 1.8 million doses of rabies vaccine over the next month.

Since the vaccine program was started in 1995, and the number of animal cases has dropped dramatically, the agency reported.

State helps fund robotics contests

More than 3,400 high school students throughout Texas will have the opportunity to participate in high school robotics competitions this school year thanks to funding from the Texas Workforce Commission, the agency said last month.

“Texas employers continue to express the need for workers with these skills as critical to their success and job creation now and in the future,” according to an agency news release.

ED STERLING the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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