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General Interest

State Capital Highlights

House OKs revised version of state budget

AUSTIN — On April 5, the Texas House of Representatives approved Committee Substitute Senate Bill 1, a proposed state budget of $194 billion for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The Senate earlier approved a $195.5 billion budget, so the next step is for differences in the two budgets to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. Both budgets spend less than what it would take to keep in stride with inflation and the state's increasing population. The House version adds, above base spending, $2.8 billion back into the elementary and secondary education budget, far less than the $5.4 billion the Legislature cut from education in 2011 to cope with a projected state revenue deficit.

In a split vote to approve CSSB1, the House went along with a joint recommendation not to expand Medicaid spending made by Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and other leading Republicans on April 1.

"Medicaid is a broken, unsustainable federal program that could eventually bankrupt Texas and all states, and it's nuts to expand it," Dewhurst said. "I've spoken with our Texas senators about examining all the best ideas being considered nationwide on Medicaid, but I'm not willing to consider going forward unless we can agree on a solution that is right for Texas."

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, chair of the House Committee on Public Health, on April 1 said, "This debate will shape our nation's debt and financial future for generations. That's why I'm honored to play a part as we seek Texas solutions. When we reform the Medicaid system, Texas can lead the way to a brighter future here at home and across the country."

Casting nays on final passage of CSSB1 were state Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Joe Farias, D-San Antonio; Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint; Ana Hernandez-Luna, D-Houston; Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio; David Simpson, R-Longview; Chris Turner, D-Arlington; and Armando Walle, D-Houston.

Farias explained his vote saying, "We clearly had the means to restore the cuts from two years ago but budget writers chose not to restore the full $5.4 billion. The budget also fails to fund Medicaid expansion, an opportunity that chambers of commerce, faith leaders and Texas hospitals all agree is necessary for our future."

Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said, "There is no greater investment in our future than doing everything we can to help the nearly five million school children of Texas realize their full God-given potential by providing the very best public education for each and every one of them. This budget falls well short of that basic values test, which is why I voted no."

Senate OKs CPRIT bill

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 establishing the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorizing the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas.

On April 3 the Texas Senate unanimously approved SB 149, legislation to tighten oversight of the agency under fire for awarding tens of millions of dollars in grants to researchers with ties to agency officials.

Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee said the legislation "establishes an ironclad system of checks and balances that will make it impossible for the agency to run without 100 percent transparency and accountability."

An example of what the bill does is it prohibits individuals or entities that make donations to CPRIT or the CPRIT Foundation from receiving grants. The bill has moved to the Texas House for consideration.

Listed as coauthors of SB 149 are Sens. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Charles Schwertner, R-Bryan; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Leases help school fund

Oil and gas exploration on state lands earned Texas schools more than $9.2 million on April 2 at the quarterly Permanent School Fund lease sale, the General Land Office reported last week.

Private oil companies competitively bid more than $11.5 million to explore for oil and gas on land owned by the state, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson reported.

Twelve leases were awarded for tracts of submerged state land in the Gulf of Mexico, showing renewed interest in an area that has seen diminishing activity since the Macondo well blowout three years ago, Patterson added.

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Proyecto Desarrollo Humano center helps change Peñitas colonias

20130403 Proyecto Desarrollo Humano JB 0035 FEATUREPEÑITAS—Almost ten years ago, a handful of Catholic sisters had a desire to do something more for the poor people of the colonias. As they considered where to go and what to do, a tornado drew them to a colonia near Peñitas – Pueblo de Palmas.

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Agents seize more than 6 tons of marijuana over weekend

EDINBURG—U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Rio Grande Valley Sector seized more than 6 tons of marijuana, with a value of more than $9.8 million, over March 8-10.

The largest seizure occurred at the Falfurrias Checkpoint on March 8 when a Border Patrol K-9 detected the presence of marijuana in a tractor-trailer during an immigration inspection. Upon further inspection, agents found more than 6,700 pounds of marijuana hidden inside the trailer.

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County Auditor: No money for unpaid indigent medical bills

Hidalgo County auditor Ray Eufracio told county commissioners this week funds to pay indigent care medical bills for 2011 was no longer available in the accounts where they had been located. He explained that at the end of each year funding that is left in different budget categories is rolled over into the general budget for the next year instead of being left in the categories where they were previously designated.

The auditor’s opinion came during a discussion where Eddie Olivarez, Director of the Hidalgo County Health Department, and attorney Jim Darling, representing Doctor’s Hospital and Renaissance, spoke about funds for indigent care owed by the county to the hospitals, pharmacies and doctors of the area for services rendered in 2011. The amount Hidalgo County was required to set aside for 2011 was $8.5 million. The county only paid $6.1 million because the state was waiting for instructions from the federal government on the money and would not accept the money until instructions were given.

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Homeschooling: How do I begin?

Editor’s note: This is the second segment of a two-part series on homeschooling.

For those interested in homeschooling, one of the hardest decisions may be selecting the program that is right for you and your children. Prospective homeschoolers also need to become acquainted with local state laws and find a support group. Sadie Aldaya, director of Foundations and Essentials and local support manager of Classical Conversations, homeschooling curriculum programs, says there are many resources parents can use to find out more information.

For the first-time homeschooler, knowing their state laws and their rights regarding homeschooling are important, said Aldaya. She recommended some helpful websites for those looking into or just starting homeschool. Two recommended sites are www.thsc.org and www.hslda.org. These websites provide information for parents about laws regarding homeschooling and how to withdraw their child from the public school system, Aldaya said. Another website to look at is www.time4learning.com/homeschool/homeschooling_in_texas.shtml.

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H-E-B Slimdown Show Down competitors nearing the end

20130315 HEB-Slimdown Cupples-and-Saldivar V-is-for-ValleyTami Cupples and Christina Saldivar, of Mission, are nearing the end the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown competition. Their last weigh-in and blood tests are scheduled for April 4.

Both women have been active on their blog, talking about exercising, eating right and feeling better. While they both have some difficult days now and then, they seem to be having more good days and have been redefining who they are and how they eat.

Cupples said she feels pretty good and is slimmer now – about 21 pounds slimmer – than when she started the program in late January. Her main change is redefining the idea of full versus stuffed when she eats.

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Valley medical school proposal passes Texas Senate

Legislation that would merge the University of Texas-Pan American and UT-Brownsville – and also creates a UT medical school in the Rio Grande Valley as part of the proposed system – was passed by the Texas Senate on Wednesday, March 13.

The Senate vote paves the way for action in the coming days by the House of Representatives.  

“Among many advantages it represents for South Texas, this bill would allow UT-Pan American, which is in my legislative district, UT-Brownsville, and the planned UT medical school access to the multi-billion dollar Permanent University Fund, which helps pay for major construction projects,” said freshman State Representative Terry Canales.

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Valley cities may run out of water soon

20130315 crop-weatherCOLLEGE STATION – In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, water shortages are shaping up as a crisis not just for farmers but also for entire cities this year, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

In 2009, the area experienced the worst drought in decades, as did much of the state, but this year is shaping up to be much worse for area residents, said Dr. Guy Fipps, AgriLife Extension irrigation engineer, College Station.

“In 2009, there was a drought, but there was plenty of water in the reservoir systems, so there was irrigation water,” he said. “This year, there is almost no water in the reservoir systems.”

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