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OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Texas, Mexico exchange words over military force at border

AUSTIN — While the governor and a group of trade-with-Texas promoters were in Japan and China last week, the 13th anniversary of the “9-11” terrorist attacks on the United States was broadly observed. Perry acknowledged the anniversary from afar and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who serves as acting governor when Perry is out of the state, also made a similar, solemn statement on Sept. 11.

Perry posted another statement in absentia, calling attention to the fact that some 1,000 National Guard troops, at his request, had taken positions at observation posts along the Texas-Mexico border to deter crossings of the Rio Grande by terrorists and drug traffickers. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reacted, criticizing the deployment of National Guard to the border as a less-than-neighborly act.

Dewhurst responded to President Nieto’s statement, saying, in part: “I find it puzzling and frankly offensive that the government of Mexico chose the 13th anniversary of the most tragic attack on our homeland to call on Texas to throw open our international border to illegal immigration, trafficking in drugs and human lives, and potentially even terrorists who wish to harm America.”

Rosalba Ojeda, Mexican consul general in Austin, followed with her own calmative statement, saying: “Mexico has collaborated with the U.S. to ensure that our common border becomes a prosperous and dynamic region to benefit the people that inhabit the area on both sides. Mexico, through the Consulate General of Mexico in Austin, Texas, recognizes the message expressed by the Government of Texas as an invitation to open up a space for coordination and dialogue, which is most welcomed.”

Meanwhile, over the ensuing weekend, the Texas Capitol was being readied for the traditional Diez y Seis de Septiembre Mexican Independence Day celebration, with festivities that draw a multiethnic crowd numbering in the thousands.

Staples decries meatless day

An editorial concerning “Meatless Monday” by state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples was published in the Austin American-Statesman on Sept. 8.

“Recently,” Staples wrote, “I learned some Texas school districts, such as Dripping Springs ISD, have adopted a policy deemed ‘Meatless Mondays’ for some of their campuses. These actions have me very concerned.

“Restricting children’s meal choice to not include meat is irresponsible and has no place in our schools. This activist movement called ‘Meatless Mondays’ is a carefully orchestrated campaign that seeks to eliminate meat from Americans’ diets seven days a week, starting with Mondays.

“For those Texans who choose not to eat meat, I say more power to you. If you want to take the personal challenge to go meatless on Mondays, go right ahead. However, we cannot force such an agenda-driven diet on anyone who has not chosen such a diet, especially our school children.”

In other news, Staples on Sept. 10 announced the Texas Department of Agriculture will receive $317,600 in federal funding to help growers and handlers of organic agricultural products defray the costs of obtaining organic certification. Grant funds will be available to help producers recover part of the cost of applying for the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification and applications are due Oct. 31.

Dewhurst speaks on TWIA

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst on Sept. 9 spoke at a Senate Business & Commerce Committee hearing with the permission of the chair, Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) has insured obligations that have grown from about 85,000 policies representing $16 billion since January 2003, to more than 270,000 polices representing almost $77 billion currently, Dewhurst said.

“Should Texas, God forbid, endure two targeted Category 5 hurricanes in a single year, the impact on the state budget from claims on TWIA’s $77 billion in coverage could be devastating. I encourage the senators to explore ways to carefully move Texas coastal policy holders to commercial insurance carriers over time, thus avoiding a rate shock and reducing the risk of a massive financial tsunami to Texas taxpayers,” Dewhurst added.

Sales tax revenue rises

State Comptroller Susan Combs on Sept. 10 announced state sales tax revenue in August was $2.57 billion, up 7.5 percent compared to August 2013.

Revenue gains, she said, were led by remittances from the oil and natural gas, wholesale trade and retail trade sectors. Also, fiscal year 2014 ended (on Aug. 31) with total collections at $27.27 billion, up 5.5 percent over fiscal year 2013. Combs said the Office of the Comptroller will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their September local sales tax allocations totaling $627.8 million, up 9.2 percent compared to September 2013.


OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Judge rules revisions to abortion law unconstitutional

AUSTIN — U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on Aug. 29 struck down two provisions in House Bill 2, legislation passed by the Texas Legislature in the second special session of 2013, amending the state Health and Safety Code to restrict access to abortion services. 

Yeakel wrote, “A state’s legislature cannot purport to act to abrogate the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” and concluded the following provisions in the law put an unconstitutional burden on women:
— That a physician performing or inducing an abortion must, on the date the abortion is performed or induced, have active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.
— That the minimum standards for an abortion facility must be equivalent to the minimum standards adopted for ambulatory surgical centers.

Also, Yeakel wrote, the two provisions would act together “to create a scheme that effects the closing of almost all abortion clinics in Texas that were operating legally in the fall of 2013” and thus, “the overall effect . . . is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a pre-viability abortion.” 
The case was brought by regional abortion providers in this state who joined together as plaintiffs, seeking to prevent those two provisions of the amended law from taking effect on Sept. 1.

Read more: OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Judge rules revisions to abortion law unconstitutional


OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Grand jury indicts governor on 2 counts

20140822 Rick-Perry-MugshotAUSTIN — A Travis County grand jury on Aug. 15 indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.

Count I alleges Perry, on or about June 14, 2013, intended to harm Rosemary Lehmberg, Travis County district attorney and chief of the state’s Public Integrity Unit, by intentionally or knowingly misusing public property in withholding funding approved by the Texas Legislature for the operation of the Public Integrity Unit. 

Count II alleges Perry by means of coercion and in his official capacity as a public servant threatened to veto legislation funding the Public Integrity Unit unless Lehmberg resigned as district attorney. 

Read more: OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Grand jury indicts governor on 2 counts


OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Class of 2013 achieves highest graduation rate

AUSTIN — The class of 2013 Texas high school on-time graduation rate was 88 percent, the highest on record and 0.3 percentage points higher than the previous record set by the class of 2012, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced on Aug. 5. The figures are included in the Texas Education Agency report, Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools, 2012-13. 

“We’ve set the bar high for Texas students to ensure every graduate is ready for college or career, and they have consistently demonstrated that they are up to the challenge,” commented Gov. Rick Perry.

Williams pointed out that graduation rates for African-American, Hispanic and white students have increased steadily since the class of 2007. 
Out of 2,189,442 students who attended grades 7-12 in Texas public schools during the 2012-13 school year, 1.6 percent were reported to have dropped out that year, a decrease of 0.1 percentage points from 2011-12, Williams said.

Read more: OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Class of 2013 achieves highest graduation rate


OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Toyota picks Plano for North America headquarters

AUSTIN — Toyota Motor Corporation on April 28 announced its decision to locate the headquarters of Toyota Motor North America headquarters to Plano.

Toyota said the move is “designed to better serve customers and position Toyota for sustainable, long-term growth.”

Within the next three years, Toyota’s three separate North American headquarters for manufacturing, sales and marketing and corporate operations will relocate to a single, state-of-the-art campus in Plano, just north of Dallas. Toyota’s North American finance arm also plans to move its headquarters to this new, shared campus.  Altogether, these moves will affect about 4,000 employees, Toyota said.

Gov. Rick Perry said Toyota is making a $300 million capital investment in the move and the state has offered Toyota an incentive of $40 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund.

“We’re proud that both the Tundra and Tacoma bear the words ‘Made in Texas’ and we’re excited our state will be the nexus for Toyota’s North American operations moving forward,” Perry said, adding that Toyota's Texas operations presently include its $2.3 billion manufacturing facility in San Antonio that supports 2,900 jobs, and combined with its 21 on-site suppliers, Toyota supports 6,000 jobs in San Antonio.

Grand jury probe begins

A Travis County grand jury assigned with a special prosecutor convened in mid-April to examine Gov. Rick Perry’s veto last year of legislation to fund the state’s Public Integrity Unit, a division of the Travis County district attorney’s office tasked with investigating public corruption.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who heads the Public Integrity Unit, was arrested for drunken driving in April 2013, pleaded guilty, served half of a 45-day jail sentence and was released. Perry asked for Lehmberg’s resignation, but Lehmberg chose to continue in office. Perry then vetoed the Public Integrity Unit’s budget. Travis County, however, came up with money from its own budget to maintain the entity’s functions.

Decision sets coal back

Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates energy-producing industries, lamented the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision on April 29 to uphold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

“By upholding the EPA-written Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and overturning a lower court decision, the Supreme Court has made it increasingly difficult to burn coal to produce electricity,” according to a Railroad Commission statement published the day the court rendered its decision. “Going forward, natural gas, renewables and nuclear energy must shoulder an even bigger load in order to ‘keep the lights on’ cheaply and reliably in Texas, and throughout America,” the agency further stated, adding, “As a result of today’s holding, some coal-fired power plants may be forced to limit or shut down operations.”

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas cast the dissenting votes in the 6-2 decision.

The U.S. Clean Air Act requires the EPA to write rules to enforce laws passed by Congress. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires Texas, as an “upwind” state, to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that cross state lines. Such pollutants react in the atmosphere to form fine particles and ground-level ozone and are transported long distances, making it difficult for other states to achieve air quality standards, according to the EPA.

Graduation rate is near best

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ “First Look” report released in late April, for the class of 2012, Texas posted a graduation rate of 88 percent, tying with three other states for second highest. Iowa posted a graduation rate of 89 percent while the national average was 80 percent.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams lauded the report and noted that Texas’ overall graduation rate exceeded the national averages release in both 2011 and 2012.

Williams also pointed out the Texas class of 2012 had the highest graduation rate in the country among African-American students and tied for the highest graduation rates for white and economically disadvantaged students.

Enforcement result comes in

Texas Department of Public Safety on April 28 announced state troopers arrested some 1,374 motorists for driving while intoxicated during the agency’s March 7 to March 23 spring break enforcement period.

A Texas Department of Transportation grant allowed increased patrols in high-risk locations during the times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent.

Furthermore, the DPS reported, stops made during the enforcement period resulted in 18,826 speeding citations, 3,266 seat belt/child safety seat tickets and more than 23,400 other citations, plus 848 fugitive arrests and 713 felony arrests.


OPINION: Mission CISD Board Candidate Has Flawed Philosophy

pt-square logoI received a call last Wednesday from Dr. Kenneth White, former Mission CISD superintendent. While he retired years ago, he continues to have a keen interest in Mission and particularly in Mission schools.

Although he recently had to move to the Dallas area to be near family, due to health reasons, he said he reads the Progress Times regularly to follow what is going on in Mission. And that is what prompted his phone call.

He expressed concern that one of the candidates for Mission school board, Marcie Gonzalez Acosta who is running in Place 1, said she wanted to make sure the Alton campuses are up to par in comparison with the rest of the school district.

Read more: OPINION: Mission CISD Board Candidate Has Flawed Philosophy


OPINION: Getting to know the mayoral candidates

pt-square logoThe Progress Times hosted a forum for the Mission mayoral candidates Tuesday evening for which two of the three candidates showed up – Dr. John Guerra and Jaime Gutierrez. Incumbent Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas did not. Instead, Salinas sent a letter to our office Tuesday afternoon apologizing for his absence “due to an unforeseen conflict.”

That’s too bad. The room full of nearly 100 Mission citizens and our 20,000 readers could have benefitted more if all three candidates had been represented. In his letter, the mayor made some very good points about how the city has prospered during the past 16 years under his leadership. I did not read the letter at the forum and I won’t provide the details here. He should have been at the forum. I know he would have articulated how well off the city is and the numerous improvements we have seen during his administration.

His opponents are saying, “It’s time for a change.”

But what kind of changes would these candidates bring to Mission? That’s the question.

Read more: OPINION: Getting to know the mayoral candidates


OPINION: State Capital Highlights - LBJ School hosts civil rights summit

AUSTIN — President Barack Obama and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush spoke at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library’s Civil Rights Summit, held April 8-10 in Austin.

The summit marked the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s efforts culminating in Congress’ passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Johnson’s signing the bill into law on July 2, 1964.

“As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we honor the men and women who made it possible,” President Obama said in his address. “We recall the countless unheralded Americans, black and white, students and scholars, preachers and housekeepers whose names are etched not on monuments, but in the hearts of their loved ones and in the fabric of the country they helped to change. But we also gather here deep in the heart of the state that shaped (President Johnson), to recall one giant man’s remarkable efforts to make real the promise of our founding: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”

Obama and the past presidents each uttered words to the effect that while Johnson’s accomplishments serve as durable bridges to a better America, every generation has civil rights challenges that must be recognized and addressed, and the value of teaching and learning about the work of predecessors is critical to the health of the nation.

Panels composed of historians, scholars, current and former public officials and noted personalities addressed a range of topics, including: LBJ and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., heroes of the civil rights movement, social justice in the 21st century, immigration policy, education, gay marriage, music and social consciousness and professional sports.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said, and others agreed, LBJ’s mastery of the legislative process and effective use of the power of the White House proved keys to the success of the civil rights law, the voting rights law, the fair housing law, Medicaid, Medicare and other laws and federal programs that have been the legacy of the Johnson presidency and central to American life over the last half century.

In their panel discussion, former NAACP President Julian Bond, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and former Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young — associates of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — recounted their personal involvement in the movement. Each of the three credited many others and acknowledged the work of the ranks of the unnamed who struggled in the 1950s and 1960s to unravel racial segregation across the South, and pushed for equal protection and equal access, while generating worldwide awareness and spurring changes in hearts and minds across the United States.

Hall of fame professional athletes Jim Brown and Bill Russell traded anecdotes on breaking the color line in sports, opening doors after their retirement as players, and dealing with the day-to-day realities of life in America.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musicians Mavis Staples and Graham Nash performed songs and participated as panelists.

Governor looks for MIAs

Gov. Rick Perry and first lady Anita Perry traveled to the Republic of Palau in the Western Pacific Ocean to participate in the BentProp Project, April 5 to April 17.

BentProp is an ongoing effort to find the remains of U.S. soldiers and sailors listed as “Missing in Action” in World War II battles fought in the South Pacific. Joining the Perrys on the island of Peleliu were former U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and Romus Valton Burgin, a veteran of the September 1944 Battle of Peleliu.

According to the governor’s office, the Perrys “are traveling as guests of the BentStar Project, which assists in funding the BentProp Project and Pursuit Productions, which is filming a documentary on the 2014 expedition.”

Revenues grow in March

State Comptroller Susan Combs on April 9 announced state sales tax revenue in March was $2.09 billion, up 5.6 percent compared to March of the previous year.

“The growth in sales tax revenues was led by business spending in the oil and natural gas mining, wholesale trade and construction sectors,” Texas chief revenue officer explained. “Collections from restaurants were also strong. This marks 48 consecutive months of growth in state sales tax collections.”

Combs said her office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their April local sales tax allocations totaling $554.5 million, up 6.2 percent compared to April 2013.


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