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OPINION: State Capital Highlights – Vietnam Veterans Monument is placed at Capitol

Austin — Forty-one years after the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, the new Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument was dedicated in a March 29 ceremony attended by a crowd of thousands, including veterans, active duty military, families, friends and relatives.

Some 3,417 Texans died or are unaccounted for in Vietnam, according to the State Capitol Preservation Board.

Speakers at the ceremony included: Gov. Rick Perry; U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Dallas, an Air Force pilot who was held captive and tortured as prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years; Lt. Gen. Mick Kicklighter, director of the United States 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War; state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Houston, Vietnam veteran legislators who co-sponsored the monument authorization legislation; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Robert Floyd, chairman of monument committee; and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who introduced the memorial tribute that included students from San Antonio’s Edgewood Memorial High School and wreaths presented by the families of Texans killed and missing in Vietnam, the Texas Vietnamese community and the Texas Legislature.

The bronze monument depicting soldiers in action poses cost $2.2 million and was paid for with private donations.

Violators face penalties

Texas Department of Transportation is working with law enforcement entities to recover unpaid tolls and fees from drivers who have not settled those debts.

On March 21 TxDOT announced violators will be “subjected to having their vehicles banned from toll roads, ticketed by law enforcement, impounded and possibly reported to the county tax assessor’s office in an effort to block vehicle registration renewal.”

James Bass, TxDOT interim executive director, said, “Not paying tolls is effectively stealing from the taxpayers of Texas. Recovering unpaid tolls is a responsibility TxDOT will continue to take seriously as we pursue millions of dollars in delinquent tolls that could be used to better serve the people of Texas.”

‘Debt page’ gets update

State Comptroller Susan Combs on March 26 announced an update for her agency’s “Debt at a Glance” Web pages detailing finances for every city, school district and community college district in Texas.

With 50 local bond elections coming up in May, Combs said, the information is especially relevant. “Since we launched our local debt features last year, we have continued to add information beneficial to taxpayers,” she explained.

Find it at

Appellate court rules

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on March 27 issued a unanimous decision upholding House Bill 2, a revision to the Texas abortion law passed by the state Legislature in 2013.

The decision reverses a lower court ruling in favor of Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Surgical Health Services et al., that the state law violated the constitutional rights of patients.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called the Fifth Circuit’s decision “a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women.”

The Fifth Circuit’s decision may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Spill cleanup continues

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on March 26 said work crews and equipment are already in place to protect Matagorda Bay from any oil spilled by a barge at Texas City.

On March 22, some 170,000 gallons of fuel oil escaped from the barge following a collision in the environmentally sensitive Houston Ship Channel.

Magazine rates Austin 1st

Forbes magazine, in its annual ranking of cities including their associated Metropolitan Statistical Areas, named Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos the nation’s fastest-growing city in 2013. Austin’s growth rate over the year was 2.5 percent.

In the same study, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington placed 4th; Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown placed 10th; and San Antonio-New Braunfels placed 20th.

Noted Texan dies

Robert S. Strauss, 95, died March 19.

He was born in Lockhart and later lived in Hamlin and Stamford before attending the University of Texas as an undergraduate and going to earn a law degree from the UT School of Law.

Strauss served in the FBI during World War II. He co-founded the Gump & Strauss law firm in Dallas in 1945. In political life, a few examples of the many high-level posts he held include: U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, U.S. ambassador to Russia, special envoy to the Middle East, Democratic National Committee chairman, and U.S. trade representative.

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