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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.

The group sued Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey, M.D., and Mari Robinson, executive director of the Texas Medical Board, in their official state capacities.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said he would file an appeal on behalf of the state. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is the appellate court.

Abbott, Davis to square off

Less than two months remain until the Nov. 4 statewide election in which Texans will pick Gov. Rick Perry’s successor.

Republican Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, were about eight points apart, with Abbott at 48 points to Davis’s 40, in an early August Rasmussen Reports poll. The Rasmussen poll also showed nine percent of respondents as undecided and three percent supporting candidates other than Abbott or Davis.

Dallas public television and radio station KERA on Sept. 4 announced it will host a one-hour live debate between Abbott and Davis beginning at 8 p.m. on Sept. 30. The debate will be broadcast on television, radio and online. 
No plans have been publicized for more debates between the two front-running candidates.

Perry renews proclamation

Gov. Rick Perry on Aug. 29 renewed for the month of September his July 2011 emergency disaster proclamation that certifies exceptional drought conditions pose a threat of imminent disaster in 107 specified counties in Texas.

Rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to the threat are suspended for the duration of the state of disaster, according to the proclamation.

Financial ratings now available

Texas Education Agency on Sept. 5 announced the release of financial accountability ratings for more than 1,205 school districts and 202 charters across the state.

The 2013-2014 ratings are based on annual financial reports provided to TEA by districts and charters from the 2012-2013 school year.
Based on the submitted information, one of four financial management ratings is assigned: Superior, Above Standard, Standard or Substandard.

For 2013-2014, approximately 95 percent of Texas school districts passed with a rating of Standard or above, the education agency said.

Ratings are based on 20 established financial indicators, such as operating expenditures for instruction, tax collection rates, student-teacher ratios, and long-term debt. Each school district and charter is required to hold a public hearing regarding its financial report.

Most-ever property returned

State Comptroller Susan Combs on Sept. 4 announced the return of more than $205 million in unclaimed property to rightful owners in fiscal year 2014-2015, which ended Aug. 31.
This set a record, she said, as the previous high water mark for unclaimed property returned by the agency was $177.6 million in fiscal 2013.

Combs said the returned property included forgotten utility deposits or other refunds, insurance proceeds, payroll checks, cashier’s checks, dividends, mineral royalties, dormant bank accounts and abandoned safe deposit box contents.

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