opinion: State Capital Highlights: Frontrunning candidates appear in debate forums
AUSTIN — Texans interested in who their next governor and lieutenant governor will be witnessed major party candidates for those offices engage in live, one-hour broadcast debates last week.
Fellow state Sens. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, opponents in the race for lieutenant governor, faced off in Austin on Sept. 29. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott competed on stage in Dallas on Sept. 30, each striving to succeed longtime Gov. Rick Perry as the state’s chief executive.
All four candidates held to traditional party lines on such bellwether topics as health care, transportation, education and border security.
Republicans Patrick and Abbott identified themselves as anti-abortion and pro-border security while Democrats Van de Putte and Davis spoke in support of legislative solutions to expand women’s access to health services, foster a less fear-based treatment of border issues and bolster a public education system weakened by $5.4 billion funding cut last session. On the topic of taxation, Patrick floated his idea that the adoption of a one- or two-penny state sales tax increase would reduce local property taxes by a corresponding amount.
Election Day is Nov. 4, with early voting set for the week of Oct. 24-31.
Ebola case is confirmed
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s public health laboratory in Austin on Sept. 30 confirmed Dallas hospital patient Thomas Eric Duncan tested positive for the disease, Ebola.
Duncan, who traveled from West Africa to Dallas on a commercial airline flight, was admitted into isolation on Sept. 29 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
Early symptoms of Ebola include sudden fever, fatigue and headache. Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure. Spread through direct contact with blood, secretions or other bodily fluids or exposure to contaminated objects such as needles, Ebola is said not to be contagious until symptoms appear.
Officials urged health care providers to ask patients who have fever about recent travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria. According to the Associated Press, the disease Ebola is capitalized because it is named after the Ebola River in the African nation of Zaire.
Court upholds abortion law
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled a Texas law regulating abortion procedures, providers and facilities does not violate the Constitutional rights of women.
House Bill 2, passed in during the second called session of the Texas Legislature in July 2013, contains two provisions that were at stake in the case, Whole Women’s Health, and others v. David Lakey, M.D., Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, and others.
The plaintiffs had sought declaratory relief and permanent injunctions against the enforcement of (1) the requirement that any physician performing an abortion must have active admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location where the abortion is performed; and (2) that all abortion clinics existing on or after Sept. 1, 2014, comply with the same minimum standards required of ambulatory surgical centers.
Fund moves to top spot
Education Commissioner Michael Williams and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced Sept. 30 that the Permanent School Fund reached a record high value in 2014 that made it the largest educational endowment in the United States.
On June 30, the fund surpassed Harvard University’s $36.4 billion endowment.
Created by the state in 1854 with an initial $2 million investment, the Permanent School Fund stood at $37.7 billion in market value as of June 30.
Some $30.6 billion of the fund is managed by the State Board of Education and $7.1 billion by the School Land Board. Day-to-day oversight of the fund is handled by staff at the Texas Education Agency and the General Land Office.
Williams and Patterson attributed the robustness of the fund to effective financial management and increased oil and gas operations on Permanent School Fund lands.
Drought conditions remain
Gov. Perry’s office on Oct. 3 announced the renewal of the emergency disaster proclamation the governor originally signed in July 2011, certifying that exceptional drought conditions posed a threat of imminent disaster in specified counties in Texas.
This month, the proclamation applies to 113 of the state’s 254 counties. The proclamation directs that “all necessary measures, both public and private” as authorized by state law “be implemented to meet that threat” and “all rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to this threat are suspended for the duration of the state of disaster.”