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OPNION: State Capital Highlights – High court allows voter ID law for current election

AUSTIN — With early voting in Texas only days away, the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 18 let stand a U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals order, thereby allowing Texas’ 2011 voter identification law to remain in force for the time being.

Civil rights plaintiffs in Veasey et al. v. Perry et al. sought to have portions of the law declared unenforceable on constitutional grounds. In a Corpus Christi federal courtroom, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down the law and ordered the state to return to election law practices in place before the Legislature passed the law in 2011.

The law, Ramos wrote, intentionally discriminates against Hispanics and blacks in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and is tantamount to a “poll tax” because of the cost to acquire any of the various acceptable forms of photo identification that a voter is required to present at the polls, in addition to a voter registration certificate, in order to cast an election ballot. Ramos ordered the state to submit any proposed amendments to the election law to her. The State of Texas appealed and the Fifth Circuit granted the state’s petition to let the law stand. The plaintiffs then turned to the Supreme Court for redress, and were rebuffed.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion in support of the plaintiffs’ assertion of unconstitutional effects of the Texas law. Ginsburg was joined in her dissent by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Majority support of the Texas law, however, came from the other six: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. But the six produced no written opinion in support of the State of Texas.

Abortion provisions on hold

In a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 14 put a hold on two requirements of Texas’ 2013 abortion law that reportedly have resulted in the closure of 34 out of the 41 abortion-providing facilities in the state:

1. That abortion facilities meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers; and

2. Doctors who perform abortions at clinics in El Paso and McAllen need not have active admitting privileges at a hospital not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.

In taking this action, the high court temporarily suspends a two-week-old ruling by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed those portions to stand.

Meanwhile, the constitutionality of the entire 2013 Texas abortion law is under review in the Fifth Circuit.

Texas job growth sets record

 Texas Workforce Commission on Oct. 19 announced the Texas economy added 36,400 seasonally adjusted total non-farm jobs in September and over the last 12 months added 413,700 total non-farm jobs.

Also, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in September, down from 5.3 percent in August and down from the 6.3 percent rate recorded in September 2013.

Furthermore, the agency noted, the seasonally adjusted civilian labor force population in Texas topped 13 million for the first time in September at 13,005,600 individuals.

Governor to appear Oct. 31

Gov. Rick Perry, through his legal defense team last week, said he plans to be present for an Oct. 31 pre-trial hearing in the courtroom of visiting State District Judge Bert Richardson.

Perry faces a two-count felony indictment for abuse of office and official coercion, relating to his threat to veto the funding of the state’s Public Integrity Unit if the unit’s director, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, did not resign after her arrest for drunken driving in 2013. Lehmberg ignored the threat and Perry vetoed the Public Integrity Unit’s $7.5 million budget. This prompted a criminal complaint against the governor that resulted in a Travis County grand jury indictment.

Judge Richardson allowed Perry to skip a scheduled pre-trial hearing on Oct. 13 because of a previous engagement: an economic development trip to Europe. Perry’s legal team is expected to present motions asking Richardson to quash the indictments at the Oct. 31 hearing.

October: ‘Hog Out Month’

Texas Department of Agriculture calls October “Hog Out Month” because it comes in the middle of the agency’s 2014 Coordinated Hog Out Management Program that runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30.

It’s a county-by-county, statewide, grant-supported effort to cut the feral hog population. Some 2.6 million of these wild swine cause an estimated $500 million in damage in rural and urban Texas each year, the Agriculture Department said.

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