Governor sets session for Oct. 9
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a letter to legislative leaders indicating a special session will begin on Oct. 9 dealing with what he has called “school choice” but is more widely known as vouchers.
The Austin American- Statesman reported Abbott has threatened another special session if lawmakers can’t come to an agreement this month, and then will take the issue to voters by finding candidates to run against those opposing vouchers.
During the regular session, a coalition of Democrats and many rural House Republicans blocked legislation concerning vouchers that had easily passed the Senate. Abbott has spent much of this year traveling the state encouraging parents and pastors to advocate for school choice.
“I will keep fighting every step of the way until we have school choice in the state of Texas,” Abbott said.
Opponents of vouchers say they would divert taxpayer money from public schools. Many public school district leaders say they already struggle to balance their budgets and retain teachers.
Delayed farm bill passage worries ag producers
One of the key bills delayed by the wrangling in Congress is the massive farm bill, which is renewed every five years. The Texas Tribune reports a temporary extension of the current bill is expected to pass, however. The farm bill is key to a host of programs, from crop insurance to food access for low-income families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
“In a perfect world, we get a farm bill this year. If we don’t, though, let's extend it. And let's not pass a farm bill just to say we passed a farm bill,” Laramie Adams, national legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau, said. “We want to make sure that the farm bill is meaningful.”
Since the last farm bill was passed in 2018, farmers have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cutting world grain shipments, and rising costs for equipment and fuel. Meanwhile, market prices for most agricultural products remain stagnant.
“As you look at that and inflation and adjusting for inflation, from our perspective, we need to look at strengthening crop insurance,” Adams said. “And that is not an easy task.”
Supreme Court to decide on Paxton’s back pay
After being acquitted in his impeachment trial, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking around $50,000 in back pay. However, the state comptroller’s office says the best course of action is to let the Texas Supreme Court decide, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
The comptroller’s office is responsible for authorizing payments, and Paxton’s pay was withheld when he was impeached and suspended from office in late May by the Texas House. Paxton was acquitted by the Senate in September.
“Because we disagree with your interpretation of the Texas Constitution on this very important issue, we encourage you to file a writ of mandamus with the Texas Supreme Court for a definitive ruling,” read the letter signed by Victoria North, the comptroller's general counsel on fiscal and agency affairs.
Meanwhile, four ex-employees of Paxton have asked the Texas Supreme Court for permission to move forward with a wrongful termination suit against their ex-boss since they still haven’t received their settlement money, kut. org reported. The four had reached a $3.3 million settlement with Paxton in February, but the Texas Legislature never approved the settlement. They are now seeking to move forward with the lawsuit in Travis County.
“After seven months and after the positions taken at the impeachment trial, there is no reason to believe a final settlement agreement is achievable at this point,” Monday’s filing with the court reads.
Anti-drag law ruled unconstitutional
A federal judge last week ruled a law restricting drag performances in Texas violates free speech and is unconstitutional, the Texas Standard reported. Senate Bill 12 banned sexually oriented performances in the presence of minors.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner, appointed to the bench by then-President Ronald Reagan, said the law was overly broad.
“Based on evidence and testimony presented at the hearing, the court finds there is substantial likelihood that SB 12 as drafted violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution under one or more of the legal theories put forward by the plaintiffs,” Hittner wrote in the temporary restraining order.
The state is expected to appeal.
Nearly 900,000 Texans lose Medicaid benefits
After federal regulations enacted during the pandemic banned states from removing people from Medicaid were lifted in April, nearly 900,000 Texans have lost those benefits, with many also having their SNAP benefits delayed, the Texas Tribune reported. The state has been rechecking the eligibility of every person in the program, and the logjam has resulted in hundreds of thousands losing their healthcare coverage, largely due to procedural errors.
Those most affected are children, women who recently gave birth, and disabled adults.
“Every parent worries about their child getting hurt or seriously ill,” Michelle Castillo, deputy director for the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund, said at a news conference. “That fear is magnified when your child's Medicaid case is in limbo.”
Eligibility for SNAP benefits have also been slowed, with the waiting period now 100 days in Texas. The federal standard is 30 days.
Texas leads nation in oil-industry deaths
Texas is well known as the nation’s largest oil producer. It also leads the nation in deaths related to oil and gas extraction, according to a report in the Texas Standard. Between 2014 through 2019, there were 460 deaths in the industry nationwide, and 219 of the fatalities occurred in Texas — nearly half. That’s according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our goal is to have zero safety incidents, and we work toward that every day, but work in our industry is challenging and can be dangerous if proper safety protocols are not followed,” said Stephen Robertson of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: email@example.com.