Texas

Texas
11:03 am
Thu March 15, 2012

State Spends Big to Pay Workers for Unused Vacation

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Texas government agencies have paid fired or resigning state employees more than $500 million in unused vacation time over the last decade. It’s a staggering sum that fiscal conservative critics call “ridiculous,” especially in tough budget times.

But state workers say what’s ridiculous is that so many jobs have been cut — and that agencies are so understaffed that employees can’t take vacations.

In each of the last 10 years, state officials paid out an average $50 million in accrued vacation time, according to data from the Texas comptroller’s office. That number crept up to $68 million in 2004 and $67 million last year — both on the heels of a budget shortfall and related layoffs.

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AM Update
8:10 am
Tue March 13, 2012

AM Update: Texas Names New Data Contractors, NCAA Women's Basketball, Imagine Austin Meeting Tonight

The state has dumped longtime data contractor IBM.
Photo by Caleb Miller for KUT News

New Contracts Consolidate State Data

The Texas Department of Information Resources announced it has signed new contracts consolidating the state’s data management and IT operations, dumping an existing contract with IBM.

The largest contract goes to a Dallas-based unit of the Xerox Corporation, known as ACS State and Local Solutions. In a press release on its website, the company says this is the largest project of its kind in the country.

Under an $848 million, eight-year contract, Xerox will help the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) streamline IT operations of state agencies by refreshing technology and combining operations from 28 separate facilities to two centralized data centers. The transformation will reduce the cost of running multiple data centers, and improve security and disaster recovery capabilities.

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Texas
2:37 pm
Mon March 12, 2012

Reactions to Justice Department Photo Voter ID Decision

The Department of Justice building in Washington DC.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/mvjantzen

Earlier today, KUT News reported the Department of Justice has refused to preclear Texas' voter ID law, arguing it would disproportionately impact Latino and Hispanic voters. Here's a roundup of lawmakers' reaction to the decision. 

Gov. Rick Perry

 "Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately reflect the will of voters. The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration's continuing and pervasive federal overreach."

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Politics
8:20 am
Fri March 9, 2012

Redistricting Exposes a Split in the Minority Ranks

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman / Chris Chang, Texas Tribune

This is a squeeze play.

The state’s Hispanic population is blooming, and its black population grew faster than its Anglo population. But Anglos still dominate the political maps, and Latinos dominate the part of the political maps controlled by minorities.

When the Legislature drew political lines, minority groups were in widespread agreement that the maps didn’t reflect the growth — there were not enough seats where minority voters had the ability to decide elections.

Texas outgrew the other states in the country, so much so that it added four seats to the 32 already in its congressional delegation.

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Texas
3:20 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

Roger Williams Will Run for Congress — in CD-25

Republican car dealer and former Secretary of State Roger Williams in Dallas on October 3, 2011 at the construction site of the Bush Presidential Library on the SMU campus.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams will join the Republican primary for a congressional seat that stretches 200 miles from the southern edge of Tarrant County to Hays County, south of Austin.

"We're excited and ready to get going," Williams told the Tribune Thursday morning, as he was preparing to file with the state GOP.

Williams initially set out to run for U.S. Senate, but switched to a race for Congress after the Legislature drew new maps. But those maps died in court, and the Weatherford Republican ended up in a district, CD-12, with an incumbent — Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth — that he didn't want to challenge.

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AM Update
9:19 am
Wed March 7, 2012

AM Update: Feds Question New District, Ron Paul's Not-So-Super Tuesday, Crackdown on Border Tunnels

Newly drawn District 25, where Rep. Lloyd Doggett is thought to run, is receiving further federal scrutiny.
Map image State of Texas; Doggett photo doggett.house.gov; Vote photo KUT News

DC Questions Doggett's New District

District 25 in Texas newly-redistricted voting map is currently represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, and encompasses a large portion of Travis County.  But now, a federal court in Washington DC has questions about District 25 that could delay Texas 2012 primaries yet again.

The main issue is whether District 25 – which contains white, Hispanic, and African-American voters –  deserves minority protection under the Voting Rights Act or not. 

 The court asked for briefs by March 13 on District 25, and if they deem it a minority district deserving protection, that would send the map back to the drawing board, the Austin American-Statesman reports, with primaries falling well into the summer.

Texas only recently saw its primary date set for May 29.

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Politics
4:07 pm
Thu March 1, 2012

Texas Primaries Finally Get a Date: May 29

Mark your calendars: Texas primaries are set for May 29.

May 29 it is.

The federal court in San Antonio that’s overseen the Texas redistricting battle has set a firm date for primaries in the state.

May 29 had been posited as the likely primary date, and now the court’s order makes it official. The date for run-offs is July 31.

Health
2:55 pm
Thu March 1, 2012

Suehs: Feds' Stand on Women's Health Sets Bad Precedent

Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs (left), and Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The state's health commissioner is blasting the Obama administration's argument that it can't renew a joint state-federal health program because Republican lawmakers have banned Planned Parenthood from participating in it. 

In an uncharacteristically angry letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs argues that if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) won't let Texas exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, "then no state can ever confidently apply policies and requirements that advance important and legitimate state interests to regulate providers' participation in Medicaid." 

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Texas
2:02 pm
Wed February 29, 2012

Manufacturing Rising in Texas, Says Dallas Fed

This five-year chart in the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey shows continued rising production.
Image courtesy dallasfed.org

Texas manufacturing ticked up last month, according to a report from the Dallas Federal Reserve (DFR).

The Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey is conducted by the DFR monthly. It only complies results from 85 Texas manufacturers, so it’s more of a snapshot that a comprehensive assessment. Still, the findings reflect improving conditions among those surveyed.

The DFR points to several signs of manufacturing improvement: The state production index, the DFR’s gauge of manufacturing conditions, rose by over five points, from 5.8 to 11.2. New orders, shipments, and capacity utilization all posted gains for the month.

Employment measures – both new hires and hours worked by current employees – also saw growth.

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Health
11:35 am
Wed February 29, 2012

Texas Lawmakers Split on Saving Women's Health Program

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Two of the Legislature's top public health leaders are defending Republican lawmakers’ pledge to end the entire Women's Health Program rather than allow Planned Parenthood to participate. The joint state-federal reproductive health program provides contraception and cancer screenings — but not abortions — to 130,000 poor Texans, many of them at Planned Parenthood clinics.

"I guess we all need to see what it looks like when we don’t have it, and then we may need to regroup at that point," said state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the chairwoman of the House Public Health Committee. "If we lose the Women’s Health Program, obviously, it’s got to be the top of our list in 2013 to look at and open up the conversation again and move forward because it is a safety net for so many women."

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Texas
2:49 pm
Tue February 28, 2012

Texas Doctor Charged in Largest Medical Fraud Case Ever

The DOJ alleges a Dallas doctor and associates billed for $365 million in fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid charges.
Photo courtesy Images of Money, flickr.com/59937401@N07

Everything’s bigger in Texas – even the indictments.

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted a Texas doctor and his associates on $365 million in fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid billings – the largest single medical fraud case ever alleged by the government.

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Politics
2:05 pm
Tue February 28, 2012

Is The Voting Rights Act Endangered? A Legal Primer

South Carolina is one state that requires special clearance from the Justice Department to change its election laws. Here Charles Monnich casts his vote in the GOP primary at Martin Luther King Memorial Park in Columbia, S.C. on Jan. 21.
Gerry Melendez MCT /Landov

Originally published on Tue February 28, 2012 1:47 pm

The roiling legal battles over election laws passed in various states have potentially far-reaching consequences: the fate of a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The landmark legislation requires the Justice Department to "pre-clear" any changes to election laws in some or all parts of 16 states, mostly in the South, because of their histories of racially discriminatory voting practices. The Justice Department recently used the mandate to block a voter identification law in South Carolina on grounds that it would harm minority voter turnout.

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Politics
4:35 pm
Fri February 24, 2012

In Texas and Virginia, Different Reactions to Sonogram Bill

Two sonogram tools used at a Planned Parenthood clinic providing abortions in Austin.
Erich Schlegel, Texas Tribune

The pandemonium over Virginia’s proposed abortion sonogram law — from a Saturday Night Live sketch to furious protests and intense national media coverage — bears little resemblance to the battle over Texas’ version of the law.

That’s despite some striking similarities between the two states: They’re both Republican-leaning; they both have conservative governors with national ambitions who have headed the Republican Governors Association. But the political reality is that Texas’ abortion sonogram bill and Virginia’s abortion sonogram bill were debated at very different times, and under very different circumstances.

Though both states have Republican governors — Rick Perry in Texas and Bob McDonnell in Virginia — and Republican majorities in their legislative chambers, that doesn’t mean they’re equally red, said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican consultant.

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Texas
4:57 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Get Voter Information from Spam Emails

A widely circulated email has Texas voters worried their voter registration may have lapsed.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/sarowen

The ongoing confusion over Texas primaries is helping spread misinformation over who’s registered to vote, and who isn’t.

The Austin-American Statesman notes county election administrators have been deluged with calls from citizens asking whether they’re still registered to vote. And the culprit appears to be an incorrect, indiscriminately forwarded email.

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Transportation
1:06 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

What's Driving The Backlash Against Traffic Cameras

Across the country, fed up drivers are fighting back against traffic cameras that target motorists who speed or run red lights. In Los Angeles, technician Charles Riggings services a traffic camera in 2010.
Damian Dovarganes AP

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 12:48 pm

Have you ever opened your mail and found a traffic ticket sticking you with a not-so-small fine? If so, your reaction might well have been, "What the [expletive]?"

Then maybe you looked carefully at the enclosed photo and realized the vehicle shown (allegedly) running a red light or speeding was, in fact, yours.

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