State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — A three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 31 granted the state an emergency stay, allowing a certain contested portion of the Texas abortion law to remain in effect for the time being.

The action stems from a case brought by Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Surgical Health Services and more than a dozen other plaintiff entities and individuals who filed suit to stop the state from enforcing two new portions in the abortion law, Chapter 171 of the state Health and Safety Code. The portions were added as amendments to the law by the Texas Legislature last July in a second special session.

Three days earlier, Judge Lee Yeakel, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, Austin Division, on Oct. 28, had declared the two portions unconstitutional and granted plaintiffs an injunction on their motion to prevent to the state from enforcing them.

One contested portion requires that a physician performing or inducing an abortion have admitting privileges on the date of the procedure at a hospital no more than 30 miles from the location at which the procedure is performed. The New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit reversed Judge Yeakel's injunction preventing enforcement of that portion.

The other contested portion limits the use of abortion-inducing drugs to a protocol authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with limited exceptions, and in effect prohibits a medical abortion determined necessary by a physician for the preservation of the life or health of the mother at or after 20 weeks of gestation. The Fifth Circuit sustained the lower court's injunction preventing the state from enforcing that provision.

Defendants in the case are Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey and Texas Medical Board Executive Director Mari Robinson.

The case remains active. The Fifth Circuit scheduled oral arguments to be heard by a merits panel of the court in January.

Grant moratorium is lifted

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus on Oct. 30 authorized the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, a state-funded agency, to resume grant operations and finalize remaining contracts.

The authorization lifts a moratorium on grant operations in place since December 2012, when allegations of financial mismanagement arose. This follows what the governor's office described as “a strict review of the agency's processes and the passage of major reforms in the 83rd regular session” of the Texas Legislature.

Straus said reforms passed by the Legislature would make the institute more transparent and accountable to the public and lawmakers “will closely monitor CPRIT in order to ensure that the agency's mission is realized and taxpayer dollars are used properly.”

Van promotes sober driving

Texas Department of Transportation on Oct. 24 announced a “Fan Van” will visit many college and professional football games across the state to remind fans about the importance of planning for a sober ride home.

The TxDOT Fan Van is a football-shaped vehicle staffed and designed to educate fans about the consequences of drinking and driving.

“Alcohol-related traffic crashes in Texas were alarmingly high last football season. More than 1,600 total crashes occurred when a Texas college or professional football team was playing,” TxDOT said.

Bison Day is celebrated

Caprock Canyons State Park, near Quitaque, and Trailway and Texas Bison Association joined dozens of bison-friendly businesses and groups from around the country to celebrate the second annual National Bison Day on Nov. 2.

The free program featured the viewing of the state bison herd in its native prairie range.

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on Oct. 30 promoted the event, noting that in the early 20th century bison numbered fewer than 1,100 after ranging across North America in the tens of millions a century earlier. Bison number in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S. today.

Drought emergency continues

Gov. Rick Perry on Nov. 1 renewed the drought proclamation he originally signed on July 5, 2011.

The proclamation, affecting 240 or Texas' 254 counties, certifies that exceptional drought conditions pose a threat of imminent disaster in specified counties. Even with recent regional heavy rains and flooding, declining reservoir and aquifer levels, water supplies and delivery systems remain threatened. Conditions under which wildfires may develop remain.

All necessary measures, both public and private as authorized under state law will be implemented to meet the threat, according to the proclamation.


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