State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — President Obama's announcement last week proposing an alternative to insurers canceling health insurance plans that no longer meet the federal “Affordable Care” law's requirement to cover basic benefits like prescription drugs or doctors' visits drew fire from Gov. Rick Perry.

Insurers could offer customers the option to renew their 2013 health plans in 2014, without change, allowing them to keep their plans, the president said.

Perry, in a Nov. 14 news release, said Obama's proposal would “create more confusion for consumers and threatens to destabilize the health insurance industry.” Perry also accused the president of “shifting the blame by saying it's up to states and state insurance commissioners to fix the massive problem his signature law has created for millions of Americans who are losing their health insurance.”

Obama, however, said the individual insurance market “had serious problems before the Affordable Care Act. And it's important that we don't pretend that somehow that's a place worth going back to. Too often, it works fine as long as you stay healthy; it doesn't work well when you're sick. So year after year, Americans were routinely exposed to financial ruin, or denied coverage due to minor preexisting conditions, or dropped from coverage altogether — even if they paid their premiums on time.”

Currently the federal government estimates that six million of the 40 million Americans who do not have health insurance reside in Texas.

TxDOT marks death toll

Texas' last roadway fatality-free day was Nov. 7, 2000, Texas Department of Transportation reported in a statement circulated last week to mark the 13th year since that day.

According to the agency, 45,032 motor vehicle traffic deaths (13,544 alcohol-related) have occurred on Texas roadways over those years, and despite a steady decline in traffic fatalities in recent years, Texas saw an 11-percent increase in fatalities from 2011 to 2012.

“Having at least one person killed on a Texas road every single day for 13 years is a sobering reminder that we must drive carefully and do everything in our power to stay focused behind the wheel,” said John Barton, TxDOT deputy executive director. “These people are our spouses, children, friends and neighbors, and losing them to traffic deaths has a profound and permanent impact on their families. This staggering number of fatalities needs to stop increasing every 24 hours, and taking personal responsibility for our driving habits is the first step.”

Also, “distracted driving” has been a leading cause of roadway deaths. Since Jan. 1, 2008, the agency reported, distracted driving has caused 2,719 roadway fatalities. Furthermore, 5,469 unrestrained vehicle occupants have lost their lives in roadway accidents since Jan. 1, 2008.

TxDOT issued this set of safety recommendations: Pay attention (put phone down and avoid distractions); buckle the seatbelt (all passengers need to be buckled); drive the speed limit (always follow speed limits and drive safer speeds when weather or conditions are present); and never drink and drive (get a sober ride home).

Judge grants ‘lizard' motion

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has granted Texas Comptroller Susan Combs' motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups to protect the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, a tiny reptile native to New Mexico and four counties of West Texas where petroleum drilling and exploration sites abound.

“The judge's decision ensures that stakeholders who worked on an important lizard conservation plan have a say in the proceedings,” Combs said on Nov. 7. “The plan is part of our continuing efforts to help Texas strike an appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic growth.”

Filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, the lawsuit asked the court to require U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its June 2012 decision not to list the lizard as an endangered species.

Final ratings made available

Texas Education Agency on Nov. 7 released final 2013 state accountability system ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters and more than 8,500 campuses.

The release of ratings follows an appeals process for districts and charters that contested ratings originally announced in August. Districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings: Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard, or Improvement Required.

Complete information for districts, campuses and charters is available at


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