Capital Highlights by Ed Sterling Sept. 3, 2015

Attorney General Paxton pleads not guilty to charges
AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Aug. 27 entered a plea of not guilty on felony charges of securities fraud at his arraignment in Fort Worth.
Tarrant County 396th State District Court Judge George Gallagher gave Paxton until Sept. 30 to answer to the charges.

Paxton is accused of encouraging two individuals to buy stock in Severgy, a Collin County-based technology firm, and being compensated for his actions without being registered as an investment advisor in accordance with Security and Exchange Commission regulations. Also Paxton is accused of falsely giving prospective investors the impression that he was an investor in Severgy.

The Texas Rangers turned over evidence gathered during an investigation that ensued when a formal complaint against Paxton, the state’s top legal officer, was lodged in April by Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based government watchdog group. Paxton was indicted by a Collin County grand jury on July 28.

Court proceedings were moved from Collin County to Tarrant County because of Paxton’s closeness to the courts in Collin County. Paxton served as a state senator representing Collin County from January 2013 until he was elected attorney general in November 2014. He served as the state representative for Collin County and part of Dallas County from 2003 to 2013.

UT removes Davis statue
A bronze statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865, was removed from the Main Mall of the University of Texas at Austin on Aug. 30.

In an Aug. 29 media advisory, UT President Gregory Fenves said the statue would be placed in an indoor educational display at the Briscoe Center for American History on the university campus.

The decision, in line with a multi-state trend to remove symbols of the pro-slavery Confederacy from government-controlled properties, was made after Travis County 250th State District Court Judge Karin Crump rejected a petition by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to prevent the relocation of the statue.

Plans are to refurbish the statute and install it at the Briscoe Center within the next 18 months. 

Fenves also said the statue of President Woodrow Wilson, displayed opposite the Davis statue, is being moved to preserve the symmetry of the Main Mall plaza and will be positioned elsewhere on campus. Statues of Robert E. Lee and three other Confederate figures remain in place on the Main Mall. 

Comptroller seeks opinion
State Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Aug. 26 announced he is seeking an opinion from the Office of the Texas Attorney General regarding Gov. Greg Abbott’s June 20 veto of certain items in the 2016-2017 state budget.

Abbott cut some $295 million from House Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act, for a wide range of items, such as contingent riders for bills that did not pass, projects that could be funded through other sources and duplicative appropriations.

In his announcement, Hegar noted that the Legislative Budget Board’s staff had raised questions as to whether the vetoes exceeded the governor’s authority under the Texas Constitution.  The LBB staff’s job is to serve the fiscal policy and analysis needs of the Texas Legislature.

“I am seeking clarity and requesting guidance from the Attorney General’s Office. This is a constitutional issue that goes to the heart of separation of powers within Texas government,” Hegar said.

More Hispanics take ACT
Texas Education Agency on Aug. 26 announced that more Texas Hispanic students in the 2015 graduating class took the ACT college admission test than any other student demographic, according to a report released by ACT, the Iowa City, Iowa-based organization that owns and controls the test. 

Of the 124,764 Texas students who took the test, almost 40 percent (48,934) were Hispanic. “It’s the second consecutive year where the number of Hispanic students represented the highest number of examinees of any racial ethnic group,” according to the announcement.

Also, since 2011, Texas has seen a 22.8 percent increase in ACT test-taking graduates among all student groups.

Additional training required
Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 28 announced the Sept. 1 launch date of the new Impact Texas Teen Driver program, requiring driver’s license applicants who complete a teen-age driver education course to watch a two-hour program that promotes awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and afterward print a certificate of completion. 

DPS Director Steven McCraw said, “This new component of teen driver education underscores the risks of distracted driving, and is designed to provide young and inexperienced drivers with additional information and skills to help keep them and others safe on the road.” 


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