Politics

TEXAS attorney general Ken Paxton has filed an amicus brief with the US supreme court asserting that the affordable care act is unconstitutional.
Paxton said the act, commonly known as Obamacare, does not comply with
the origination clause in the US constitution.

Sissel, Matt cropped
He filed the amicus brief in support of a petition for a lower court’s re-examination – a writ of certiorari – of a case brought by Iowa self-employed artist Matt Sissel, left, against the US department of health and human services.
Nine states – Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina and West Virginia – support the brief.
“Obamacare has been fundamentally flawed from the day it was forced through congress,” Paxton said.
“Based on the supreme court’s own 2012 ruling, Obamacare is a tax on the American people and, since congress did not follow proper procedure, the law should be struck down in full,” he said.
Because of that ruling, he said the legislation must originate in the US house of representatives.
The origination clause was a compromise reached at the constitutional convention in 1787 and remains a structural feature of the constitution.

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It states that all bills whose primary purpose is to raise revenue for the government must originate in the house, enabling the house to serve as an adequate counterweight to the senate.
Paxton argues that, under the supreme court’s 2012 decision in a case brought by National Federation Of Independent Business against Kathleen Sebelius, left, in her capacity as US health and human services secretary, the act’s individual mandate could only have been passed as a tax.
There is no legal precedent suggesting that a bill that could only have been passed as a tax is nevertheless exempt from the origination clause.

 

 

Creek clearly at top of the class

ONE OF THE county’s largest independent school districts was cock-a-hoop last week after being told all its campuses have met the state’s highest academic standards.
Clear Creek ISD superintendent Greg Smith said the district and its campuses had all earned the state’s highest rating of ‘met standard’ but that the rating is just one standard by which to judge the student body’s academic progress.

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“We are pleased to see those ratings but we equally recognize there is more to a quality education than just standardized test scores,” he said.
“We believe this community report card appropriately reflects where we stand in the areas most important to our parents, students and taxpayers.”
Before announcing the achievement, the district released a performance report and community-assessment study showing its academic prowess.
The 30-page community-based accountability report, the second released by the district in successive years, outlines progress measures beyond the results of the state of Texas assessment of academic readiness, commonly called STAAR.
The Texas academic performance report, or TAPR, a report largely based on STAAR performance results and student demographics, was also released last week.

Smith, Dr. Greg - Superintendent of Clear Creek Independent School District cropped
The community report shows that the district has seen an increase in the number of its students attending four-year university courses, earning workforce certifications and participating in extracurricular activities.
These are characteristics, according to a 2014 phone survey, that the community found important in judging the quality of an education system.
In addition to student performance and participation, the report also outlines program evaluations conducted in the district’s gifted and talented program, technical education and fine arts.
“These evaluations take a comprehensive look at programs to make sure they are leading to student achievement and, if not, [assessing] what additional resources are needed or [if it is] time to modify or abandon the program,” Smith, left, said.
“These particular evaluations indicated the programs are viable opportunities to meet student needs.”
The community report found that the district needs to increase student participation in advanced academics and increase the number of students who take advanced placement exams from 67 per cent to more than 70 per cent.

Did county damage prompt federal disaster declaration?

MENTION of storm-driven damage in parts of Galveston County could have been significant in president Barack Obama’s decision to accede to a state request for federal disaster funds in the wake of Hurricane Patricia (see Obama Yes To Disaster Funds, in Lone Star watch).
In the request, state governor Greg Abbott specifically mentioned the damage to 30 Friendswood homes and the voluntary evacuation of the Bolivar peninsula. Alvin tornado damage was also included.
The damage began on October 22 when the remnants of Pacific hurricane Patricia met an upper-level disturbance after crossing Mexico into southern Texas.
The resulting rain broke daily rainfall records in border counties.
Patricia’s remnants strengthened the next day when it ran into another intense band of bad weather. From there, the combined storms dumped havoc on Texans from the Valley to the Panhandle for more than a week.

Rainy day fund at all-time high

THE AMOUNT in the state’s so-called rainy day fund is almost $10 billion, a record, according to Texas public-accounts comptroller Glenn Hegar.
He said the amount in the fund reached $9.61 billion with an injection last week of more than $1.13 billion from tax-revenue accounts dedicated to the state’s oil and natural-gas production rate.
The injection was half of a $2.27 billion transfer to the state’s highway and economic stabilization funds (see Energetic Oil Boosts State Funds, in Lone Star watch). The latter is commonly referred to as the Texas rainy day fund.

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“The state’s rainy day fund is now at a record high, allowing the state to maintain a strong fiscal position and protect against unforeseen circumstances,” Hegar said.
“Additionally, this healthy transfer to the state highway fund will help address the state’s growing transportation needs, all of which will help Texas uphold a strong and healthy economy.”
At the end of the fiscal year, the amount in the economic stabilization fund stood at $8.46 billion. The current amount stands at $9.61 billion, Hegar said.

By Lora-Marie Bernard

COUNTY RESIDENTS could receive grants of up to $33,000 from the federal government if president Barack Obama agrees with Texas governor Greg Abbott’s assessment that Galveston is one of 15 counties made a disaster area by Hurricane Patricia.

abbott,greg courtesy texasgopvote.com webready
Abbott, left, declared a state of disaster for the 15 counties this month after state authorities said preliminary assessments showed that the damage caused by the hurricane met federal declaration criteria.
“The flooding … forever changed many Texans’ lives,” Abbott said as he asked Obama to provide federal funds for 7.1 million people who live in the affected counties.
The damage from Hurricane Patricia began on October 22, when the northeastward-traveling remnants of the Pacific weather system met an upper-level disturbance after crossing Mexico. The resulting rain broke daily rainfall records in border counties.
The storm strengthened the next day when it ran into another intense band of weather. From there, the hurricane dumped havoc from the Valley to the Texas Panhandle for more than a week.
If the president declares the event a major disaster, affected citizens could receive grants or low-interest disaster loans from the federal small business administration.
In his federal request, Abbott mentioned the voluntary evacuation of Bolivar while describing the catastrophic events that occurred during the bad weather. Galveston was highlighted as one of the main counties that experienced tornado damage.
Abbott’s request states: “In the Houston suburb of Friendswood, one home had a collapsed roof and 30 homes had major damages. In the city of Alvin, approximately 25 mobile homes were damaged and two people were injured.”
The national weather service confirmed that a total of 11 tornados touched down on October 31 in Chambers, Harris, Galveston and Brazoria counties.

By Ed Sterling

BYRON COOK, who chairs the state house of representatives’ committee on state affairs, has scheduled a December 10 public hearing on the way state and local laws are applied to undocumented immigrants.
The hearing will examine the laws and analyze their effects in conjunction with federal immigration laws and the policies and practices followed by ICE, the US immigration and customs enforcement agency.

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Some law-enforcement agencies have earned their jurisdictions the title “sanctuary cities” because they do not detain undocumented immigrants accused of misdemeanor crime beyond the statutory period in case ICE officers wish to interview them.
In announcing the public hearing last Wednesday, November 18, Cook, a Republican from Corsicana, said its purpose would be to support state governor Greg Abbott’s “call to keep Texas streets safe from crimes committed by criminal immigrants and to hold all Texas sheriffs to the strictest ICE standards”.
Cook, left, said he plans to invite county sheriffs, heads of state agencies and other key individuals to testify at the hearing.

Legal deal bans VSO from state

THE STATE has reached a settlement in its enforcement action against the Florida-based Veterans Support Organization and four of its principals for diverting out of the state funds promised to Texas armed-forces veterans.
The four VSO principals named in the action are directors Richard Vanhouten, Stephen Casella, Robert Cruz and Michelle Vanhouten.

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The agreed final judgment contains a permanent injunction under which the defendants must cease unlawful solicitation of charitable contributions in Texas, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said when announcing the deal last Wednesday, November 18.
They must also dissolve VSO as a charitable organization within the state.
Paxton said an investigation had found that VSO had raised more than $2.5m in Texas from 2010 to 2012 and that more than 70 per cent of those funds had been diverted to Florida, where VSO is headquartered, and to Rhode Island, where it was incorporated, “contrary to the defendants’ statements to Texas donors that the charitable donations would benefit local veterans in need”.
As a result of the investigation, the state filed legal action against the group in Travis County in
March 2014.

Trout possible for Thanksgiving?

FROM late November to March, the Texas parks and wildlife department plans to stock nearly 300,000 hatchery-reared rainbow trout at more than 140 sites across the state.

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According   to a November 18 agency announcement, “many of the fish stockings will be conducted at small community fishing lakes, state-park lakes and popular river tailraces offering easy angling access”.
The department has been stocking rainbow trout each winter since the 1970s, saying it provides Texans with “a simple and economical opportunity to go fishing”.

 

 

 

More Texas road projects are given the go ahead

TRANSPORTATION commissioners have approved nine new roadway improvement projects using Proposition 1 funding.
The projects, totaling almost $437 million worth of roadway construction, rehabilitation and restoration, will enhance safety, mobility and connectivity, the agency said when announcing the approvals last Thursday, November 19.

Texas roadway Austin www.txdot.gov                                                           txdot.gov
The three-member commission has now approved final contract awards on 131 of the approximately 200 planned Proposition 1 projects across the state.
Proposition 1, approved by the state’s voters in November last year, dedicates a portion of oil and gas tax revenue to the state highway fund. Until the measure was passed, those funds had been deposited in the state’s so-called rainy-day fund.

PUBLIC DOMAIN with Lora-Marie Bernard

AFTER THE Thanksgiving holiday, the US senate will consider a fast-tracked bill from the house of representatives that seeks to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
The bill, HR 4038, known as the American SAFE act, moved to the senate within two days of its introduction. The senate made an immediate move to place the measure on its calendar that day. Quickened by the Paris attack, the house passed the bill with a 289-137 vote.

McCaul, Michael Republican Austin
The bill, sponsored by Texas representative Michael McCaul, of Austin, left, requires background and certification checks for refugees. It also gives congress the right to affirm the admittance of refugees.
Representative Randy Weber, whose district includes Galveston County, co-sponsored the bill. He discussed it on November 17 with some 150 constituents during a town-hall conference call.
Weber, below, drew on early news reports that said at least one of the November 13 terrorist attackers in Paris had posed as a refugee in Turkey at an immigration post known for its lax security. He called the Paris acts “barbaric” and “senseless”.

Weber, Randy 2014 Web Ready
He told his constituents he had just left a classified meeting with top homeland security, FBI and defense department officials and that they had discussed the Paris attacks and the Syrian refugee resettlement matter.
A longtime supporter of beefed-up border security, Weber said he was convinced that major lapses exist in the American refugee admittance process.
“The vetting process has a lot of work to be done,” he said, adding that congress should follow the guidance of the nation’s top security officials before admitting any further refugees. No refugees should be admitted without unanimous agreement from them.
By the time Cornyn made his remarks, Obama had already said he will veto legislation that blocks refugee resettlement. Weber said that was dangerous and used the slogan “It’s time to put America first” several times throughout the conference call.
“Despite warnings from top national security officials and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, president Obama continues to move forward with his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the coming year,” Weber said in a statement released within hours of the vote.
Weber asked the callers whether they approved of a block Syrian refugees and asked them to vote. Of those who did vote, 124 agreed to block resettlement efforts. Twenty-four disagreed, including a lone caller who said she was disappointed in the state and federal leaders’ stance.
Within hours of the vote, Church World Service, First Focus Campaign On Children and HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that supports refugees, condemned the bill.
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, gave a 14-page testimony at the house judiciary subcommittee hearing on Thursday about the effects of Syrian resettlement. He said he was disheartened because the current sentiment recalled a period of American history that he thought had finished.
“Disheartened because I mistakenly thought that signs and attitudes like ‘Irish need not apply’, ‘no coloreds’, ‘no beer sold to Indians’ and ‘No Jews or dogs allowed’ were ugly relics buried in our past,” he said. “Apparently not.”
While the current resettlement program is the largest in this generation, Hetfield said it is not uniquely so. In 1980, America resettled 200,000 Indochinese and, in 1993-1994, 110,000 each year.
Meanwhile, Church World Service, a nationwide network of 37 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox communions and 33 refugee resettlement offices, said the act would add a bureaucratic layer to the refugee admissions program.
The effect would drastically reduce its ability to save lives and could even grind the program to a halt, the network said.
“The act would politicize refugee resettlement and leave thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people without access to protection,” it said.

What does the SAFE act do?

THE AMERICAN security against foreign enemies act, known as SAFE, calls for the nation’s top security agencies to tighten the screening of Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the USA.
The bill was fast-tracked to the US senate floor on the day the house of representatives passed it in a 289-137 vote. But the senate will not hear it until the nation’s lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving holiday on November 30.
President Barack Obama has already said he will veto the legislation when it reaches his desk.
The bill covers Iraqis and Syrians, as well as anyone without a nationality but who last lived in one of those countries. It also includes any person who has lived in Iraq or Syria since March 1, 2011.
According to a report from the congressional research office, the bill requires the department of homeland security to tighten screening of all such people. It also calls for the FBI to provide a background check for each one.
The FBI must certify that each Iraqi and Syrian refugee admitted is not a security threat.
If the bill becomes law, all three agencies must unanimously agree on the status of each refugee before admittance.
Under its terms, homeland security would make monthly reports to congress on the total number of refugee applications, as well as the number of certifications given and the number not given. The department’s report would include each refugee who do not pass certification.
Once admitted, the refugee would have to submit to an annual risk review from homeland security.

Overpass eases access to key shopping mall

JUST IN time for holiday gift buying, the state has opened the reconfigured El Dorado I45 intersection, providing easy access to a back route to popular shopping center Baybrook Mall.
The state transportation department opened the overpass last week after more than five months of demolition and reconstruction of the new intersection. It had been scheduled to open on
Thanksgiving weekend.
The I45 main lanes now go over El Dorado Boulevard, which should improve traffic congestion in an area that has been a bottleneck for decades.
The El Dorado overpass reconstruction was part of a $93m construction project currently under way on I45 from FM 2351 to Medical Center Boulevard.
When complete in mid 2017 it will increase the freeway’s existing six main lanes to 10 and also
replace the Bay Area Boulevard overpass.
But the headaches for drivers aren’t over yet. The contractor will work on the demolition and reconstruction of a similar overpass at Bay Area Boulevard early next year.

Weber calls for nuke research

AMID THE tensions over the bill to block Syrian refugee resettlement, Texas’ US congressional  delegates have quietly introduced a bill that pushes for
nuclear technology.
Randy Weber, whose house district includes Galveston County, introduced the bill on Thursday, co-sponsored by the remaining Texas representatives.
The bill would allow private and public institutions to expand research and development of nuclear physics, chemistry and materials science.
The house referred the bill to its committee on science, space and technology, which includes Weber as a member.

By Lora-Marie Bernard

RANDY WEBER said this week that classified meetings he’s had with federal authorities have convinced him that the nation’s immigration process is not strong enough to filter terrorists from genuine refugees.
Speaking less than an hour after he met with White House and other top Washington officials, the county’s US congressman said he wants congress to oversee the vetting process for refugees. He’d also like the legislature to have the authority to approve or deny individual admittance.
“The vetting process has a lot of work that still needs to be done,” he said during a town-hall conference call he undertook with some 150 constituents on Tuesday after the meeting.
The US house of representatives’ foreign affairs committee, on which the Friendswood resident sits, was set to hold a hearing on rising terrorism the next day to discuss American’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the global effects of the November 13 attacks in Paris.
Family ties

Texas Mexico border gov.texas.gov                                                      gov.texas.gov

The federal officials who had been at the Tuesday meeting would appear again, he said. They included representatives from the department of homeland security, the FBI and the defense department.
Weber said he is skittish about the federal administration’s decision to take 10,000 refugees in the coming year, although families with ties to American families or those with small children could garner his support.
However, he added: “I am not for letting in single men or younger-age males who have no background or ties to the United States.”

Weber, Randy 2014 Web Ready
The congressman, left, said that, during classified briefings on border security, he had learned that illegal immigrants representing as many as 40 sects have attempted to cross the poorer regions of Texas’ southern borders.
“I can’t tell you everything I read and saw,” he said. “Things are bad along the border.”
The state of the country’s borders has concerned Weber for many years and he supports strong controls, he said.
In July 2014, he made an unannounced visit to the Texas-Mexico border where he took cellphone pictures of border agents arresting a drug runner who was using jet skis to cross a river.
That had not surprised him, he said on Tuesday. What had captured his attention was the arrest of a Chinese national who was attempting to enter America illegally.
“I know full well the dangers that are occurring at our borders,” he said when answering a constituent’s question about the chances of Islamic State infiltrating US borders.
He was criticized for his tough stance from a constituent who said she was also upset by Texas governor Greg Abbott’s desire to block refugees from entering the state. Abbott made his statement just hours after president Barack Obama had said during a televised news conference that America should accept refugees. Since then, dozens of states have followed Texas’ lead.
“If they are fleeing for their lives, America has a history of welcoming people,” the caller said.
However, she was in the minority, while the majority of listeners on the conference call said they favored tightening the borders. When presented with a question on Syrian refugees, 124 of the voting callers agreed that the United States should block the Syrian resettlement effort. A scant 24 voting callers disagreed.