Capital Highlights: Officials urge court not to expand ruling

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AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Texas Supreme Court over issues they say were not addressed in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case declaring same-sex marriage a fundamental right.

The three officials asked the Texas Supreme Court to accept their view that Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision recognizing a right to same-sex marriage “does not resolve all constitutional issues relating same-sex marriage.” The brief points to Parker v. Pigeon and related cases involving a Houston mayor’s extending benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees, and asks that a lower court’s temporary injunction preventing the extension of those benefits be reinstated.

“Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit made clear that Obergefell left a host of issues unresolved,” Abbott, Patrick and Paxton asserted. They maintained that “the traditional, Texas definition of marriage” is still in force because “a federal district court judgment against state officials does not amend the Texas Constitution or the Texas Family Code.”

Referenced in the brief is Texas Family Code Section 6.204 paragraph (c), subparagraph (2), which says “The state or an agency or political subdivision of the state may not give effect to a right or claim to any legal protection, benefit, or responsibility asserted as a result of a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union in this state or in any other jurisdiction.” That section of the law took effect on Sept. 1, 2003.

Workgroup is appointed

State Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, on Oct. 27 appointed a Senate Finance Workgroup on Child Protection to evaluate funding to address the ongoing crisis at Child Protective Services.

This followed an interim hearing of the committee, in which members heard testimony on unmet needs for children under the care of the state, and calls for the hiring of more full-time employees to meet those needs. 

Nelson appointed as members of the workgroup Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, chair; Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

 “We need a plan that keeps children safe. There is no issue of greater importance,” Nelson said. "This workgroup will review the agency's request for immediate funding and, in preparation for the next budget cycle, review the agency's entire proposed budget line by line to ensure that every dollar is being put toward successfully keeping children safe."

"I am very concerned about the welfare and safety of the 511 children we discussed at our hearing, and I am asking for daily updates until that number reaches zero," Nelson added.

School ratings released

The Texas Education Agency on Oct. 24 released final financial accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters across the state.

Some 97 percent of all Texas school districts and charters earned a successful final rating for 2015-2016.

The Texas Education Agency said its rating system encourages public schools “to better manage their financial resources to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes.”

Based on submitted information, a school district or charter is assigned one of four possible letter grades (A, B, C or F) and a financial management rating of Superior, Above Standard Achievement, Meets Standard or Substandard Achievement. 

According to the Texas Education Agency, all school districts and charters are required to report information and financial accountability ratings to parents and taxpayers.

In addition, districts and charters must hold a public discussion or hearing regarding its financial report. The Texas Education Agency formally notified school districts and charters of their preliminary rating in August. 

Paxton cautions consumers

Texas Attorney General Paxton on Oct. 26 cautioned consumers about the dangers of wearing decorative contact lenses for costuming or cosmetic reasons. 

“The decorative lenses, also marketed as costume, fashion or colored lenses, pose potential serious risks to eye health, including infections and loss of vision,” Paxton said in a news release.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division recommends that consumers: 

-       Always visit a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist for proper fitting of cosmetic contact lenses;

-       Never buy contact lenses without a prescription;  

-       Buy contact lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription, whether you purchase in person or online; and

-       Avoid buying lenses from street vendors, convenience and dollar stores, flea markets and novelty stores.

Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association. 

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