AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last week accused the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division of delaying the requisite preclearance of new state House and Senate electoral maps adopted last spring by the state Legislature.
In a Dec. 1 letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Perez of the Civil Rights Division, Abbott said that such delays harm Texas voters. Perez responded, attributing the delays to Abbott’s legal maneuvers on behalf of the state.
In November, Abbott requested that the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, hear the case in mid-December so district lines would be set, candidates could file the necessary forms and the way to normal primary elections in March would be cleared. But the federal Civil Rights Division requested five additional months of discovery in litigation brought by opponents of the maps.
Abbott said the request “can only be construed as a misguided effort to further postpone an expeditious resolution of this case.”
Also, on Dec. 2, Abbott and the state’s chief litigator, Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, filed a U.S. Supreme Court brief in support of the state’s earlier petition for an emergency stay of the U.S. district court’s redrawn redistricting maps and asserted again that the state had fulfilled requirements for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
With the state and federal justice systems operating on separate timetables and political urgencies, pressures are mounting. Dec. 15 is the last day to file for a place on the ballot and three months remain until the March 6 primary election date.
Panels to study border issues
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, who presides over the state Senate, on Dec. 1 issued charges to three Senate committees to study border security and human trafficking.
The committees on Transportation & Homeland Security and Criminal Justice, in addition to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking, will examine a variety of topics, such as the economic impact of violence and illegal commerce, the effectiveness of law enforcement, and the availability of assistance for victims.
“In the last decade, Texas has seen a disturbing influx of drugs, human trafficking and transnational gangs. As lawmakers, our most important responsibility is to ensure the physical safety of all 25 million men, women and children who call Texas home. That's why we must continue to improve our border security and stop deadly spillover violence from coming across our borders,” Dewhurst said in issuing the charges.
Program aims to add jobs
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on Nov. 29 made an announcement about Jobs for Texas, a new program meant to build the state’s economy by fostering private job creation and business expansions.
Through “J4T,” Staples said, the state has awarded $17 million to Advantage Capital Partners and $10 million to Enhanced Capital Partners, firms that are tasked with investing those dollars in entrepreneurs and small businesses that will employ more Texans.
Also, Staples announced, small businesses seeking financial input through traditional lending may apply for the J4T Loan Guarantee Program, which has $10.5 million available to guarantee business loans.
Input on lizard will continue
Comptroller Susan Combs, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman expressed satisfaction in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Dunes Sagebrush Lizard announcement last week.
The federal agency on Dec. 1 extended the timeline by six months for input before deciding whether the lizard should be listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In separate announcements, the state agency chiefs agreed that if the lizard is named to the endangered species list, oil and gas production in the Permian Basin would be hampered and jobs would be lost.
Information posted by The Fitzgerald Lab, Texas A&M University, says the lizard’s preferred habitat is in bowl-shaped depressions called “sand dune blowouts.”
Disaster proclamation renewed
Even with the recent precipitation and cooler weather, most of Texas is in a state of extreme drought and the fire risk is high, very high or exceptional, according to statistics made public by the Texas Water Development Board.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, acting governor, on Nov. 30 extended Gov. Rick Perry’s Dec. 21, 2010, emergency disaster proclamation of a statewide wildfire and drought emergency. When Perry is out of the state, Dewhurst serves as acting governor. Perry has been campaigning to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012.