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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Court favors landowners in water rights case
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 • Posted March 1, 2012

AUSTIN – A Texas Supreme Court opinion delivered last week in the case Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Day can be boiled down to this: the rights of property owners to the water under their land outweighs governmental control of access to that water.

Justice Nathan Hecht, author of the opinion dated Feb. 22, wrote that the landowners have a constitutionally protected interest in the groundwater beneath their property and that groundwater cannot be taken for public use without adequate compensation guaranteed by the Texas Constitution. The court affirmed an appellate court ruling and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The case was brought by farmer-ranchers near Von Ormy in Atascosa County, near San Antonio.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and a coalition of private property owners’ rights advocates applauded the decision.

But the Edwards Aquifer Authority said the ruling could prove problematic for local water districts whose job it is to manage and conserve water supplies.

Report shows lag in insurance

Among working Texans age 65 or younger, 51.1 percent did not have health care coverage through their employer in 2009-2010. This calculation puts Texas at 48th among the 50 states. Only New Mexico with 48.6 percent and Mississippi with 48.4 percent ranked lower. The information was published in a Feb. 23 report by the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities using statistics from the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute. The report shows a decline in coverage by Texas employers in the period between 2000-2001 and 2009-2010.

Center for Public Policy Priorities policy analyst Stacey Pogue said the information indicates small employers need the support and protection of federal health care reform. State-based affordable health care exchanges mandated by the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 are scheduled to become available to employers by 2014.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the attorneys general of 25 other states have united in the opinion that the federal health care law violates the U.S. Constitution by forcing citizens to buy health insurance.

The federal health care law, referred to by some as “Obama Care,” on Jan. 1, 2014, will impose an annual penalty of $95, or up to 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, on individuals who do not secure health insurance coverage.

Abbott, AGs, call on Google

Attorney General Abbott last week issued a statement after joining a coalition of state attorneys general who wrote to Google expressing concerns about planned changes in the Internet search engine company’s privacy settings set to take effect March 1.

To quote: “By unilaterally consolidating users’ personal data from multiple but previously distinct platforms and failing to allow users to opt-out, Google is depriving its customers of an opportunity to control how their personal information is used and shared. A bipartisan coalition of states is urging Google to reconsider and work with us to ensure that millions of consumers’ privacy is properly protected.”

The National Association of Attorneys General listed key concerns as follows:

• Google’s new policy appears to invade consumer’s privacy by automatically sharing personal information that users input into one Google product with all Google products – without affording users a genuine opportunity to opt-out of having their information shared;

• Computer users – particularly business and government computer users – who wish to avoid Google’s information sharing would be forced to incur significant expenses associated with switching their operations to different platforms; and

• Google’s new policy is incompatible with Google’s long-standing promise to respect consumers’ privacy.

Tuition plan enrollment ends

Comptroller Susan Combs on Feb. 24 posted a reminder that Feb. 29 is the deadline for enrollment in in the state’s prepaid college tuition program.

Under the plan, Combs said, families can prepay tuition and required fees for a four-year degree, two years of community college or just a few semesters at Texas public colleges and universities by purchasing tuition units.July 31, however, is the enrollment deadline for parents of newborns and children under one year old.

Date for primaries still up in air

Because of ongoing legal disagreements over the drawing of state House districts and U.S. congressional districts, the earliest date party primaries can be held has moved continually later over the last few months. March 6 was the original scheduled date. The current but tentative seeming date is April 3. But an array of calculations push the date to late April, late May and even late June.

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