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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Decision Upholds Prayer in Public Meetings
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 • Posted May 19, 2014

AUSTIN — Governmental bodies’ right to begin meetings with a prayer — so long as the prayer does not favor a particular religious denomination — was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision rendered May 5.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott reacted to the decision in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et al. “I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has once again upheld the longstanding and constitutionally protected right of governmental bodies to begin their meetings with prayer,” Abbott said.

Texas was one of 23 states that joined in a brief arguing against a circuit court of appeals decision declaring unconstitutional a New York local governmental body’s tradition of opening its public meetings with a prayer.

Sales tax revenue increases

Comptroller Susan Combs on May 7 said state sales tax revenue in April was $2.27 billion, up 5.6 percent compared to April 2013.Combs, who said this marks 49 consecutive months of growth in sales tax collections, will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their May local sales tax allocations totaling $716 million, up 7.1 percent compared to May 2013.

In other news, Combs announced on April 29 the launch of an online database detailing public school construction costs since 2007.

The Texas Public Schools Construction database, found through the www.texastransparency.org, “will help Texans prepare to vote in the upcoming local bond elections, which feature a total of $6.7 billion of proposed bond debt on the ballot, 92 percent of which is proposed by local school boards,” Combs’ office said.

Drought disaster continues

Gov. Rick Perry on May 9 renewed for 30 days the Emergency Disaster Proclamation he originally issued on July 5, 2011, certifying that exceptional drought conditions posed a threat of imminent disaster in specified counties in Texas.

The renewal, which means “all rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to this threat are suspended for the duration of the state of disaster,” applies to 173 of the state’s 254 counties.

TEA submits plan to feds

Texas Education Agency on April 28 announced it submitted specific details of a new teacher evaluation and support system to the U.S. Department of Education.

Part of Texas’ waiver from specific provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 depends on the state’s submitting an alternative plan for a teacher evaluation and support system. Texas’ plan will be piloted in as many as 72 school districts and charters in the 2014-2015 school year.

Education Commissioner Michael Williams said, “The Teacher Evaluation and Support System is designed to be a more effective evaluative tool to support the most important adult in Texas education — the teacher at the front of every child’s classroom.”

“We have heard from Texas teachers that the current evaluation system (in place since 1997) used by 86 percent of our school districts is outdated and provides little value in regard to meaningful professional feedback and growth,” Williams said.

AG’s office investigates

Identity thieves reportedly have posed as employees of the Texas Attorney General’s Office to steal the identities of targeted individuals — particularly individuals who have applied for a short-term loan.

A criminal investigation has been opened, the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced May 5, adding, “Under no circumstances does a representative of the Office of the Attorney General solicit payments from Texans to pay off a short-term loan or grant immediately — nor does the Attorney General’s Office issue arrest warrants for this purpose. Any person who claims to be from the Attorney General’s Office and demands immediate fees to resolve the resident’s short-term debt or prevent an arrest for that debt is an imposter.”

'Click It' campaign is set

Texas Department of Transportation’s 13th annual "Click It or Ticket" campaign will run May 19 to June 1. In 2013, there were 943 fatalities and 5,383 serious injuries in Texas resulting from crashes in which drivers or passengers were not wearing seat belts, TxDOT reported.

Motorists who don’t buckle up in compliance with state seat belt laws face fines and court costs up to $200.

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