AUSTIN — Reporters’ long-held practice of using dates of birth for fact checking before publication comes courtesy of the Texas Public Information Act -- the law that governs the release of data held by state agencies and other governmental bodies.
The law currently includes no prohibition on the release of most state employees’ date of birth information. However, on Dec. 3, the Texas Supreme Court ruled birth dates may be kept confidential and need not be released to the public.
Grounds for the case, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts v. Attorney General of Texas and The Dallas Morning News Ltd., originated in 2005, when the newspaper requested payroll information on 145,000 state employees. Most of the request was granted, but the comptroller disallowed the release of date of birth information.
Although no evidence of identity theft resulting from the release of date of birth was presented in the case, the court’s main argument for closing off the information was that the release of it would expose state employees to the risk of identity theft.
Sect leader brought to Texas
Warren Steed Jeffs on Nov. 30 was returned to Texas to stand trial for sexually assaulting a child, the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced.
Law enforcement officers with the Texas Rangers and the attorney general’s office escorted Jeffs to San Angelo after taking custody of him in Utah. Jeffs is being held without bail and is to be tried in a Tom Green County state district court on two charges of sexual assault of a child and bigamy.
Jeffs is the former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a group that split from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the 1890s. The FLDS group bought land near Eldorado in Schleicher County and created the YFZ “Yearning for Zion” Ranch and compound. The ranch was the site of a multi-government agency intervention in the spring of 2008, in which agents removed more than 400 children and placed them in safe housing after allegations of sexual abuse at the ranch were communicated to authorities. To date, seven of 12 YFZ Ranch-related suspects have been convicted of sexually assaulting children, according to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Recount favors incumbent rep
After a recount of mail-in ballots cast in the Nov. 2 election, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, last week was declared the winner in the House District 48 race, by 12 votes over Republican challenger Dan Neil.
There is a procedure to follow if Neil contests the recount. He would have to file papers with the secretary of state and the secretary of state would forward the matter to House Speaker Joe Straus, who in turn would assign a House member to lead an investigation and a special investigating committee.
If Neil had won, the GOP would have had 100 seats to the Democrats’ 50 seats in the upcoming 82nd Texas Legislature, which convenes Jan. 11.
A 50-seat difference would have created a super-majority, allowing Republicans to more easily advance their bills to House floor votes.
Driving records available online
The Texas Department of Public Safety on Dec. 1 announced drivers may order their driving records online and print them out instead of waiting to have the record mailed to them.
Drivers can visit www.texas.gov, place an order using a credit card and print out their record.
Drivers must submit certain personal identification information to proceed. The printout will be certified and suitable for submitting to a court for permission to take defensive driving, the DPS said.
Student performance data online
All it takes is curiosity and a computer with internet access to find out how students are performing academically in any Texas school district. The Texas Education Agency has made the 2009-10 Academic Excellence Indicator System reports available online at www.tea.state.tx.us.
One can look up information on high-stakes test results, passing rates, attendance rates, dropout rates, college readiness scores, college entrance exam statistics, and much more.
Ag Dept. compiles gift guide
The state Department of Agriculture is helping Texas businesses merchandise their wares with its new 2010 Go Texan Holiday Gift Guide. “Focused on bringing families a holiday season full of unique Texas gifts,” the 32-page guide, posted online at www.tda.state.tx.us, “is your one-stop shop for locally made Texas products,” the agency says.