AUSTIN — Two Democratic state representatives, Allan Ritter of Nederland and Aaron Pena of Edinburg, last week announced they had joined the Republican Party.
The addition of their seats gave the Republicans 100 seats — a two-thirds “supermajority” in the 150-seat Texas House. This creates for the GOP a procedural benefit in the upcoming legislative session that convenes Jan. 11. A Republican supermajority can overcome Democratic efforts to block bills from coming to the House floor for debate.
Ritter said his decision to go Republican reflects the values of his conservative East Texas district. Pena, whose 10-year voting record in the House shows conservative tendencies on many issues, said he switched because he believes his district, which includes part of Hidalgo County, will fare better if he serves as a Republican.
Perry, Abbott, laud judge’s ruling
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson’s recent ruling in Virginia that the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate violates the U.S. Constitution appears to sit well with two of Texas’ top state executives.
In separate statements issued Dec. 13, Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott praised Judge Hudson’s ruling.
Perry and Abbott said they regard the act, signed into law by President Obama in March, as infringing on the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because it requires citizens to purchase health insurance.
Perry criticized what he referred to as the act’s “one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with health care,” and Abbott said, “No public policy goal — no matter how important or well-intentioned — can be allowed to trample the protections and rights guaranteed by our Constitution.”
Texas is part of a 20-state coalition against the federal health care law. The coalition includes Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Utah, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Alaska.
Rebate to reach more Texans
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Dec. 15 announced her office is adding more money to the upcoming “Energy Star” appliance mail-in rebate program to allow more Texans to take advantage of rebates.
An additional $8.5 million is being added to the initial $10 million. The money comes through the federal stimulus program.
The purchase period for the now $18.5 million Texas Appliance Mail-In Rebate Program begins Dec. 20 and will remain open until the available funds are distributed.
Jobless rate increases slightly
On Dec. 17, the Texas Workforce Commission reported the state’s total non-farm employment was up by 19,100 jobs in November, but the unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.2 percent for the month.
In contrast, the U.S. unemployment rate for November at 9.8 percent.
The Texas unemployment rate has ranged between 8.1 and 8.3 percent during 2010, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
More Texas vets qualify for benefits
Texas General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on Dec. 16 announced the 1.7 million veterans living in Texas, regardless of when they moved here, will qualify for benefits from the Texas Veterans Land Board as of Dec. 21.
Patterson said he is dropping the one-year residency requirement “because too many deserving Texas veterans were not able to access the benefits they’ve earned.”
The Veterans Land Board was created in 1946 after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing $25 million in bonds to help World War II veterans buy land.
Since then, the land and home loan programs have funded more than $9 billion in loans and become popular options for veterans looking to buy the American Dream, Patterson said.
Texas is one of only five states to offer a veterans program.
Late lawmaker’s son wins election
John Kuempel won a special election to fill the unexpired term of his father, long-time District 44 state Rep. Edmund Kuempel. District 44 includes Guadalupe, Gonzales and Wilson counties.
Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, died of a heart attack in Austin on Nov. 4 and was buried in the Texas State Cemetery on Nov. 9.
In a field of 10 candidates, John Kuempel received more than 7,000 of the 11,000 votes cast in the Dec. 14 special election.