The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced plans to go statewide with a new smart card system that it said would create a more convenient and secure way for people to verify their Medicaid coverage.
The card, which looks like a credit card, automates the patient check-in process, which presently requires provider staff to copy data manually from paper forms.
The card contains encoded patient information and has built-in fraud protection, as it requires the client's finger image to use.
Statewide expansion is set to begin next year when HHSC issues a request for proposals in May to select a contractor for the project.
The system may be in place by the second half of 2009, said Commissioner Albert Hawkins.
AG sues two Internet sites
Attorney General Greg Abbott on Dec. 5 filed lawsuits against two Web sites, TheDollHouse.com and Gamesradar.com under the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA.
COPPA generally prohibits Web sites from unnecessarily collecting personal information from children under 13.
Abbott accused the Web sites of unlawfully collecting personal information such as names, ages, and home addresses from children.
Investigators also discovered that the sites' parental consent features were easily manipulated and circumvented.
Regents scale down tuition hike
The University of Texas System board of regents ordered UT-Austin to cut back a proposed tuition hike after students and state legislators complained the average $300 per semester hike was too big an increase.
Instead, in school years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, UT System students will pay $150 more tuition per semester or 4.95 percent more, whichever amount is greater.
In 2002, before the Legislature deregulated tuition, a typical freshman entering UT in the fall paid about $4,500 a year in tuition and fees. In 2010, under the new rates, an incoming freshman should prepare to pay more than $8,000.
Speaker names energy panel
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick announced the creation of the Select Committee on Electric Generation Capacity and Environmental Effects.
Craddick, R-Midland, assigned the committee to prepare a long-term energy and environmental impact plan and submit it to the 81st Legislature, which convenes Jan. 13, 2009.
The plan will include an assessment of various types of energy generation available to the state.
Craddick appointed eight House members to the committee: Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco; Kevin Bailey, D-Houston; Norma Chavez, D-El Paso; Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon; Phil King, R-Weatherford; Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton; Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, to serve as chair.
Green schools effort is launched
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, announced on Dec. 5 a new, bipartisan congressional effort to ensure schools are safer environmentally and thus should provide a healthier learning place for children.
McCaul, co-chair of the Green Schools Caucus, said, "Today, there are American schools which are harmful to our children. That is unacceptable."
The caucus will take input and begin working on legislation to promote safer schools.
McCaul and architect Stan Haas made the announcement at J.J. Pickle Elementary School in Austin, a "green-built" campus that features proper solar orientation, insulated concrete, rainwater collection, salvaged pine and recycled-content materials, unfinished materials, and paint and finishes with low levels of chemical emissions.
New chief at Parks & Wildlife
Carter Smith, state director of the Nature Conservancy of Texas since 2004, was named executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Dec. 5.
A graduate of Texas Tech University and Yale University, Smith succeeds Robert L. Cook, who retired on Aug. 31.
Dewhurst is named Texan of Year
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been named "2008 Texan of the Year" by Texas Legislative Conference, a non-partisan organization of Texas business and political leaders. Dewhurst will accept the award at the group's 42nd annual meeting at New Braunfels in March.