Category: Top Headlines

Texas court mulls ‘magic words’ loophole for transparency law

The Supreme Court of Texas heard arguments Wednesday on whether to write a loophole into state public records law that would allow government agencies to avoid public scrutiny and disregard basic public records procedures simply by invoking “magic words.” The court could also decide to eliminate a previous loophole it created, but most of its public records decisions in recent years have favored government secrecy over the transparency that Texas law used to be known for. If the court rules for Dallas in a lawsuit the city filed against state Attorney General Ken Paxton, government agencies in Texas will be granted a new trump card over the decisions of the Attorney General’s office that require them to disclose records. At issue is the reach of the attorney-client privilege. Dallas is arguing that it ought to be allowed to invoke that privilege after losing a public records fight regarding a lease to develop methane gas at a city landfill. Many government agencies already routinely loop in attorneys on potentially controversial subjects in order to argue later that the materials should be protected under attorney-client privilege. They’re rarely forced to prove that the secret material actually involves legal services. If the agency asserts that the record was “in furtherance” of legal services, the attorney general will let that suffice. In this case, for example, even after six years of litigation, “(t)here is no reference...

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TxDOT Plans for $70 Billion to Fund Transportation Projects Over Next 10 Years

The Texas Transportation Commission today approved the 2017 Unified Transportation Program (UTP) with $70 billion worth of projects to help TxDOT meet the state’s growing transportation demands. The plan is the largest of its kind in the agency’s history that addresses capacity, maintenance and safety needs around state. The 10-year plan, developed with extensive public input, targets congestion in the state’s most-populated areas and includes projects to better connect the major interstates in rural areas with local roads and highways. Also outside urban areas, the program calls for enhancing and completing interstate highways, and addressing the continuing needs within the energy sector and along hurricane evacuation routes. “The actions today by the Texas Transportation Commission represent a historic investment in our state’s infrastructure,” said Governor Abbott. “Texans have sent a loud and clear message that they are tired of sitting in traffic, and this funding plan will significantly address safety, maintenance, connectivity and congestion on our crowded highways. The plan presented by the commission will allow Texas roads to keep pace with our population growth, provide much-needed congestion relief for working Texans and put the Lone Star State well on its way towards having a first-in-class highway system for decades to come.” “The Unified Transportation Program reflects TxDOT’s commitment to planning for and meeting the mobility needs of our fast-growing state,” said Transportation Commission Chairman Tryon Lewis. With more...

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Texas Healthy and Human Services Agencies Begin Major Transformation

At the direction of the Texas Legislature, the state’s health agencies have begun a massive restructuring to make the system more efficient, effective and responsive for all Texans. On Sept. 1, about 4,000 employees and more than 120 programs and functions will officially “move” to the Health and Human Services Commission from four other health and human state agencies. The move marks the first of two waves of the state’s significant health agency transformation designed to help Texans find and receive services more efficiently. This first phase moves many client services and administrative functions to HHSC, which administers Medicaid, CHIP and other services. The second wave, set for Sept. 1, 2017, moves certain regulatory programs, state hospitals and state supported living centers to HHSC from other agencies. “This is a monumental effort that’s happening behind the scenes. Most people won’t notice a change, other than hopefully it’s easier for them to find what they need,” said Executive Commissioner Charles Smith. “It’s a work in progress, and we’re putting the system together in a way that puts Texans first.” The most visible aspect on Sept. 1 will be the launch of a revamped website for Texas Health and Human Services. A major section of the site will be dedicated to services, with subgroups by service types, such as services related to aging, disabilities, women and children, food and fitness, child...

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County Support Questioned: Fairfield Council Looks at Budgeting for Paid Fire Department

  “We are basically taking care of the entire county, and the county is not paying their fair share,” declared Fairfield Mayor Roy Hill during a recent budget workshop, concerning the monies received by the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department. Several new items are being considered by the Fairfield City Council during budget talks these last several weeks, including street repair, animal control and an update to the kitchen at the Conference Center. At the top of the list is discussion of a paid Fire Department:  what it would look like and how the city might pay for it. According to Fire Chief Matt Foree, for the last several years, Freestone County Commissioners have voted to give each volunteer fire department a flat $10,000 a year. “You have a fire department with 25 calls a year.  They get $10,000,” says Chief Foree.  “We are already at 300 for the year.” Chief Foree relates that the county money is used for fuel, and they are normally out of money before the end of the year.  That is when the department begins to use private donations. There are 7 volunteer fire departments in Freestone County:  Butler, Dew, Fairfield, Southern Oaks, Streetman and Teague. They are partially supported through funds from government entities, such as the County or the City in which they reside.  Some also apply for various grants. The volunteer fire...

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Teague Teen Arrested, Wortham Man Dies in Shooting Incident at College Station

  Texas Rangers and the U.S. Marshals have arrested Larry Kent Bonner, Jr.,(pictured at right) 18, of Teague in connection with an incident that left two men dead and one wounded early Sunday, August 28th. Law enforcement believes the shooting was the result of a drug deal or robbery attempt gone wrong. Officers responded to gunshots at the University Trails apartments in the 1100 block of Luther Street in College Station at 2 a.m. They found Brysen Jamal Rhodes, 20, of Wortham and Jack Lopez, 20, of Rosenberg outside an apartment with gunshot wounds. The men were taken to local hospitals, where they died from their injuries, say police. Another man, whose name has yet to be released, was found in the apartment with gunshot wounds to the abdomen and leg. He was later discharged from the hospital after being treated. Authorities say detectives believe Rhodes, and at least one other man, planned to meet Lopez to either purchase drugs or commit a robbery. During the exchange, a fight broke out and gunshots were fired by both parties. The man that went to the apartment with Rhodes ran off. Police later identified this man as Larry Kent Bonner, Jr.   A woman in the apartment locked herself in the bathroom and was not injured. Police believe she made the 911 call. According to reports, University Trails resident, Austin Moore, who...

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