Log in
Capital Highlights

Federal judge appears skeptical of new border law


A federal judge is expected to rule quickly on the constitutionality of a Texas law about to go into effect that institutes new state penalties for illegal border crossings. During a hearing last week, U.S. District Judge David Ezra said he had concerns that other states would follow Texas’ lead in creating their own immigration laws – a power given exclusively to the federal government under the U.S. Constitution.

The Austin American-Statesman reported the U.S. Justice Department sued the state over the law set to go into effect next month. It would allow any law enforcement official in the state to arrest someone here illegally, with mandatory sentences of between six months and 20 years.

An attorney with the Texas attorney general’s office argued the state’s immigration law should be seen as necessary because of increased illegal immigration. Ezra questioned the ramifications of Texas setting a precedent for other states to reject federal authority and create their own immigration laws.

“I will try to get my decision out as quickly as I possibly can,” he said, noting that however he rules, it will be appealed.

Paxton, Cornyn trade barbs over aid bill

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton escalated their feud last week, after Cornyn backed a $95 billion aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, The Dallas Morning News reported. Paxton on social media blasted Cornyn, with the senator responding that the embattled attorney general should mind his own business – specifically his pending securities fraud trial.

“Unbelievable that @JohnCornyn would stay up all night to defend other countries borders, but not America,” Paxton posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Cornyn quickly responded.

“Ken, your criminal defense lawyers are calling to suggest you spend less time pushing Russian propaganda and more time defending longstanding felony charges against you in Houston, as well as ongoing federal grand jury proceedings in San Antonio that will probably result in further criminal charges,” he wrote on X.

Painfully slow rollout of broadband feared

Texas is due to receive $3.3 billion in federal funds for expanding broadband internet, but internet providers in rural areas are worried the money won’t be used efficiently to improve high-speed connections for the 7 million residents now lacking that resource.

The Texas Tribune reported a relatively new state office is trying to build a staff to oversee the work, noting earlier federal funding programs have seen limited success because many companies underestimated the costs to install broadband in sparsely populated areas.

“We want to make sure that there’s a responsible allocation of these dollars,” said Rusty Moore, COO of Big Bend Telephone Company in Alpine. “We’ve been very vocal about where the challenges are.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden in 2021 provides $42.5 billion nationwide for broadband access and aims to connect 2.5 million households in Texas. Texas received the largest portion of the funds and created the Broadband Development Office to manage disbursement of its share.

Democrats propose bill to connect Texas to national grids

Two Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives plan to introduce legislation that would require the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to connect to major electric grids outside of Texas, the Houston Chronicle reported.. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Greg Casar, D- Texas, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Texans would save money, avoid blackouts, and help fight the climate crisis since Texas leads the nation in clean energy production.

“Over 10 million Texans needlessly lost power, hundreds of people died, and there were these mass power outages that we all knew could have been avoided,” Casar said in a news conference last week, referring to the February 2021 winter storm.

Nearly all of Texas is served by the state’s stand-alone grid system, except for parts of East Texas, El Paso and the upper Panhandle.

Nonmedical vaccine exemptions at record levels

Vaccine exemptions for nonmedical reasons hit record levels among Texas schoolchildren last year, the Chronicle reported, with 3.24% of Texas kindergarteners receiving an exemption “for reasons of conscience,” according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s almost double the rate from 10 years ago.

The exemptions are part of the “post-pandemic momentum behind anti-vaccine messaging,” the story said. A number of bills were filed during the 2023 legislative session to restrict education regarding vaccines and access to vaccines. House Bill 44 was signed into law and took effect last September. It threatens to withhold Medicaid funding for physicians who refuse to offer vaccine exemptions for patients.

“I’m looking at the unintended consequences that lawmakers aren’t necessarily thinking about because they want to get their win and move on,” said Rekha Lakshmanan, chief strategy officer at The Immunization Partnership. “But then, all of us Texans are left holding the bag.”

Computers now scoring STAAR essays

Written responses on the state’s performance exam will most likely be scored by a computer, The News reported. The Texas Education Agency rolled out a new model for evaluating student answers on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) in December, saying three-quarters of written responses are graded by an “automated scoring engine.”

The automated scoring engine is “programmed by humans, overseen by humans, and is analyzed at the end by humans,” said Jose Rios, director of the student assessment division for TEA, told The News.

TEA officials said the new test format, which includes essays at every grade level, would require four to five times the number of human scorers and cost up to $20 million more. Under the new format, only one in four student essays will be scored by a human.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here