Becca Aaronson, Texas Tribune

Texas Tribune Reporter

Becca Aaronson develops data interactives and reports for The Texas Tribune. After an internship in fall 2010, she was hired by the Tribune to help cover the 82nd legislative session. She previously interned at the Houston Chronicle. Becca is a native of Austin who graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., with a degree in cultural theory.

baaronson@texastribune.org
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photo illustration by: Peter Skadberg/Todd Wiseman

Texas is “ultimately responsible” for millions of misspent Medicaid dollars, according to a new federal audit, because a state agency failed to properly oversee the contractor that reviewed the medical necessity of Medicaid claims.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez for KUT News

The Texas Department of State Health Services finalized strict new abortion regulations on Friday, claiming that none of the 19,000 public comments on the rules provided evidence that they are unconstitutional.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez for KUT News

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday not to intervene in Texas’ ongoing abortion litigation, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are working to secure access to the procedure for women across the state.

“We’re working to help make sure that our patients and women across Texas can get the services that they need,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. He said Planned Parenthood staff is predominantly working to secure hospital admitting privileges for physicians who don’t have them. Staffers are also helping women who must now travel long distances to access abortion; in some cases, they are helping to offset the costs of transportation and lodging.

Todd Wiseman / Kjetil Ree for Texas Tribune

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday rejected a request by abortion providers to intervene in their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of new abortion regulations in Texas that took effect in November.

"Reasonable minds can perhaps disagree about whether the [U.S. 5th Circuit] Court of Appeals should have granted a stay in this case," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 5-4 opinion. "There is no doubt that the applicants have not carried their heavy burden of showing that doing so was a clear violation of accepted legal standards — which do not include a special 'status quo' standard for laws affecting abortion."

http://www.flickr.com/photos/23122254@N07/7305861684/

Texas abortion providers’ Monday victory was short-lived. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a federal district court ruling that found part of the state's new abortion regulations unconstitutional, meaning the provisions of House Bill 2 could take effect immediately if state officials choose to enforce them.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez for KUT News

The next stage in abortion rights advocates’ efforts to block implementation of strict new regulations on the procedure in Texas began on Friday, as the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of abortion providers across the state filed a lawsuit in federal court.

“Today's lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. 

Todd Wiseman / Jennifer Whitney for Texas Tribune

After abruptly ending hours of public testimony that went into the wee hours of Friday morning, the House State Affairs Committee reconvened on Friday and quietly approved House Bill 60, its companion, Senate Bill 5 — omnibus abortion restriction legislation — and a standalone measure to ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation, House Bill 16.

With the special session coming to an end on Tuesday, opponents of the measures say the decision by Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, to end to the hearing near 4 a.m. — before hundreds of reproductive rights advocates could testify — may open the door to kill the legislation. 

Todd Wiseman/Blake Thompson

Texas received federal approval in May to begin more than 1,100 experimental projects that could transform the way health care is delivered to the state’s poor and uninsured.

Texas Tribune

Political powerhouse Texas Right to Life is working overtime to try to defeat a compromise measure aimed at improving state laws governing “end of life” medical decisions. But with time running out to getSenate Bill 303 passed, the fight over the legislation has shifted from political to personal.

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

In the midst of debate on the 2014-15 budget, the House quietly approved an amendment on Thursday that would open the door to negotiations on expanding Medicaid, a key provision of federal health reform. The amendment requires the Health and Human Services Commission to develop a plan to create more efficient health care options for Medicaid populations if the state chooses to draw down federal financing to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

The Texas Senate unanimously approved two bills Wednesday to reform the beleaguered Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas amid continuing controversy over grant awards.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

The Texas Senate unanimously approved an overhaul of long-term and acute care Medicaid services on Monday in an effort to expand care to more disabled Texans while saving millions of state dollars.

“We cannot continue to fund the same inefficient, unsustainable long-term care system and expect a different result,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the author of Senate Bill 7.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Despite an ongoing grant moratorium, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas received permission Wednesday from state leaders to move forward on contract negotiations for 25 grants that would bring renowned cancer researchers to Texas.

“We have worked hard to regain trust with our elected officials and the citizens of Texas,” Wayne Roberts, interim executive director at CPRIT, said in a statement. “We take this action as evidence that some progress has been made, and we will continue to work to strengthen this trust during the coming weeks and months.”

The researcher grants represent a combined $72 million and were formally approved by the CPRIT oversight board in late 2012 before the moratorium took effect. Many of the researchers had moved their families and research labs to Texas in anticipation of receiving CPRIT financing.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

House Republicans on Monday agreed not to expand Medicaid as called for under the federal Affordable Care Act — but left the door open to doing it if the Obama administration grants Texas enough flexibility.

“The current path as proposed is unsustainable from a fiscal standpoint,” said caucus chairman Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. He said the caucus would continue to “propose solutions on the issue, which we’re formulating and will continue to do so throughout the session.” 

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

A state audit has revealed that transparency problems at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas extend beyond the improper review of an $11 million commercialization grant that sparked criminal and civil investigations.

Todd Wiseman & Esther Groen, Texas Tribune

A bill filed Thursday in the Texas House would give religiously based businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, a state tax break if the businesses were forced to comply with the federal government’s mandate that employers provide contraception coverage.

"It is simply appalling that any business owner should have to choose between violating their religious convictions and watching their business be strangled by the strong arm of Federal mandates and taxation," Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said in a prepared statement discussing his measure, House Bill 649.

Tamir Kalifa/Texas Tribune

Updated, Friday, 4:55 p.m.:

Travis County District Judge Stephen Yelenosky on Friday refused to grant Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary injunction to be included in the Texas Women’s Health Program. 

Tamir Kalifa / Texas Tribune

The Health and Human Services Commission on Monday said a new survey it commissioned shows the Texas Women’s Health Program has a greater capacity to serve impoverished women than its predecessor, a joint state-federal program that ended after the state moved to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers. 

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

The political action committee for Waste Control Specialists, which is owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, was fined Wednesday by the Texas Ethics Commission over illegal political contributions. 

The PAC illegally donated nearly $65,000 to 18 state lawmakers — 15 Republicans and 3 Democrats — in 2011, shortly after the organization was formed. At the time, Simmons was the only contributor to the PAC. Texas elections code requires a PAC to have at least 10 donors before it makes a political contribution.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

In 2008, when the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas embarked on its mission to cure cancer, the $3 billion program was welcomed with fanfare by voters who had passed a constitutional amendment to establish it.

Four years later, CPRIT’s future is far from certain, as the quasi-governmental agency and its fast-shrinking cast of advisers face accusations of impropriety and criminal and civil investigations.

Michael Stravato, Texas Tribune

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday indicated he would support a prospective "fetal pain" bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Speaking at the Source for Women, a pregnancy crisis center in Houston, he said his goal "is to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past." 

The measure is being championed by Texas Right to Life, a state-based anti-abortion group, but a bill has not yet been filed. The group's director, Elizabeth Graham, said the measure her organization backs would include exceptions for women whose lives are in danger, but not for victims of rape or incest. "Those decisions for children who are conceived in rape or in incest will need to be made prior to the 20-week mark," she said.

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Despite Gov. Rick Perry’s firm opposition to a key tenet of federal health reform — expanding the state’s Medicaid program for those with low incomes — Texas Democrats remain optimistic that the 2013 legislative session can yield a deal that brings in billions in additional federal dollars.

It will be a tough sell: No Republican lawmakers have gone on record supporting the Medicaid expansion, which would add an estimated 1.8 million Texans onto the joint state-federal health plan by 2022.

But state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said fiscal conservatives have an incentive to reach an agreement “because the alternative is going to cost us much more economically and dig a much deeper hole in our budget.”

Jennifer Whitney, Texas Tribune

Update, Nov. 9, 2:30 p.m.:

U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco conceded the Congressional District 23 race on Friday. He congratulated state Rep. Pete Gallego, while renewing allegations that voter fraud skewed the results.

“While there is no doubt there were improperly counted votes and improperly cast ballots, a full investigation and recount would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming,” Canseco said in a statement.

Original Post: In the aftermath of a close and costly campaign for Congressional District 23, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco has alleged voter fraud and is not conceding to his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Pete Gallego. Gallego finished 9,222 votes ahead of Canseco as of Wednesday morning.

“The race is not over, and it won't be until all votes are properly and legally counted," Canseco said in a statement the morning after the election.

Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

Planned Parenthood will continue participating in the Women’s Health Program — for now. Travis County District Judge Stephen Yelenosky on Thursday approved a temporary injunction to delay the state’s implementation of the “Affiliate Ban Rule,” which would bar the nonprofit from participating in the program, until a full trial can be held in December.

Planned Parenthood is "likely to prevail on their claim that the rule is inconsistent with the instructions of the Texas
Legislature," wrote Yelenosky in a letter authorizing the temporary injunction. 

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

The Texas Women’s Health Program that excludes clinics like Planned Parenthood that are affiliated with abortion providers will not launch on Thursday as the state planned.

Despite comments Wednesday morning from Texas Health and Human Services Commission executive director Kyle Janek indicating the program would be ready to start on Nov. 1, an agency spokeswoman confirmed that the state-led program would not begin until ongoing court controversy over the issue is clarified.

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

At a morning hearing on the implementation of Medicaid managed care in South Texas, lawmakers got a much bigger earful on the consequences of difficult budget decisions they made in the last legislative session.

graphic by: Todd Wiseman / Kyle Steed

The Obama administration next week will begin accepting applications for deferred action from what it expects to be hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the country illegally.

The policy, which was announced June 15, grants relief from deportation proceedings to certain immigrants who meet certain guidelines. Two-year work permits will also be issued to qualified applicants.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

As if perfectly cued to election season, multimillion-dollar rebates are being doled out across America by insurance companies thanks to a new rule in the federal Affordable Care Act, or ACA. Although the much-maligned “Obamacare” remains a prime target for Texas Republicans on the campaign trail, Democrats and other political consultants say the tangible benefits of the ACA now taking effect could change voters’ perspectives on President Obama's signature legislative package. 

“The hardest part politically for ACA has always been that it will take a while for the program to kick in and even longer for people to realize benefits,” Mark McKinnon, a political consultant and former media strategist for George W. Bush, said in an email. “These rebates will be a welcome surprise to a lot of consumers and help reduce angst about ACA.”

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Texas government agencies have paid fired or resigning state employees more than $500 million in unused vacation time over the last decade. It’s a staggering sum that fiscal conservative critics call “ridiculous,” especially in tough budget times.

But state workers say what’s ridiculous is that so many jobs have been cut — and that agencies are so understaffed that employees can’t take vacations.

In each of the last 10 years, state officials paid out an average $50 million in accrued vacation time, according to data from the Texas comptroller’s office. That number crept up to $68 million in 2004 and $67 million last year — both on the heels of a budget shortfall and related layoffs.

The Lone Star State is getting bigger. Texas had the largest population growth of any state between April 2010 and July 2011, according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Although the state is still second to California in total population, Texas has gained more people than any other state — at least 529,000 — since the last major Census figures were released.

The five states with the greatest population growth — Texas, California, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina — accounted for more than half of national growth during that time period. As a whole, the national population increased by 2.8 million, and is now 311.6 million.

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