Emily Ramshaw, Texas Tribune

Texas Tribune Reporter

Emily Ramshaw investigates state agencies and covers social services for KUT's political reporting partner, the Texas Tribune. Previously, she spent six years reporting for The Dallas Morning News, first in Dallas, then in Austin. In April 2009 she was named Star Reporter of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Headliners Foundation of Texas. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she received a bachelor's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

 

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From the Texas Tribune

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Texas has violated foster children's constitutional rights to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm, saying that children "often age out of care more damaged than when they entered." 


annieslist.com

Grace Garcia, the executive director of the Democratic women-in-politics group Annie's List, was killed in a fatal car accident in Waxahachie on Monday, the organization said early Tuesday morning.

"It is with a tremendous sense of loss that we announce the passing of our executive director and leader Grace Garcia, who lost her life in a car accident Monday afternoon," Annie's List board chair Amber Anderson Mostyn said in a statement. 

Garcia came to work for Annie's List after serving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a senior adviser in the Office of the Chief of Protocol. Before working at the State Department, she ran an event management and public affairs firm she founded in 2001.

Erika Rich/BDP

Julián Castro will be President Obama's next secretary of housing and urban development, sources close to the San Antonio mayor said Saturday. 

The New York Times confirmed the move to HUD on Saturday, hours after the San Antonio Express-News reported that the 39-year-old was being considered for a position in the president's cabinet.

The sources said Castro, who had previously been considered for transportation secretary but chose to stay in San Antonio, was excited about the HUD post because he felt it fit better with his experience and interests. Urban development has been a pet issue of the mayor's in San Antonio. 

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, has filed to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the March GOP primary, joining at least eight other hopefuls vying for the senior senator's seat, according to a spokesman with the Republican Party of Texas. 

Stockman, who had filed for re-election in Congressional District 36, had to withdraw from that race to seek Cornyn's seat.

Gov. Rick Perry will veto financing for the public integrity unit — the state's ethics enforcement division — unless embattled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigns, an official close to the governor said Tuesday. 

The Austin American-Statesman reported Monday night that Perry would use a line-item veto to cut funding for the unit unless Lehmberg, who was convicted and served jail time for drunken driven this past spring, steps down.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Comptroller Susan Combs announced Wednesday that she will not seek re-election and that she is retiring from public office at the end of her term in 2015. Combs, who had been positioning herself to run for lieutenant governor, will not run for that post or other elective office. 

"It is with a deep sense of gratitude for the past, coupled with excitement for the future, that I announce today I will not be seeking elective office in 2014," Combs said in a statement, adding that she would keep working on several policy priorities, but that she wanted to spend more time on her West Texas ranch. "I want to make my intentions clear as soon as possible for prospective statewide candidates."

Todd Wiseman / Ryan Murphy via Texas Tribune

Lawmakers talked a big game about improving transparency this session, but when push came to shove, they did next to nothing to advance it.

Key proposals never even got close, like bills to strengthen reporting of lawmakers’ financial interests, prevent the quick revolving door that sends former legislators into the lobby, and stop the practice of allowing elected officials to draw down both their state salary and their pension.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

He's already a Houston physician, Republican campaign donor, radio talk show host and litigant in a federal lawsuit against the roll-out of "Obamacare." Now Dr. Steve Hotze may be adding aspiring pop star to that list. 

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Small cigarette manufacturers would face new state fees on their sales under a measure that passed the Texas House in a preliminary vote on Monday — a big win for Big Tobacco. 

The bill passed 85-53. 

The nation’s four largest tobacco companies currently pay more than half a billion dollars to the state every year as part of a 1998 lawsuit settlement. They have for years lobbied for small cigarette manufacturers, which were not included in the $17 billion settlement, to face a similar financial penalty.

Gage Skidmore, Texas Tribune

After more than a decade representing blood-red Texas in the U.S. Senate, John Cornyn finds himself in an unusual spot: burnishing his conservative credentials.

One would think the senior Texas senator’s reputation would be secure: Cornyn, who has ascended to minority whip, spent two election cycles as chairman of the Senate’s Republican campaign fundraising arm, and National Journal last week ranked him second in its 2012 list of the most conservative senators.

Bob Daemmrich

Just six months ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Gov. Rick Scott were fishing together on FoxNews, pitching then-presidential contender Mitt Romney’s Medicare plan and arguing that decisions about health care should be made by states, not the federal government.

On Wednesday, Scott reversed course, joining a growing number of Republican governors who are reluctantly embracing the key tenet of President Obama’s federal health reform — a sweeping Medicaid expansion.

Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

A drone, no bigger than a toy airplane, hovered north of the Texas Capitol, floating over the heads of lawmakers momentarily distracted from their morning meetings. Several of them gathered beneath it, faces tilted skyward, marveling over a pair of goggles that allowed them to watch live video of the drone’s panoramic bird’s eye view.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

House Speaker Joe Straus announced committee assignments for the Legislature's lower chamber on Thursday, ending speculation over key chairmanships and giving lawmakers the go-ahead to start considering bills. 

Of the standing committees, 32 are chaired by men, six by women. That's one more female chair than the 2011 session.

Among the committee chairs, 26 are white, five are black and seven are Hispanic, one more than last session.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

When state lawmakers passed a two-year budget in 2011 that moved $73 million from family planning services to other programs, the goal was largely political: halt the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood clinics.

Now they are facing the policy implications — and, in some cases, reconsidering.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Ahead of a Friday deadline to decide, Gov. Rick Perry's office has reaffirmed that Texas will not implement a major tenet of federal health reform — a state-based online marketplace for consumers to purchase coverage.

That means the federal government will have to roll out a program for Texas instead. Every state must have an exchange by 2014, the year “Obamacare” — which many Republicans had hoped would be repealed if Mitt Romney won the presidency — requires most Americans to carry coverage.

Allison Castle, Perry’s spokeswoman, said Texas won’t design its own exchange because there is “really no such thing as a ‘state exchange.’”

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Ken Armbrister, Gov. Rick Perry’s legislative director, told a crowd on the University of Texas at Austin campus Tuesday that his boss had told him he had decided to run for re-election in 2014 — a definitive statement that seemed to put to rest speculation over the longest-serving Texas chief executive’s future.

But a spokeswoman for Perry quickly rebuffed the statement from her colleague, saying “the only person to make that announcement is Governor Perry.”

“He has said multiple times he will make [the decision] after the legislative session,” Catherine Frazier said. “That door is open. He wants to keep doing what he’s doing. But he’s not going to make an official decision now.”

Antonio Villaraigosa / Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Benita Veliz, a 27-year-old San Antonio woman whose parents brought her into the country on a short-term tourist visa nearly two decades years ago, became the first undocumented person to address the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night.

Veliz, who graduated from high school at age 16 as valedictorian and double-majored at St. Mary’s University on a full academic scholarship, was nearly deported to Mexico after being pulled over in 2009 for a traffic infraction.

The case was eventually dropped in 2011. But Veliz, who identifies herself as an American and has hardly any connection to Mexico, has become the poster child for a generation of young immigrants rooting for the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would provide them a path to citizenship.  

Texas Tribune

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, in the most defining moment of his young political career, gave a Democratic National Convention keynote on Tuesday night that reiterated Barack Obama’s 2008 message of hope, from the promise of recent immigrants to the anticipation of the nation’s youths to the dreams of Americans reaching for the middle class. 

“To me, to my generation, and for all the generations to come, our choice is clear,” Castro said. “Our choice is a man who’s always chosen us. A man who already is our president.”

Castro’s speech was thrilling and moving for Texas Democrats, who don’t hold a single statewide elective office but are pinning their hopes on the state’s shifting demographics and young, charismatic leaders like Castro.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Call them idealistic, but the Texas delegates in town for this week’s Democratic National Convention are reading a lot into the selection of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to give Tuesday night’s keynote address.

Sure, it means a great deal for Castro’s own political aspirations: The Democratic Party's rising star is already one of the nation’s youngest mayors, a Stanford- and Harvard-educated 37-year-old Latino with an equally ambitious identical twin. Castro sat next to first lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 State of the Union address, another sign he was being primed for the national spotlight.

“They recognize Julián Castro is a potential statewide candidate — very likely to be the first one we’ve had in a long time in the very near future,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa.

Caleb Bryant Miller for Texas Tribune

The state’s Republican leaders are at odds with the presumptive GOP presidential ticket on one key element of abortion politics — whether they oppose the procedure for victims of rape.

Planned Parenthood will expand breast health services to more than 40,000 women across five Texas cities, the result of increased donations following Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure's short-lived decision earlier this year to halt breast cancer fundingto the organization. 

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The message from Texas runoff voters? Out with incumbents.

Though the biggest election news on Tuesday night was former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz’s defeat of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican race for U.S. Senate, there was a jaw-dropping ousting of elected officials up and down the ballot — particularly in the Texas House. From emergency room doctor and political outsider Donna Campbell’s win over state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, to Supreme Court Justice David Medina's upset at the hands of former district court judge John Devine, to the commanding defeats of state Reps. Sid MillerChuck Hopson and Jim Landtroop, here’s a look at how the votes fell in key races across the state.

Texas Senate

In SD-25, Campbell easily upset Wentworth, R-San Antonio, ending his 20-year career in the Texas Senate. 

Todd Wiseman / Kjetil Ree for Texas Tribune

Texas will not expand Medicaid or establish a health insurance exchange, two major tenets of the federal health reform that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld last month, Gov. Rick Perry said in an early morning announcement.

Image by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Looking for state Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s personal website? It's not jeffwentworth.com, an attack site that blasts the 20-year San Antonio incumbent as “the most liberal Republican senator in Austin.”

Want to know what Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, says on Twitter? Don't follow @RealTedCruz, which calls the former state solicitor general a “trial lawyer standing with a Chinese conglomerate to kill American jobs.” 

Straddling the line between dirty tricks and political strategy is as old as elections. And campaign impersonation dates at least as far back as the 1970s, when Donald Segretti, President Richard Nixon’s re-election operative, forged letters seeking to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie — a move that landed Segretti in prison.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, responding to a news report suggesting UT Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell had asked him to fire University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, said Thursday that Powell "never directed me to fire anyone." 

Cigarroa's statement follows a blog post late Wednesday from Texas Monthly Senior Executive Editor Paul Burka. Citing an unnamed source, Burka wrote that the regents are angry at Powers for publicly expressing disappointment with their decision — made with encouragement from Gov. Rick Perry — to reject Powers' request for a slight tuition increase. Burka wrote that Powell asked Cigarroa to officially recommend that they fire Powers, and that Cigarroa refused. The post suggested the board would likely call a special meeting to take action. 

The report sparked an overnight social media campaign on Powers' behalf. 

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

The boards of three regional Planned Parenthood branches — North TexasCentral Texas and the Capital Region — will vote today on a proposed merger designed to form a $29 million-per-year mega-organization with 26 clinics up and down the Interstate 35 corridor.

Photo by: Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

Planned Parenthood branches in Texas have filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to block their exclusion from the state's Women's Health Program.

Photo by Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

In the battle between state leaders and the Obama administration over Texas’ decision to oust health care providers affiliated with abortion clinics from a five-year-old contraception and cancer-screening program, both sides believe they are the victims.

The Obama administration says Texas is violating federal law by limiting where poor women can seek health care, and it announced last week that it was cutting off financing for the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which does not pay for abortions and received $9 in federal financing for every $1 the state contributed.

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is filing yet another lawsuit against the federal government, this one, no surprise, over the Women's Health Program. 

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.

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