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State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling

State says funding to Planned Parenthood will be cut

AUSTIN — The state Health and Human Services Commission notified Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas on Oct. 19 that state funding they have been receiving through the Medicaid program would be cut.

The letter from the HHSC’s inspector general’s office said the termination of all Planned Parenthood affiliates would not affect access to care “because there are thousands of alternate providers in Texas including federally qualified health centers, Medicaid-certified rural health clinics and other health care providers across the state that participate in the Texas Women’s Health Program and Medicaid.”

According to the governor’s office, the action is based on evidence of Medicaid program violations. Citing widely publicized videos reportedly exposing the harvesting and sale of fetal body parts by abortion providers, Gov. Greg Abbott said, “Texas has stepped forward and shown its unyielding commitment to both protecting life and providing women’s health services.”

Abbott said the action is consistent with his LIFE initiative that calls for changing laws to stiffen penalties against abortion providers, improve availability of adoption services, eliminate funding to abortion providers and eliminate and criminalize any sale or transaction involving fetal tissue by an abortion clinic.

On Oct. 22, HHSC’s inspector general agents, acting on subpoenas, seized records at Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics in Dallas and other cities. Planned Parenthood national headquarters posted the following statement on social media: “We will not be bullied by Texas extremists (and) we won’t stop fighting. Take note: Planned Parenthood is not going anywhere.”

Planned Parenthood has one month to deliver a legal response.

Emergency forces lined up

Just before Hurricane Patricia hit the west coast of Mexico and headed north toward Texas, Gov. Abbott on Oct. 23 announced the activation of the Texas State Operations Center.

Abbott also approved the use of state resources for rapid deployment as needed to assist local officials “during this significant weather event.”

“The State of Texas stands ready to provide support to communities as needed,” he said.

The State Operations Center coordinates emergency responses with the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service/Texas Task Force 1 and Texas Military Forces.

Texas joins suit to stop EPA

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule to reduce carbon emissions from electric-generating plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is the target of a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by 24 states, including Texas.

Under the rule, Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA establishes guidelines and states design programs that fit in those guidelines to reduce air pollution.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Oct. 23 said “to achieve these reductions, EPA will require states to shut down coal plants prematurely and invest billions of dollars in new renewable generation.”

Paxton maintains that the EPA doesn’t have authority to enforce the rule, and said the goal of the lawsuit is “to prevent massive increases in electric bills that would hurt hard-working families, the elderly and the poor.”

Higher Ed gets new chief

Gov. Abbott on Oct. 21 appointed Bobby Jenkins of Austin as chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Jenkins, president of ABC Home and Commercial Services, has served as vice chairman of the coordinating board since September 2013. He succeeds Chairman Raymund A. Paredes of El Paso as chairman. Paredes was appointed by then-governor Rick Perry in 2004.

The agency’s mission is “to promote access, affordability, quality, success, and cost efficiency in the state’s institutions of higher education.”

Week’s focus: student safety

Safe Schools Week was observed in Texas, Oct. 18-24.

Under state law, each school district is required to adopt a multi-hazard emergency operations plan.

“Every student in Texas should be confident that they are being provided an education in a safe environment,” Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said on Oct. 19. “Safe Schools Week is an annual reminder to everyone in education of our need to plan and prepare for whatever potential situation might arise on school campuses,” he added.

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