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Top 10 State Stories

Obamacare provoked, a star was born, and the Tea Party kept on steeping.

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Jan. 3, 2014

Attorney General Greg Abbott
Attorney General Greg Abbott
Photo by Jana Birchum

1) SCORCHED EARTH Texas' deadly drought has softened, but not ended. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, 44% of the state is under drought conditions, down from 81% a year ago. 

2) FIRST DO NO HARM The Affordable Care Act took effect in Texas, no thanks to the GOP. While Gov. Rick Perry refused to expand Medicaid, and Republicans launched a smear campaign against ACA navigators, Texans have begun applying for cheaper health insurance, and can no longer be rejected for pre-existing conditions. Mean­while, those who already have insurance found themselves with more extensive coverage.

3) FIGHT THE POWER Women's health care was thrown into turmoil when Gov. Rick Perry put harsh new abortion restrictions on the slate. The legislation passed, but only after massive and unprecedented protests around the Capitol and even within the Sen­ate chamber (see "Top 10 Lege Stories").

4) SHOOTING STAR Texas Democrats have a new superstar in their pantheon. Senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, resurrected the party's hopes for statewide office in 2014 after her 11-hour filibuster of the abortion regulations catapulted her to national prominence. Meanwhile, her leading Republican challenger, Attorney General Greg Abbott, launched his campaign while defending three of the state's most controversial policies in the courts: redistricting, voter ID, and school finance.

5) CRUZ CONTROL Sen. Ted Cruz's meteoric rise sputtered as the Tea Party favorite launched a Davis-imitating (and ultimately unsuccessful) filibuster of the Affordable Care Act. Institutional Republicans renounced his wrecking-ball tactics, with financial conservative barometer Bloomberg Businessweek putting him on its cover as the Mad Hatter.

6) BACK TO BASICS State lawmakers have talked a big game about college and career-readiness, but from 2014, high school students will be given the real choice. House Bill 5, passed last spring, introduces vocational training to the curriculum with a new path to graduation (see "Top 10 Education Stories").

7) THE DEATH TRAP In December, Texas executed Jerry Duane Martin, its 508th convict since reinstating the death penalty in 1976, but could face problems executing many more after Danish pharmaceutical firm Lundbeck barred any further sales of the drug Nembutal for use in executions. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice now faces a civil complaint it falsified prescriptions to acquire more of the chemical.

8) DOWNPOUR Defying the Tea Party dogma against government spending, on Nov. 5, Texans voted 3-1 to use $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to establish a new statewide water infrastructure investment bank, the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT).

9) AT ANY COST It may produce cheap gas, but the real cost of fracking is steadily rising. The Texas Department of Trans­port­a­tion announced plans to turn some roads in the Eagle Ford Shale back to gravel due to damage from gas industry vehicles. Then on Dec. 20 the EPA inspector general vindicated researchers' findings of fracking-related water contamination in Parker County.

10) Welcome, UT-Rio Grande Valley In May, lawmakers approved the formation of the newest school in the UT system. Combin­ing resources from UT-Browns­ville and UT-Pan American, and a $200 million investment from the Permanent University fund, it will include a new medical school serving South Texas.

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