Beyond City Limits
Gov. Rick Perry on Aug. 22 accepted the recommendation of the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles and pardoned 35 people convicted in the infamous 1999 Tulia drug sting. "Questions surrounding testimony from the key witness in these cases, coupled with recommendations from the [board], weighed heavily on my final decision," Perry said in a press release. "I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just." Also on Friday, lawyers for two former Tulia defendants, against whom charges were dropped after they proved they weren't even in Tulia when disgraced freelance narc Tom Coleman claimed he bought cocaine from them, filed a federal suit in Amarillo against a host of county officials, claiming various civil rights violations. -- J.S.
One of the weirder moments of the redistricting controversy took place Monday afternoon in the courtroom of District Judge Darlene Byrne, who was asked by lawyers from both sides -- the missing Senate Democrats and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst -- to do the same thing: Dismiss the Dems' original state-court lawsuit for a lack of jurisdiction. "Why are we here?" Byrne asked at the outset. After initially filing suit, the Democrats have "nonsuited" their claim that Dewhurst has no authority to arrest the absent senators to "compel" their attendance. (Their attorney Renea Hicks told the court that he thought "nonsuiting ... was a stupid rule, but it's the law.") The Dems have combined their claim with their federal lawsuit heard in Laredo on Wednesday. After 90 minutes of engagingly soporific debate, Byrne said she had "never been presented with a case quite like this," and granted both parties "the same relief." Both sides declared victory, while acknowledging plenty of room for additional litigation. -- Michael King
Last week was the deadline for registering to testify before the State Board of Education on public-school biology textbooks, and the Texas Freedom Network gathered a group of citizens, scientists, teachers, and clergy at the Texas Education Agency to ask Texans to "stand up for science." The final SBOE hearing takes place Sept. 10, and the TFN is hoping to head off efforts by anti-evolutionists to undermine what they call "neo-Darwinism" in the textbooks. Professors Terry Maxwell of Angelo State University and David Hillis of UT-Austin said that evolutionary theory is a long-settled question among scientists but that "creationists" of various types want to attack the theory in schoolbooks because there "the final decisions are made not by scientists but by politicians." Austin science teacher Amanda Walker said that teachers and students need textbooks "uncorrupted by religious dogma," and the Rev. Tom Hegar of St. John's Presbyterian Church said that to use religious creation stories as the basis for science abuses both religion and science. Hillis said there are "a lot of different flavors of creationism," ranging from literal believers in a seven-day biblical creation to recent proponents of "intelligent design," who insist they only wish to include critical analyses of Darwinism in school texts. "They are hiding under the cloak of scholarship," said Hillis, "but their ideas are not even discussed in legitimate scientific journals or scientific discourse." -- M.K.
The Legislature balanced the state budget partly on the backs of public schoolteachers and administrators, but apparently there aren't enough administrators with salaries to cut. So the Teacher Retirement System of Texas magically transformed more than 20,000 professional school employees -- nurses, counselors, librarians, speech pathologists, diagnosticians -- into "administrators" in order to cut a full $1,000 from their employee health insurance. That's the charge made in a lawsuit filed by the Texas Federation of Teachers last week, alleging that the TRS has adopted a rule under HB 3459 to expand the definition of "administrator" to include any professional employee making more than $50,000 a year -- thereby doubling their pay cut from $500 to $1,000. Citing a House floor discussion that established the legislative intent to confine the $1,000 cut to administrators only, TFT President John Cole said, "The cuts to school employee health insurance enacted by the Legislature were bad enough. TRS should not be allowed to make them even worse." The TRS issued a statement saying it had considered the TFT position in making the policy and that it would respond to the lawsuit in court. -- M.K.