Thursday, February 2, 2017

For 2306: Emergency Bills, the State of the Judiciary, and the State Board of Education on Evolution

All from the Texas Tribune:

- In State of State, Abbott imposes hiring freeze, declares 4 issues "emergencies"
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday laid out a largely expected agenda for the 85th legislative session while declaring four issues as emergencies for lawmakers to take up immediately: banning so-called "sanctuary cities," overhauling the state's broken child welfare system, implementing ethics reform and approving a resolution to support a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution.

In his State of the State address, Abbott said Texas remained "exceptional" and expressed optimism that the state's economy would bounce back from an oil downturn. At the top of his priority list for lawmakers was the child welfare system, which a federal judge declared broken in 2015 and lawmakers have since been scrambling to overhaul.

- Legislature should prioritize judicial security, Texas Supreme Court chief justice says.

The state of the Texas judiciary is strong — because of judges like Julie Kocurek, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said Wednesday during a joint meeting of the Texas House and Senate.

Kocurek, a state district judge in Travis County, was shot outside her home in late 2015 by a man who once appeared in her courtroom. She was hospitalized for several weeks, had almost 30 surgeries and lost a finger, Hecht said during his State of the Judiciary address.

"I asked Julie about her plans," the chief justice said. "She could retire. She was eligible. But if she left the bench, people would think you can threaten a judge and scare her off, maybe scare off other judges, intimidate them, show that justice cannot stand up to violence. She would not do that."

The attack on Kocurek highlighted gaps in security for judges, courthouses and their staff, Hecht said. He said those gaps include "inadequate training, communication and security protocols; inadequate resources; no state-level direction; and the ready availability of judges' personal information in publicly searchable government databases." Hecht said he wants legislation named in Kocurek's honor.

- In preliminary vote, State Board of Education keeps controversial evolution standards.
The Texas State Board of Education on Wednesday voted preliminarily for science standards that would keep in language that some say opens the door to creationism.

The votes came a day after the board heard from scientists begging them to remove the language. Board members are set to hold a second public hearing and take final votes on the changes to the science standards in April.

The process began in July, when the board convened a teacher committee that recommended the deletion of several high school science standards, including four controversial biology standards they said would be too complex for students to understand. In their recommendation for deleting a clause requiring students examine explanations on the "sudden appearance" of organism groups in the fossil record, they included the note, "Not enough time for students to master concept. Cognitively inappropriate for 9th grade students."

Republican board member
Barbara Cargill led the charge Wednesday to keep three of those four standards in some form — arguing that they would actually help students better understand the science and keep teachers away from creationist ideas.

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