Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — A new law that went into effect Jan. 1 mandates that only “fire-safe” cigarettes — marked as FSC for “fire standard compliant” — can be sold in Texas. Fire-safe cigarettes are designed to go out when they are not being actively smoked, reducing the risk of an accidental fire.

Lawmakers passed a bill in 2007 requiring that all cigarettes sold in Texas be fire-standard compliant by Jan. 1, 2010, and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law. Texas is one of 49 states where FSC mandates for cigarettes are in effect or pending. The Texas Department of Insurance is responsible for inspecting, certifying and enforcing the law.

Anyone manufacturing, distributing or selling cigarettes that aren’t fire safe can be fined $100 per pack. State Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado said FSC cigarettes will help prevent fires and save lives. More information about fire-safe cigarettes is available at the insurance department Web site, www.tdi.state.tx.us.

Hutchison blasts TxDOT

Shortly after filing to run for governor in the March 2 Republican primary, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison promised to “clean up” the Texas Department of Transportation. She said Texans are fed up with traffic congestion and blamed the “arrogance and inefficiencies” of TxDOT’s leadership.

Hutchison said, if elected governor, she would push for a high-speed rail line connecting Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. In a campaign swing around the state, Hutchison also said the Texas Transportation Commission should be expanded from five to nine members.

Katz files for

Lt. Governor

Austin restaurateur Marc Katz has filed to run for lieutenant governor in the March Democratic primary. Katz, owner of Katz’s Deli and Bar in downtown Austin, will face former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who also filed to run for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary.

Katz said he would spend millions of dollars of his own money to win the primary race against Earle. The winner likely will face incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who filed to run for reelection in the Republican Party primary.

Licenses for

immigrants OK

A Texas appeals court has ruled that the restriction on driver’s licenses issued to immigrants is lawful. The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled against a Dallas landscaping company that has said the Texas Department of Public Safety does not have authority to establish requirements for immigrants seeking driver’s licenses.

Under DPS rules, a driver’s license cannot be issued to someone with a visa valid for less than a year or if there is less than six months remaining on the visa. If a visa is valid for more than a year, the driver’s license says “Temporary Visitor.” Those licenses are vertical, not horizontal like standard Texas licenses.

Although the plaintiffs argued that truck drivers can’t enter certain areas with a temporary license, the court said the plaintiffs did not prove any negative effects caused by the temporary-visitor licenses.

Valley med

school steps

The University of Texas System has taken the first steps toward creating a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. State education officials said a medical school in South Texas is needed because of the area’s high poverty rate and its lack of doctors and medical facilities.

In the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers passed a measure authorizing, but not requiring, the UT Board of Regents to establish a medical school in Cameron County. UT President William Powers Jr. said South Texas needs a medical school and a law school.

UT officials are looking at the possible cost of establishing a medical school in the Valley. A report is underway examining the financial and faculty needs and possible hospital affiliations.

State issues

health warning

Consumers have been warned about eating a traditional African product called Nzu because of potential health risks. Nzu is sometimes eaten by pregnant women as a remedy for morning sickness.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said laboratory tests found high levels of lead and arsenic in Nzu sold at African specialty stores in the Dallas and Houston areas. Among other adverse health effects, exposure to lead can put a developing child at risk of brain and nervous system damage.

Polunsky reappointed by Perry

San Antonio attorney Allan Polunsky has been reappointed to the Texas Public Safety Commission. Gov. Perry reappointed Polunsky to a term ending 2015. The commission oversees the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state’s main law enforcement agency.