AUSTIN — Secretary of State Hope Andrade, the state’s chief elections officer, on Oct. 19 announced Texas reached a historical peak in the number of registered voters on her election division’s “official list of registered voters.”

As of Oct. 19, Andrade said, Texas had 13,646,226 registered voters, the highest number in state history. Oct. 9 was the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 general election. Early voting began Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 2, and voters may cast a ballot at any polling place in their county during the period.

Judge puts policy on hold

Hardin County State District Judge Steven Thomas on Oct. 18 granted a temporary injunction preventing Kountze Independent School District and its superintendent from stopping cheerleaders from displaying banners or run-through signs that have religious references on them at school sports events.

Plaintiffs, the parents of cheerleaders, argued that the school district’s policy prohibiting religious expression at school events violated their minor children’s constitutional right to freedom of expression.

A trial is scheduled for June 24, 2013, in Thomas’ 356th state District Court.

Unemployment rate drops

Texas Workforce Commission on Oct. 19 reported Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent in September, down from 7.1 percent in August.

Texas added 21,000 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in September for a total of 262,700 jobs added since last year, the Commission reported, and the state’s unemployment rate is down more than a point, from 7.9 percent a year ago.

“We saw encouraging signs in our state’s labor market in September and a decrease in the unemployment rate last month,” said Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Texas continues to add jobs and we now have a record number of people employed in our state.”

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics calculated the national unemployment rate at 7.8 percent for the month of September.

Call made for higher pay

At its Oct. 19 meeting, the Texas Public Safety Commission – the body that oversees the Texas Department of Public Safety – signaled unanimous support for increasing the base salary for state highway patrol troopers.

According figures in a recent report by the Office of the State Auditor, trooper pay would have to increase at least 20 percent to be competitive with compensation at the seven largest local law enforcement departments in the state.

The commission and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw plan to work during the 2013 legislative session with lawmakers to bring about a pay increase for troopers.

Kids kick off anti-drug week

More than 1,200 Texas fifth grade students from Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio gathered at the state Capitol to declare that “drugs don’t make sense,” the theme of this year’s Texas Red Ribbon Rally.

The rally kicked off Red Ribbon Week, a national campaign observed Oct. 23-31 that uses school and community events to teach millions of students about the dangers of drug abuse.

Part of the program was a mock legislative session in the House and Senate chambers, where students debated and voted on drug and alcohol related resolutions they drafted in advance.

A recent survey by the Texas Department of State Health Services and Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute shows that the use of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs is declining among Texas youth.

Sadler-Cruz debate again

Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Paul Sadler engaged in their second and final televised debate on Oct. 19, each seeking to succeed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Dallas, who is retiring from office at the end of her term on Dec. 31.

Among topics on the table were tax reform, immigration reform, taxation, health care and foreign policy. The tenor of the second debate was less heated than the first, yet sharp differences between the two over the range of issues, and the federal Affordable Health Care Act and how to spread the tax burden in particular, were notable.

Galena Park senator dies

State Sen. Mario V. Gallegos Jr., D-Galena Park, died Oct. 16.

Gallegos, 62, was a retired Houston firefighter. He served two terms as a state representative before he was elected to the Senate in 1994. He was reelected to the Senate Dist. 6 seat in 2002 and 2008.

Gallegos is credited as the first Hispanic to serve as a senator for part of Harris County. He was regarded for his advocacy of firefighters, police, teachers and elder citizens.