A San Antonio federal court on Sept. 6 ordered that redistricting maps passed by the 2013 Texas Legislature will serve as interim plans and those plans would be used in upcoming elections, including 2014 elections.

Plaintiffs challenging the maps allege racial discrimination in the drawing of boundaries in certain districts.

In its order, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court Western District of Texas San Antonio Division noted the litigation would continue “for as long as it takes to reach a legally correct decision on very important issues, but elections must go on.” And, the panel reasoned, that because “a full, fair and final review of all issues before this Court cannot be completed prior to the upcoming deadlines for the 2014 elections” the current set of maps being challenged will stand for the time being.

The complexity of these matters increased in June after the U.S. Supreme Court, in effect, ruled that certain sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and preclearance in particular, may no longer apply unless plaintiffs prove racial discrimination still exists. Prior to the ruling, Texas had been a “covered” jurisdiction, meaning that because of its history of racial discrimination in voting practices the state was subject to federal preclearance of redistricting maps and other proposed changes to election laws.

The case resulting in the order is Shannon Perez; Harold Dutton, Jr.; Gregory Tamez; Sergio Salinas; Carmen Rodriguez; Rudolfo Ortiz; Nancy Hall and Dorothy DeBose, Plaintiffs, v. State of Texas; Rick Perry, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Texas; and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and Secretary of State John Steen, in their official capacities, Defendants.

Jefferson to leave office

Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson on Sept. 3 announced he would leave the Texas Supreme Court effective Oct. 1.

Reduction in number of cases carried over from one term to another, increases in use of technology to improve efficiency, increases in transparency and decreases in costs are listed among achievements during Jefferson’s nine-year tenure as chief.

Furthermore, in 2007 under Jefferson’s leadership, a rule was adopted to allow cameras in the courtroom “to bolster the public’s understanding of the court’s work.” In 2012, the court mandated electronic filing of court documents to decrease the cost of litigation and increase courts’ productivity.

And, as chief justice, Jefferson worked for increased funding for basic civil legal services and established the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families.

Pertussis alert is issued

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Sept. 3 urged people to make sure they’re vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough, which often starts with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough.

The number of people sick with pertussis this year is on track to reach the highest level in more than 50 years, the agency said. Doctors who suspect a pertussis infection are required to report it to their local health department within one working day and patients who have pertussis should not go back to work or school until they have completed five days of antibiotic treatment.

The agency is urging parents to check their children’s shot records to be sure they are completely vaccinated against pertussis and should keep infants, especially those less than 6 months old, away from people with a cough. Adults should see about receiving a booster dose of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine.”

Debt info site debuts

State Comptroller Susan Combs on Sept. 3 announced a new “Debt-at-a-Glance” resource that offers details on state and local debt.

The website tellthetruthtexas.org/debt lets users pick from the state’s 20 largest cities and 20 largest counties to see debt totals and trends, plus details on tax rates, debt elections, authorized but unissued debt, certificates of obligation and links to a comprehensive annual financial report for each city or county.

Litter level decreases

Texas Department of Transportation on Sept. 3 released results of its 2013 Texas Litter Survey.

“Considering an additional 1.1 million drivers have taken to Texas roadways during the survey period of 2009 to 2013,” TxDOT said, “the 34-percent reduction in visible litter is even more impressive.”

According to the survey, the leading type of visible roadside litter was tire and rubber debris, followed by miscellaneous paper, plastic and beverage containers.

Ed Sterling is the director of member service for Texas Press Association. Capital Highlights is provided as a service to member publications and their readers.