AUSTIN — After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared the individual mandate in “Obamacare” unconstitutional on Dec. 18, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton expressed his agreement.

“The Fifth Circuit’s holding is clear: the federal government cannot order private citizens to purchase subpar insurance products that they don’t want,” Paxton said. “The individual mandate is the centerpiece of Obamacare and I am glad the Fifth Circuit recognized that it is unlawful." 

Paxton said he looks forward to demonstrating in federal district court that the rest of the law cannot stand without the individual mandate, and added:

"Yesterday’s decision is a win for the rule of law,” he said. “Finally being rid of this law will be a victory for all Americans.” 

The lawsuit against the federal government was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas by Paxton and a list of other state attorneys general. Paxton said it would be up to the lower court to determine whether any part of the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, referred to as “Obamacare,” can remain, in light of the mandate’s unconstitutionality.

In Texas and 38 other states where the federal government administers health exchanges, health insurance premiums rose an average of 105 percent from 2013 to 2017, Paxton said.  

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in 2012, but a majority of the justices agreed that the law’s individual mandate was constitutional only because its accompanying tax penalty could justify forcing individuals to purchase health insurance under Congress’ taxing power. Devoid of that penalty, Obamacare’s individual mandate cannot be preserved as a tax, rendering Obamacare entirely unlawful, Paxton said.

Meanwhile, according to U.S. Census data, an estimated five million Texas residents, or nearly 18 percent of the state’s population, do not have health insurance. 

TPWD promotes hikes

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on Dec. 20 encouraged Texans “to kick off the next decade of adventures at a Texas State Park by participating in a First Day Hike."

To foster the effort, the agency scheduled a variety of events on New Year’s Day. First Day Hikes aim to help visitors commit to their New Year’s resolutions to get healthy, the agency said.

First Day Hikes events include strolls on scenic trails, midnight walks, polar plunges, bike rides and short treks with four-legged family members and more strenuous hikes for experienced visitors.

Last year, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife, 77 state parks hosted First Day Hike events in which an estimated 4,000 participants walked, paddled and biked. 

A list of events is posted online at

Jobless rate stays low

The Texas Workforce Commission on Dec. 20 announced that the Lone Star State's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 3.4% in November. 

The rate marks the sixth consecutive month of record low unemployment in the state. Also, 3.4% is the lowest unemployment rate since series tracking began in 1976, according to an agency news release.

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) recorded November’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 2.1%, followed by the Amarillo and Austin-Round Rock MSAs each with an adjusted rate of 2.5%. The College Station-Bryan and Lubbock MSAs each recorded the third lowest rate at 2.6%.

Reps vote on impeachment

The U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 18 voted to approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. 

The vote on Article I, Abuse of Power, was 230 for, 197 against and 1 present/not voting. The vote on Article II, Obstruction of Congress, was 229 for, 198 against and 1 present/not voting. 

For Texas' 36-member House delegation, the vote was partisan. All 23 Republicans voted not to approve both articles and all 13 Democrats voted to approve both articles.

As of the deadline for this column, the articles of impeachment had not been forwarded to the U.S. Senate, where the president would be tried in accordance with Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution, with the Honorable John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, presiding.