Ed Sterling

AUSTIN - According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, at the top of the list to receive H1N1 “swine flu” vaccinations are pregnant women; those who care for infants under 6 months of age; health care and EMS workers; those ranging from 6 months through 24 years of age; and 25 to 64-year-olds with underlying medical conditions.

Texas has not allocated any H1N1 vaccine to prisons, but a limited supply will be going to the prison system to vaccinate those most at risk.

Furthermore, prisoners are not a priority group to receive the vaccine and will not be vaccinated ahead of the general public, the state Department of Health Services announced in an Oct. 28 news release.

Health care providers who serve pregnant women in prisons have requested vaccine from the Texas Department of State Health Services. It is unclear when the state will be able to fill those orders given the limited national supply of the vaccine.

In other news, Texas had expected to receive 3.4 million doses of the vaccine by mid-October, but the state has been allocated less than 1.7 million doses so far.

Tuition program change possible

On Nov. 5, the Texas Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board will consider a recommendation by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs that it adopt the former refund rule for the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan.

If the board adopts Combs’ recommendation, families will no longer need to decide by Nov. 30 whether to cancel their contract in order to receive tuition-based earnings.

Combs also plans to recommend that families who cancelled contracts during an ongoing opt-out period be allowed to resume their contracts if they choose to do so.

However, Combs said, the plan faces a projected funding shortfall in the neighborhood of $2 billion that may appear as early as 2015. She said she wants lawmakers to address funding of the plan in the 2011 legislative session.

Lauded Panhandle lawmaker dies

Former state senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo died of progressive supranuclear palsy on Oct. 26. He was 61.

Bivins was a rancher and businessman. He had never held an elected public office before he won the Texas Panhandle’s Senate District 31 seat in 1988. Bivins achieved high marks as chairman of the State Education Committee and later as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

The Republican played key roles in the passage of tort reform and school finance legislation. He held the Senate seat until 2004 and resigned when then-President George W. Bush appointed him U.S. ambassador to Sweden.  Bivins served in that capacity until 2006 and returned to Amarillo.

Projects must be paid for up-front

Seven road building and improvement projects with an overall estimated price tag of $193 million were approved by the Texas Transportation Commission  on Oct. 29.

The projects are in the following counties: Bell, Bexar, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Hood, Parker and Travis.

Funding will be by “pass-through” financing, in which local municipalities or private entities pay up front, and get reimbursed from the state as the project becomes operational.

The Texas Transportation Commission is a five-member body that oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.

Perry says stop

transport of aliens

Gov. Rick Perry on Oct. 31 sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security urging the federal government to stop its plans to transport undocumented people from other states into Texas for the purpose of deportation.

The Alien Transfer and Exit Program, which began Nov. 1, may transport undocumented people through Presidio.

Perry said the program would “increase the likelihood that these individuals will immediately cross back into Texas, which is already bearing an uneven burden in dealing with immigration and border security issues along the Texas-Mexico border.”

Device helps in bird identification

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced the debut of “eBird Trail Tracker,” a device that allows bird watchers to record sightings and use an online, interactive database to see what other birders have reported.

Users also can view photos and listen to audio recordings of bird songs.

Devices are installed in kiosks at World Birding Center sites in three Lower Rio Grande Valley state parks.