AUSTIN — The Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama on March 23, requires states to establish within 90 days “high risk pools” for people with a preexisting medical condition who have been uninsured for at least 6 months when they apply.

The pools would allow enrollees to pay standard market premium rates with their coverage not subject to any preexisting condition exclusion.

But on April 30, Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius notifying her that the state of Texas cannot commit to operating “a new temporary high-risk pool program due to the lack of program rules or reliable federal funding.”

“I do not believe the aggressive implementation and the lack of assurances on financial solvency of the program are in the best interest of Texas taxpayers, families, patients or health care providers,” Perry wrote.

The governor expressed concern over the absence of key contract terms and passage of federal rules and covenants to ensure financial solvency so that taxpayers and state revenue systems are held harmless.

Texans working on big oil spill

Crews from the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program deployed with 1,000 feet of fire boom to help corral and burn the oil slick spreading from the damaged Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana.

A damaged wellhead on the ocean floor more than a mile beneath the surface is discharging an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil each day.

The spill threatens human health, wildlife and commerce along the Gulf coast. British Petroleum, the owner of the leaking oil facility, said it would pay clean-up costs.

State defends ‘under God’ in pledge

Texas Solicitor General James Ho on April 27 defended the constitutionality of the Texas Pledge of Allegiance before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The pledge, as amended in 2007, reads: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”

After the Texas Legislature added the words “under God” to the Texas Pledge in 2007, a Dallas couple filed a lawsuit arguing that the amended pledge violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. At trial, the Office of the Attorney General successfully argued that patriotic acknowledgments of the Almighty are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. The federal district court agreed, ruling that the revised state pledge is constitutional.

After the federal district judge issued its decision rejecting the plaintiffs’ challenge in 2009, the plaintiffs appealed the adverse ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged, reciting the U.S. Pledge of  Allegiance is an appropriate and constitutional way to begin each school day on the right note,” Solicitor General Ho said. “The Texas Pledge of Allegiance serves precisely the same function — to give students an opportunity to engage in a patriotic acknowledgement of the religious heritage of our state and our nation.”

Behind-wheel training increases

The Texas Department of Public Safety on April 28 said beginning May 1 anyone enrolling in a driver education course will be required to complete an additional 20 hours of behind the wheel instruction, including 10 hours of night-time instruction.

The training is in addition to the 32 hours of classroom training, seven hours of behind-the-wheel training and seven hours of in-car observation/practice that already are required.

‘CHL’ application goes online

Concealed handgun permit applicants can now complete the application form and schedule their digital fingerprint appointments online at the DPS Web site, www.txdps.state.tx.us.

The online application process debuted May 1. Supplemental materials such as citizenship documents and criminal history are still required to be mailed in.

Parks to launch new software

The state park system of Texas soon will launch its new business software system.

A benefit for park customers is that people making online camping reservations will no longer pay the extra $3 fee that has been charged for booking via the Web, Texas Parks and Wildlife said April 23.

The new system, TxParks, will go live on May 12 at all 93 state park locations and the agency’s Customer Service Center for centralized reservations, located in Austin.