AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and 12 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new federal law designed to overhaul the nation’s health care system incrementally over the next decade.

Congress narrowly passed H.R. 3590, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, on March 21. President Barack Obama signed the act into law on March 23.

Abbott said the new law infringes on individual liberties, encroaches on the sovereignty of states and imposes “dramatic” Medicaid spending increases.

Attorneys general acting on behalf of the states of Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington and Utah joined as plaintiffs.

Filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, the lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor, agencies are charged with implementing the new law.

Briefly, according to the Obama administration, this is how the new law affects Texas in particular:

• 6 million residents who do not currently have health insurance and 1.1 million residents who have non-group insurance could get affordable coverage through a “health insurance exchange.”

• 3.3 million residents could qualify for premium tax credits to help them purchase health coverage.

• 2.8 million seniors would receive free preventive services.

• 493,000 seniors would have their brand-name drug costs in the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” cut by 50 percent.

• 223,000 small businesses could be helped by a small business tax credit to make premiums more affordable.

No Republican U.S. House member voted in favor of H.R. 3590, but 11 of Texas’ 12 U.S. House Democrats voted in favor of  the bill. Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco was the lone Texas Democrat who voted against it. Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement on March 23 in support of the lawsuit.

Radioactive material stolen in Alice

Six small lead containers were stolen from a private company’s pickup truck parked outside the Wal-Mart store in Alice on March 19, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported.

The containers were in a clear plastic bag taken from a toolbox in the back of the truck. Each metal container is shrink-wrapped and contains a glass vial of ceramic granules. A person handling the containers or the sand could be at risk of radiation exposure.

Anyone who has information about the containers should call their local police or sheriff’s department or the state health department at (512) 458-7460.

ProTechnics, a Houston-based company, is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the containers.

Rewards for efforts against obesity

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on March 22 announced the availability of grants to fund childhood obesity prevention programs and nutritious meals.

The Agriculture Department is offering up to $950,000 to schools and community and faith-based organizations that seek funds to promote better health and implement better nutrition practices in Texas schools. “In the last two decades, the obesity rates have doubled across America,” Staples said. “These statistics are alarming and we must partner to create healthy school environments to stop this dangerous trend.”

Census deadline is April 1

Secretary of State Hope Andrade urged all who reside in Texas to complete and mail in their U.S. Census form.

“This is our state’s chance to secure the necessary representation and resources to meet our growing needs over the next decade,” she said, “If Texans go uncounted, Texas will be shortchanged.”    *

According to the Texas State Demographer, each person not counted in Texas could result in a loss of $13,500 in federal funds over the next decade to Texas state and local governments.

High court puts execution on hold

The execution of state prisoner Hank Skinner, 47, was put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 24, the day his execution by lethal injection was scheduled.

Skinner, who was convicted for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend and her two adult sons in Pampa, requested DNA testing.

The court granted Skinner’s request for the testing of evidence. Gov. Perry must determine what happens next.

Unemployment rate stays same

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Texas was 8.2 percent in February, unchanged for the fourth month in a row, the Texas Workforce Commission reported March 25.