Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — A proposal to add a two-story addition to the Governor’s Mansion has been abandoned by the State Preservation Board after a chorus of complaints.

Board Executive Director John Sneed said the proposed addition to the 153-year-old mansion has been withdrawn from consideration. The Preservation Board was moving ahead with the expansion before the idea was greeted with a wave of protests.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, recently objected to the 3,000-square foot addition. He joined earlier objections voiced by former Govs. Dolph Briscoe and Mark White, both Democrats. Straus is a member of the Preservation Board.

Gov. Rick Perry initially appeared to support the plan, but he backed off after it became a political liability. The mansion is undergoing renovation after it was heavily damaged by an arson fire in 2008. No one has been arrested in that incident.

Senate studies

health care

In response to health care reform measures in Congress, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has issued a charge to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to study ways to make health care in Texas more affordable, accessible and efficient. The committee will take on that task in the interim before the 82nd Legislature convenes in January 2011.

“The problem with our health care system in America is not that we spend too little. The problem is that we don’t spend our health care dollars effectively,” Dewhurst said. “America actually spends more per capita than any other industrialized country in the world, often with poorer results.”

Dewhurst said committee members will study the effects of any federal health care reform bill on Texas; recommend changes in the exchange of health care information statewide to improve care; examine ways to improve Texans’ health; and study ways to make use of best policies in health care.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said, “As we monitor the discussions about federal health care reform, it is important that we examine the underlying challenges in our health care system, as well as our broader mission to protect the overall health of our citizens.”

Straus looks at budget

House Speaker Joe Straus has named a select committee to study how to manage a strained state budget in a declining economy. The House Select Committee on Fiscal Stability will assess whether the state budget is facing a shortfall in 2011 and what to do about it.

Straus named state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, to chair the committee, and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, as vice chairman. “Fiscally responsible work we do today will put Texas in better shape tomorrow,” Straus said.

Perry refuses

 race-to-top funds

Gov. Perry said Texas will not compete for up to $700 million in federal education grants, calling it a sprint to “mediocrity.” The Race to the Top grants, funded from the 2009 stimulus package approved by Congress, are to encourage education reform and innovation.

Perry said the grants are based on Texas developing national curriculum standards for math and English, which “smacks of a federal takeover of public schools.”

Critics of Perry’s position, noting that half the points toward the grants are based on past educational accomplishments, said the governor is admitting Texas cannot compete nationally.

Texas and Alaska are the only two states not participating in the development of national curriculum standards in math and English. Perry’s Republican primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, said she also would not have sought the grant money.

Cameras for state homes

Security cameras will be placed in the state’s 12 homes for people with mental disabilities, formerly known as state schools. After a series of violent incidents, the 2009 Legislature approved funds for the cameras to protect residents.

More than 3,000 cameras will be installed in 335 buildings. Cameras already have been installed at the state home in Corpus Christi, where employees were found to be staging fights among residents. Cameras also will be added to the homes in Austin, Abilene, Brenham, Denton, El Paso, Harlingen, Lubbock, Lufkin, Mexia, Richmond, San Angelo and San Antonio.

Reminder: registration deadline

Monday, Feb. 1, is the deadline to register to vote in the 2010 primary elections. County offices, some post offices and libraries offer voter registration applications. Texas residents also can print out a voter registration application available online at: www.votexas.org. For more voting information, call the Secretary of State’s voter hotline at 1-800-252-VOTE.