AUSTIN -- July 9 was the date set for the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit to begin hearing arguments over the new Texas voter identification law, so far prevented from taking effect by various legal actions.

Stakes are high and the hearing could take a week of the court’s time. A ruling is expected by Aug. 31.

Plaintiffs have argued that the law, Senate Bill 14 passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by the governor in 2011, would disenfranchise minority voters, black and Hispanic voters in particular.

The law would require citizens, in order to vote, to present at the polls their valid state, federal or military photo identification in addition to their state-issued voter registration card.

The State of Texas, et al., defendants, have said the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud.

Labor stats show flatness

A monthly state labor statistics report will come soon from the Texas Workforce Commission, but national labor figures for the month of June came out of Washington, D.C., on July 6.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said the U.S. labor market added 80,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.2 percent.

“While the private sector is creating jobs and corporate profits have never been higher, a big drag on our economy is the continued layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers,” Solis said. "We should embrace the president’s proposal to put these Americans back to work, while giving additional tax cuts to small businesses that are key contributors to job creation.”

Patent hub to open in Dallas

Dallas will be the site of a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Rebecca Blank of the U.S. Commerce Department announced on July 2. Austin had been listed as a possible site.

The Dallas office and similar offices to open in Detroit, Silicon Valley, Calif., and Denver “will function as a hub of innovation and creativity, helping protect and foster American innovation in the global market place, helping businesses cut through red tape and creativing new economic opportunitiesin each of the local communities,” according to the Commerce Department.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011 signed into law by President Obama last September requires the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to establish regional satellite locations as part of a larger effort to modernize the U.S. patent system over the next three years.

Agency ranks Texas lowest for health care quality

Texas averaged last among the states in an annual ranking to performance on a list of a dozen measures of health care quality and health care delivery.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released the report last week.

Texas’ highest placing in the list of measurements was ninth in “children fully vaccinated” under the heading of Maternal and Child Health. Our state’s lowest placing was 48th place in “home health care – improved mobility” under the heading “Functional Status Preservation and Rehabilitation.”

Report: crime rate down

For the second year in a row, the major crime rate in Texas has dropped, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported on July 6.

Compiled by the DPS Uniform Crime Reporting program and released in an annual report, the number of crimes per 100,000 people in Texas decreased by 8.3 percent in 2011.

DPS Director Steve McCraw added, however, “Contemporary organized crime is increasingly transnational, opportunistic and hidden. Drug smuggling, human trafficking, extortion, corruption, and kidnapping are just a few of the crimes committed by criminal enterprise organizations that are not reflected in index crime reporting.”

Fuel tanks need protection

Texans whose homes or businesses are fueled by propane gas can help prevent potential problems during wildfire season.

The Texas Railroad Commission officials on July 3 urged propane users, when evacuating their property in times of emergency, to turn their tank’s shutoff valve to the off position.

And, after the emergency has passed, propane systems should inspected for leaks before turning them back on.

Tax holiday a month away

Texas shoppers will get a break from state and local sales taxes on Aug. 17, 18 and 19 -- the state's annual tax holiday.

As in previous years, the law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 from sales and use taxes, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend, according to the office of the state comptroller.

Ed Sterling covers the state capital for the Texas Press Association and its members, including the Glen Rose Reporter.