AUSTIN - Gov. Rick Perry on April 3 issued a disaster declaration for the North Texas counties of Dallas, Tarrant and Kaufman after system of tornados passed through, causing widespread damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

According to an early count by the American Red Cross about 650 structures were affected, with 200 destroyed and more than 100 sustaining major damage. The scope of the damage is still being estimated.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott posted a reminder that state law prohibits price gouging in the wake the disaster declaration. Vendors are prohibited from charging exorbitant prices for necessities such as groceries, clothing, medical supplies, lodging, repair work and fuel during and after the crisis, Abbott said.

Court rules in open beaches case

On a vote of 5-3, the Texas Supreme Court on April 4 reaffirmed its ruling in favor of a Galveston landowner seeking to prevent public access to her beach properties.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said the ruling "gives a pretty big club to anyone who wants to challenge the Texas Open Beaches Act anywhere along the coast."

In an April 4 news release, Patterson's office said the plaintiff, California resident Carole Severance, claimed that public access to the beach where her properties are located violated her constitutional rights.

Patterson, whose agency was a defendant in the case, said, "In 2010, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case that called into question the public beach easement, a key provision of the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The court ruled that despite centuries of public use, a public beach easement does not exist on West Galveston Island because the original Republic of Texas land patent from 1840 failed to reserve the public's right to use the beach."

Survey on health reform law

A survey of members of the Texas Association of Business shows business owners are "concerned about federal health care legislation," Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said April 3.

Combs released results of the survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which she said shows "nearly two-thirds of business owners responding to our survey said federal health care reform would be bad for business, while only about 3.5 percent said it would be good for business."

"I am very concerned the burden that businesses feel will in turn stifle our economic growth," Combs added.

More than 900 owners of large and small businesses responded to the survey titled "Texas Business Attitudes Toward Federal Health Care Reform." Results can be found at

Program to help Texans vote

Secretary of State Hope Andrade on April 4 rolled out "Make Your Mark on Texas," a program answering questions about voting and the voting process for Texans in the 2012 election cycle.

"I urge Texans to visit to find out if they're registered to vote, and if not, find out how to register." The site will also be regularly updated with new information, the state's chief elections officer said.

The last day to register to vote is April 30 for the 2012 Primary Election on May 29.

Cities among fastest-growing

Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Wash., and Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas, were the nation's two fastest-growing metro areas between 2010 and 2011, with population increases of 4.3 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, was 4th with 3.0 percent.

The figures are among data collected by the U.S. Census and compiled in a report released April 5 naming the 50 fastest-growing metro areas in the nation. Counted among the 50 fastest growing with populations of at least 1 million in 2011 were Austin, 2nd; San Antonio, 16th; Dallas-Fort Worth, 17th; and Houston, 18th.

Numerically, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston added more people between 2010 and 2011 than any other metro area (155,000 and 140,000, respectively). "These two metro areas were the biggest numeric gainers during the 2000 to 2010 period (with Houston gaining more than Dallas-Fort Worth over the decade)," the report stated. Also, third among the 10 Fastest Growing Micro Areas from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011, was Andrews, Texas, with an increase of 4.5 percent.

Gang suspects arrested

The Texas Department of Public Safety on April 4 announced it and other agencies had arrested 11 alleged Texas Mexican Mafia gang members in the San Antonio and Pleasanton areas that morning in connection with federal search warrants and state arrest warrants related to a South Padre Island assault.

Executed warrants reportedly resulted in the seizure of narcotics, U.S. currency, weapons, cell phones, laptop computers, gang paraphernalia, documents, recovery of a stolen motorcycle and the arrests.

Ed Sterling covers the state capital for the Texas Press Association.