Week of Jan. 30 - Feb. 5, 2017

Abbott tells sheriff to reverse sanctuary policy or lose funding
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott has stepped up the pressure on Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez to participate in immigration enforcement, warning that she could lose state funding if she refuses.
In a Jan. 23 letter, Abbott urged the sheriff to reverse her policy directive “forbidding Travis County Sheriff’s Office employees from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests.” 
Failure to reverse her directive would put in jeopardy millions of dollars in funding from the governor’s office to Travis County, Abbott warned. Abbott mentioned that last year, he conditioned all Criminal Justice Grant funds from his office to counties on their enforcement of federal immigration law. Furthermore, Abbott said, he is committed to signing legislation that bans sanctuary cities throughout the state of Texas.
Sheriff Hernandez posted a news release in reaction to the governor’s letter, saying: “I respect the job of our state leaders, but I will not allow fear and misinformation to be my guiding principles as a leader sworn to protect this community. I am following all state and federal laws, and upholding constitutional rights to due process for all in our criminal justice system. Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation. I trust the court system and our judges to assess the risks and set appropriate bonds and conditions for all who are incarcerated. The voters, who elected state leaders and me, expect and deserve a collaborative effort to come up with solutions to this very complex issue. That is precisely what I’m committed to.”
Court rules against regent
Outgoing University of Texas regent Wallas L. Hall Jr. has lost the latest round in his legal battle to obtain admissions records from the university.
The Court of Appeals for the Third District on Jan. 27 ruled unanimously in favor of the defendant, UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven, in a lawsuit brought by Hall.
Hall sued over McRaven’s refusal to grant Hall complete access to records containing student-admissions information. McRaven had the legal standing to deny Hall’s requests for certain information, the court ruled.
The underlying dispute began in 2013, when Hall raised concerns about potential improprieties in the admissions process of UT Austin and requested information to conduct his own investigation. 
Hall was appointed to the board of regents by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2011. Hall’s term of office ends in February.
Jobless rate stays same
The Texas Workforce Commission on Jan. 20 reported that Texas added an estimated 210,200 seasonally adjusted jobs since December 2015, with the addition of 800 nonfarm jobs in December. 
Furthermore, according to the agency, the state has added jobs in 20 of the past 21 months. Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate maintained a 4.6 percent rate in December, the same rate as in November, according to information posted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Education and Health Services industry recorded the largest private-industry employment gain over the month, with 7,300 jobs added. Leisure and hospitality employment grew by 3,900 jobs in December and manufacturing employment expanded by 1,400 jobs.
Abbott reappoints two
Gov. Abbott on Jan. 25 reappointed Charles Smith as executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, effective Feb. 1, for a term to expire on Feb. 1, 2019.
Smith, first selected for the post by the governor on June 1, 2016, earlier served as deputy for child support in the attorney general’s office.
Abbott also reappointed Donna Bahorich of Houston as chair of the Texas State Board of Education, effective Feb. 1, for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2019.
Bahorich was elected to the board in November 2012. She serves on the board’s Committee on School Initiatives that oversees agenda items related to charter schools, State Board for Educator Certification rules and the appointment of school board members for districts located on military bases.
Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.
Vehicles to be tested in Texas
The U.S. Department of Transportation has picked Texas as one of 10 testing locations for autonomous vehicle technology.
In a Jan. 24 news release, the Texas Department on Transportation suggested the designation establishes Texas as a leader in the research and development of new transportation technologies that could make roads safer and less congested.
TxDOT will be involved in a “Texas Autonomous Vehicle Proving Grounds Partnership” with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Transportation Research, Southwest Research Institute and 32 municipal and regional entities.
“This partnership puts Texas at the forefront of automated vehicle technologies that likely will shape the future of transportation around the world,” said Marc Williams, deputy executive director of TxDOT.