Week of July 4-10, 2016

Supreme Court strikes down major changes to abortion law
AUSTIN — The U.S. Supreme Court on June 27 struck down parts of the state abortion law that Texas lawmakers revised and passed in 2013.
The law’s provision that physicians providing abortions must have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital and the provision that abortion facilities must meet minimum standards for ambulatory surgical centers are in violation of the Constitution, the court said in a 5-3 ruling.
Justice Stephen Breyer, author of the court’s majority opinion, wrote, “We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.”
Furthermore, wrote Breyer, the admitting-privileges requirement imposes an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose, and evidence provided by the State of Texas did not show how the new law advanced the state’s legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.
In her concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the Texas law inevitably would reduce the number of clinics and doctors allowed to provide abortion services.
“Texas argues that HB 2’s restrictions are constitutional because they protect the health of women who experience complications from abortions. In truth, complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous,” Ginsburg wrote.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissenting opinion, wrote: “This suit is possible only because the Court has allowed abortion clinics and physicians to invoke a putative constitutional right that does not belong to them — a woman’s right to abortion.”
Soon after the high court’s ruling was published, Gov. Greg Abbott said, “The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost. Texas’ goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “It’s exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly elected representatives.”
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, however, said: “For too long, the women of this state have been collateral damage in a political battle. I’m hopeful we can now get to work on policies that truly do protect women’s health, such as improved access to birth control and breast and cervical cancer screenings, as well as medically accurate sex education.”
The caption of the case is Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Hellerstedt, Commissioner, Texas Department of State Health Services, et al.
Collier to head prison system
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice on June 24 announced Bryan Collier, deputy executive director, would succeed the retiring Brad Livingston as the agency’s executive director on Aug. 1.
Collier was appointed by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, a nine-member body appointed by the governor to oversee the agency.
Collier, 51, joined the TDCJ in 1985 as a clerk and went on to hold a variety of positions, including correctional officer, parole officer, unit supervisor, program administrator and parole division director. He has served as deputy executive director since July 2007.
Hegar: Better roads needed
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said poor roads cost Texans money and sometimes their lives.
“Yet,” he added, “transportation infrastructure spending positively affects local and state economies by connecting businesses, customers, goods and services more efficiently, which in turn enhances business expansion and road safety.”
A study by the Office of the Comptroller indicates that $25 million in road spending in urban areas can add as much as $43 billion to the state economy over time.
“In addition to immediate employment in construction and related industries, road projects yield long-term benefits by improving our productivity and economic competitiveness,” Hegar said.
To read more, the next monthly issue of Fiscal Notes, a publication of the comptroller’s office, is available at www.comptroller.texas.gov/fiscalnotes.
More counties added to list
The Governor’s Office on June 29 announced Gov. Abbott’s federal disaster request had been granted for Individual Assistance for the counties of Fayette, Harris, Kleberg, Palo Pinto and Parker. 
This adds to President Obama’s June 11 granting of Abbott's request for Individual Assistance for 12 counties affected by the recent flooding, that included the counties of Austin, Brazoria, Brazos, Fort Bend, Grimes, Hidalgo, Hood, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Travis, Waller and Washington.