Archive for December, 2013

Capital Tonight: White House pushes back over Obamacare

The Obama administration is releasing more details about the Affordable Care Act. Out of the more than 4 million people who had their plans canceled because they didn’t meet the new requirements, fewer than half a million failed to find other coverage.

The news comes along with a renewed strategy to push back against another Republican-led repeal effort. In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at how the White House’s new strategy is going over in Texas, plus we continue our series on the Texas shale boom.


It’s the year of the Pope, at least according to Time magazine. At the same time, the supreme court is set to take up the issue of contraceptive coverage. How does the renewed attention on the Catholic church translate to policy in Texas? We spoke to Jeffery Patterson of the Texas Catholic Conference to find out.


An Austin man now owns the one millionth Texas Capitol holiday ornament. The winning online bid raised thousands of dollars for education and preservation projects on the Capitol grounds. We met up with the winner, who talked about why he fought hard to keep the costly trinket in Texas.

Capital Tonight: Clash over UT regent remains unresolved

UT Regent Wallace Hall will have to wait a little longer to learn his fate.

The committee investigating whether Hall should be impeached went forward with another day of testimony Wednesday. Hall himself was scheduled to testify, but declined the day before. Instead, the committee heard from UT President Bill Powers and University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa about Hall, who has been accused of misusing his office in an attempt to oust Powers.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard more from Powers, who told the committee Hall’s actions have hurt morale at the university.


The new issue of Texas Monthly has hit newsstands, and with it, the winners of this year’s “Bum Steer Awards.” The magazine’s editor in chief, Jake Silverstein, joined us to talk about which political figures made the list and why.


All this week, we’ve been reporting on the recent boom in unlocking oil and natural gas resources in Texas. It’s generated nearly 300,000 new jobs, and added at least $4.5 billion dollars to the state’s coffers. But it also comes at a cost.

Capital Tonight’s John Salazar brought us a look at how the corresponding rise in traffic fatalities is more than just a statistic.

TxDOT director Phil Wilson moves to LCRA

After nearly two years as head of the Texas Department of Transportation, Phil Wilson is moving to another position.

The Lower Colorado River Authority’s board of directors voted today to hire Wilson as their new general manager. Wilson will take over for Rebecca Motal, who retired in December after 27 years.

In a statement, LCRA board chairman Tim Timmerman praised Wilson’s management experience and cited some of the agency’s upcoming challenges.

“Our region faces serious challenges as this drought continues. LCRA plays an important role in developing new water supplies as we manage current supplies for more than a million people. LCRA also provides a reliable source of electricity, which is vital to our growing region. We believe Phil Wilson’s knowledge and leadership skills are exactly what we need to work through these challenges.”

Wilson will take over as LCRA’s executive director on Feb. 1.


Capital Tonight: Texas veterans say budget deal comes at their expense

 The U.S. Senate has moved closer to passing a bipartisan budget deal that was approved by the House last week. The agreement replaces $45 billion worth of automatic spending cuts known as the sequester by raising fees and making members of the military contribute more to their pensions.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke to a member of one veterans’ group, who says the cuts shouldn’t be put on the backs of those who have served.


A University of Texas system regent who faces possible impeachment has announced he won’t testify as expected this week. Lawyers for UT Regent Wallace Hall sent a letter to the committee investigating Hall, saying he won’t testify due to confusion about lawmakers’ intentions.


Criminal justice reform has been a big topic for political leaders lately.

Earlier this year, the justice department announced it would stop pursuing mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders. And here in Texas, experts with the Right on Crime initiative have been making their case for less spending on prisons and more treatment for drug addiction.

We spoke to former State Representative Ray Allen, who spearheaded some of the same ideas back in 2003 in an effort to cut costs.

Medicare Releases List of Best and Worst Hospitals For Hip And Knee Surgery

For the first time, Medicare is ranking how well hospitals perform hip and knee replacement surgeries.

The Affordable Care Act lays out financial incentives for doctors and hospitals to provide better care, and the newly released “best and worst” list is part of that larger effort.

Kaiser Health News explains how the list was compiled:

It evaluated how often a hospital’s patients ended up being readmitted within 30 days of discharge. It also looked at how often patients suffered a serious complication after the operation, such as a blood clot, infection, problem with the artificial joint or death.

While Medicare rated most hospitals as average, it identified 95 hospitals with rates that were higher than the national average in one of the two categories, and 97 hospitals with rates that were lower than average. Those outlier hospitals are listed in the sortable table below. A dash (—) indicates the hospital had average performance for that indicator.

Close to a million people get hip or knee replacements each year. Here’s how hospitals in Texas fared:


Baptist St Anthony’s Hospital Amarillo TX Worse
Christus Santa Rosa Hospital San Antonio TX Better
Christus St Michael Health System Texarkana TX Worse
Covenant Medical Center Lubbock TX Better
Doctors Hospital At Renaissance Edinburg TX Better
Grace Medical Center Lubbock TX Better
Houston Orthopedic And Spine Hospital Bellaire TX Worse
Peterson Regional Medical Center Kerrville TX Worse Worse
Plaza Medical Center Of Fort Worth Fort Worth TX Better
Quail Creek Surgical Hospital Amarillo TX Better
Seton Medical Center Austin Austin TX Better
Shannon Medical Center San Angelo TX Worse Worse
St Joseph Regional Health Center Bryan TX Worse
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas Dallas TX Better
Vhs Harlingen Hospital Company Llc Harlingen TX Better Better
Woodland Heights Medical Center Lufkin TX Worse

Click here for the full list.

It seems hospitals, upon close inspection, don’t always live up to their reputations.

Capital Tonight: Can Texas do more to improve voter turnout?

Civil rights activists say state agencies and public schools aren’t doing enough to register voters. The Texas Civil Rights Project released a report Monday saying state elections officials show no interest in raising turnout following the first election under a new voter ID law.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we looked what the group is proposing to get more people to the polls.


There’s no question the Texas economy is driven in large part by the oil and gas industry. A recent report from the state comptroller says taxes from exploration alone will add nearly $4.5 billion to state coffers, on top of nearly 300,000 new jobs since 2009. It’s all thanks to a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Capital Tonight’s John Salazar joined us to introduce the first part of his weeklong series on the process.


He was on the short list for Time’s Person of the Year; now a new poll ranks Ted Cruz third among America’s most influential people. The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to take a closer look at the Cruz effect.

Capital Tonight: Looking back at an erratic week in politics

From questions about who can keep their jobs to a surprise challenger for a high-profile Senate seat, it’s been an erratic week for some public officials.

We sat down with Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune, Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle, and Texas Monthly’s senior executive editor, Brian Sweany, to talk about where things stand now that the dust has settled.


The topic of teaching creationism has come up in the race for lieutenant governor. Republican Sen. Dan Patrick joined us to explain his stance on the issue, along with border security, graduation requirements and more.


Plus, Gardner Selby of PolitiFact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman joined us to fact-check a claim made by the David Dewhurst campaign.

Capital Tonight: Powers stays put after UT regents’ meeting

UT Austin President Bill Powers will stay put.

That was the word from the UT System Board of Regents Thursday, after more than four hours in a closed-door discussion about his employment. University of Texas system Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa cited strained relations between Powers and and some board members, but said it’s in the best interest of the system to keep Powers as president of the flagship university.

In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we heard reaction from President Powers after the board adjourned, and we looked at how the decision relates to the legislature and the governor.


Now that the filing deadline has come and gone, we spoke to Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri and Democratic strategist Harold Cook about their respective parties’ tickets from top to bottom.


The organization that represents our state’s hospitals is trying to make a point during the holidays. They’re reminding Texans that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the supposed uptick in depression-related issues this time of year is a myth. But they stress the challenges facing Texas’ behavioral health care system are very real.

Capital Tonight: Is insurance enrollment in Texas on track?

After three days of testimony, the decision has been made. Visiting judge David Peeples denied a petition to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office Wednesday, allowing her to keep her job.

Meanwhile, more Texans are signing up for health insurance under the troubled federal online exchange. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 14,000 Texans enrolled in October and November. That’s more than any other state except Florida, but it’s still far short of where the Obama Administration expected it to be at this time.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard from Lehmberg after the ruling was announced, and we talked to policy experts about what the latest enrollment numbers mean.


It can be hard for political campaigns to engage voters this time of year, but when you’re running for the state’s top spot like Attorney General Greg Abbott and Senator Wendy Davis,
there are very few breaks. We looked at how the two candidates strategies differ at this point in the campaign.


In Washington, members of Congress are weighing in on a new, bipartisan spending deal announced Tuesday night. The bipartisan budget agreement negotiated by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is getting a cautious — though mostly positive — reception from House Republicans.

Judge rules Lehmberg will keep district attorney job

A judge has denied a petition to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office, meaning she will keep her job.

The ruling came Wednesday afternoon after three days of testimony. Multiple judges and attorneys testified on Lehmberg’s behalf, saying they have never seen her under the influence at work, and that removing her from office would harm the county’s justice system. The prosecution argued that Lehmberg had a drinking problem that prohibited her from performing her duties. They also asked the judge to consider how intoxicated the D.A. was and the way she treated law enforcement officers during her arrest.

The civil suit stemmed from Lehmberg’s drunken driving arrest last spring, after her Lexus was spotted swerving along RR 620 in northwest Austin. A rare Texas statute cites intoxication alone as grounds for removal from office on the county level.

Lehmberg spoke to reporters immediately after the decision and apologized for her behavior.

“I promise you I will work diligently to do the right thing, as I always have done,” Lehmberg said.