Week of May 23-29, 2016

3 states seek clarity on federal transgender guidelines
AUSTIN — Attorneys General Ken Paxton of Texas, Patrick Morrissey of West Virginia and Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma are seeking clarification of the federal government’s guidelines regarding bathroom access and other issues involving transgender students.
On May 13, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education sent a nine-page letter to schools nationwide establishing guidelines for bathroom accessibility and other issues related to the treatment of transgender students, including:
- A safe and nondiscriminatory environment;
- Identification documents, names and pronouns;
- Sex-segregated activities and facilities; and
- Privacy and education records.
A condition for receiving federal funds, according to the letter, is that a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 or its implementing regulations.
The three state attorneys general responded by saying the federal agencies’ “Dear Colleague” letter raises more questions than it answers. Their joint letter also requests that the Obama Administration “be extremely clear about what is and isn’t allowed” and respond by May 24.
Sales tax holiday is set
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on May 16 announced certain water-conserving, energy-efficient products that carry the “Energy Star” label may be purchased tax-free Saturday, May 28, through Monday, May 30.
According to Hegar, shoppers will save an estimated $8.7 million in state and local sales tax during the Memorial Day Weekend sales tax holidays.
“Anyone who has lived through a Texas summer knows that this is the time of year when our state is hit by peak demands for both water and electricity,” Hegar said. 
A complete list of items that qualify for the state sales tax break is available online at cpa.state.tx.us.
Employers expand payrolls
The Texas Workforce Commission on May 20 reported that Texas employers expanded their payrolls in April with the addition of 8,300 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs. 
However, Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 4.4 percent in April, up one-tenth of a point from 4.3 percent in March. The national average unemployment rate was 5.0 percent for April.
Ruth R. Hughs, TWC commissioner representing employers, said, “Over the month, private employers added more than 8,000 jobs, strengthening the Texas labor market. The fact that our state has added jobs for 12 of the last 13 months is a credit to the diversity and resilience of employers in Texas.”
Business startups increase
Texas Secretary Carlos H. Cascos on May 10 announced his agency saw a 7 percent increase in new business filings in April compared to the previous year.
A total of 14,871 certificates of formation were filed with the Texas Secretary of State in April, creating new for-profit corporations, professional corporations, professional associations, limited liability companies and limited partnerships. This represents a 7.1 percent increase over April 2015, which saw the formation of 13,874 new for-profit formations. These numbers exclude non-profit entities.
“The growth of new businesses reflects a willingness for Texans to work hard and continue growing the Texas economy,” Cascos said.
Publications promote travel
The Texas Department of Transportation on May 19 posted information steering vacationers to its annually published Texas State Travel Guide, the quarterly Texas Highways Events Calendar and Texas Official Travel Map.
“Whether you have a particular destination in mind or are just planning to explore Texas, these publications will help you every mile of your trip,” said Joan Henderson, TxDOT’s Travel Information Division director. “Texas is big and so is the list of things to do and places to see offered in these publications. Plus, the travel information is free.”
These publications may be picked up at any of the 12 Texas Travel Information Centers across the state. They also may be ordered online or by calling (800) 452­-9292.
Prairie chicken appeal dropped
The U.S. Justice Department on May 11 dropped its appeal to have the lesser prairie chicken listed as a threatened species under federal protection via the Endangered Species Act, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced May 13.
Miller said that previously, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to take into account a multi-state voluntary conservation plan prior to listing the species as threatened, and after the ruling, the lesser prairie chicken lost its designation as a threatened species.
“I’m pleased to see the U.S. Justice Department has dropped its latest attempt to impede our rights,” Miller said.