Week of Jan. 18-24, 2016

Paxton files brief supporting religious non-profits
AUSTIN —- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Jan. 11 filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of 20 states supporting the right of religious nonprofits to exercise religious beliefs. 
A news release from Paxton said the brief filed in regards to the case, Zubik v. Burwell, results from a consolidation of several cases before the court. The Texas attorney general’s office previously had filed briefs in two of those cases. Paxton argues that the contraceptive mandate in the U.S. Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as Obamacare, infringes upon the right of religious nonprofits to exercise their sincerely held beliefs. 
“The principles of our nation, not to mention federal law, provides that the government must respect the closely held religious beliefs of its citizens,” Paxton reasoned. “These nonprofits, driven by faith and sincere convictions, serve our communities in important ways, from education to health care to caring for the elderly. It’s paramount that that they continue their contributions to society and Texas will continue to fight any impediments imposed upon these organizations by the Obama Administration.”
Texas was joined in the brief by Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Safety campaign continues
The Texas Department of Transportation’s statewide “Plan While You Can” campaign reminds football fans to make a sober ride part of their game-watching plans for the NFL playoffs. The campaign runs through Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7.
“Crashes caused by drinking and driving are 100 percent preventable,” said Carol Rawson, director of TxDOT’s Traffic Operations Division. “Before you drink, make a game plan to get home safely. It’s a decision that could save a life.” 
During the 2014 football season (Sept. 4, 2014 - Feb. 1, 2015), there were 10,676 alcohol-related traffic crashes in Texas. Those crashes resulted in 492 fatalities, an increase of 7 percent over the previous year.
Central to the campaign is a multicity tour featuring an interactive dodge ball game that uses custom gaming technology to replicate the effects of alcohol on a person’s reflexes. 
Drivers under the influence of alcohol can face up to $17,000 in fines, legal fees, impoundment and other costs. TxDOT recommended that citizens visit SoberRides.org to find alternatives to drinking and driving.
Airdrops target rabies
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Jan. 11 said its Oral Rabies Vaccination Program “again takes flight this week to prevent two strains of rabies from making a comeback in the state and to resume a study of whether the same approach can effectively fight rabies in skunks.”
The program was launched in 1995 in the middle of a massive outbreak of rabies in coyotes and gray foxes in Texas.  Each winter since, the department has dropped doses of rabies vaccine from aircraft over wildlife habitat in the state. When wild animals eat the vaccine packets, coated in tasty fishmeal crumbles, they become immune and can’t spread rabies to livestock, pets or people.
“We’ve been able to eliminate the coyote and gray fox strains of rabies from Texas but need to continue to distribute vaccine along the Rio Grande to prevent wild animals that migrate across the border from reintroducing the disease,” said Dr. Laura Robinson, director of the vaccine program.
“We also continue to evaluate whether the same method can help eliminate rabies in skunks in our test area of east-central Texas,” she continued. “If it does prove effective, it could be used elsewhere.”
The department said the vaccine “has proven safe in more than 60 species of animals and is not a danger to humans, but people should avoid handling the vaccine baits because human contact makes it less likely wild animals will eat them. Dogs, cats and livestock that eat the vaccine baits are not considered vaccinated against rabies.”
Special election is set
Gov. Greg Abbott last week issued a proclamation announcing May 7 as the special election date to fill the House District 139 seat recently vacated by state Rep. Sylvester Turner.
Turner, who was elected mayor of Houston in a December runoff, was sworn into office on Jan. 4. Turner served some 25 years as a member of the Legislature.