AUSTIN - Turnout for the March 4 primary elections likely will reach a record number.

Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson, the state’s chief elections officer, on Feb. 27 projected an overall turnout of 26 percent of the registered voters in Texas. That is 3.3 million voters. The previous record came 20 years ago in the 1988 presidential primaries, with 2.7 million Texas voters casting ballots. To predict turnout, the secretary of state’s office factors in early voting from Texas’ 15 most populous counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, Collin, El Paso, Denton, Hidalgo, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Williamson, Nueces, Galveston and Cameron. About 60 percent of all voters in Texas are registered in those counties.

Candidates push hard for Texas

Texas continued to prove itself a battleground state for presidential candidates in the last few days leading up to the March 4 primaries. Polls pointed toward a close finish in the race between U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Arkansas Gov. Mike huckabee, vying for the Republican presidential nomination, spent time and energy in delegate-rich Texas.

Candidates seesawed back and forth between Texas and Ohio, a state sharing the March 4 date for its primaries.

Senate panel hears ‘Gaps’ update The Senate Education Committee met Feb. 27 to hear from state education officials about the implementation of reforms passed by the Legislature last session.

Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes reported on the “Closing the Gaps” initiative, a program to increase college enrollment and graduation rates for all Texas high school students. Paredes said the state is on track to meet its enrollment goals by 2015, adding 235,000 more college enrollees as of 2007. Also, he said, minority enrollment is up since 2000, with an increase of 49 percent for Hispanics and 38 percent for African-Americans.

College completion rates were also up, said Paredes, increasing by 152,000 degrees in the last seven years. Again, the largest percentages of growth were among minorities, with a 67 percent increase in college graduation for Hispanics, and 44 percent for African Americans.

DPS gives details of cocaine bust

The Texas Department of Public Safety announced Feb. 27 it seized 360 pounds of cocaine after DPS Commercial Vehicle Enforcement troopers stopped a flatbed tractor trailer for a routine inspection. The cocaine, with an estimated street value of $3 million, was discovered in 142 individual packages in a secret compartment in a flatbed trailer.

The stop and seizure occurred Feb. 24 on U.S. 90 about 18 miles west of Brackettville at the Kinney County and Val Verde County line, a DPS spokesperson said.

A Piedras Negras, Mexico, resident was arraigned Feb. 26 in Del Rio on federal drug charges in connection with the seizure. DPS Narcotics investigators are continuing the investigation.

On the job injury report released

The Texas Department of Insurance on Feb. 26 released statistics for on-the-job injuries in 2006.

According to the report, the number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work in private industry in Texas increased by nearly 5 percent compared to 2005. Although 3,230 more of these types of injuries and illnesses were reported in 2006 compared to 2005, the 2006 total is less than the numbers reported in 2004 and 2003, the agency said.

Plenty of flu to go around

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ latest flu report, for the week ending Feb. 23, classifies flu activity in Texas as “widespread.”

The classification applies when there are increases in flu-like illnesses and recent lab-confirmed flu cases in at least half of the state’s regions. DSHS reported widespread” flu activity for the same week last year.

Disaster proclamation renewed

Gov. Rick Perry on Feb. 29 renewed a disaster proclamation,

originally issued Jan. 29, to address the threat of wildfires across the state. He identified 32 additional counties as threatened or impacted by wildfires, making a total of 216 counties at risk. To date, fires have destroyed homes and burned more than 500,000 acres.