State to destroy blood

samples to end suit

AUSTIN - To settle a lawsuit, the Texas Department of State Health Services will destroy more than 5 million blood samples taken from

newborns without the parents' consent and stored for research.

Four parents sued the department, saying that taking and storing the samples was unlawful and violated the privacy rights of the parents and children. The Texas Civil Rights Project sued in U.S. District Court in San Antonio earlier this year.

The state began collecting blood samples from newborns in 2002 and halted the process in May when a new state law banned it. Under the settlement, the state has until April 13 to destroy 5.3 million samples stored at Texas A&M University.

Health department officials began collecting the blood samples for medical research. Although the blood spots did not identify the children, parents were never notified that their newborns' blood would be stored indefinitely. The Legislature this year passed a law requiring parents to consent to their babies' blood being collected and stored.

Texas gains most people

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Texas added more people than any other state in the 12-month period that ended last July 1.

The bureau said Texas gained 478,000 new residents, an increase of 1.97 percent, bringing the state's population to 24.8 million. California had the second highest growth, adding 381,000 residents, and remained the most populous state at 37 million.

Michigan, Maine and Rhode Island were the only states to lose population. The United States grew by 0.86 percent to 307 million people.

The report is the final estimate before the bureau releases its official 2010 census in December. The numbers are used to determine the distribution of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Food stamp audit sought

Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs has asked State Auditor John Keel to audit the state's lagging food stamp application process.

Earlier this month, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid sued to force the state to meet the 30-day requirement for food stamp processing.

Keel said some eligible families have waited for months to receive food stamps. In requesting the audit, Suehs blamed the delays on high staff turnover, staff shortages, natural disasters and increasing applications.

He told Keel that the department's process is "too time consuming and not very productive."

Suehs asked for Keel's help identifying waste and finding ways to improve processing applications. Keel said his office is postponing other audits to make the food stamp issue a priority.

New UT license plates possible University of Texas fans may have a new Bevo-centric license plate available to them soon. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles asked the public for comments on a new plate that features a large Texas Longhorn logo in burnt orange on a white background.

If approved, the new tag will sell for $55 and be available to the public on Jan. 7. That's also the day Texas plays Alabama in the national championship game at the Rose Bowl. The UT athletic department will receive between $5 and $20 for each plate sold.

Death sentences decline

Capital punishment sentences have declined significantly in Texas over the past few years, according to a study by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The newspaper said death sentences are at a 35-year low.

Prosecutors are seeking fewer death sentences and juries are more reluctant to sentence a defendant to death by lethal injection.

Also, since 2005 a sentence of life in prison without parole has been available to juries. Previously, juries had to choose between death and life with a possibility of parole.

Since the change, capital punishment sentences have dropped by 40 percent.

Texas had 13 death sentences in 2008 and nine so far this year, compared to 47 death sentences in 1999.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, the author of the life-without-parole law, said, "It isn't life without parole that has weakened the death penalty. It is a growing lack of belief that our system is fair."

Shapleigh won't run

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, has pulled out of the 2010 governor's race. Shapleigh said in October he would not seek reelection to the state Senate and was considering a run for statewide office.

Shapleigh, 57, said he changed his mind about seeking the Governor's Mansion after Houston Mayor Bill White announced he would seek the Democratic Party nomination for governor.