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Texas Prison Growth Rate Slows & Midday Roundup

By KERA News & Wire Services

Dallas, TX –

A federal review finds the rate of Texas prison population growth has slowed and fewer new units are needed.

The Justice Department report, released this week, found the number of admissions to Texas prisons increased by 0.4 percent in 2008. The state's average increase had been 3 percent since 2000.

State Rep. Jerry Madden of Plano and state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston in 2007 worked on a "reinvestment movement." More state funds targeted drug, alcohol and mental health programs to treat offenders.

Madden says if the reforms continue, Texas "will not need to build another prison for five years."

Adam Gelb with the Pew Center's public safety performance project says Texas is showing that "if you look at research you can find ways to cut costs and crime at the same time."

Middle school key to prevent Texas dropouts

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says Texas should concentrate on middle school students to help avoid higher dropout rates.

Dewhurst and state Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano on Tuesday appeared at a Dallas school to talk about interim education issues. The next legislative session begins in 2011.

Dewhurst says the Senate Committee on Education, chaired by Shapiro, should also focus on charter schools, how education funds are spent and accountability.

The two were at Dealey International Academy, to observe students in a critical thinking program promoted by the University of Texas at Dallas.

The 2009 Legislature approved $6 million, in stimulus funds, for the UTD project.

Dewhurst says Texas has to make sure that ninth graders "are well prepared and don't feel overmatched."

Texas towns file lawsuit against Open Meetings Act

Four Texas cities and 15 elected officials have filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to declare part of the Texas Open Meetings Act unconstitutional.

The suit, filed Monday in federal court in Pecos, contends that the act violates the First Amendment free speech rights of elected officials by preventing them from speaking in public or private on public issues.

The act prohibits a quorum of members of a governmental body from deliberating in secret. Violations are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

However, the Austin American-Statesman reports the plaintiffs argue that some communication by a quorum of elected officials should be allowed outside of a posted meeting. Those would include e-mail or social media Web sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

Raid at exotic animals complex in Arlington

A raid at an Arlington warehouse complex where exotic animals were kept turned up dead and starved creatures.

Jay Sabatucci with Arlington Animal Services says the raid Tuesday included creatures found in conditions too cold or too warm for them. Sabatucci told WFAA-TV that some animals, including snakes, were starving to death and "imagine a skinny snake."

Representatives of the SPCA and the Humane Society, aided by veterinarians, were helping remove and evaluate the animals Tuesday afternoon.

Arlington-based U.S. Global Exotics, on its Web site, advertises the "world wide delivery of exotic animals." The company did not immediately return a message Tuesday from The Associated Press.