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Shortage Forces Texas To Switch Execution Drug & Midday Roundup

By KERA News & Wire Services

Dallas, TX – Texas is changing one of the drugs it uses to conduct executions in the nation's busiest death penalty state because of a shortage of a drug it's used for nearly two decades.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said Wednesday that they plan to substitute pentobarbital for sodium thiopental in the three-drug cocktail used for lethal injections.

A shortage of sodium thiopental has forced multiple states to scramble to find substitutes. Texas has used the drug since becoming the first state to do lethal injections in 1982. The Texas supply of sodium thiopental expires at the end of this month and an execution is set for early April.

Prison agency spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says the new drug has been used for executions in Oklahoma and has survived court challenges there.

Senate passes criminal lineup bill

The Texas Senate has passed a bill designed to improve the way police conduct personal and photo lineups of criminal suspects in an effort to avoid wrongful convictions.

According to the National Innocence Project, Texas leads the nation in the number of DNA exonerations. Many of those came from cases where an eyewitness picked the wrong person out of a lineup.

The bill by Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston requires police to have written policies for how lineup participants are selected. Studies have found that only about 12 percent of Texas law enforcement agencies have written policies for lineups.

Several former inmates who served decades in prison before their convictions were overturned have testified in support of the bill.

The bill passed 30-0 Wednesday and now goes to the House.

EPA proposes regulating mercury from coal plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced a proposal to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, including rules limiting mercury pollution for the first time.

The proposal is being praised by environmental and medical groups who say it will clean the air and preserve health.

But industry has long opposed such regulations, saying stringent caps harm their ability to remain financially viable.

If the proposals become law they would have the greatest impact in Texas, which is home to more coal-fired power plants than any other state. Texas has at least 17 such plants and another dozen in various stages of permitting.

Republicans have opposed new, more stringent rules recently issued by the EPA.

The agency is under a court order to regulate mercury and other air pollutants.

Texas teen unfit for trial, needs more evaluation

A judge has ruled that an East Texas teen accused of fatally stabbing his teacher is unfit to stand trial and should get additional evaluation.

The review will help determine whether the teen needs to be committed to a mental health institution. He was a juvenile when special education teacher Todd Henry was attacked in a classroom at John Tyler High School in September 2009.

Defense attorney Jim Huggler says the ruling Wednesday in Tyler, by Judge Floyd Getz, means the 17-year-old suspect will be returned to Vernon State Hospital for evaluation by two physicians over the next 90 days.

Huggler says the physicians will determine whether the youth should be committed to a hospital where he would he would receive further evaluations every year.

Texas Historical Commission expected to get funds

Some legislators have rejected calls to eliminate state funding for the Texas Historical Commission.

Gov. Rick Perry has proposed no longer funding the commission as lawmakers face a projected $15 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts of Waxahachie said Tuesday that the commission will be included in the chamber's version of a budget proposal. Pitts didn't provide an amount.

The Austin American-Statesman reports the Texas Historical Commission's budget for the current fiscal year tops $100 million. About 20 percent comes from the general revenue fund. The commission employs about 220 people and operates 20 state historical sites.

Senate leaders have discussed a plan to use money from the state's Preservation Trust Fund to maintain a downsized Texas Historical Commission.

Canoe accident: body found in Dallas-area lake

The body of a West Texas college student has been recovered from a Dallas-area lake following a weekend canoeing accident.

Hardin-Simmons University says the body of 18-year-old Keifer Holman was located Wednesday. A statement from the school in Abilene says Holman apparently drowned in Saturday's accident at Lake Ray Hubbard.

Two other people in the canoe managed to make it to shore after the capsize during high winds and choppy conditions.

Holman played soccer for Hardin-Simmons. He had been a midfielder at Mesquite Poteet High School.