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NEW AND UPDATED THIS DIGEST:
— School Choice.
— Texas Spaceport.
— Capitol Almanac.
— Dallas DA-Allegations.
— Whitefish Shooting.
— Fort Bliss-Economic Impact.
— Taliban Terror-Informant.
— Immigrants Release-McCain.
— Scooter Store Woes.
— Illegal Imports.
— AT&T Mobility-Union.
— Driskill Hotel-Hyatt.
AUSTIN — Now that Texas Republicans have made it clear how much they hate the idea of expanding health care for the poor under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, but a key leader has pledged to work on a Texas alternative that will accomplish the same thing, and most importantly, bring in federal matching funds. House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts said Friday that lawmakers from several committees will work together to try to come up with a home-grown solution to providing more people with health care. A Gallup poll released Friday shows that 28.8 percent of Texans lack health insurance. By Chris Tomlinson.
AUSTIN, Texas — The head of the Texas Senate Education Committee on Friday filed a highly anticipated bill offering businesses tax credits for donations that help poor and at-risk children leave public schools for private ones. By Will Weissert.
AUSTIN, Texas — SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk swung by the Texas Capitol on Friday and told lawmakers he could announce this year that the state will be home to his next ballyhooed spaceport — if the price is right. By Paul J. Weber.
PREMONT, Texas — A South Texas school district facing the threat of closure after years of underperformance remains optimistic that state officials will recognize the progress made in a short time and let it continue to operate. Premont Independent School District Superintendent Ernest Singleton says a lengthy conversation with Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams this month left him feeling there's a brighter future for the struggling district. He also saw a visit from three-dozen school board members from around the state Thursday as an opportunity to show off the district's gains. By Christopher Sherman.
In other legislative news:
— CAPITOL ALMANAC — Highlights from around the Texas Capitol.
DALLAS — A judge who declared the Dallas County district attorney in contempt of court for not testifying during a hearing agreed on Friday to let another judge decide how to handle that citation. By Nomaan Merchant.
HELENA, Mont. — A northwestern Montana man shot and killed the host of the Sportsman Channel show "A Rifleman's Journal" in an apparent jealous rage while the TV personality was visiting the shooter's wife, police said Friday. Wayne Bengston, 41, then beat his wife, took his 2-year-old son to a relative's house and drove to his home about 25 miles away in West Glacier, where he killed himself, Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial said. Police identified the shooting victim as Gregory G. Rodriguez, 43, of Sugar Land, Texas. Bengston's wife told police that Rodriguez was in town on business and visiting her at her mother's house in Whitefish when her husband showed up Thursday at about 10:30 p.m. By Matt Volz.
GULF OIL SPILL-SETTLEMENT
NEW ORLEANS — BP is warning investors that the price tag will be "significantly higher" than it initially estimated for its multibillion-dollar settlement with businesses and residents who claim the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cost them money. The London-based oil giant estimated last year that it would spend roughly $7.8 billion to resolve tens of thousands of claims covered by the settlement agreement. But in a regulatory filing this week, BP PLC said businesses' claims have been paid at much higher average amounts than it had anticipated. By Michael Kunzelman.
FORT BLISS-ECONOMIC IMPACT
EL PASO, Texas — West Texas officials said Friday they plan to meet with Pentagon leaders and members of Congress in Washington, D.C., next week in an effort to spare Fort Bliss from the automatic federal budget cuts that officials say would greatly impact the local economy. A study by the University of Texas-El Paso's Institute for Policy and Economic Development shows the base and adjacent medical center have a $5.9 billion economic impact and creates nearly 62,000 jobs with more than $4 billion in compensation to area households. The study was done last month for the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. By Juan Carlos Llorca.
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas unemployment rate for January rose slightly to 6.3 percent. The Texas Workforce Commission on Friday announced the higher jobless rate compares to a seasonally adjusted 6.2 percent in December and 7.2 percent in January 2012. Nationwide unemployment for January was 7.9 percent and slipped to 7.7 percent in February.
PLANTATION, Fla. — The FBI's key informant in a South Florida terrorism case says he spent four years helping agents build evidence against a Muslim cleric convicted earlier this week of helping finance the Taliban. David Mahmood Siddiqui tells The Associated Press he has no doubt of the guilt of Hafiz Khan. Siddiqui wore an FBI wire to record thousands of discussions with Khan about his financial support for the terror group. The FBI used Siddiqui as an informant to help make national security cases in San Antonio, New York City and Florida. But he says the Khan case, which he began to work on in 2008, was by far the biggest. By Legal Affairs Writer Curt Anderson.
PHOENIX — Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Friday that some of the more than 2,000 illegal immigrants recently released by the Homeland Security Department because of budget cuts may have been convicted of serious crimes, citing "local sources." In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, McCain demanded new information on the release of the detainees, who were facing deportation, including the details of their criminal records. He said there's a possibility some of them had committed serious crimes such as smuggling, narcotics trafficking and child molestation. Federal officials maintain those released were non-violent criminals and low-risk offenders. The states where immigrants were released include Arizona, California, Georgia and Texas. By Cristina Silva.
RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas — When the cadets in Rio Grande City High School's Army Junior ROTC program put on their uniforms, mount their horses, and march in line, they help re-create local history. More than a decade ago, school leaders and community members decided to create a stronger link to this city's military past by modeling the high school's JROTC program after the U.S. Army's 12th Cavalry Unit, which was stationed at the city's Fort Ringgold from 1848 through World War II. By Gail Burkhardt of The Monitor.
AP Member Photos.
— SCOOTER STORE WOES — A seller of motorized wheelchairs and mobility scooters whose commercials have become familiar television fixtures has laid off its entire workforce a little more than two weeks after federal agents raided the place.
— ILLEGAL EXPORTS — Federal authorities say two North Texas men have been arrested for illegally exporting about $12 million worth of computers to Iran.
— FAT CAT-ADOPTION — An obese stray cat found wandering six months ago near Dallas has slimmed down to 34 pounds and been adopted by the veterinarian overseeing his care.
— SHOVEL-DEATH — A South Texas man with a history of assaulting his ex-girlfriend must serve 45 years in prison for using a shovel to fatally beat one of her male friends.
— INMATES-TREE PLANTING — Some jail inmates in Houston will help plant thousands of donated trees in a community service project to help reforest a park.
— ANDRADE-WORKFORCE COMMISSION — Former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade has been named to the Texas Workforce Commission.
— TEXAS SINKHOLE — Neighbors in a Southeast Texas community where a sinkhole opened nearly five years ago still keep an eye on the site that's become a tourist attraction.
— JFK ANNIVERSARY-DEALEY PLAZA — Updates to Dealey Plaza are ahead of schedule and construction barriers will soon come down at the Texas site where President John F. Kennedy was shot.
— COLD CASE-FORT WORTH — Authorities say DNA evidence has tied a 48-year-old man to the 1983 cold case killing of a businessman in North Texas.
NEW YORK — Who killed J.R.? That's the mystery propelling "Dallas" through the rest of its second season as a TNT revival. By Frazier Moore.
JC PENNEY-JOB CUTS
NEW YORK — J.C. Penney Co. confirmed Friday it's eliminating an additional 2,200 jobs as the struggling department store chain slashes costs after a year of plunging sales and mounting losses. According to Joey Thomas, a spokesman for the Plano, Texas-based company, those being axed work in back-office administration in stores and district offices. He noted that the cuts translate to an average elimination of two positions per store.
NEW YORK — Whole Foods, based in Austin, Texas, says all products in its North American stores will have labels disclosing if they contain genetically modified ingredients by 2018. The company says it's the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. A spokeswoman for Whole Foods said organic foods will not have to carry the labels since they do not contain GMOs by definition. Although Whole Foods is known as an organic grocer, it also sells a wide array of non-organic products. By Candice Choi.
— AT&T MOBILITY-UNION — AT&T Mobility has reached a tentative agreement with a union representing more than 20,000 employees across the country.
— DRISKILL HOTEL-HYATT — The Driskill Hotel, which has been a downtown Austin fixture since 1886, has been bought by Huatt Hotels Corp.
FBC--TEXAS A&M-PRO DAY
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, who many have projected to be the top overall pick in April's NFL draft, will be among several Aggies working out at A&M's pro day. By Kristie Rieken.
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