Andy Uhler

Freelance reporter

Ways to Connect

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today over part of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a case that could have an impact on hundreds of thousands of Texans who bought insurance on the federal marketplace.

It comes on the heels of the Obama Administration’s announcement last month that some people who bought insurance through the online marketplace were given tax forms with incorrect information about their coverage in 2014.

Still, some Central Texans are still trying to cut through the confusion, even as the health law’s future hangs in the balance.

Mengwen Cao/KUT

Updated throughout with Final Totals.

Republicans swept statewide offices on Election Day, with Attorney General Greg Abbott assuming the Governorship over Fort Worth State Sen. Wendy Davis. The final total was 59.28 percent for Abbott and 38.88 percent for Davis.

The Governor's Office was up for grabs after Gov. Rick Perry decided not to seek re-election last July. Lieutenant Governor was also for the taking this year; Houston State Senator Dan Patrick defeated Democratic State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte by a healthy margin – 58.16 percent to 38.68 percent. 

Denton Passes Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing

In the final tally, 58.64 percent of voters in the north Texas town approved a measure to make it the first municipality in Texas to ban fracking within city limits. However, experts suggest the ban won't be that simple. Up next: litigation.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Lawyers for seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong argued for more than two hours in federal court in Austin Friday afternoon. But in lieu of a decision, Judge Sam Sparks gave both sides a week to submit final claims in the case.

The case should boil down to jurisdiction. Armstrong’s lawyers asked District Judge Sam Sparks for an injunction against the US Anti-Doping Agency, or USADA. The USADA claims that Armstrong was a part of a doping conspiracy that led to Tour de France victories between 1999 and 2005. They want to ban Armstrong from competition for life and take away his titles.

Armstrong has consistently denied doping. His lawyers claim that the International Cycling Union, or UCI, holds jurisdiction in this case. If any body is to charge Armstrong with doping, his attorneys argue, it would have to be the UCI.

City of Austin

The Austin City Council is expected to take action on new regulations for short term rental properties this Thursday.

The decision comes after some confusion about whether the council would postpone action until August 23. As KUT News previously reported, the city inadvertently muddied the waters last week by posting a memo stating the council’s initial vote on the matter would be disregarded as notice of the meeting was not publicly posted. But later that day, city staff realized the action was publicly posted, and its previous statement was in error.

Council Member Kathie Tovo expressed concern over whether the public knows that council will be moving forward on short term rentals this Thursday. But Council Member Mike Martinez doesn’t think it’s an issue.

flickr/jamesjordan

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department says one local person has died from the West Nile virus. It's the first reported case of death from the virus in Central Texas since 2003.

To date, a total of five people in the area have had the virus this year. One has fully recovered from it.

The virus is in the Travis County mosquito population and health officials say everyone should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

Andy Uhler

Right now - every member of the Austin city council runs city-wide. But early this morning, the council voted to put the so-called ten-one plan on the November ballot. That plan would divide Austin into ten geographic districts represented by individual council members, with only the mayor running at-large. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Mike Martinez decided earlier in the day that they would support a ballot measure containing the exact language of a group called Austinites for Geographic Representation. That group says it has gathered 30,000 signatures in favor of its 10-1 plan. Council Member Martinez noted that this is not the first time city council has been tasked with this issue.

"There's a fundamental difference this time," Martinez said. "And that is a movement has occurred and that there are thousands and thousands of signatures. The work has been done. And it should be respected and honored."

Austin Police Department

The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that a grand jury has returned a indictment charging Brandon Daniel with the April shooting death of Austin police officer Jaime Padron at a North Austin Wal-Mart.

Austin Police Department

Regional officials alleged today that Amado Pardo, the owner of Jovita’s Mexican Restaurant in South Austin, led a prison-gang connected heroin ring that moved between $3,400 and $6,250 worth of drugs daily.

Officials from the Austin Police, the FBI, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Office of the Inspector General and other agencies announced 18 arrests and the seizure of over $1.5 million in assets in a press conference this afternoon, “including a well-known restaurant on South First Street, Jovita’s,” said APD Assistant Chief Sean Mannix.  

Patrick Loll, an FBI assistant special agent for Central Texas, said Pardo lead a “heroin distribution network that has operated here for over a decade.”

KUT News

The Central Texas housing market continues to be a strong one, according to numbers released today by the Austin Board of Realtors.

May 2012 was the 12th straight month of sales increases. It’s also the fourth consecutive month of price increases.

“That has to do with our shrinking inventory,” says Board of Realtors chairman Leonard Guerrero, crediting the shrink to “the jobs that have been created in our state and in our local area, Austin, in particular. And the number of people that are coming into the state to fill those positions.”

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Thousands of residents lined Chicon Street this morning to celebrate Juneteenth, when the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves came to be enforced in Texas.

Nathan Robertson was one participant. He’s lived in East Austin all his life. Robertson says it’s important for him to acknowledge the historical importance of the day, and that the parade offers a chance to catch up with old friends.

“We see people we haven’t seen in a while because of work and church and school,” Robertson says. “You know, you get in your routine and don’t see people. But we come out here and we can see people we haven’t seen in a year.”

Photo by Andy Uhler for KUT News

Today, family members of Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron joined Police Chief Art Acevedo in paying tribute to Wal-Mart employees whose quick reaction likely prevented further bloodshed in the incident that claimed Officer Padron’s life.

Chief Acevedo gave certificates of recognition to several Wal-Mart employees before recognizing Archie Jordy and Lincoln Le Mere specifically for stepping in and helping tackle the shooter. 

The two were presented with glass trophies which included Officer Padron's badge number. Since the shooting, Acevedo has called the actions of the two men the silver lining in a tragic event.

KUT News

The Austin Animal Center is running a promotion throughout June, reducing its adoption fees for all animals to $20. Normally, it runs you $75 to adopt a pet through the city. The center is running the promotion in order to get more people adopting. 

Abigail Smith, Austin’s Chief Animal Services Officer, says even the full $75 doesn’t come close to paying for the care of an animal that gets dropped off.

“It’s hundreds of dollars when you consider the stray holding period, the intake vaccines that we do. This year we’re seeing a particularly bad flea season, so everybody is getting flea and tick medicine," says Smith. "There’s a very high incidence of heartworm dogs that come in here, and that’s extremely expensive to treat. So, $75, which is basically our standard fee, doesn’t even cover hardly any of it.”

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

East Austin is getting a new community garden. The Sustainable Food Center of Austin broke ground today on Martin Luther King Boulevard, just west of Airport Boulevard. The community center will be equipped with gardens, a tool shed and a teaching pavilion.

Earl Maxwell is the CEO of the St. David’s Foundation, a non-profit partner in the construction of the garden. "It's about getting people outside, and getting their hands dirty and kids knowing that vegetables don't come from hands, they come from gardens," he says. "And so, we're just so happy to be a part of this."

The Sustainable Food Center says plots in the community garden will be available to the public in the fall.

Paulo Martins for KUT News

Yesterday, the Austin City Council unanimously came out in favor of what is called a moderate plan for increasing Austin Energy electric rates – and against a potential discount to customers outside the city limits.  

The proposal would see an overall increase of seven percent, spaced over five years  – an effort to “spread the pain” of rising rates, as council member Bill Spelman put it.

“At this point it feels like it’s a little bit more an art than a science,” council member Laura Morrison said before council voted to adopt the moderate plan over other proposals. “And since we don’t have any one single, definitive reason to go in another direction. There’s so many different things that we’re trying to juggle.”

Howdy Duty!

May 29, 2012
Photo illustration by Brandi Grissom, Todd Wiseman for the Texas Tribune

Update 11:33 p. m.:

Challenger Jana Duty has unseated incumbent John Bradley, garnering 55% of the vote.

Original Post:

Early voting results are in for Williamson County, where the Republican primary race for District Attorney is arguably the one to watch.

Challenger Jana Duty has 53 percent of the vote compared to incumbent John Bradley’s 47 percent. Less than 700 votes separate the candidates. A little more than 1,500 votes were tallied in early voting.

Duty has made Bradley’s handling of the Michael Morton case a central plank of her campaign.

She told YNN last night: "The policies and procedures have to change because those procedures that was in place 25 years ago in the Michael Morton case, are still in place today,” Duty said. “We have to have an open discovery policy, we have to have fairness."

Photo illustration by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Longtime Central Texas congressman Lloyd Doggett enjoyed a resounding victory over Democratic primary  challenger Sylvia Romo in newly drawn Congressional District 35.

With 33 percent of precincts reporting, Doggett has 68 percent of the vote. Opponent Romo called him earlier in the evening to concede.

Doggett pointed to overwhelming numbers in Travis and Hays County as key to his victory, running in a new district that winds into downtown San Antonio.

Photo by Crystal Chavez for KUT News

Is UT Austin President Bill Powers’ job in jeopardy?

Those rumors started circulating last week, following a post from Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka. Powers had recently and publicly clashed with the UT Board of Regents after a proposed tuition hike at the system’s flagship institution was voted down.

Despite denials from those involved, the rumors continue. But what exactly would it take to oust Powers?  

Image courtesy Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today to stop the scheduled execution of a convicted killer because of his mental health issues.

The state's highest criminal court gave a reprieve to 49-year-old Steven Staley. Staley’s execution was set for Wednesday. He was convicted of the 1989 shooting death of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a botched robbery.

Staley's attorney argued that the prisoner's IQ of 70 likely meant he was mentally impaired and therefore ineligible for execution. 

The Austin Animal Shelter, which opened last November, already has more animals than it can hold. The city says it’s taken in about 140 more pets than this time last year, and is adopting out fewer animals.

But why does the newly built Austin Animal Center have less space than the Town Lake Animal Center, the city’s former shelter?  

City spokeswoman Patricia Fraga says when the Austin Animal Center was designed three years ago, organizers didn’t take into account that Austin would be a “no kill” city. “So, what’s happening now is we’re keeping animals longer,” Fraga says. “We’re not euthanizing animals for space, so we have animals that are living at the shelter longer than they would have previously.”

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Despite facing down six opponents in his Place 5 re-election bid, Bill Spelman did surprisingly well, winning a second consecutive term without a runoff.  

With 217 of 237 precincts in, Spelman collected 58 percent of the vote. His nearest competitor, Dominic Chavez, only garnered 19 percent.

"This kind of validates one of those things I've been thinking about Austin politics for a long time," Spelman told KUT News. "Even though there's no way you can be on the city council without making everybody angry at least some of the time, in the long run the vast majority of people will forgive you because they understand that. And because they understand you can't govern a great city and have everybody agree on everything all of the time. There's too many differences of opinion in a highly political place like Austin."

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

With a steady lead over challenger Laura Pressley, Austin City Council member Mike Martinez just declared victory.

The Place 2 incumbent just finished speaking to supporters minutes ago. KUT News spoke with Martinez shortly before his speech.

"We feel good, Martinez said. "The numbers are still coming in, but you have a ten point lead. We feel like we're on the path to re-election."

Photo by Liang Shi for KUT News

On Monday, mayoral candidate Brigid Shea held a press conference accusing her opponent Lee Leffingwell of violating the city’s campaign finance laws. Leffingwell’s campaign denies the charge. And as of yesterday afternoon, the Shea campaign had not filed a formal complaint with the city’s Ethics Review Commission.

Surprising? Not exactly. Candidates accusing each other of ethics violations is a move many campaigns make as election day approaches.

In last year’s bitterly contested Place 3 Austin City Council run-off, incumbent Randi Shade filed an ethics complaint against challenger Kathie Tovo. And in the 2009 mayoral election, Lee Leffingwell alleged fundraising impropriety on the part of opponent Brewster McCracken.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The 512 area code, which has about 8 million phone numbers on record, will be exhausted by the end of the year. Soon, new phone numbers will come with a 737 area code. 

Terry Hadley is a spokesman for the  Public Utility Commission of Texas, a group that regulates state telecommunications. He says the need for another area code in and around Austin is due to “explosive” growth in cell phone lines.

“That is what is exhausting the available supply,” he says. “In regard to land lines, there’s been a reduction in residential land lines, but it’s been more than offset in the vast increase in cell phone numbers.”

After talks between online retailer Amazon.com and the state over paying sales taxes collapsed last year, the parties have reached an agreement.

The Office of the State Comptroller and Amazon stated today that beginning in July, Amazon – which had a distribution center in Irving, Texas – will begin paying state sales tax.

Amazon also announced it will “create at least 2,500 jobs and make at least $200 million in capital investments” in Texas, over the next four years.

Photo by Andy Uhler for KUT News

Today the Austin City Council is considering a proposal that would create a community task force to draw geographic districts for future council elections. The task force would then make a recommendation to the council on district lines. But, as the proposal is written now, the council would still have final say on the district lines.

One group of doesn’t think that’s a good idea. In a press conference this morning  in City Hall, Austinites for Geographic Representation said the task force should have the ultimate say on the district lines.

They also want more measures in place to make sure the task force is independent and representative of the community.

Texas is asking for federal assistance transitioning to its own women's health care program.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/dennissylvesterhurd

Today, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission delivered a proposal to the Obama administration outlining plans for transitioning the state's Women’s Health Program from a mostly federally funded program to one that runs on state money.

In it, the state has asked that the federal government pay for the program through October. Federal funds were initially supposed to be phased out by April 30.

Thanh Tan is a reporter with KUT’s political reporting partner The Texas Tribune. Expanding on a report the Tribune published today, Tan says the plan outlined today still doesn’t account for where Texas is going to get the money to fund the Women’s Health Program.

Arlington Police Department

Folks in Arlington may have noticed a caped crusader in their midst on Saturday. Seven-year old resident Kye (his last name wasn't released) is battling leukemia and his one big wish was to star in a Batman movie. With the help of the Arlington Police and Fire Departments along with non-profit A Wish with Wings, the young crime fighter’s wish came true.

Photo by KUT News

The City of Austin has teamed up with the Austin Housing Finance Corporation to host a series of financial education seminars. The first installment of the series will be held tomorrow night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the University Hills Branch Library, 4721 Loyola Lane.

“One of the things they’re going to learn about are things like how to choose the proper credit card. And I’ll teach them about things like usury law,” says Janice Kinchion, the Coordinator of Asset Management and Loans for the City of Austin.

“Credit, in and of itself is not that difficult to get. What is difficult is the budgeting of it,” Kinchion adds. “Proportionate understanding of your income and how it can be spread among your expenses and needs is something that people just don’t simply think about.”

KUT News

Update (5:49 p.m.): 24-year-old Brandon Montgomery Daniel has been charged with capital murder after allegedly shooting and killing Senior Police Officer Jaime Padron last night. In a press conference at 5:00p.m. this evening, Police Chief Art Acevedo said Daniel moved to Austin from Fort Collins, Colorado about a year ago.

Acevedo also noted that this was the first time during his tenure as Police Chief that two officers were involved in deadly encounters in the same day. "This is the most trying day of my five years here," said a teary-eyed Acevedo. "There are a lot of tears flowing, there is a lot of hurt."

Acevedo praised the Wal-Mart employees who were able to detain Daniel at the scene after the shooting. "That selfless act is the beginning of the healing process for this department."

Update (12:24 p.m.): Details continue to emerge about Senior Police Officer Jaime Padron, and the shooting last night at an area Wal-Mart that took his life.

In a fundraising email soliciting contributions for Officer Padron’s family, The 100 Club of Central Texas says:

A former Marine, Officer Padron had been with APD for more than three years. Prior to that, he had been a Bergstrom International Airport police officer and before then served 14 years with the San Angelo Police Department in West Texas. He leaves behind two daughters, ages 10 and 6 as well as parents and other family members who live in San Angelo.

At a press conference this morning, APD characterized Padron’s shooter as an Asian adult male. The Network of Asian American Organizations issued the following statement this morning:

As you are aware, early this morning a man believed to be Asian shot and killed Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron at the Walmart on Parmer and IH-35.

On behalf of the Network of Asian American Organizations and the Asian community, we would like to send our condolences, thoughts and prayers to the family, friends and colleagues of Officer Padron. The NAAO fully supports the Austin Police Department and the City of Austin.

Photo courtesy texassports.com

The University of Texas has a new women’s basketball coach. As earlier reports predicted, former North Texas head coach Karen Aston will take over for Gail Goestenkors, who resigned last month.

Aston was flanked by UT Women’s Athletic Director, Chris Plonsky, at a press conference this morning. Plonsky said the decision to hire Aston came down to her familiarity with recruiting in Texas.

"I thought we were very specific to what our target was: experience at our recruiting base, which is the state of Texas. There is a Texas tinge in women's basketball in this country that is undeniable," said Plonsky. "Karen has been in this state a long time and her imprint is here. That has to be a part of someone that is successful in this territory."

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