Lucia Duncan

Photo by Divya Darsi for KUT News

Pounds of pot, kilos of cocaine and bundles of bills were on display at an Austin police station today.

The department’s organized crime division was showing off what it obtained from three major drug seizures over the past month. APD Assistant Chief Sean Mannix said officers also captured more than six-and-a-half pounds of tar heroin.

"In talking to the other officers and detectives, supervisors in the room, none of us in our memories can remember a seizure of heroin that large in the city of Austin,” said Assistant Chief Mannix. “It’s a tremendous amount of heroin."

Photo by Jessie Wang for KUT News

“How would you turn $1.49 billion worth of potential bond projects into a bond package of up to $400 million?”

That’s the question the City of Austin is asking a bond development workshop, tonight at 6:30 p.m.

The city is considering a bond election this November, and KUT News has reported on the $1.5 billion “wish list” serving as a starting point for talks, a needs assessment from city departments outlining different projects. Now the city is in the process of whittling that number down to something it can present to voters.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Victoria Hospital Bans Overweight Job Applicants

KUT News' reporting partner, The Texas Tribune, reports a hospital in Victoria, Texas, bans job applicants from employment for being too overweight.

The Citizens Medical Center policy, instituted a little more than a year ago, requires potential employees to have a body mass index of less than 35 — which is 210 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-5, and 245 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-10. It states that an employee’s physique “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including an appearance “free from distraction” for hospital patients.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/ kevharb

Sweeping Drug Bust Targets Nightclub Owner, Family

Ten individuals connected to a downtown Austin club circuit were arrested yesterday on drug trafficking, money laundering, and firearms charges. 

Yassine Enterprises, which owns Pure, Spill, Kiss & Fly, Stack Burger Bar, Treasure Island, Hyde, Fuel, Malaia and Roial, is at the center of a coordinated effort between Austin police, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the FBI, IRS, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The investigation dates to 2007, and those taken into custody yesterday include Yassine Enterprises owner and President Hussein Ali "Mike" Yassine, his brothers Hadi Ali Yassine and Mohammed Ali Yassine, their assistant Marisse Marthe Ruales and six others.  Cocaine distribution and over $200,000 in money-laundered cash are two charges in the investigation, and authorities suspect the clubs involved were fronts for these and other illegal activities.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/webhostingreview

A report on racial profiling shows the number of people stopped by the Austin Police Department for traffic violations dropped in 2011.

In 2011, police executed 5,050 vehicle searches on Hispanics, 3,505 searches on whites, and 3,037 searches on African-Americans.

“Austin police officers made 179,882 motor vehicle stops in 2011 compared to 232,848 in 2010,” the report reads:

The primary reason for a motor vehicle stop is a traffic violation such as speeding, an illegal turn, expired registration and other violations of the transportation code.

davis.senate.state.tx.us

The investigation into the firebombing of state Senator Wendy Davis' Fort Worth office on Tuesday has already nabbed a suspect.

At a press conference this morning, broadcast by WFAA in Dallas, Fort Worth police officers said last night they arrested a 40-year old homeless man, Cedric Steele. He faces charges of arson.

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

Caution Urged in Storm’s Aftermath

Storms pummeled the Austin area overnight. Mayor Lee Leffingwell has issued a statement “calling on Central Texans to be cautious and patient after storms moved through our city last night:”

courtesy flickr.com/comedynose

Texas Governor Rick Perry has vowed that the Texas Women’s Health Program will continue – but questions persist as to where the state will find the money to do so without Washington.

Gov. Perry has tasked the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to work with state legislators to come up with the 30 million dollars needed to fund the program, which provides cancer screenings, health examinations and contraception to tens of thousands of low-income Texas women.

The funds are needed to replace federal Medicaid money that has been pulled out of the program due to a new Texas law that bars clinics that provide abortions or are affiliated with clinics that provide abortions from receiving funding. The federal funds have been pulled because Washington argues the law – designed to keep Planned Parenthood from participating in the program – is illegal.

Sherri Greenberg is a Professor at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. She told KUT News it’s not going to be easy to find the money, given the cuts that were made to the health department in the last legislative session.

Photo courtesy Andrew Magill, flickr.com/amagill

Texas Gets a Low Grade in Corruption Protection

Photo by Eddie Seal of The Texas Tribune

Federal Funding for Texas's Women's Health Program to be Phased Out

Texas officials got the letter they expected from the federal government Thursday: federal funding for the state’s Women’s Health Program will be phased out in the near future. The program provides basic health screenings and contraceptive coverage to more than a 100,000 low-income women in Texas.

The dispute stems from a state rule that would exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from providing services under the program. Cindy Mann directs the federal Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services.

Photo by KUT News

Texas Challenges Voting Rights Act

Texas is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that requires the state to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for any change to voting procedures. Yesterday Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed that petition to a three-judge panel in Washington.

Photo courtesy Craig O'Neal, flickr.com/36703550@N00

Springsteen Delivering Keynote at SXSW Music

Need another sign South by Southwest Music is underway? 

Bruce Springsteen will give his SXSW keynote speech tomorrow at the Austin Convention Center, noon.  KUT will stream the talk live, and later than night, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band will perform in Austin via a special ticket drawing.

You can follow KUT’s continuing SXSW coverage on this blog and at kut.org.

Photo by Caleb Miller for KUT News

New Contracts Consolidate State Data

The Texas Department of Information Resources announced it has signed new contracts consolidating the state’s data management and IT operations, dumping an existing contract with IBM.

The largest contract goes to a Dallas-based unit of the Xerox Corporation, known as ACS State and Local Solutions. In a press release on its website, the company says this is the largest project of its kind in the country.

Under an $848 million, eight-year contract, Xerox will help the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) streamline IT operations of state agencies by refreshing technology and combining operations from 28 separate facilities to two centralized data centers. The transformation will reduce the cost of running multiple data centers, and improve security and disaster recovery capabilities.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/atmtx

The Austin campus of tech-giant Apple is set to expand and offer thousands of new jobs, under an incentives package announced by Gov. Rick Perry today.

Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund is offering Apple a package totaling $21 million over ten years to “more than double” the size of its Texas workforce. The agreement would add over 3,600 jobs. The governor's announcement characterizes the new positions as "supporting the company’s growing operations in the Americas with expanded customer support, sales and accounting functions for the region."

In addition to creating the new jobs, Apple will also invest $304 million in improvements to their Northwest Austin campus.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/rahimageworks

Austin was selected to host the 2015 Cyclo-Cross National Championships. A press release on the USA Cycling website says the event will be held at Zilker Park.

The beautiful urban park will offer an exciting venue near the heart of downtown Austin, a thriving city with a strong cycling community recently rated one of the Top 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in America by Bicycling Magazine. 

Watkins photo courtesy twitter.com/scraigwatkins, Feinberg photo courtesy kipp.org, Duncan photo courtesy U.S. Dept. of Education

SXSWedu Starts Today

South by Southwest edu starts today. The conference, in its second year, brings together education professionals and business and policy leaders to discuss innovations in learning. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is one of this year’s keynote speakers.

Austin Homeless Icon Leslie Transferred to Hospice

Local transgendered celebrity, Leslie Cochran, was transferred out of hospital care and into an area hospice provider this weekend says community activist and friend, Debbie Russell. Russell says Leslie remains in critical condition and is receiving comfort care.

Image courtesy wikileaks.org

Today WikiLeaks began releasing "The Global Intelligence Files" – more than five million emails from Austin-based global security think tank Stratfor Global Intelligence.

In a statement on its website, WikiLeaks says the files, which date from July 2004 to late December 2011, contain details of the inner workings of the private intelligence agency, links between government and private intelligence, and commentary on WikiLeaks itself. Wikileaks says it partnered with 25 media organizations and activists in publicizing the files.

WickiLeaks has not disclosed the source of the emails, but the publication follows the hacking of Stratfor's servers last December by individuals aligned with cyber-activists Anonymous.

KUT News

Austin ISD's Preliminary Budget for 2012-2013

At tonight's Austin ISD School Board meeting, administrators will present a 2012-13 preliminary budget that increases spending slightly while assuming the district will lose $8.7 million in federal money and $53.6 million in state funding. The Austin-American Statesman reports:

The preliminary $724 million spending plan increases expenses 2.9 percent over the current budget and holds the property tax rate steady at $1.242 per $100 of valuation. It includes $14.2 million for an across-the-board 3 percent pay raise and $1.1 million to jump start an early childhood center at Linder Elementary School in Southeast Austin, among other goals. To hit those targets, budget officials say the district plans to dip into reserves for $32.5 million.

Austin ISD will present a revised budget on April 16th and a public hearing is scheduled for April 23rd. The board will vote on the budget on June 18th.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/dennis

SXSW Wristbands For Sale this Morning at 10 am

South by Southwest begins wristband sales for its music festival this morning. Purchases can only be made online to people with an Austin area zipcode:

Photo by Huma Munir for KUT News

Storms that blew into Austin early this morning are still affecting the city. The National Weather Service is reporting a 24-hour rainfall total of 5.74 inches at Austin Bergstrom Airport.

Power Outages

Austin Energy had several outages to contend with this morning, including one at South Congress and Annie St. Five-hundred customers were without power at that location. Council member Mike Martinez said on Twitter that the South Congress and Annie St. area “is hardest hit right now.” The outage was caused by tree limbs falling on power lines. But according to Austin Energy's outage map, power to the area has been restored. 

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The Austin Chamber of Commerce announced a new program today aimed at supporting corporate philanthropy. Austin Gives encourages local businesses to give at least one percent of their pre-tax earnings to charities and nonprofits, and recognizes them at a community celebration event.

The chamber held a press conference this morning, along with businesses that have signed on as founding partners.  These include both national corporations with local branches and homegrown outfits.  Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he hopes Austin Gives will change the perception of Austin as a low-giving city.

“We have been ranked recently as a low giving city. And it really doesn’t fit our profile. We’re a caring community. And it’s kind of an enigma to figure out what that is. But I think we’ve got to make the effort to reach out to the public and make them aware of that fact. And make them aware that there is a great need and they can help,” said Leffingwell.

Photo by Daniel Reese/KUT News

D.C. Court  Reviews Redistricting Case

A three-judge panel in Washington will hear arguments today to determine whether to give “preclearance” to election maps originally drawn by the Texas Legislature last year. Texas must get federal approval before altering voting districts, according to the Voting Rights Act. New maps are drawn every decade to reflect the population growth in Texas.

The federal trial in DC comes little more than a week after the Supreme Court heard arguments about which maps Texas should use for the upcoming primary elections. There are two sets of maps at play:  The maps drawn by the Legislature and a set of alternate maps drawn by District Court judges in San Antonio. The Texas primary elections have already been delayed from March 6th to April 3rd. And the April date is by no means set in stone. It’s been suggested that the election date could be pushed back as far as June, because of the legal wrangling.

Border Patrol to Toughen Policy

The AP reports the U.S. Border Patrol is moving to halt a revolving-door policy of sending migrants back to Mexico without any punishment.

The “Consequence Delivery System,” a key part of the Border Patrol’s new national strategy, divides border crossers into seven categories, ranging from first-time offenders to people with criminal records. Punishments vary by region, and children and the medically ill will still be released at the nearest border crossing.

Photo courtesy City of Austin

Public Speaks out on Energy Rate Hikes

More than a hundred people signed up to speak last night at the Austin City Council public hearing on a proposed electricity rate change. This is Austin Energy's first rate increase in 17 years, but some consumer groups say the rate hike is flawed.

Photo Courtesy flickr.com/neilm2

A new group is trying to generate more interest in classical music among Hispanic children. The Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts is launching Austin Soundwaves, with help from U.T. ’s College of Fine Arts and Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies.

The orchestral music program is based on El Sistema, a Venezuelan music program that's been copied around the world. Dr. Juan Sanchez, founder and board chair of the East Austin College Prep charter school, says Austin Soundwaves isn't just designed to help students develop careers in classical music.

Photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

The recession has stripped African-Americans of thirty years of economic gains, according to the president the National Urban League. Marc Morial was in Austin today to speak to a leadership summit hosted by the National Forum for Black Public Administrators.

"It has been difficult for white, Latino, Asian, all people.  But African-Americans have taken the toughest brunt of this,” Morial said.

Photo by KUT News

It's only been a week since the Austin City Limits Music Festival enveloped the Great Lawn of Austin's Zilker Park. In past years, the weeks after ACL Fest have found the city and promoter C3 Productions working to restore the field to its normal verdant state.

This year, things are moving a bit quicker.

The Zilker Metropolitan Park Great Lawn will reopen next Friday, September 30th.  Until the lawn is ready, Austin's Parks and Recreation Department is asking people to avoid using the area, while maintenance crews complete their work.