Ryland Barton

Freelance producer for KUT News

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Texas classrooms could be hit hard by federal sequestration cuts – automatic, across-the-board cuts to federal programs that will go into effect on March 1 if Congress doesn’t pass a deficit reduction bill.

In Texas, the largest cuts would happen to public education, with $517 million dollars automatically cut according to the Texas Education Agency.

fragility_v2/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/fragility_v2/

The Texas Department of Transportation has received approval to use explosives to demolish the 80-year-old U.S. 281 bridge over Lake Marble Falls in March. Workers have already begun to take down streetlights, guardrails and parts of the bridge structure.

Kelli Reyna with TxDOT says that using explosives will speed up the process.

courtesy Heyride

SideCar, a San Francisco company that uses smartphones to connect car owners with people who need a ride, has acquired HeyRide, an Austin company that tried to do the same thing.

HeyRide received a cease and desist order in November from the city of Austin. The city said the startup operated like a cab service but didn’t take the same safety and regulatory precautions.

Owen Parry / Texas Tribune

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill that would authorize same-sex marriage in Texas. The bill would also recognize civil unions made in other states.

An October 2012 UT /Texas Tribune poll found 69 percent of Texans support some form of recognition for same-sex relationships.

courtesy flickr.com/danielctw

Toyota has settled with Texas and 29 other states that investigated the car company for dangerous defects that came to light in 2009.

The states investigated whether Toyota adequately disclosed that voluntary recalls included popular models like the Camry, Tundra and Prius.

Toyota is now required to enhance safety procedures, pay back customers, and pay $217,000 in attorneys’ fees for the state of Texas.

KUT News

Calls to the area’s health and human services hotline asking for information about food pantries were up 55 percent over the past year, according to a report released this week by United Way for Greater Austin.

The nonprofit group says the jump represents calls from people who can’t provide food for their families that day or within the week.

Photo by Daniel Reese/KUT News

Despite recent rains, Texas state parks continue to feel the effects of the ongoing drought. That’s according to Texas Parks and Wildlife’s executive director Carter Smith, who spoke today at the House Natural Resources Committee Meeting at the State Capitol. 

flickr.com/dellphotos

Round Rock-based Dell is defending its decision to go private, despite growing concerns from some major shareholders.

Dell issued a statement today reasserting that taking the computer maker private is the best move for the company. "In the course of its deliberations, the Special Committee of Dell’s Board considered an array of strategic alternatives," the statement reads. "The Board concluded that the proposed all-cash transaction is in the best interests of stockholders."

Texas Tribune

The Moody’s credit rating agency says last week’s Texas school finance ruling could have a negative effect on the state’s credit rating.  Last week, a state district court ruled that the present school finance system is unconstitutional, in part because it inadequately funds public schools.

Moody’s is not downgrading Texas’ coveted triple-A credit rating, but the report suggests that could all change if the state is forced to tap its reserves to overhaul the school finance system.

Liang Shi, KUT News

The 2013 Texas Legislature is running behind last session when it comes to bill filings, according to legislative reporting service Telicon.

The firm reports 476 fewer bills have been filed this legislative session, compared to this time in the 2011 session. The 27 percent drop is partially to blame on 2011 being a big year for ideological legislative filings, said UT government professor Jim Henson.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The Travis County Fire Marshal is cracking down on buildings that violate the fire code. Last week the Fire Marshal’s office issued twelve violation notices for six buildings in North Austin. Each structure had been built without a permit and occupied prior to approval.

Flickr user Noah Jacquemin, bit.ly/127bpAP

Yesterday’s bipartisan Senate proposal to overhaul the immigration system has drawn praise and criticism from both sides of the aisle. In Texas, one question remains: is immigration good or bad for business? 

The proposal from eight U.S. Senators calls for increased border security and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.

Texas Tribune

Update (Jan. 28, 11 a.m.): The Associated Press is reporting that prosecutors have dropped assault charges against a man injured in a shooting last week at Lone Star College.

Another man, 22 year-old Trey Foster, who was not injured in the incident is facing resisting arrest and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Image courtesy yassineenterprises.com

Two of three brothers convicted in Austin of a federal money-laundering conspiracy have been sentenced.

Hussein Ali "Mike" Yassine was sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison, while Hadi Yassine drew a 5 year prison term today. Prosecutors accused the two of using their nine downtown Austin bars to launder more than $200,000 in what they believed to be proceeds from drug trafficking.

Yassine Enterprises used to be Austin's biggest nightclub operator. Their portfolio of bars included Malaia, Treasure Island and Pure.

KUT News

The City of Austin has started a new program to welcome foreigners moving to town.

The Welcome to Austin program provides language resources, offers local advice and teaches newcomers how to navigate the city's local schools, law enforcement and public transportation. Here's a look at the agenda.

KUT News

A small school district in East Texas became the second in the state to allow some staff members to carry concealed handguns. The school board at Union Grove ISD – just outside Longview – voted this week to allow trained staff members access firearms in the event of an armed intruder.

“It is up to the discretion of the local board," said Texas Education Agency spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe. "There’s a provision in the Texas Penal Code that basically says schools are a gun free zone unless the school board adopts a policy that permits it.”

Lizzie Chen for KUT News

Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond testified in the ongoing school finance trial yesterday, saying that Texas businesses can’t find applicants that have the academic and professional skills required. Hammond says that the most educated segment of Texas’ workforce is the soon-to-be retired.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Update: The Travis County Commissioners scheduled to take action today on a controversial proposal to ban gun shows at the Travis County Expo Center and other county-owned facilities. 

Commissioners will take up the topic at 10 a.m.

Original Post (Jan. 7, 6:04 p.m.): There’s a gun show at the Travis County Exposition Center about once a month, but that may come to an end. On Tuesday, Travis County commissioners will consider a measure that would no longer allow gun shows on county land or at county facilities.

flickr.com/luna715

The White House has responded to a petition requesting the right for Texas to secede from the union. It was signed by more than 125,000 people.

The White House said that the Founding Fathers who created the Union “did not provide a right to walk away from it.”

Texas Tribune

In the wake of school shootings -- Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst says he wants government-funded weapons training for teachers.  Dewhurst is asking State Senators to explore such a program and provide recommendations.

"The training involved with the concealed handgun law license is not sufficient in my judgment to have that person trained for an event involving an active shooter," Dewhurst said.

Beth Cortez Neavel for KUT News

After a few months of getting danced on at the Austin City Limits festival and lit up for the Trail of Lights, Zilker Park’s Great Lawn will fully reopen on Friday.

The park had been fully or partially closed for the festivals and maintenance since early October. Officials say there shouldn’t be any chain-link fencing to get in park-goers’ way until the run-up for the two-weekend ACL festival later this year.

University of Texas

Two professors at the University of Texas have won the National Medal of Science, the highest award given to scientists, engineers and inventors by the U.S. government. They are only the fourth and fifth UT faculty members to win the prize since 1962.

Doctor Allen Bard, a professor in the Chemistry Department at UT, received the award for his outstanding achievement in electrochemistry. He developed an electrochemical microscope that analyzes the chemical makeup of very small surfaces.

suddenlinkonyourside.com

Update: Suddenlink says it has come to an agreement with Fox, at least in principle. Here's a statement sent out last night by Suddenlink's director of corporate communications, Gene Regan:

Suddenlink has reached an agreement in principle with News Corp/Fox for the continued carriage of its TV stations and cable networks. The current agreement between the companies has been extended for another week while they work out the details of the new agreement. Specific terms of the new agreement were not disclosed.

Original story: If you subscribe to Suddenlink cable service, you may lose Fox 7 and other Fox cable networks at midnight. Suddenlink’s current agreement with Fox ended at the end of 2011 and the two companies haven’t yet reached a new agreement.

KUT News

The new U.S. Senator for Texas – Republican Ted Cruz – was sworn in today in Washington, D.C.

In a conference call with reporters, Cruz said he’s ready to use the debt ceiling as a negotiating point to reduce government spending, even though President Obama said raising the borrowing limit should not be up for debate.

Map courtesy Texas Legislative Council

The Senate redistricting committee met today to hear public testimony on a new proposed Senate map. The new boundaries will likely change the political makeup of several districts.

Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) argued that the new map breaks apart districts populated by minority voters and violates the Voting Rights Act. Davis said that a black voting block in southeast Fort Worth and Hispanic voters in the northern part of District 10 would be broken apart.

Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News

President Barack Obama arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport a little before 5pm, today. He will be speaking at Austin City Limits Moody Theater and a fundraising event at a private home.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/sarowen

Mike McKinney, the Chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, announced today that he'll step down as of July 1, 2011.

McKinney became A&M System chancellor in November 2006. Since then, system-wide enrollment in has increased from 103,000 students to almost 120,000 students.

“The 25 million taxpayers in the state of Texas certainly have received a significant return on their investment in the A&M System,” said McKinney in a letter to A&M employees.

The Texas House voted 94-29 this afternoon to create a “Choose Life” Texas license plate. An identical bill has already passed the Senate. Revenue generated from the license plate will go to support organizations that provide counseling for mothers considering adoption.

Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), the author of the House version of the bill, says that the license plate’s message isn’t political.

“We’re not limiting anybody’s viewpoint. This choose life license plate is going to go benefit adoptions,” Rep. Phillips told his colleagues on the House floor today.

Photo by BrittneyBush http://www.flickr.com/photos/tzofia/

Armadillos aren't known for being particularly cuddly. But a new study may offer a better reason never to pick up one of the armor-plated critters: they can spread leprosy.

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