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Top Morning Stories 01/17/12

Mayor-Lee-Leffingwell-City-Council-Mtg-08182011-By-Daniel-Reese-23_0.jpg
Photo by Daniel Reese/KUT News
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell shown at a 2011 City Council Meeting. The mayor said Monday that he has problems with a proposed rate hike by Austin Energy.

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.

The new strategy was first introduced a year ago in Tucson, Arizona, the patrol's busiest corridor for illegal crossings. That crossing now reports that only ten percent of those apprehended get "voluntary returns," down from 85 percent three years ago.

The new strategy is expensive and depends heavily on other agencies. In Southern California, the U.S. attorney's office pursues only felonies for egregious cases, due to limited resources, including lack of jail space.

Mayor Opposes Austin Energy Rate Hike

Add one more high profile person to the long list opposing the proposed rate increase put forward by Austin Energy: Mayor Lee Leffingwell. In his first public statement on the issue, Leffingwell wrote he has significant problems with Austin Energy's proposal.

KUT's Wells Dunbar reports that with a $75 million deficit looming this fiscal year, the mayor agrees that Austin Energy needs to reassess their rates but lists five reasons he doesn't support the rate changes as drafted. The next hearing on the proposed rate increase is tentatively scheduled for February 2nd.

Community Meeting about Austin's Wayfinding Initiative

A community meeting about Austin's wayfinding improvement project is scheduled tonight from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Dougherty Arts Center.

The new initiative is part of the Downtown Austin Plan adopted by City Council last month. It will provide navigation and communication tools, such as signs, brochures, kiosks and smartphone applications. The goal is to improve navigation for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists through Austin's downtown core.

The City hired MERJE, a Philadelphia-based consulting firm, to lead a design team that includes several Austin-based companies.