Andrew Weber | KUT

Digital Reporter

Andrew Weber is a digital reporter for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.

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Liang Shi for KUT

UPDATE (4/4/13): Senate Bill 507 by State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) passed the Senate unanimously today.

The bill would limit public private partnerships, or P3’s, in the area around the Capitol grounds.  The bill is closely related to SB 894 by State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).

Last month Watson even likened his bill to a failsafe for Whitmire’s initial bill in a committee hearing last month. 

Jillian Schantz Patrick/KUT News

Travis County Commissioners met today and spent a lengthy amount of time discussing a bill that may not see legislative light of day.

HB 3348 from Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would amend the Texas Constitution to give cities and counties flexibility in setting property tax rates – allowing them to set a tax rate of a specific dollar amount instead of the 20 percent traditionally used for property tax exemptions.  

flickr.com/roofless

The cost of groceries in Texas has gone up as a result of drought conditions in Texas and across the country.

A survey from the Texas Farmers Bureau finds that the price of a uniform basket of goods for an average Texas shopper is $46.40, a five and a half percent rise over last fiscal quarter.

flickr.com/disrupsean

A bill offering incentives to attract manufacturers of guns, ammo and related hardware to Texas will go to the full Senate for a vote.

SB 1467 would offer tax breakers to firearms makers at a time when other states may shy away from sponsoring the industry and the bill’s author, Senator Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, calls laws that limit firearms manufacturing “unwarranted intrusions.”

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

City officials say they're making progress on the Waller Creek Tunnel Project.

Construction crews at Waterloo Park have wrapped up excavating the tunnel and are moving on to building a treatment plant that will help filter floodwaters.

UW Green Futures Lab/Scan Design Foundation/Gehl Architects

The Austin City Council had parking on its mind today. And now Austin is one step closer to eliminating minimum parking requirements for many downtown businesses, and looking at a program could to lessen the number of cars entering downtown. 

Pilot Parking Program

The council heard a briefing on parking program encouraging businesses to reduce car commuting. The program could begin as soon as April, if the council approves a measure next week.

flickr.com/home_of_chaos

Texas lawmakers say criminals are leaving more than fingerprints behind at crime scenes.

Today, representatives discussed a bill that would allow police across the state to take swabs of DNA from arrestees accused of a Class B misdemeanor or above. That genetic information would then be archived in a database and the swab would be destroyed.

Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Austin Independent School District teachers may tell their students they’re special, but numbers never lie. And the numbers say that they’re (just a bit) above average.

Thankfully, that’s not a bad thing.

This interactive map from the office of Comptroller Susan Combs displays the body mass index rates of over 2 million students in public schools across Texas. The measurements are based on statistics from the Fitnessgram, a program which measures the fitness levels of Texas public school students from grades three to 12. And it's also the target of a bill in the state legislature that would end the program.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Another South by Southwest has come and gone – and in its wake comes the inevitable cry from some local natives: “Don’t move here.”

Pulling up the drawbridge on SXSW visitors isn’t anything new: back in 1997, one local band minted t-shirts telling folks they could go back home when the music’s over. But as SXSW Interactive continues its explosive growth – with a 25 percent surge this year and over 30,000 attendees – it attracts a different set of attendees than music-loving spring breakers. And some of those attendees may not be going back.

flickr.com/milestonemanagement

Austin has the highest average rent in the state of Texas. And Austinites trying to afford housing on minimum wage need to work close to three full-time jobs.

That’s according to a new study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The non-profit looked at the average fair market rent for Austin apartments and calculated how many hours minimum wage workers need to work so their rent is affordable – meaning it’s no more than 30 percent of their earnings.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: With South by Southwest Music in full swing, throngs of music fans have descended upon Austin. And that gives marketers more crowds to pitch their products and experiences to.

"The whole experience is more like social media,” says GSD&M’s Matthew Childs. "It’s not to actually sell something. It’s to get people talking about you, to position your brand with the Venturi effect of the community at South By. If you’re inauthentic to the community, you’re going to get called out pretty quickly."

Companies attempting to ingratiate themselves to the SXSW community have been on display all week: everything from the edgy (like HBO’s Game of Thrones pedicabs) to the decidedly less so (brands like Oreo and Cap’n Crunch advertising at SXSW Interactive).

courtesy flickr.com/postmoderngirl/

The eyes of much of the world were on the Vatican this afternoon for the announcement that a new pope had been elected.

Pope Francis of Argentina is the first pope from the Americas. Here in Austin, Bishop Joe Vasquez says that origin suggests someone with a perspective popes of the past have not had.

Ben Philpott, KUT News

Future presidential candidates from Texas may have to foot the bill for their own security on the campaign trail.

Gov. Rick Perry’s unsuccessful run at the White House last year cost taxpayers $3.7 million. And state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said at a House committee meeting today that the cost of non-state-related security is a burden to Texans.

flickr.com/chrissamuel

Tonight is one of a few chances Austinites will have to see a passing comet.

The PAN-STARRS comet, or C/2011 L-4 as it’s known by stargazers, will make its way across the Austin skies around 30 to 40 minutes after sunset tonight – which is at 7:37 p.m, according to the National Weather Service.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Sure – Austin’s weird.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

If you’ve ever attended South by Southwest, then you know: Invitations to private events come fast and furious, and it’s hard to keep on top of them.

That’s where RSVPster comes in. It charges customers 30 to 40 bucks to respond to invitations to unofficial events during the SXSW Interactive and Music conferences. Though it’s the company’s third festival, founder Jennifer Sinski says it’s gotten its fair share of criticism since the service started.

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority

A new expressway between US Highway 183 and Ben White Boulevard could “eliminate” traffic between the two congested roadways.

But it’ll cost you.  

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) hopes to complete the “Bergstrom Expressway” by 2020 – complete with a six-lane toll road, quicker access to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and shared-use paths for walkers and cyclists. But before the transit agency puts work boots on the ground, they want your opinion.

KUT News

Update: Amplify Austin ended its 24-hour fund drive with nearly $2.8 million in donations. 

Original Post (2:48 p.m.): Non-profit funding initiative Amplify Austin doubled its initial goal of raising $1 million in 24 hours – with time to spare.

Donations to more than 300 non-profits in Austin passed the seven-figure mark around 9 a.m., with the amount still climbing as the donation drive rolls on.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The Texas Senate's Nominations committee confirmed Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment of Dr. Kyle Janek as the head of the state’s largest healthcare service provider for low-income and aging Texans – the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Janek spoke to Sen. Jane Nelson about the future of funding and providing Medicaid services for Texans, asserting that the state should take a more streamlined approach to providing and funding healthcare.

KUT News

Nationally recognized city planners descended on Austin today with a bit of advice for the city as it begins to retool its land development code: Don’t screw it up. 

Planning experts from Raleigh, N.C; Madison, WI; Denver, CO; and Dallas briefed members of the Land Development Code Advisory Board in preparation for their first meeting on Tuesday, when they'll begin  to rewrite the code for the first time since 1984. They emphasized that the city needs to get the code right, or prepare for perpetual litigation and complications that come with a sloppy development code.

flickr.com/plutor

Austin firefighters are still battling compost fires at a waste processing plant near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The fire burned at least an acre of Dillo Dirt at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant, which will impact sales to over 70 Austin area vendors.

flickr.com/cbroders

Lawmakers are thinking locally at the Capitol.

Texas House members will hear two bills today that seek to loosen rules on local agriculture by lowering restriction of raw milk sales to consumers and placing a cap on the amount of taxes levied on farmers at local markets.

flickr.com/wallyg

Torchy’s Tacos has been keeping Austinites fed since 2004. Back then, they had little more than a trailer and some taco fixings. Now, Torchy’s has opened locations in both Dallas and Houston, and is literally slinging tacos with its famous Taco Cannon.

But despite statewide success, Torchy's is still keeping secrets.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The Cancer Research and Prevention Institute of Texas, known as CPRIT, is moving forward with its oversight committee’s grant-vetting process.

That’s despite a lockout by the state legislature that’s holding up nearly $182 million in funding to cancer-fighting organizations.

The institute’s interim executive director, Wayne Roberts, said CPRIT will keep moving ahead with reviewing nearly 300 grants, with hope that the state will lift the allocation ban.

KUT News

This summer, Austin will begin drawing its first city council districts.

The long slog towards geographic representation has been an uphill one: a fight to get the measure on the ballot, a hard-fought campaign and, once the measure was approved, fear an all-volunteer committee to draw council districts would fail to attract diverse and representative candidates. But with the help of the city auditor and community groups, the list of applicants has swelled from fewer than a hundred nearly two weeks ago to just under 250 at last count on Feb. 14.

flickr.com/ennuiislife

Update: The council gave preliminary approval to an independent Austin Energy board Thursday night. You can read more here.

Original Post:The Austin City Council has made short work of today’s agenda, passing most items early.

One agenda item is still outstanding, and should create some sparks: a resolution calling for an independent governance board to oversee operations at Austin Energy.

KUT News

The theme of this year's Texas Veterans' Expo was simple: Answering the call.

But meeting that call has been difficult.

The Texas Veterans Commission's job is to connect veterans with benefits. But the TVC's Executive Director Thomas Palladino said disabled veterans in this state have had a hard time getting their requests answered.

flickr.com/rutlo

A new study reveals what most Austin drivers could tell you anyway: Traffic here is bad. But the study says Austin’s traffic has grown worse than any large metropolitan region in the last 20 years.

The yearly Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute says Austin drivers have wasted the most time in traffic since they began collecting data, more than any other city surveyed in the national study.

flickr.com/glasgows

Update: Austin’s Public Safety Commission voted unanimously Monday to send a resolution to local leaders aimed at reducing gun violence.

The resolution encourages the Austin City Council, Travis County Commissioners, the Austin Independent School Board and Austin Community College to stop leasing facilities for gun shows—or to require those shows to conduct background checks.

The commission also wants local law enforcement to hold gun buyback programs and to collect data on guns used in crimes.

City of Austin

Transportation and Public Works officials briefed the Austin City Council today on proposed renovations to Rainey Street, the popular entertainment district plagued with more than its fair share of parking and transportation problems.

Officials said converting Rainey Street to a one-way street could add metered parking spaces, two bike lanes, and increased accessibility for those with disabilities, but also presented another, less drastic, proposal that would keep the street a two-way. 

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