Tyler Pratt

flickr.com/jennecy

Austin is a little more than a month away from its plastic bag ban, and some questions are still up in the air.

The Austin City Council approved the change last year, and the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance stipulates that single-use bags for sacking groceries will soon be phased out – meaning Austinites must make use of reusable grocery bags. And as a precaution, shoppers should make sure their bags see more than the checkout aisle – try the laundry room.

Tyler Pratt, KUT News

Local comedians dressed as chickens took to the streets of downtown Austin Tuesday afternoon. They reenacted the famous Abbey Road album cover, talked to locals and garnered attention for Austin’s secnd Annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Fest.

Jim Ritts, Executive Director of the Austin Theatre Alliance, announced the festival lineup at the Paramount Theater. This year’s headlining stand-up comedians are Dana Carvey, Amy Schumer, Bill Burr, Bill Hader & Jim Gaffigan.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Architects of Air are back in Austin. Sound, color and light are all utilized to the fullest in this immersive experience hosted at the Long Center.

The art installation resembles a giant inflatable castle, occupies half a football field and rises to the height of a 3-story house. This visually overwhelming experience is created by sunlight streaming into the castle, bringing with it all kinds of bright colors and shapes.

American Judicature Society

The Austin Police Department has announced some changes to its suspect lineup procedures.

APD investigators must now present photographs and live lineups sequentially to all adult victims and witnesses. This means investigators are now required to present each photograph or individual one at a time to a witness during a lineup – not all at once.

“We are not interested in wrongfully accusing or convicting somebody that is innocent,” Chief Art Acevedo said today at a press conference announcing the change. “It is not the fabric of this department. We’d rather go with zero arrests than arrest the wrong person.”

Flickr user Princess Stand in the Rain, bit.ly/10ZwQ6h

Two of UT’s biggest rivals - past and present - go head-to-head tonight.

The ninth-ranked Aggies face off against the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl Classic this evening. It’s a battle for conference pride. Oklahoma will try to score a victory for the Big 12 over the SEC.

Caleb Miller for KUT News

Even though it’s Monday, it’s still a “No Refusal” weekend for Austin drivers.

From 9 p.m. through 5 a.m., the Austin Police Department will ask suspected drunk drivers to take a mandatory breath test. And if drivers don't agree, police will ask for a subpoena for DWI suspects' blood.  The Austin Police Department says 23 people were arrested for DWI on Sunday.

In an effort to keep Austin’s roads safe, Capital Metro and APD have partnered to provide free Cap Metro services from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m. Buses will run on a regular schedule tonight, but will be reduced to Sunday level service on New Year’s Day. For more information, visit capmetro.org.

flickr.com/redcti

Update: Despite some rain in the forecast for this evening, the City of Austin’s New Year’s Eve event at Auditorium Shores is a go. At least for now.

The city says as long as the skies stick to rain and drizzle and not high winds and thunderstorms… the live music, activities and fireworks will happen.

“Bring your ponchos, bring your umbrellas, bring a lawn chair. But if it’s a little drizzle-y we will hopefully still have an event and still have some fireworks for everybody to enjoy," City of Austin spokesperson Samantha Park says.

flickr.com/jimnix

If you see, smell or hear fireworks this New Year’s Eve, don’t dial 911. Call 311.

The Austin Fire Department has asked Austin residents to keep the emergency lines free off all firework complaints and to use the city’s 311 service instead.

In light of the ongoing drought, the Fire Department is also reminding citizens that fireworks remain illegal in Austin city limits, and their sale has been banned in Travis County. The fine for possession of fireworks in Austin can be up to $500.

flickr.com/scatx

Update: A decision on whether to allow women in Texas to receive government subsidized health screenings through Planned Parenthood will not be issued until hours before the organization could be cut off by the state.  

Visting judge Gary Harger today delayed a decision until Monday, Dec. 31 at 1:15 p.m. over whether to extend the temporary restraining order requested by Planned Parenthood. The order would ensure continued funding for Planned Parenthood through the Texas Women's Health Program, at least until another hearing on Jan. 11. 

facebook.com/ZacEfron

Another Hollywood heartthrob could be heading to town soon. Zac Efron has joined the cast of "Parkland," a drama revolving around the John F. Kennedy assassination which is set to film in Austin.

The historical drama, which also stars UT alum Marcia Gay Harden, Texas Film Hall of Fame honoree Billy Bob Thornton and character actor Paul Giamatti, recounts events at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on the day in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was murdered. The film is co-produced by Tom Hanks.

Texas Monthly

Here’s one accolade Lance Armstrong might not be so proud of: Texas Monthly’s annual Bum Steer of the Year Award

Austin’s Armstrong made international headlines this year when he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles due of doping allegations. “It’s something we wrestled with, for sure, but I don’t think anybody can really argue [with the fact] that there’s been a spectacular fall from grace for one of our heroes here in Texas,” Monthly editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein tells KUT News.

flickr.com/jdhancock

Last night, Pflugerville ISD voted to approve insurance benefits for domestic partners. This makes Pflugerville the first school district in Texas to offer domestic partner health benefits.

The school board voted 5 to 1 to uphold the district’s October decision. The district now joins the cities of Austin, San Antonio and El Paso, along with Dallas County, in offering domestic partner benefits for its employees. But State Senator Dan Patrick has asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to issue an opinion on whether these policies are valid.

bluesanta.org

The Austin Police Department hosted its Operation Blue Santa breakfast this morning. All proceeds will benefit the department’s Blue Santa initiative, which delivers hot meals and toys to underprivileged families each holiday season.

By all accounts it was a success: Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted this afternoon that the event raised over $190,000. And Blue Santa can use all the help it can get.

Jessie Wang for KUT News

Austin City Council begrudgingly parted with $15.5 million Thursday to help complete construction of Water Treatment Plant No. 4  in northwest Austin.

The controversial plant was designed to provide the city’s growing population with more drinking water. But it’s been controversial since its proposal as environmental groups opposed its construction. Now many of those activists are saying I told you so.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

The Austin City Council dusts off the cobwebs for its first full meeting in nearly a month. And it’s let quite a backlog pile up: today’s 120 item agenda is stuffed with items sure to inspire discussion. Here’s a look:

  • The main event: a $1.5 million economic incentives deal with credit card giant Visa.

The company plans to expand its operations in Austin and promises almost 800 new jobs. The city is offering $1.5 million in tax incentives; the state is offering some $8 million more.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Austin's Public Safety Commission will stay busy this evening discussing a medley of public safety topics:

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Today, Austin began the first exercises of Urban Shield, a full-scale regional preparedness training.

Over the next forty hours, Central Texas public safety agencies will assess the region's ability to successfully respond to and manage multiple terrorist events and emergencies throughout Travis, Hays and Williamson Counties. It’s a massive event with over a dozen scenarios; earlier this month, the City of Austin was looking for 1,000 volunteer “victims” to take part in the demonstrations.

Trinn Suwannapha, via flickr.com/worldbank

Saturday is World AIDS Day. Here in Austin, the Department of Health and Human Services in holding a day long AIDS conference. This year’s focus is on how HIV is affecting young people in Travis County, among whom HIV infection is increasing.

Worldwide, deaths from AIDS are down since 2005. Rates of HIV infection are also falling. But HIV is on the rise among young people, including those in Travis County.

“In the last four or five years, we’ve seen a very sharp increase in the number of cases of HIV infection in among youth,” said Joe Barnes with Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services. “We define that as between 13 and 24.”

Lizzie Chen for KUT News

Texas lawmakers met today to discuss possible changes to the Public Information Act due to advances in technology. With the confluence of available data and technologies, elected officials may redefine what is public information and what isn't.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has asked the Senate Open Government Committee to take a look at possible revisions to the Public Information Act. Today, that committee heard testimony about how technologies are creating public information and how access to that information can affect government contractors.

As it currently stands, the language of Texas Public Information Act presumes that government information should be available to the public. The Act was instituted in 1993 to ensure that all government information is available to the public with the exception of information that is either confidential or protected.

In actuality, there are plenty of exemptions, it can take a long time to get some information and often there are fees involved.

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update: Company spokesperson Tammy Taylor tells KUT News that “Hostess Brands had 230 employees in Texas. All facilities are shut down, with the exception of retail outlets, which will remain open for about a week to sell remaining product in going out of business sales.”

Taylor says that “severance will not be paid at this time” to the laid-off employees; “funds for these amounts are not in the ‘Wind Down’ budget that Hostess lenders approved.”

Original post (1:25 p.m.): It’s the end of Hostess Brands, the Texas-headquartered maker of Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs.  This morning Hostess said it filed a motion in bankruptcy court to request permission to liquidate its assets.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Austin’s airport certainly looks a lot different from a normal day. There’s additional security, several car service drivers, and a bunch of people in yellow shirts speaking a bunch of different languages.

But it’s not the insane crush many expected for Formula 1.

Despite the anticipated arrival of 18,000 visitors today, “things seem to be running fairly smoothly,” says Jim Halbrook with Austin Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA). “We’ve got customer service representatives throughout the terminal helping people find their way, helping people find their ground transportation." 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Ready or not, Formula 1 has arrived.

As Austin readies for an onslaught of some 100,000 visitors, we’ve heard lots about traffic planshelicopter permits, and even counter-terrorism measures.  But what about the actual race: the cars, the drivers and the sport itself? Confused? KUT News has assembled a primer on this weekend’s Formula 1 race.

  • What Sort of Cars Are These?

The FIA Formula One World Championship is the highest class of single-seater auto racing that is authorized by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.

The "formula" in Formula 1 refers to a set of guidelines that each racing car must adhere to. The results are state-of-the-art.

courtesy SH 130 Concession Co.

It's been almost three weeks since the new stretch of State Highway 130 opened on Oct. 24. Now the temporary freeway is officially a tollway. And that's how it's going to stay, for the next 50 years or so.

The new segments of SH-130, which run just south of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Seguin, were free to motorists until Nov. 11. Now the the toll rate has been set at $0.15 per mile for passenger vehicles with TxTag service. Vehicles without a TxTag can also use the tollway, and will be billed through a pay-by-mail service.

"With this new road, motorists can travel 90 miles of toll road and bypass I-35 congestion between Seguin and Georgetown for about $12," the Texas Department of Transportation says in a press release.

KUT News

Sunday, Nov. 11 is Veterans Day. On Monday, city, state and federal government offices will be closed in observance of the holiday.

There are several events planned over the two days to celebrate the service of U.S. military veterans. 

On Sunday, Austin and Travis County will host a Veterans Day Parade downtown. The parade will kick off at 9 a.m. on the South Congress Bridge and head to the Texas Capitol.  At 11 a.m., the Commemorative Air Force of San Marcos will hold a memorial and flyover at the south steps of the Capitol. (You can find information about street closures here.)

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

The East Austin Studio Tour (EAST) returns this weekend.  So grab a bicycle, some friends and (maybe) some cash, then head over to the east side to see work showcased by hundreds of Austin artists.

The tour runs Nov. 8-18, but is free and open to the public this weekend (Nov. 10-11) and next (Nov. 17-18), from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Since the tour will be taking place over the crowded Formula 1 weekend, it is possible the EAST tour may be a great recreation alternative for locals looking to avoid to the congestion and traffic the festival will bring in downtown.

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

The City of Austin says it’s prepared to handle any and all public safety issues that may arise during the upcoming F1 weekend 10 days from now.

“I’m smiling because I’m ready,” said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. “We’ll absolutely have a tremendously positive impact in terms of public safety and in terms of the enjoyment of our residents and our visitors.”

flickr.com/athrasher

Update 2 (Nov. 5): Early voting is over in Austin, but on Election Day (Nov. 6) Austin voters can cast ballots at any polling place in Travis County.

Update (Nov. 2): Today is the last day to cast a ballot during early voting. Most early voting locations are open until 7 p.m. but the "Mega Voting Site" at Highland Mall will be open until 9 p.m.

So far, more than 202,000 Travis County voters have cast a ballot—that’s about 32 percent of registered voters.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Capital Metro is offering free rides on all buses and the MetroRail throughout the day on Election Day to help people get to the polls.

On Election Day, Travis County voters do not have to cast a ballot at their precinct but can vote at any polling location in the county.

facebook.com/funfunfunfest

Austin's has another big event this weekend. The seventh annual Fun Fun Fun Fest is taking place all weekend long at Auditorium Shores. The eclectic three-day festival promises underground music from all genres, along with comedy, extreme sports, food, fashion, and art.

Stay tuned to KUT News for updates from the festival, and maybe even a Ryan Gosling sighting or two. Until then, here's a preview of some of the events taking place at Fun Fun Fun Fest, along with fest-related aftershows. 

Friday

Night: For the hip-hop lovers, rap legends Run DMC and Bun B will take the stage. Hipsters will rejoice to the sounds of Santigold and Twin Sister. If that's not enough, a series of skateboard and BMX sessions are kicking off, and will run all weekend.  Each day of the festival also promises two hours of Anarchy Championship Wrestling.

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update (Nov. 2, 7:30 a.m.): Austin City Council members voted 5 to 2 Thursday to grant a total of 30 new taxi permits to two of the city’s cab companies.

Members of the Taxis Drivers Association of Austin had argued that there are too many cabs on the road and that they’ve seen a decline in income.

But the two cab companies say the new permits are necessary to help level the playing field between them and their larger competitor.

"[We are in favor of the vote] In order to improve our company's service to not only our passengers, but to our drivers. We've been waiting since December of last year to find out if were receiving 10 additional permits," Bertha Means of Austin Cab said.

flickr.com/agrilifetoday

Update: Oct. 31, 5:36 a.m.: The Central Texas toll road with the nation's highest speed limit will get signs warning drivers about wildlife. The move comes after at least three incidents of vehicles hitting animals in the first few days of the new 85 mph zone.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, the private company that runs the 41-mile portion of State Highway 130 says temporary electronic message boards will be used until permanent signs can be installed.

Original Story: Oct. 26, 1:57 p.m.: A new section of State Highway 130 opened Wednesday. It runs from Mustang Ridge to Seguin and allows drivers to go 85 mph. But the same night the highway opened, there were a handful of crashes involving local wildlife.

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