Texas

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A visitation will be held tomorrow in Katy for Frederick Buttaccio, one of two Texans killed in the recent hostage standoff at a natural gas complex in Algeria.

The University of Texas at Austin has one of the largest petroleum engineering programs in the country, and the hostage crisis is on the minds of some of those students, who may one day find themselves working in unstable parts of the world.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Good morning. Hope you’re sick of winter weather, because the National Weather Service says Austin can expect a high in the upper 70s today – a full ten to fifteen degrees above normal.

Lead Story: Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams is asking lawmakers to wait until after a court ruling before they talk about restoring $5.4 billion that was cut from classrooms two years ago. More than 600 Texas school districts are suing the state, and a ruling isn’t expected until February.

University of Texas at Austin

Texas ranks tenth in the country in Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. That's according to a report issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that issues LEED certification.

The LEED 100-point scale rates the design, construction, and operation of buildings, neighborhoods, and homes to promote sustainable infrastructure. It looks at factors such as sustainability, water and energy efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality, as well as design and innovation to issue one of four different levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

flickr.com/nakrnsm

Good morning! Stat safe on the roads, as dense fog this morning made for many interesting commutes. The National Weather Service says the fog should burn off mid-morning leaving Austin with an afternoon high in the mid-70s.

Lead Story: More reactions to the shooting at a Lone Star College campus in Houston, which left three injured.

Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. But in some states, access to facilities that perform abortions remains limited.

In part, that stems from another Supreme Court ruling from 20 years ago that let states impose regulations that don't cause an "undue burden" on a woman's abortion rights.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

A Texas lawmaker has filed legislation that would require the state to study the effects of cutting financial ties with the federal government.

Rep. James White, R-Hillister, said he filed HB 568 because the state needed to be prepared for the possibility that the federal government could not meet its financial obligations because of "fiscal dysfunction" in Washington, D.C.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Good morning! The National Weather Service says Austin's in for a sunny and mild day, with highs in the mid-60s.

Lead Story: Many Austinites took time to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday.

People gathered at the MLK statue on the UT campus Monday morning to kick off the city’s annual march honoring the civil rights leader. Austinite Stan Johnson says he was inspired to come out when he heard King’s “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time.

National Center for Education Statistics

A new study shows Texas' four-year high school graduation rate rose to 78.9 percent in 2009-2010, putting the Lone Star State above the national average of 78.2 percent.

A federal study released by the National Center of Education Statistics shows that Texas' four-year graduation rate increased from its previous study, from 73.1 percent in the 2006-2007 school year to 78.9 percent in 2009-2010.

Map Data @2013 Google

There's been a lot of confusion in the aftermath of the four-day long hostage crisis at a remote Algerian natural gas production facility. KUT News takes a look at the information and tries to sort out the information relevant to Texas.

The siege ended in a violent standoff Saturday, after security forces stormed the natural gas production facility, leaving a preliminary count of 58 hostages dead. That number is likely to go up as more information becomes available. The New York Times reports “there are a good 20 bodies,” some badly burned, left to be identified.

Details are murky about who survived and who was lost during the siege, but what is known is that out of the reported 685 Algerian and 107 foreign workers at the plant, at least four Texans have been linked to the crisis.

Nathan Bernier / KUT

Good morning. Austin’s warming trend continues today; the National Weather Service says Austin’s due for a high near 60, with slightly warmer temperatures expected this weekend.

Lead story: President Obama’s call for a series of stronger gun control measures has met with immediate opposition from state officials. Governor Rick Perry issued a statement soon after the President’s speech calling for prayer, and stating that “guns require a finger to pull the trigger.” 

ruthmcclendon.org

New attention could be coming to a bill filed by a State Representative out of San Antonio. Democrat Ruth Jones McClendon filed the bill in November but the topic is timely.

McClendon says House Bill 205 would increase the availability of mental health beds provided by the state.

She says, right now, Texas provides one pool of funding for beds for two main categories of people in need of mental health services: those unable to make sound decisions and those detained for mental evaluation after a crime.

Leffingwell photo Jeff Heimsath for KUT News; Armstong photo flickr.com/farber

Good morning! Austin’s in for a chilly but sunnier day today, with highs in the lower 50s according to the National Weather Service.

Lead story: Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell is standing by Lance Armstrong. Oprah Winfrey says Armstrong admitted in an interview that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France. But Mayor Leffingwell says he’s still supports Armstrong. 

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Good morning. Austin’s facing a chilly and drizzly Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service says we'll warm to a high in the low to mid 40s. The rest of the state is not so lucky: the AP reports flights have been suspended at Dallas’ Love Field. (Update: the AP reports Love Field is open again.)

Lead story: The fever pitch around Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey continues to build. Now after anonymous reports surfaced that Armstrong confessed, a reported round of apologies to the Livestrong staff, and a panoply of media trucks descended on Armstrong’s West Austin home, the talk show titan herself confirms it: in an appearance on CBS This Morning today, Winfrey said Armstrong did indeed confess to doping in their three-hour long interview.

flickr.com/glasgows

Good morning, and happy Friday. Austin’s in for a temperature boost today, with warm and breezy weather bringing in a high in the 70s, according to the National Weather Service.

Lead story: As KUT News reported yesterday, the Austin City Council may get involved in efforts to halt gun shows at the Travis County Expo Center. Council member Mike Martinez says a subcommittee will meet next Tuesday to see what it can do at the local level to stop gun violence and illegal trafficking.  While the Expo Center is owned and operated by the county, it sits on city land.

Texas Tribune

Good morning. Wet weather is making some Austin commutes difficult this morning. With heavier storms forecast this afternoon, you can read these wet weather driving tips from AAA Texas.

Lead story: They’re heeeeeere!

The 83rd Texas Legislature convenes at noon today. And aside from doing its part to boost the local economy, via JoS. A. Bank sales and steakhouse receipts, it’ll try to get a little governing done too.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature will have $101.4 billion to haggle over in crafting its next two-year budget, along with an extra $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, Comptroller Susan Combs announced Monday morning. (Listen to her full announcement here.)

Combs’ official biennial revenue estimate sets the limit of the state’s general fund, the portion of the budget that lawmakers have the most control over. The general fund typically makes up nearly half of the state’s total budget.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

There are some 20,000 untested rape kits sitting on evidence shelves in police departments across Texas, the state Department of Public Safety estimates.

Each box with samples of hair, skin and clothing represents one of the worst moments of the victim’s life, a crime that was followed by hours in a doctor’s office submitting the most personal evidence.

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

The political action committee for Waste Control Specialists, which is owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, was fined Wednesday by the Texas Ethics Commission over illegal political contributions. 

The PAC illegally donated nearly $65,000 to 18 state lawmakers — 15 Republicans and 3 Democrats — in 2011, shortly after the organization was formed. At the time, Simmons was the only contributor to the PAC. Texas elections code requires a PAC to have at least 10 donors before it makes a political contribution.

Todd Wiseman / Gage Skidmore / Bob Jagendorf for Texas Tribune

When 11 Travis County voters scribbled in "Mickey Mouse" for president on their ballots in November, the cartoon character didn't get any closer to becoming the first animated leader of the most powerful nation in the world. After all, counties don't count write-in votes for uncertified candidates.

In every presidential election, hundreds of names are written in by voters who choose not to vote for a major candidate. Among those names is a trove of living and deceased politicians, fictional characters and popular personalities. That trend continued in Texas in 2012.

Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas is a bright young Hispanic star who will be sworn in this week in Washington. The Republican Party nationally hopes Cruz will be part of the solution to its growing problem luring Hispanic voters.

Almost nobody had heard of Cruz when he began his campaign for the U.S. Senate. But when he stepped in front of a microphone, he could light up a room in a way that made the other Republican candidates seem lifeless.

clockwise from top left: Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune; Jeff Heimsath for KUT News; Lance Armstrong, via Twitter; Valerie Romness

What is it about a story that captures people’s imaginations?

For the last two weeks, KUT News has been looking back at the year’s top stories. It’s an admittedly imprecise measure: some stories begin with a single person, while others concern sweeping environmental, political, health and development decisions. But stories that resonate – whether tragedy, politics, or even entertainment-related – invariably resonate beyond their initial radius, to touch the lives of countless others.

Here’s KUT News’ Top 10 stories for 2012, in a rough chronological order:

Tragedy can strike at any time. Austin’s music community was painfully reminded of that lesson when a mainstay of the local music scene, Esme Barrera, was murdered at her home in the West Campus during the first hours of the New Year.

Nearly a whole year later, the District Attorney's officesays sufficient cause exists to arrest her alleged murderer, if he hadn't killed himself soon after Barrera's murder. APD is now declaring the case closed. 

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Among the somber anniversaries of 2012: the one-year anniversary of the Central Texas wildfires.

Thousands of people were forced out of their homes on Labor Day weekend of 2011 by the massive wildfires and clouds of black smoke. Altogether, the wildfires claimed two lives, more than 1,600 homes, many pets and livestock, and thousands of acres of land and forests.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The number of state employees let go this year was down dramatically compared to 2011, according to a report from the State Auditor's Office. But that’s mainly because so many people lost their jobs last year, after lawmakers slashed the two-year state budget by $14 billion. 

Those cuts led to a round of government layoffs: 1,225 people lost their jobs last year as the result of a "reduction in force," the bureaucratic term used to label job cuts caused by budget reductions. This year, that number was 96. A lot of people were fired for other reasons, but the number of state employees "involuntarily" laid off still dropped by more than 15 percent compared to last year.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

When state lawmakers pushed to remove Planned Parenthood from Texas’ Women’s Health Program as part of an anti-abortion agenda, some questioned whether the state could absorb the cost of the change.

We still don’t know, because at year’s end, the legal battle over whether Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood – currently the largest provider in the program– is still being fought.

A growing number of lawmakers are indicating they are open to considering new gun control measures in the wake of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn. But while much of the national debate has focused on limiting access to guns, others are suggesting that schools should arm themselves to defend against attacks.

David Thweatt, school superintendent for the small Texas town of Harrold, northwest of Fort Worth, decided in 2006 that it was time to arm his staff. There's only one school in Harrold, a K-12 with 103 students.

Good morning. The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for unseasonably warm weather today ahead of a cold front in time for the holidays. Here’s some stories from KUT News, StateImpact Texas and the Texas Tribune: 

“In Texas, five bills relating to firearms had already been filed ahead of the session before Friday. A couple were related to the state’s permit to carry concealed handguns; one would reduce the hours of instruction needed to acquire a permit.

So far only one bill, by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingland, attempts to expand where a person can carry a gun in Texas. It would allow people with concealed-carry permits or officials, including school board members and superintendents, to bring guns to school board meetings.”

“The attorney general’s office says hundreds of seniors in east Texas were scammed by a company called Syam Tax Services.

Spokesman Jerry Strickland said the company sought out elderly Texans at churches and senior residences, told them they may be eligible for cash benefits, and fraudulently filed tax returns claiming refunds in their name, which the IRS demanded its victims repay.”

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

In 2008, when the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas embarked on its mission to cure cancer, the $3 billion program was welcomed with fanfare by voters who had passed a constitutional amendment to establish it.

Four years later, CPRIT’s future is far from certain, as the quasi-governmental agency and its fast-shrinking cast of advisers face accusations of impropriety and criminal and civil investigations.

Liang Shi

Though the election was called for President Barack Obama over a month ago, members of the Electoral College will officially cast their votes today.

Texas electors will meet to cast the state’s electoral votes this afternoon at the Capitol.Texas has 38 electoral votes – the second highest of any state, behind California – which were won by Mitt Romney. 

Each party selects 38 potential electors who promise to vote for that party’s candidate, should they win the state’s popular vote.  Because Mitt Romney won Texas, the 38 Republican electors will cast their votes for him today.

Good morning. The National Weather Service says sunny and warm temperatures are on tap today, with an expect high in the low 70s.

The aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut continues. Here’s a round-up of Newtown reporting and related news from KUT News and other sources:  

“The Austin school district police force took time Friday, in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shootings, to reassure parents that the district is doing all it can to keep campuses safe.

The district already has armed officers at all middle and high schools in Austin, with regular armed patrols at elementary schools.”

Austin Police chief Art Acevedo announced on Twitter last night that APD was stepping up their presence around schools this morning:

“People of ATX may notice visible Law enforcement presence in school zones in morning. Please drive safely & report suspicious behavior.”

Good morning! The National Weather Service says cloudy weather and drizzle will define this Friday, with a greater chance for thunderstorms this weekend. (Got your John Aielli-approved KUT Rain Gauge handy? Share any rainfall totals on Twitter with hashtag #KUTgarden.) Here’s some overnight stories from KUT News:

“A school finance lawsuit underway now could transform how we pay for public education in Texas.

About 600 school districts are suing the state. Arguments started nine weeks ago and could last another month or longer and a decision is not expected until after the next legislative session ends.”

“After East Texas landowner Mike Bishop won a temporary restraining order against the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this week, a Nacogdoches County judge reversed that order Thursday.

Ruling in favor of the Canadian company behind the controversial pipeline, TransCanada, Nacogdoches County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz reversed the restraining order, allowing TransCanada to continue construction on Bishop’s land.”

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