Texas

Good morning. The National Weather Service says Austin will warm to the mid 60s today before scattered showers and thunderstorms blow in this weekend. Here’s KUT News’ top overnight stories:

The group that advises Austin City Council on animal matters met to consider the possibility of having a new rule: that every year, pet owners register their cats and dogs with the city.

If Austin Animal Services’ Abigail Smith is able to sell her idea to city staff and then to city council,  Austin will start a huge database with the names, addresses and telephone numbers of pet owners – along with the animal’s information.

"People love Austin. They are moving here in droves. And they bring their kids with them. And they enroll their kids in the local school district. But the school district can’t build fast enough to accommodate everyone. So some campuses are getting really, really crowded.

The Austin school district will build two new elementary schools in north Austin over the next couple of years and add classrooms at other campuses. But that’s not going to be enough to fix the problem."

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Former president Bill Clinton was in Austin today to speak at Dell's annual business and technology conference. He touted Dell’s announcement of a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative University – and also recalled a forehead-slapping a moment with a former Texas Senator.

Good morning! The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for a sunny and cool day, with highs inching up into the low 60s. Here’s some stories KUT News and our partners have been working on:

“Angelos Angelou, an economic forecaster, expects 130,000 people to move to Austin over the next two years. But Angelou warns there’s a kryptonite to this super story.

‘The only factor that can reduce our growth is transportation, if we don’t build our infrastructure, if we have gridlock just like the Silicon Valley did in the ’80s,’ Angelou said.”

“The Austin-area job market is expected to be among the strongest in the nation next year. That’s according to an employment outlook survey by the HR consulting firm Manpower. A quarter of companies in the Austin area said they plan to hire more employees in the first three months of next year.”

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The billions of dollars in incentives that Texas hands out to businesses each year are set to draw fresh scrutiny this week on the heels of a New York Times series that raised new questions about the practice while also ruffling some feathers.

On December 3, the Times devoted Part 2 of its three-part “United States of Subsidies” series to Texas. The article alleged that the state gives out $19.1 billion a year in business incentives, far more than any other state. (Disclosure: The Texas Tribune has a content partnership with The New York Times.)

Good morning. The National Weather Service says a freeze warning is still in effect through 10 a.m., before Austin warms to the mid-50s this afternoon. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

“When the Senate Committee on State Affairs of state lawmakers got together Monday at the Capitol, they were urged to require companies to provide workers’ compensation insurance.

The Texas Department of Insurance says one out of five employees in the state works for a company that does not provide workers’ comp. That number has stayed relatively unchanged for two decades.”

“State Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview), has announced his intention to challenge current speaker Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio.)

Following the announcement another Straus challenger – Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) – dropped out and put his support behind Simpson.”

Good morning. Hope you’re bundled this chilly and blustery Monday. Here’s some of KUT News’ top weekend stories:

“Texas lawmakers cut billions from public school funding formulas in 2011. Now one Republican leader says he hopes that money can be restored in the upcoming legislative session.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, is not promising, but he hopes lawmakers will restore about $4 billion cut from the state funding formulas last year. In an interview with the Associated Press, Straus did promise $2 billion in new funding, enough to cover enrollment growth.”

“In less than a month, Texas lawmakers will convene in Austin for the 2013 legislative session. A couple of bills already filed would have a huge effect on which lawmakers get to come back in future sessions.

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, have each filed a bill to create term limits for elected officials. Larson’s proposal would limit all statewide elected officials and legislators to 12 years in office. Eltife’s would limit consecutive terms for statewide offices including governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.”

Good morning. The National Weather Service says we can expect a mix of foggy mornings and warmer afternoons, until a cold front blows in Sunday. Here's some of KUT News' top overnight stories. 

“The Austin City Council has approved tax incentives for Visa, which wants to expand operations in Austin with about 800 new jobs. KUT’s Jennifer Stayton spoke with Louise Story of the New York Times about her recent article on such subsidies that showed Texas gives out more than any other state. One way it does this is through reimbursements of school districts’ tax abatements.”

“The difficulty is that the city has already paid $359 million for the project.  That was the original cost the city approved for construction of WTP4. Council members said they thought the $359 million figure was set in stone, but obviously it wasn’t. Sheryl Cole, the city’s mayor pro-tem, looked for ways to come up with the money.

‘We received a memo and there was some thoughts at some point about selling property to deal with cost overruns associated with Water Treatment Plant 4,’ Cole said. ‘Can I get any information about that?’”

gohmert.house.gov

Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to modernize archaic legal language by striking the term “lunatic” from federal law. The measure passed resoundingly, with only one vote against: conservative East Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert.

Former Austin scribe Jennifer Bendery writes for Huffington Post that while Gohmert’s office didn’t expand upon the representative’s vote, his words in the House chamber provided some context:

"To keep spending and not pay the price, that is immoral," Gohmert said. "That's why we shouldn't eliminate the word 'lunatic.' It really has application around this town. … We want to eliminate the word 'lunatic' from the federal code?" Gohmert asked. "That's lunacy."

Good morning. The National Weather Service says once this morning’s dense fog burns off, Austin can expect another mild day with highs in the 70s. Here’s KUT News’ top stories this Thursday morning:

“In 2014, Austinites will have their first chance to elect City Council members in single-member districts. But there’s lots of work to do designing the new council districts between now and then. And each step of the process needs to be timed just right for everything to be ready on time.

It’s the city auditor’s job to set that all-important timeline. According to the proposition schedule, the redistricting commission that will draw the maps has until next December to present a final plan. The auditor wants to extend that deadline until April 2014, and that makes Prop 3 proponent Roger Borgelt, a campaign and election lawyer, nervous.”

“A Travis County judge has ordered the Austin and Travis County Christmas Bureau to shut down. The Christmas Bureau helped Austin police raise money for the needy for 25 years, but last week it became the subject of a criminal investigation.”

When most people think of Texas — and what makes a Texan — one of the first things that might come to mind is the way Lyndon Johnson or the late Gov. Ann Richards spoke.

But these days, "talking Texan" sounds a whole lot different than it did just a few decades ago.

Cindy and Mark Boling, via change.org

A Fort Worth couple lost their family pet in a police shooting earlier this year. Now the couple’s call for statewide police training standards when dealing with dogs has garnered nearly 90,000 signatures.

Cindy and Mark Boling have uploaded a petition to Change.org calling for standardized training, after losing their five year old border collie/English setter mix Lily this spring.

Good morning! The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for a sunny and mild day after this morning’s chilly start. Here’s some of KUT News’ top stories:

“Texas Comptroller Susan Combs says there are ‘warning signs’ for some of the Texas’ public pension plans. A report out today from her office singles out the city of Houston in particular. Combs says the state’s biggest pension funds, the Employee Retirement System of Texas and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, are stable. But her efforts to do a comprehensive assessment, she says, were stymied by a lack of information.”

During his opening remarks Tuesday at a daylong conference on immigration and the economy, former President George W. Bush urged the nation’s leaders to debate immigration reform with compassion and kindness.

In a brief appearance at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Bush did not advocate for a specific solution. But his statements indicated he supports policies similar to those he championed during his presidency, when immigration reform was last debated in Congress.

Nick Cowie for Texas Tribune

A new report argues that state jails aren't meeting their goal of helping to reduce crime by intensively treating short-term, nonviolent inmates, and it recommends that judges no longer be able to sentence felons to state jails without a rehabilitation plan.

The report, published Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, says that those convicted of nonviolent felonies and normally sentenced to months in a state-operated jail should instead be released with community supervision. That can include treatment programs, community service, strictly enforced probation conditions and the threat of incarceration if certain conditions are violated. The report's suggestions were based on recent data concerning the number of felons who commit crimes after being released from state jails.

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Despite Gov. Rick Perry’s firm opposition to a key tenet of federal health reform — expanding the state’s Medicaid program for those with low incomes — Texas Democrats remain optimistic that the 2013 legislative session can yield a deal that brings in billions in additional federal dollars.

It will be a tough sell: No Republican lawmakers have gone on record supporting the Medicaid expansion, which would add an estimated 1.8 million Texans onto the joint state-federal health plan by 2022.

But state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said fiscal conservatives have an incentive to reach an agreement “because the alternative is going to cost us much more economically and dig a much deeper hole in our budget.”

Daniel Reese for KUT News

It didn’t rain at all in Austin this month, making it the driest November in more than 100 years. Only three other years on record show no rainfall for the month, all in the 1800’s: 1861, 1894 and 1897.

In fact, it hasn't rained 0.03 inches or less in Austin in November since 1950.

So will the dry weather stick around? The latest forecasts don’t indicate either an unusually dry or an unusually wet winter for Texas.

Happy Friday! The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for patchy fog and higher than normal temperatures today. Here’s KUT News’ top stories:

“‘There’s no question that we are in a rapid development mode for apartments right now,’ said Charles Heimsath with Capitol Market Research, a real estate tracking firm in Austin.  ‘Condominium development has kind of taken a back seat to apartment development for the short run.’

So why is this happening? Well, for one, the apartment occupancy rate is high. Capitol Market Research says it’s at 97 percent in Austin right now and reports that rents downtown are twice as expensive as the city average.”

“The Keystone XL Pipeline, which will take oil from sand pits in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, is under construction across hundreds of miles of Texas land. And some of the residents who own that land are none too happy about it. For StateImpact Texas, Terrence Henry reports.”

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The state’s cancer research agency has revealed it handed out an $11 million grant without reviewing the proposal.

It’s the latest challenge facing the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT.

The grant was awarded to Peloton Therapeutics in June 2010, making it one of CPRIT's first grants.

The cancer research institute says the oversight was discovered during an internal review.

"Former President George H.W. Bush remains in a Houston hospital, where he has been for seven days as doctors battle a lingering cough that has drawn concern," the Houston Chronicle writes.

But Bush's chief of staff, Jean Becker, tells the newspaper that the former president, now 88, has bronchitis and that it's expected he'll be released from Methodist Hospital this coming weekend.

Good morning. The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for highs in the 70s after this morning’s fog burns off. Here’s some of KUT News’ top overnight stories.

“Fiscal transparency and cost cutting are buzzwords to watch for as state lawmakers gather in Austin next January. But with all that talk, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a pile of money — nearly a billion dollars — that’s been growing in a state fund for years, not being used for its intended purpose.

KUT’s Mose Buchele reports for StateImpact Texas on the $850 million System Benefit Fund.”

“The Austin City Council Wednesday reviewed its plan to offer incentives to the credit card company Visa to establish an information technology center in the city.

The incentives total $250 per job per year, for 10 years. To earn the money, Visa has to create 794 full-time jobs. Those jobs average $113,000 annual salary plus benefits. The council heard comments from the public, including Paul Robbins, who said Austin’s already high housing and utility costs are a reason to oppose incentives for ventures like Visa and Formula One.”

Good morning, Austin’s in for a sunny but cool day, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s KUT News’ top overnight stories:

"The City of Austin will soon consider changes to its economic incentives program, which aims to lure companies to move here. Tuesday, a City Council committee drafted recommendations about living wages, training and workers’ rights. The committee heard from workers and business leaders about the proposal to require companies pay workers at least $11 per hour to qualify for incentives."

"Texans who live in larger cities need to be very careful about how they buy their electricity, because they may be paying too much.  StateImpact Texas reporter Dave Fehling has been looking into prices that have been kept secret."

Scientists who study forests say they've discovered something disturbing about the way prolonged drought affects trees.

It has to do with the way trees drink. They don't do it the way we do — they suck water up from the ground all the way to their leaves, through a bundle of channels in a part of the trunk called the xylem. The bundles are like blood vessels.

When drought dries out the soil, a tree has to suck harder. And that can actually be dangerous, because sucking harder increases the risk of drawing air bubbles into the tree's plumbing.

At least two people are dead and dozens injured in a 100-vehicle pileup on Interstate 10 in southeast Texas that's being blamed on early morning fog on Thanksgiving Day.

KFDM TV reports that the dead included a man and a woman in a Chevy Suburban that was crushed by a tractor trailer. State troopers told the TV station that between 80 and 120 people were hurt; they were taken to hospitals in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Winnie. The crash occurred southwest of Beaumont, 80 miles east of Houston.

Amanda Mills, Centers for Disease Control

The San Antonio-based Texas Biomedical Research Institute has applied for a patent for a new genetically engineered HIV vaccine. This new vaccine would provide lifelong protection from the disease with a single dose.

The vaccine is designed to target the cells that line the body’s surface structures. which are the point of entry into the body in approximately 90 percent of HIV cases. Once HIV enters the body through these cells, it quickly spreads to the lymph nodes and other organs, where it replicates throughout the body. The new vaccine would stimulate the body’s outer layers and cells to generate cells that produce antibodies to HIV. 

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Today is historically one of the busiest travel days of the year. KUT News has compiled a list of things you need to know before you hit the roads... or skies.

1. Yes, It May be Busy

AAA Texas estimates that about 3 million people in Texas will hit the road for Thanksgiving—that's up about 1.6 percent from last year.

2. It May Cost You Less to Fill Up

The good news for those travelers is that gas prices across the state continue to fall. The statewide average price for a gallon of unleaded is $3.16. Prices in Austin are slightly higher at $3.19.

Click here to find gas prices near you.

3. You'll Probably See Officers Out

The Austin Police Department and the Department of Public Safety will have more officers on the roads over the next few days. They’ll be targeting speeders and drunk drivers.

Gage Skidmore, Texas Tribune

What if George P. Bush wanted to run for governor in 2014?

It’s not what most people are talking about, now that he’s knocked on the political door. When he filed papers this month designating a campaign treasurer — the first legal step on the path to a candidacy — most of the conversation focused on the lesser statewide offices, things like land commissioner and comptroller.

And his father, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, sent out a fundraising letter last week saying his son was looking at the General Land Office.

But if you are, like many political journalists, a fight promoter at heart, you can make out faint rumblings about something bigger.

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.

At least four people are dead and several others injured after a train crashed into a trailer carrying veterans during a parade in West Texas.

The Midland Reporter-Telegram spoke to Midland Chief of Police Price Robinson. Here's what the paper says:

Erik Reyna for KUT News

Update: The Legislative Budget Board approved a 10.7 percent spending increase for the 2014-2015 budget. That means – for now – that lawmakers can spend up to $77.9 billion in the two year budget.

That amount will go up in a few months,  as lawmakers add billions to the current budget to pay for an underfunded Medicaid system.

Republican lawmakers pledged today to spend less than the cap allows – no matter the number.

Original Post (10:14 a.m.): The Texas Legislative Budget Board is meeting this morning to set the state’s spending cap for fiscal years 2014-2015.

Good Thursday morning to all. We’ve got a beautiful day ahead of us as we rev up for the festivities Formula 1 is bringing our way. There will be partly sunny skies, with a high near 65. As for tonight, the skies will be cloudy, with low near 50.

Here are some stories KUT News and our partners have been working on this week:

Some of the 100,000 people expected for Austin’s first Formula One race have already started streaming into town. The international sporting event has a reputation of attracting the super rich, and there may be some truth to that. “We’re flying in our own celebrity DJ,” said Nicholas Frankl, an event promoter who with his sister runs My Yacht Group. “We have Lamborghini sponsoring the event. We have the most expensive Champagne available in America today, called Comte de Mazeray. It’s 24-karat gold-infused Champagne.”

DNA testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner sought for more than a decade further implicates him in the New Year’s Eve 1993 triple murder for which he was sentenced to die, according to an advisory that the Texas Attorney General’s Office filed Wednesday in Gray County state district court. But a lawyer for Skinner, who was convicted in 1995 of the murders of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in Pampa, said the DNA testing is incomplete and indicates that another person may have been at the scene of the crimes.

Erik Reyna for KUT News

Gov. Rick Perry is holding another press conference this afternoon to discuss possible changes to welfare and unemployment insurance – including the possibility that so called "high-risk" recipients be required to take drug tests.

Today Perry will stand alongside State Sen. Tommy Williams in Conroe to once again talk about his support for a bill filed this week. It's an issue Perry has pounced on and appears to be making a priority for the 2013 Legislative Session. Just yesterday, Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst held a rare joint press conference yesterday to praise the bill filed by State Sen. Jane Nelson.

Now, a state representative from Beaumont is throwing the bill's supporters a challenge. State Rep. Joe Deshotel wants Perry, Dewhurst and Nelson to support adding a drug test requirement to the application to run for state office.

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