Texas

News, policy discussions, and major events happening in or related to Texas, told from an Austin perspective

Photo by Official U.S. Air Force http://www.flickr.com/photos/usairforce/with/5638679968/

Media will receive a tour of wildfire scorched zones in the Possum Kingdom Lake area this afternoon, so we can expect to get a closer glimpse of the devastation this evening. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that damper weather has helped prevent the wildfires from spreading more aggressively.

[O]vernight moisture, higher humidity and cooler temperatures temporarily lowered the danger of the fires further spreading, officials said.

Photo by smokershighlife http://www.flickr.com/photos/smokershighlife/

The Texas Department of State Health Services waited until the day most marijuana users celebrate the drug to announce it is banning products that simulate cannabis. In a news release posted on its website, DSHS said it is banning substances found in products like K2 and Spice, effective this Friday, April 22.

Photo by Texas Military Forces http://www.flickr.com/photos/texasmilitaryforces/

More than 600 homes are threatened in an area around Possum Kingdom Lake, about an hour west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, after four wildfires merged into one.

Photo by KUT News

Folks living in San Marcos will have to be careful how they use water, because of persistent dry conditions.

The City of San Marcos says that, because aquifer levels has dropped below average, they're preparing to implement Stage 1 Water Restrictions.

Photo by Jim Reese for KUT News

Governor Rick Perry is asking President Obama for a major disaster declaration, as wildfires continue to scorch sections of Texas.

From a news release issued Sunday by Governor Perry's office:

"A Major Disaster Declaration makes the state eligible for response and recovery assistance from the federal government. Texas' request includes:

Image by Firefighter Daniel Hinckley, courtesy of the San Angelo Standard-Times

A calm, sunny Sunday in Central Texas, except if you're among the last-minute tax filers scrambling to meet tomorrow night's deadline income tax returns. Here are the other items making news this morning:

Wildfires Eat Up More Acreage, Structures

Photo by Erik Reyna for KUT News

Hey, Texplainer: What do high gasoline prices mean for the state budget?

Oil prices have risen recently, as unrest in the Middle East continues. Gasoline prices have gone up in tandem. In Texas, a gallon of gas costs a dollar more than a year ago. For state policymakers, a crucial question is how higher prices at the pump will affect Texas' estimated $15 billion to $27 billion budget gap. The answer, of course, is that it's complicated.

The announcement that the Texas Comptroller's Office accidentally made public the personal information of about 3.5 million people online got us wondering in the KUT newsroom. How is online security different in the US from in other countries? 

Paolo Cunha Martins was happy to show us. 

Photo courtesy Firefighter Jimmy Taylor, Austin Fire Department

After a tour of West Texas ranches and rangeland burned by wildfires, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has set up a public donation fund to help ranchers whose land has been devastated.  He said the State of Texas Agricultural Relief Fund, or STAR Fund, is the best place to donate and give help.

Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords

The state's Forensic Science Commission begins two days of meetings.  On their agenda will be discussion of a final report on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham.  A 1991 arson ruling convicted Willingham of setting fire to his Corsicana home and killing his three daughters. He was executed in 2004.

Several expert reviews of the evidence have indicated that the fire was an accident. 

Image courtesy Austin Fire Department

Wildfires Threaten More Areas of Texas

The Texas Forest Service says more parts of the state now need to be worried about the threat of wildfires. The agency says the area with significant fire potential will expand today to include parts of Central, North, and South Texas. That includes all areas west of line that curves down from just west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to Fredericksburg, to Del Rio. 

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The Texas House has unanimously voted to pass a bill to place stricter limits on government seizure of land through eminent domain.  But it still has one more test before it heads to Governor Rick Perry's desk.

The bill would require governmental bodies to make a "bona fide" offer to land owners and to send a letter to the State Comptroller, detailing what the land would be used for.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Photo by Don Hankins http://www.flickr.com/photos/23905174@N00/1594411528/

Today, the Texas State Comptroller's Office starts mailing out letters to everyone affected by the security breach that left 3.5 million personal information files publicly accessible online. 

The breach means everyone who is a member of the Teachers Retirement System of Texas, the Public Employees Retirement System of Texas,  or the Texas Workforce Commission likely had their information made public,  Comptroller of Public Account's spokesperson Allen Spelce confirmed in an interview with KUT.

To find out if your information was compromised call 1-855-474-2065.

Photo by pobre.ch http://www.flickr.com/photos/npobre/

Social security numbers, names, mailing addresses and other information of 3.5 million Texans were disclosed on a state computer server that was accessible to the public for about a year.  Comptroller Susan Combs' office issued this apology and explanation.

Large wildfires erupted yesterday in Brewster and Angelina counties, adding to the 309,500 acres of wildfires the Texas Forest Service has battled over the last week. A Garland-based company called Sky Helicopters posted the video above to YouTube. 

Photo by TexasEagle http://www.flickr.com/photos/texaseagle/

Here's the latest information from the Texas Forest Service as it struggles to contain wildfires that have already blackened 309,500 acres. This report was circulated to media this morning. We present it to you in its entirety.

TEXAS FOREST SERVICE INCIDENT MANAGEMENT SITUATION REPORT
Monday, April 11, 2011
National Preparedness Level: 1
Southern Area Preparedness Level: 3
TFS Preparedness Level: 5

CURRENT SITUATION

Yesterday Texas Forest Service responded to 12 fires for 22,432 acres, including new large fires in Brewster and Angelina counties.  In the past seven days TFS has responded to 83 fires for 309,526 acres. 

Photo by Jim Reese for KUT News

West Texas Fire Knocks Out Marfa Public Radio

A fire in the Fort Davis area was responsible for knocking out nearby Marfa Public Radio’s signal this weekend.  The fire burned the power lines that feed the station's mountaintop transmitter.  KUT's digital technology manager, Jim Reese, was flown over to help.  He said Marfa Public Radio went back on the air around 6 p.m. Sunday.  "Marfa Public Radio is the only station [there] that has wide area coverage, so there were no media outlets at all functioning for about 24 hours," said Reese. 

Wildfires Rage Across Texas

Hot, dry and windy conditions kept firefighters across many parts of the state busy this weekend.  26 Central Texas firefighters deployed to West Texas Sunday to help battle the wildfires in that region.  One team was sent to Fort Davis.  The Texas Forest Service told KUT resources were also sent in from 25 states.  

Photo courtesy the Texas Forest Service.

Wildfire Danger at Historic Highs Today

State officials are warning of extreme wildfire danger across much of the western half of Texas today, as hot, dry, windy conditions couple with low humidity. 

The Texas Forest Service was fighting several wildfires yesterday, but was bracing for more, reported the Associated Press.

Photo courtesy the Texas Forest Service

Officials are sending more resources to help battle a massive wildfire in West Texas that's already burned about 50,000 acres.

Photo by KUT News

House May Ease Graduation Requirements

The Texas House will take a final vote today on a bill that would ease graduation requirements for Texas students. Starting next year, high school students are required to take a total of 12 end-of-course exams called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), and they have to pass the exams in order to graduate.  In the bill the House will vote on today, high school students will have to pass fewer of the new state exams in order to graduate.

Image by Apers0n http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Apers0n

A bill passed in Texas Senate today would give prison inmates more access to DNA evidence, as they appeal their convictions.

The Associated Press reports the bill sponsored by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) would require DNA testing, if the biological evidence hadn't been tested before our would yield more accurate results with newly-developed testing techniques.

As many as 40 inmates have had convictions overturned in the past few years, based on retesting DNA evidence.

Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords

The US Supreme Court has blocked tonight's scheduled execution of Texas inmate Cleve Foster. 

The high court agreed this morning to consider a review the grounds for Foster's appeal of his death sentence.

Foster's execution would have been the first in Texas to use pentobarbital as part of its lethal three-drug mix. 

"This stay does not have to do with the litigation surrounding the lethal injection and the new protocol adopted by the TDCJ [Texas Department of Criminal Justice]," said Maurie Levin, one of Foster's attorney in the appeals process.

Photo by KUT News

Texas House Approves Budget Bill

The House approved a budget of $164.5 billion last night for the next biennium with a 98-49 vote, largely along party lines. The budget is around $23 billion smaller than the state's current two-year budget. As expected, the House budget makes deep cuts to public education and health and human services spending.  The legislation now heads to the Senate where changes are expected.

Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda/via Flickr

Lawyers for two condemned Texas prisoners are asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate how the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has obtained drugs used in executions.

Their argument hinges on what sounds like a technicality: the address used to register the state's drug supply.

Photo by KUT News.

Dry, drier, driest: Drought conditions are returning to Central Texas, and one expert thinks it could be this autumn before the region gets enough rain to reverse the trend. 

That has officials at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) making sure people throughout the region know what condition our water supply is in.  The authority has launched a "Drought Update" page that shows a graphical representation of the drought situation.

Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Japan Continues to deal with the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed whole towns, left more than ten thousand dead and crippled a nuclear facility in Fukushima.

Photo via Flickr user Andres Rueda.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials announced today that it will change one of the drugs in the three-drug cocktail used in executions in the state.

The drug sodium thiopental has been in short supply ever since the only U.S. manufacturers of the drug stopped production.

Image by KUT News.

Governor Rick Perry and House leadership have struck a deal that would use $3.2 billion from the so-called "Rainy Day Fund" to help close the budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.

In a joint statement by the governor, House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and Comptroller Susan Combs, the remainder of the budget gap would be closed by $800 million in cuts and by using an additional $300 million that's come from increased state sales tax collections over the past few months.

Image by KUT News

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs says the state has more money to spend. 

In a letter to Texas lawmakers today, Combs says sales tax receipts in recent months had increased enough for her to raise her pervious revenue estimate by 300-million dollars for the current budget.  She also increased the amount of money lawmakers have to spend in the next budget. 

The increase helps a little but does not make a huge dent in the multi-billion dollar budget hole.

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