Texas
4:07 pm
Fri January 30, 2015

School Voucher Supporters Gather at Capitol

A rally for school vouchers at the Capitol Friday morning.
Credit Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush led a rally at the Capitol today in support of school vouchers and expanded charter school in Texas.

Bush served on the board of one of the state’s top charter-school operators, and his office oversees the nation's largest educational endowment. Also speaking was State Sen. Donna Campbell who, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has been a strong supporter of vouchers that would funnel state funding to private and religious schools.

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Austin
2:00 pm
Fri January 30, 2015

Austin's Hands-Free Fines to Start on Sunday

Though APD has been handing out warnings so far, enforcement of the hands-free driving law begins in earnest this Sunday.
Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

This Sunday, the city of Austin will start ticketing drivers and cyclists who are texting or talking on their mobile phones without a hands-free device.

The Austin Police Department says they'll fine drivers up to $500, depending on several factors. For those who plead "no contest" and pay on time, the fine with court costs will total about $220.

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Energy & Environment
11:55 am
Fri January 30, 2015

Financial Markets Betting On Keystone XL Construction

Credit shannonpatrick17/flickr

The financial markets may be betting that the Keystone XL pipeline is a done deal.

The U.S. House and Senate have now both passed bills to force approval of the controversial pipeline.  The southern leg of the project already delivers oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast. But approval of the full build-out would link existing pipe to the Canadian border, allowing more crude from the tar sands of Canada to reach Texas refineries via Cushing.

President Obama has vowed to veto the bills, but one expert says the fate of the project may already be written in futures contracts for crude oil.

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Two Guys on Your Head
11:40 am
Fri January 30, 2015

Why? What Have You Heard?

Credit www.methinsideout.com

Paranoia is an interesting feeling. People can, and often do, spin stories about almost anything. But most of the time, in functioning brains, people can check their stories with others to "collaborate" with reality, making them less likely to spiral downward into a paranoid state.

However, if cognitive functioning is impaired (from not getting enough sleep, drinking or drugs, or mental illness) it's more difficult to check in, and paranoid thoughts can run wild.

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Austin City Council
9:31 am
Fri January 30, 2015

Council Pushes Affordability, Salary Flexibility in First Meeting

In their first meeting, members of the Austin City Council discussed a "Regional Affordability Committee" and the prospect of allowing members to forego salaries to better pay staff.
Courtesy of City of Austin

The Austin City Council met Thursday in what was its first official meeting under 10-1. The mood was like the first day of school after a long summer break.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he felt like back in his junior high school days when he won his first election for class president. He read from a copy of "Robert’s Rules of Order," a book his father gave him to conduct focused and effective meetings, citing an inscription written in the book by his deceased father.

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Agenda Texas
8:18 am
Fri January 30, 2015

At the Capitol This Week, Anti-Islamic Protests and a Call for Contract Reform

State lawmakers trimmed about $5 billion from education spending in the last legislative session, which led to the elimination of 32,000 school jobs, according to a report.
Liang Shi/KUT News

This was supposed to be a fairly quiet week at the Legislature.

For the seventh session in a row, Muslim groups from across the state came to Austin for their regular lobby day, just like the lobby day for doctors, or bikers, or any special interest group. Only this time they were met by about 25 protesters, who yelled and held signs with anti-Islamic slogans and briefly took hold of the mic during speeches.

Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, joined the fray by instructing her staff to ask any Muslims who came into her office if they would “renounce Islamic terrorist groups and announce allegiance to America and our laws.” The council on American-Islamic relations has already sent a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus to see if those instructions violate House ethics rules.

The legislature also broached another currently controversial topic: the Texas Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC).

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Transportation
7:25 am
Fri January 30, 2015

After Ridership Drops, Where Does Cap Metro Go From Here?

Ridership on the Capital Metro system last year fell significantly, to levels not seen since 2011.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Mass transit is a very small slice of the Austin transportation pie. On average, only about four percent of people in the greater Austin area use transit to get to work. In Portland, it’s three times that. And Austin's transit use suffered a significant drop last year. So what can Capital Metro do to turn things around?

Let's start with the bulk of Capital Metro's system: the bus.

"I think we are on the cusp of making a significant step in the right direction," says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development at Capital Metro. The agency has laid out several goals for the years ahead, and one of them is adding frequency to some of the city's most popular bus routes.

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Drone Zone
3:02 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Federal Foot-Dragging Allows Some Drone Photographers to Take Flight, Grounds Others

Despite federal bans on commercial uses of drones, many are using the gadgets for aerial photography.
YouTube

Earlier this week, the Secret Service fetched a drone flown by a tipsy government employee off the White House Lawn, and yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asked football fans to keep the Superbowl game a “No Drone Zone” in a PSA.

While drone popularity has soared among hobbyists, it hasn’t stopped there. Though it doesn't seem super legal for them to be flown by fans spying on the Patriots’ equipment staff on Sunday or toasted staffers looking to check in on the Obamas at 3 a.m., that staffer wasn’t charged

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Texas
2:58 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Rep to Staff: Ask Muslim Visitors to Pledge Allegiance

Credit Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

Freshman state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, was not in Austin today to celebrate Texas Muslim Capitol Day. But she left instructions for the staff in her Capitol office on how to handle visitors who were, including asking them to declare allegiance to the United States.

"I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws," she posted on Facebook. "We will see how long they stay in my office."

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Austin ISD
1:47 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Classified Austin ISD Employees Ask For Five Percent Pay Raise

Francis and Patricia Garza hold up a sign requesting a 5% raise for AISD employees at the Board of Trustees meeting.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

Some bus drivers, custodians and teaching assistants in Austin public schools are asking the school board to give classified employees a five percent pay increase next year. At a school board meeting on Monday, classified employees said as Austin becomes a more expensive place to live, it's getting more difficult to live on their current salaries.

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Life & Arts
12:17 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Austinite Plans City's First 'Cat Cafe'

A cat lies in the sun in a cat cafe in Kyoto.
Credit totororo/flickr

Cat lovers may soon have a new Austin hangout: Plans are underway for the city's first cat café.

The idea for what Rebecca Gray is calling the Blue Cat Café is still in the early planning stages. She hasn't secured a location yet, but Gray envisions a space where people can play with adoptable cats while grabbing coffee or a bite to eat. She hopes to open sometime this year.

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University of Texas
11:06 am
Thu January 29, 2015

UT Endowment Now Nation's Second-Largest

University of Texas.
Credit KUT News

Here’s another example of how Texas does things bigger: university funds.

The University of Texas System now has the second largest endowment among universities in the U.S.

That’s according to a survey released today from the investment firm Commonfund and the National Association of College and University Business Officers. 

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Death Row
11:05 am
Thu January 29, 2015

Second Execution of the Year Set for Thursday

Texas' second execution of 2015 is set for today at 6 p.m. in Huntsville. Robert Ladd was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of a Tyler, Tex., woman in 1996.

Ladd has spent 17 years on death row; he is 57 now.

The sexual assault and murder for which he's condemned occurred during a burglary at the home of the 38-year-old victim. Ladd was out on parole for another murder when he committed the 1996 murder.

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Politics
9:43 am
Thu January 29, 2015

Perry All But Confirms Run for President on Fox News

Former Gov. Rick Perry appeared on Fox News' Hannity yesterday to speak about the ongoing case against him.

From the Texas Tribune:

During an appearance on Fox News Wednesday, former Gov. Rick Perry told host Sean Hannity that he realized how unprepared he was to run for president in 2012.

He started an "intensive program" in late 2012, he said, with domestic policy, foreign policy and monetary policy, "So when I stand on the stage and debate this next time, you're going to see a person who is very, very well prepared and able to talk across the board about the issues that the President of the United States is going to have to deal with as we go into 2017."

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Transportation
7:27 am
Thu January 29, 2015

Austin's Growing Fast, But Why Isn't Its Public Transit?

Ridership is down system-wide on the Capital Metro system, even though Austin is growing rapidly.
Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

This is the first in a two-part series on transit use in Austin. Read Part Two: After Ridership Drops, Where Does Cap Metro Go From Here?

Austin is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. Over the last five years, the population in the city limits has increased by nearly a 100,000 people, an 11 percent increase. In the larger region, the growth is even greater. But there’s one part of the city that isn’t growing: transit ridership. Let's take a look at what's behind that trend, in the first of a two-part series on transit use in Austin.

"Ridership has not increased as much as our city has grown," says Jace Deloney, chair of the Urban Transportation Commission, a city board that advises on transportation issues. "We haven't kept up in terms of providing transit service to the people that are moving here."

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In Perspective
3:07 pm
Wed January 28, 2015

Homelessness and the Concept of Home

Credit kefiproject.org

This month’s episode of In Perspective explores what it means to be displaced or without a home. Our new roundtable participants ask: How do we define “home”? Is it a house? Is it family, a sense of community? Is it a place or a feeling?

The discussants share their perspectives, from the practical concerns of living on the streets of Austin, to the role of creative production in dealing with homelessness, to challenging notions of displacement and transience as unnatural. Ultimately, the discussion turns toward the ways in which our perceptions of home and homelessness influence our views on immigration, the need for refuge, and national identity.

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Wayback Wednesday
1:51 pm
Wed January 28, 2015

Meet Hyde Park's First Eccentric Artist

Elisabet Ney in her studio at Formosa in 1892, shortly after moving to Austin.
Austin History Center

Today's Wayback Wednesday marks the 182nd birthday of Elisabet Ney. The renowned sculptor was born in Munster, Germany on January 26, 1833, and was the first female sculpting student at the Munich Academy of Art and became a celebrated sculptor throughout Europe in the 1850s and 1860s, crafting busts of philosopher Arthur Schoepenhaur, Germany's first chancellor Otto von Bismarck and even Jacob Grimm, one of the two eponymous fairy tale-writing brothers.

In 1872, Ney and her husband Dr. Edmund Montgomery moved to Texas, buying land near in Waller County outside of Houston and later moving to Hyde Park in 1892. Her home and studio, originally called "Formosa," now houses a museum commemorating her art. Her sculptures adorn the Texas State Capitol, the United States Capitol and, perhaps most famously, the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art.

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Politics
10:50 am
Wed January 28, 2015

Watch: Day After Judge's Ruling, Perry Vows to Keep Fighting Indictment

Perry speaking today in response to yesterday's judge's decision.
Credit Ben Philpott/KUT News

From the Texas Tribune:

Former Gov. Rick Perry decried a criminal case against him as an attack on his right to free speech and amounted to "the criminalization of politics," one day after a judge ruled that the case could move forward.

"I know my actions were right when faced with a public official's illegal, unethical, and embarrassing public behavior," Perry said, referring to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's drunk driving arrest in 2013.  

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Arts Eclectic
10:34 am
Wed January 28, 2015

A'Lante Presents Flamenco 'Prophecies'

This weekend, A’Lante Flamenco will present Prophecies, a music and dance production inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 book The Prophet.   

The book, a collection of poetic essays, addressed many of the issues of the day, as the residents of a village asked a foreign prophet for his insights on the human condtion. While many of those issues remain just as relevant 90 years after the book's publication, and are addressed in the show, the creative minds of A'Lante (husband and wife artistic partners Olivia and Isai Chacon) decided to tackle some more modern questions as well, such as negotiating friendship in the age of social media.

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2015 Legislature
8:58 am
Wed January 28, 2015

Opponents of Texas Religious Freedom Bills Say They Lead to Discrimination

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, discusses her concerns with a proposed constitutional amendment at the Texas State Capitol on Jan. 27, 2015.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Texas lawmakers have filed bills that would protect people who claim that city ordinances, state or federal laws interfere with their religious beliefs.

The measures come as the right to same sex marriage gains more traction at the federal level and Texas cities pass measures that protect people based on their sexual preference.

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