Kelli Ainsworth

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Transportation
2:21 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

Fastest Road in the Country Now Open in Central Texas

The 41 mile portion of SH 130 takes drivers from Mustang Ridge to Seguin.
SH 130 Concession Company

The fastest road in the country is now open to drivers in Central Texas. The 85 mile per hour portion of State Highway 130 opened this morning.

The toll road stretches across about 41 miles from Mustang Ridge to Seguin. It will soon cost drivers 15 cents per mile—or $6.17 to drive the length of the road—but it’s free through Nov. 10th.

Eighteen-wheelers will be charged 60 cents per mile. But, as reported last month, truckers may avoid the toll road altogether because driving over 65 mph reduces fuel efficiency and also raises safety concerns.

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The Lead
9:00 am
Wed October 24, 2012

The Lead: Historic Tax Exemptions, SXSW Takes Vegas, Oil Boom Creates Jobs Across Texas

Good Morning. Once the clouds dissipate, Austin can expect warm weather with a high of 86, according to the National Weather Service. Here are some stories KUT News has been working on:

Three Austinites are suing the City of Austin, Travis County, the Austin Independent School District and Central Health for allowing tax breaks on what the plaintiffs refer to as “allegedly” historic properties.

AMLI Residential, builder of several high profile apartment communities in Austin, has announced it is going to build a mid-rise project in Mueller town center.

The popular Austin film, music and interactive festival is rolling out the SXSW V2 festival in Las Vegas in August. Rather than merely being an extension of the music and film events that take place in Austin, SXSW V2 is geared toward tech startups.

Texas Republicans have made limiting trimming the state budget an integral part of their mission over the last decade, but many worry the state has simply shifted the burden to local governments.   

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Texas
12:29 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

North Texas Makes Most Requests to Withhold Information; Austin Ranks 14th

Out of all Texas cities, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (pictured above) receives the most confidentiality requests from the Metroplex area.
Gage Skidmore, Texas Tribune

Suburbs and cities surrounding the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex rank highest in the state for petitions to the Texas Attorney General's office to withhold municipal information, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.

Under the Texas Public Information Act, citizens and the media can make requests to state agencies for government records. In normal circumstances, the agency has to respond to the request within 10 days and provide the requested information or documents in a timely manner. 

However, if the agency believes that the request touches on information that the government has an interest in keeping confidential, they can petition the Attorney General’s office for the right to deny the request. The Attorney General’s office then has 45 days to rule on whether the information can be fully or partially withheld, or must be released.  

The study looked at the number of petitions to the Attorney General’s office to withhold information requested under the Public Information Act per 100,000 in population in Texas’s 20 largest cities. Seven of the 10 cities that submitted the most requests to Abbott’s office to withhold information were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

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Texas
7:32 am
Wed October 17, 2012

Recall: 8,200 Pounds of Uninspected Meat Products Made, Distributed in Texas

Though packages were labeled with the USDA mark of inspection, federal officials say they were not inspected by the USDA.
U.S. Department of Agriculture/Lao Chareune

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Monday that a Dallas-based beef and pork distributor, Lao Chareune Foods, has recalled 8,200 pounds of meat.

The products being recalled weren’t inspected and were mislabeled. 

Lao Chareune is recalling 3 oz. and 8 .oz packages of “Pork Snack Stick;” 3.2 oz. packages of “Seasoned Fried Beef;” 1.76 oz. packages of “Fried Pork Skins;” and 1.2 oz. packages of “Sliced Fried Pork Ears.” 

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Austin
12:26 pm
Thu October 11, 2012

What Draws People to Austin (And What Drives Them Away)

Many Austin transplants attend events like South by Southwest, pictured here in 2012, before deciding to move here.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

It’s no surprise that Austin ranks highly on many lists: fastest growing cities, best cities, even “hipster” cities.

But a more personal conversation has been unfolding on the Austin page of popular social website Reddit, simply asking “Why did you choose Austin?”

A native Austinite posed the question, noting many friendships made with people who decided to move to here. “So, my question to you Austin Redittors, why do you love Austin? Why is this where you want to live over other places? I'd love to see from another perspective why you think this city is so awesome.”

The question garnered 70 responses. Several answers dwell upon Austin’s traditional draws, but others are more attached to what makes Austin weird:

  • People come for school – then stick around: “I moved here to finish school at UT about 20 years ago after traveling like a nomad for quite a bit,” writes Redditor MonsterBronson. “Of all the cities I've seen, Austin is the best (for multiple reasons) so I never left.”
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Education
10:52 am
Wed October 10, 2012

How Advanced Placement Success Could Save Texas Students Millions

Many Texas students are saving money by taking college exams in high schools.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams and the Texas Education Agency announced this week  that the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams rose by four percent in the 2011-2012 school year.

The Advanced Placement Program allows high school students to take college-level courses and ultimately exams that they can earn college credit for. The tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5 . A score of 3 or higher is considered satisfactory. Last year, 194,391 Texas students took 350,700 AP exams.

The College Board, which created and oversees the AP program, estimates that if all of the students who scored a 5 on the exams last year enrolled in one of the state’s two flagship universities and received course credit, they would collectively save between $36.2 million and $42.9 million in tuition costs.

This news comes at a time when climbing college tuition rates are a major talking point in Texas, and on the cusp of a legislative session that will likely address these issues. 

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Texas
4:10 pm
Tue October 9, 2012

Court to Hear Tom DeLay's Appeal in Money Laundering Case

Former House Speaker Tom DeLay faces jail time and probation if his conviction is upheld.
U.S. Congress

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin will hear the appeal of former U.S. House Majority Leader cum reality show contestant Tom DeLay, who was convicted of money laundering in 2010.

DeLay was found guilty by an Austin jury of conspiring to circumvent campaign finance laws and channel corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature in 2002. His conviction followed a 2005 indictment on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering alongside aides John Colyandro and Jim Ellis. DeLay resigned from his position in the House as a result. In 2009, he appeared as a contestant on the TV series "Dancing With the Stars."

DeLay has been out on bond, working to have his conviction overturned for the past two years. If his conviction is upheld, he faces a sentence of three years in prison and five years probation. As a convicted felon, he would also be ineligible to run for state-level political office in Texas and ineligible to vote until he completes his probation. 

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Austin
2:41 pm
Mon October 8, 2012

A Short-Term Rental License is $235 - But the True Cost is Twice That

Austinites hoping to make money by renting out their homes during this weekend's ACL festival will first have to shell out more than $400 to register with the city.
flickr.com/interpunct

Austin property owners have started applying for short-term rental licenses to comply with a new city ordinance that took effect last week.

To obtain a license, property owners have to pay a $235 short-term rental licensing fee. But they are also required to pay a $241 notification fee– money that will be used  by the city to notify neighbors within 100 feet of a short-term rental property. 

This fee has generated controversy because all applicants pay the same amount, whether they have to notify 10 neighbors or 100.

"The fee is the standard notification fee that the city has," says Jerry Rusthoven with the city's Planning and Development Office. "My department, the planning department mails out notices to folks for a variety of different types of cases – zoning cases, subdivision site plans – and we have a standard $241 notification fee that’s paid for all those," 

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Education
11:56 am
Mon October 8, 2012

Should Texas Embrace Virtual Schools?

Lawmakers heard this morning about virtual schooling in Texas.
flickr.com/sammers05

The Texas Senate Education Committee is holding a hearing to address virtual education and its growing use in Texas. Committee members will hear testimony on virtual education and recommendations to improve programs that are underperforming. 

Texas offers both supplemental and full-time virtual education. Students in supplemental programs take online courses in addition to attending traditional face-to-face classes. Those enrolled in virtual schools full-time get all of their instruction online and don’t receive any classroom instruction.

The number of students enrolled in virtual schools in Texas is growing rapidly. Raise Your Hand Texas, an education policy non-profit, reports that enrollment in virtual education programs grew 97 percent in the past six years. In the 2010-2011 academic year, 17,000 Texas students were enrolled in supplemental online courses.  Last school year, 6,000 students were enrolled in full-time virtual programs. 

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Transportation
10:29 am
Wed October 3, 2012

Study: Bad Road Conditions Cost Austinites $1,200 a Year

Though construction is a common sight along Austin roads, a study finds several roads are in need of serious repair.
KUT News

Austin’s roads cost each local driver $1,200 a year. That's according to TRIP, a highway industry nonprofit. The organization also found that deficient roads in Texas cost drivers a total of $23 billion each year.

The report says poor road conditions cause accidents and additional traffic which lead to longer commute times and greater fuel usage. Substandard roads can also result in more wear and tear to vehicles and tires, resulting in higher maintenance costs. 

Overall, TRIP found that 18 percent of Texas’s major urban roads are in poor condition, while 27 percent are considered mediocre. Though $1,200 a year isn't chump change, the report still found Austin has the fewest number of roads in poor condition with nine percent. San Antonio ranks highest, with 33 percent of its roads in poor condition. 

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Politics
9:32 am
Wed October 3, 2012

Sadler and Cruz Face Off in First Debate

No hold were barred in the first of two debates between Republican Ted Cruz (L) and Democrat Paul Sadler (R).
Gage Skidmore / Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Paul Sadler held the first of two planned debates in their battle to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate last night.

The debate, held in Dallas at WFAA, touched on healthcare, immigration, federal spending, foreign policy and taxes as the candidates repeatedly tried to out-lawyer one another. 

Cruz repeated his assertion that he would work to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected, stating that the law puts the United States on a path toward socialized medicine. He stated that socialized medicine leads to low quality, inefficient medical care. Sadler countered that Cruz’s position would put Texans at risk by allowing insurance companies to deny or limit insurance coverage based on preexisting conditions, and would leave many young people currently on their parents’ insurance plans without coverage.  

Regarding immigration, Sadler stated that he supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  Cruz opposes such a pathway and wants to put an end to illegal immigration. 

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Austin
8:33 am
Mon October 1, 2012

New Short-Term Rental Ordinance Takes Effect Today

Short-term rentals, as listed by companies like HomeWay, are subject to new regulation beginning today.
Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Starting today, Austin residents and property owners who rent out their homes to vacationers will be subject to new licensing requirements

The Austin City Council adopted an ordinance in August requiring anyone who operates a short-term rental.  As defined by the council, the rentals are “houses and residential units rented for periods of 30 days.” The ordinance goes into effect today.

Rental operators will face different applications and licensing requirements depending on whether they occupy the property themselves (a "Type 1" rental) or use it solely as a rental property ("Type 2"). Type 1 operators and/or Type 2 operators in business before June 13, 2011, can begin applying for licenses today. Type 2 operators opening shop after June 13 will be able to apply in January.

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Texas
9:04 am
Wed September 26, 2012

ERCOT Board Examines Summer Power Usage, Makes Predictions for Fall

ERCOT predicts no demand problems for fall, winter.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) says that though the Texas electric grid saw new monthly peaks in June and July, the overall electric demand fell below last summer’s record-setting numbers. 

At the Board of Directors September meeting yesterday, directors were briefed on the summer’s power grid demand and peaks over the summer and made projections for fall and winter. 

This summer, ERCOT didn’t have to issue any energy emergence alerts (EEA)—which can result in rotating outages in order to prevent a power grid overload and statewide blackout. Last summer, ERCOT issued seven EEAs. Though this summer’s weather was hotter than the state’s 15-year average, it didn’t reach the sweltering levels achieved in 2011, so air conditioner use was somewhat lower.

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Formula 1
7:46 am
Wed September 26, 2012

F1 Officials Declare Austin Track Ready to Race

Inspectors from Formula 1's governing body take a look at the Circuit of the Americas track.
Circuit of the Americas

After a visit from Formula 1 officials yesterday, Austin’s Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is right on track to host the United States Grand Prix in November, according to a press release from COTA. 

Charles Whiting, the director of racing, safety and technical matters for the Fédération Internationale de l’ Automobile (FIA), the international body that oversees F1 racing, declared Austin’s track “ready to race.”  His approval is necessary for an F1 circuit to conduct Grand Prix races.

The track was awarded a Grade 1 designation, the highest distinction that can be given to a motorsports venue.  Whiting declared that the circuit was “built to the highest quality” and that he had “no complaints whatsoever.”

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Criminal Justice
3:57 pm
Tue September 25, 2012

Report: Fewer Ex-Cons Returning to Texas Prisons

The recidivism rate for ex-cons in Texas has fallen 11 percent - meaning less former felons returning behind bars.
flickr.com/hmk

Fewer Texas ex-convicts are returning to prison, according to a report released today by the National Reentry Resource Center.

The report tracked individuals released from prison between 2005 and 2007 until 2010, to see whether they returned to prison. It found that the three-year recidivism rate went down 11 percent in Texas.

Other states with significant drops in their recidivism rates were Ohio, Kansas and Michigan.

The report credits the lowered recidivism rates in many states to increased funding for programs that ease the transition from prison to society, including the 2008 Second Chance Act. The act provides federal grants to state and local governments and community organizations to provide services that ease the transition from prison to society. Funds can be used to provide employment services, substance abuse treatment, housing assistance and mentoring to prisoners and ex-cons.

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Environment
1:45 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

Seeing Smoke? Prescribed Burn West of Kyle and Buda

The City of Austin says prescribed fire a cost effective way to clear vegetation.
flickr.com/usfwsmidwest

You might see and smell smoke near Kyle and Buda this afternoon.

Austin Water's Wildland Conservation Division is planning to conduct a prescribed burn at the Onion Creek Management Unit off FM 150 west of Kyle.

The burn will cover more than 500 acres and should go on between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Kevin Thuesen is the Environmental Conservation Program Manager for the City of Austin. He says people shouldn’t be concerned.

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Texas
8:59 am
Mon September 24, 2012

Is Private Space Flight Coming to Texas?

SpaceX may begin launching rockets in Texas. This launch, from 2010, was at Cape Canaveral.
Chris Thompson/ SpaceX

A 50-acre section of land near Brownsville is subject to speculation as a potential location of a new rocket launch site, to be built by private space exploration firm SpaceX

Three recent property purchases near the proposed site in Cameron County by SpaceX could mean that the company has, in fact, picked Texas over Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico to be home to its launch site.

The Brownsville Herald reports that public records in Cameron County show that SpaceX bought three pieces of property between June and September near the proposed site, under the name of Dogleg Park, LLC. The address listed for Dogleg Park on the deeds for these properties is the address of SpaceX’s Hawthorne, Calif. headquarters.

SpaceX has not yet commented on or released any statements about the purchased land.

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Arts and Culture
1:03 pm
Wed September 19, 2012

Celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day, Austin Style

flickr.com/serfs-up

If you’re feeling holiday withdrawal during the weeks between Labor Day and Halloween, there’s good news: today you can celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the quirky holiday. International Talk Like a Pirate Day was created in 2002 after columnist Dave Barry wrote a piece in the Miami Herald about the piratical exploits of Oregonians John Baur and Mark Summers (otherwise known by their pirate aliases, Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy). Baur and Summers began Talk Like a Pirate Day among their circle of friends while playing racquetball in 1995 and appealed to Barry to publicize the event seven years later. 

Today, International Talk Like a Pirate Day is celebrated with events all over the world, from Texas to Japan.

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Texas
10:00 am
Wed September 19, 2012

Houston Wants to Follow Austin's Food Truck Lead

Food trucks are a popular stop along South Congress. Houston food truck owners want more lenient rules for operation.
flickr.com/Matt Peoples

While food trucks have been embraced in Austin and can be found clustered throughout the city, Houston food truck owners are struggling to change city ordinances that impose limits on their operations. 

Yesterday, dozens of food truck operators and enthusiasts came before the Houston City Council to petition for changes in mobile food unit ordinance, which bans food trucks that use propane stoves and grills from operating in the busy downtown area.

The Houston Mobile Food Unit Collective has proposed that the mobile food unit ordinances be amended to allow trucks with propane tanks under 40 pounds to operate downtown, eliminate the required 60 feet of space between trucks and permit food trucks to provide up to three tables and six chairs for patrons.

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AM Update: 9/19/12
8:57 am
Wed September 19, 2012

AM Update: Immigrant Housing Law Under Review, Huston-Tillotson Grant, Rain Helps Edwards Aquifer

A panel of judges at the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana is set to review a Texas immigration case today.
flickr.com/wallyg

The first day of autumn is still a few days away but Central Texas is already enjoying more fall-like temperatures thanks to a weak cold front. Here's a look at today's morning headlines:

Appeals Court to Review Immigration Housing Law

The 5th Circuit US Court of appeals is set to review a proposed law that would ban illegal immigrants from renting homes in Farmer’s Branch, a suburb of Dallas.

The law requires that all renters in Farmer’s Branch fill out paperwork proving their immigration status.  Illegal immigrants could be denied housing or be evicted from their current home. Under the law, landlords who knowingly continue rent to illegal immigrants would be subject to fines and revocation of their renter’s license.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sued the city to prevent the law from being enforced. A district court ruled that the law was unconstitutional on the grounds that regulating immigration law is a federal prerogative.  A three-judge panel from the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision in March. The full membership of the court will review the earlier decision today.

Huston-Tillotson Gets Nearly $2 Million Grant

Huston-Tillotson University in Austin is getting more than $1.9 million in federal funding.

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