Laura Rice

Producer, Morning Edition

Laura joined the KUT team in April 2012. She works with Jennifer Stayton each weekday morning to bring you the latest local news during Morning Edition, hosts the noon newscast and reports for on-air and online. You'll also hear Laura with the morning news headlines on KUTX and filling in for Jennifer during the morning drive-time. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.

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Photo by KUT News

An analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census shows the population was slightly overcounted, by about 0.01 percent or 36,000 people.

That means the latest census was more accurate than the 2000 Census, which had an overcount of about 0.49 percent. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves says the 2010 Census was "outstanding." But the analysis found that accuracy varied by demographics.

The 2010 Census overcounted whites by .08 percent, undercounted 2.1 percent of the African-American population, and undercounted 1.5 percent of the Hispanic population. 

Abbott and police photos by KUT News; Slupree image courtesy

Austin Police Officer No-Billed in Fatal Shooting

An Austin Police officer will not face charges after fatally shooting a man last year.

A Travis County Grand Jury decided not to indict Officer Steven Peña.

Police say Peña shot Gilberto Vallejo last May after Vallejo fired a weapon at police. Police were responding to a call in Southeast Austin on a report that Vallejo was trying to shoot his way into an apartment to get to an ex-girlfriend.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

What’s the estimated cost of Austin’s first urban rail investment? $550 million.

That was the price tag the Austin City Council heard in a work session this morning. Assistant City Manager Robert Goode said some $550 million was required to build the first proposed phase of urban rail, from the convention center through the UT-Austin campus and on the Mueller neighborhood.

And while the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts funding program could cover roughly half of that, rail consultants said the city would need to cover the other $275 million, likely in large part through a bond election – should council place it on the ballot, and voters approve it.

Photo by KUT News

At its meeting today, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the use of vote centers for the November 2012 Presidential election.

Vote centers, or countywide polling places, give people the option to vote at any polling location in the county.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says that vote centers are more convenient than traditional precincts and eliminate some confusion. She says that’s especially true considering that without the vote centers, the county would be required to add about 30 new polling locations for the November election because of redistricting.  

Photos by KUT News

Vote Anywhere During November's Presidential Election?

The Travis County Commissioners are meeting this morning to talk about using vote centers for the November 2012 Presidential election.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says vote centers, or countywide polling places, give all registered Travis County voters the option to vote at any polling location in the county on election day. Right now, that’s only allowed during early voting.

Photo by Paul Woodruff for KUT News

Red Hot Chili Peppers lead the line-up of artists and bands performing at this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival. The official list was released this morning.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, The Black Keys, Jack White, and Florence + The Machine are the other headliners.

The festival is October 12-14 this year.

The Complete Line-Up:

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Neil Young and Crazy Horse
  • The Black Keys
  • Jack White
  • Florence + The Machine
Photo by KUT News

Today the Austin Community Foundation is awarding more than $830,000 in grant money from the Central Texas Wildfire Fund.

The money was donated by people from across the country and raised through the “Fire Relief” concert held last October.

Nine organizations are receiving between $2,000 and $200,000 to help with debris cleanup, rebuilding homes and other needs in Central Texas towns affected by the Labor Day wildfires.

Photo by Matt Largey for KUT News

Jury selection begins for Fort Hood bomber suspect

Jury selection is set to begin this morning in the trial of a soldier accused of planning to blow up a Killeen restaurant filled with Fort Hood soldiers.

Private First Class Naser Abdo could face up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and other charges.

Photos courtesy LCRA; collage by Laura Rice, KUT News

Landowners in the lower Colorado River basin have the opportunity to get more money for conservation efforts. The Lower Colorado River Authority received a federal grant that will help landowners reduce soil erosion and increase native plant and animal diversity.

The EPA grant will increase the amount of matching funding for qualified landowners in 11 counties from $10,000 to $15,000.

The LCRA says this program can make a big difference.

Photo courtesy Ben Thompson via Flickr

The April unemployment rate in the Austin metro is the lowest it’s been in three years. It dropped half a point—from 6 percent in March to 5.5 percent in April. Last year at this time, Austin unemployment was at 6.3 percent.

"The Austin metropolitan area's unemployment rate has decreased in eight of the last nine months," said Texas Workforce Commission spokesperson Mark Lavergne.

The Texas Workforce Commission says Austin saw growth in nine of 10 major industries in April. 6,300 jobs were added in the Austin area last month —many in construction and in the Professional and Business Services sector.

UT Tower photo courtesy University of Texas at Austin; all other photos by KUT News.

Attracting Great Educators to Texas

The Texas Senate Committee on Education is holding a public hearing this morning to find out how the state can improve preparation programs for teachers and principals.

The committee plans to look at and make recommendations for programs at traditional colleges of education and alternative certification programs.

They also want to find out what the state can do to improve the recruitment of high-quality educators and how to keep them in Texas schools.

Today the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce announced the launch of a new website designed to help fill Austin’s so-called “technology gap.”

The chamber says that Austin tech companies are having trouble finding qualified local candidates for mid-to-senior level positions. Last month the chamber found that 28 percent of posted job openings in the area were tech-related.

Photo courtesy

For the first time, more than half of the children born in the U.S. are non-white.  New census data released today shows 50.4 percent of U.S. children under one year are minorities.

The number is even higher in Texas. Here, about 70 percent of kids under one are non-white.

Altogether, minorities make up more than 36 percent of the U.S. population and more than 55 percent in Texas. Texas is one of only five regions — along with Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, and New Mexico — to have a minority-majority.

Map image courtesy Wikipedia; phone photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

What Do You Think of Area Code 737?

The Public Utility Commission wants to hear from Central Texans this morning about the plan to add a new area code.

Because of population growth and the popularity of cell phones, the commission says 512 numbers are running out and numbers with a 737 area code will soon be added.

Image courtesy

In July, University of Texas employees who use the UT SELECT Medical plan will have to declare whether they use tobacco. And if they do, they will have to pay a $30 dollar premium every month starting in September.

The same goes for spouses and children who are on the plan. The maximum charge would be $90 per month, per family.

“During Annual Enrollment, all UT SELECT Medical plan participants will need to declare whether they are or are not a tobacco user,” the university’s Office of Employee Benefits writes. Approximately 200,000 employees, spouses and children are enrolled statewide in the UT SELECT insurance program.

Photo by KUT News

The Austin Animal Center exceeded their goal of adopting out 40 pets yesterday. And that means 23 animals did not have to be put down.

The Austin Animal Center announced on their Facebook page that 104 pets were adopted, reclaimed or transferred to other shelters yesterday.

The shelter was beyond capacity and needed to make room for new animals coming in.

Electric lines photo by Natasha Lee for KUT News; Perry photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News; Bastrop photo by KUT News

Beginning of the End of Austin Energy Rate Hike Discussion?

The Austin City Council is meeting again today to talk about Austin Energy rates.

On Monday, three council members proposed a new plan for raising rates that they hope will bring a conclusion on the topic. Their plan would increase residential rates in five tiers based on how much energy is used. It would also adjust the proposed rate hikes for churches and schools.

The City Council has held 10 work sessions on Austin Energy rates since March 7. Members of the council have said they expect to have a final decision by late May or early June.

Photo courtesy jamelah via Flickr

The Obama Administration has unveiled a plan to address Alzheimer’s disease.

It has five broad goals for addressing the disease and helping families facing challenges from it, with an end- goal to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s by 2025.

Image courtesy U.S. Department of Defense

Round Rock Soldier Dies in Afghanistan

The U.S. Department of Defense has released the name of a Central Texas soldier who died in Afghanistan. Specialist Alex Hernandez III of Round Rock died Saturday in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

The 25th Combat Aviation Brigade says Hernandez was found unresponsive in his room.

Alex Hernandez was based in Hawaii . He was 21.

The Austin Animal Shelter, which opened last November, already has more animals than it can hold. The city says it’s taken in about 140 more pets than this time last year, and is adopting out fewer animals.

But why does the newly built Austin Animal Center have less space than the Town Lake Animal Center, the city’s former shelter?  

City spokeswoman Patricia Fraga says when the Austin Animal Center was designed three years ago, organizers didn’t take into account that Austin would be a “no kill” city. “So, what’s happening now is we’re keeping animals longer,” Fraga says. “We’re not euthanizing animals for space, so we have animals that are living at the shelter longer than they would have previously.”