Laura Rice

Producer, Morning Edition

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. 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.

Ways to Connect

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 flickr.com/jacockshaw

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.”

Photo courtesy Clear Channel Outdoor

The Texas Gulf Coast is preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.

Today emergency and traffic officials tested digital billboards that will provide emergency messages throughout the Houston area.

Drivers saw a message that said, “Emergency Alert: This is only a test.”

Photo by KUT News

It's time to vote – again. On the heels of Austin's city election Saturday, early voting for the state and county primaries starts today, and runs through May 25.

The primary was originally scheduled for March but was pushed back because of disagreements over redistricting. Voters will get to choose the party nominees for President, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, among others.

In Travis County, voters will cast primary ballots for offices including district attorney, sheriff, and more.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Low-Turnout Election Returns Incumbents to Council

Voters returned all four incumbents on the Austin City Council – including Mayor Lee Leffingwell – to the dais on Saturday.

The council members’ fates were revealed as soon as early voting totals were released, with the incumbents – Leffingwell, Place 2 council member Mike Martinez, Place 5 council member Bill Spelman, and Place 6 council member Sheryl Cole – all leading by comfortable margins.

Many of the council members commented on the exceedingly low-turnout in the election – just under five percent in early voting, and roughly the same amount on election day. Similarly, many of the council members also endorsed the idea of moving municipal elections to November, and moving to a form of geographic representation for the city council. Voters will most likely have a chance to vote on those proposals this November.

Photo courtesy Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce

Austin’s population is more Asian than Texas as a whole – but it has a lower percentage of Asian-owned businesses.  That’s one reason two local chambers of Commerce are merging.

Today the Texas Asian Chamber of Commerce and the Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce officially joined forces to form one group: the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Board member Ying McGuire says the united chamber will offer help to Asian-Americans, immigrants and refugees.

KUT News

City Elections Tomorrow

Election Day is tomorrow for the Austin municipal elections. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Fourteen candidates are running for four seats on the Austin City Council, including mayor.

Perhaps the most closely watched aspect of the election is the challenge to Mayor Lee Leffingwell by former council member Brigid Shea. Shea accused Leffingwell earlier this week of violating campaign finance laws, and throughout the campaign, has maintained that Austin is becoming more unaffordable

That's a common refrain among political challengers – that they will protect the citizenry's collective pocketbook better than the last guy.  But in the case of Shea, currently a community strategist and consultant, the arrival of huge companies like Apple and Formula One cast her position in a different light. 

Photo courtesy of Marsha Miller for the University of Texas

UT Announces New Dean of Law School

Ward Farnsworth, an associate dean at Boston University’s Law School, will replace Interim Dean Stefanie Lindquist as leader of the law school on June 1.

Before joining Boston University, Farnsworth clerked for Richard Posner on the 7th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Anthony Kennedy on the U. S. Supreme Court.

Farnsworth say his first order of business is "learning from the faculty, the alumni and the rest of the community down there about their views and abilities, and how we can use them to advance the mission of the school," reports the Alcade.

Photo courtesy sheilaz413 via Flickr

May is Older Americans Month — and every year.  more people fit into that category. The Administration on Aging says more than a quarter of Americans will be 60 or older by 2030.

The YMCA of Austin hosted a luncheon today for seniors to encourage them to stay physically and socially active. Research shows older adults are facing more problems with obesity than in decades past and seniors tend to spend less time socializing as they age.

Denise Thomas is the owner of Home Instead — an in-home care agency. She’s working with the YMCA to honor several area seniors who are bettering their lives and the lives of others by staying active and volunteering for groups like Meals on Wheels.

Barack Obama photo courtesy of the White House; Keith Judd photo courtesy Texas Dept. of Corrections.

Texas prison inmate Keith Judd earned an unofficial 42 percent of votes in yesterday’s West Virginia Democratic Presidential Primary. President Barack Obama earned close to 58 percent.

So who is Keith Judd?

The Associated Press reports Judd is behind bars at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution for making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999. Judd paid a $2,500 fee and filed a notarized form to get on the ballot in West Virginia.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/kmart

New Border Patrol Strategy Focuses on Intelligence

The U.S. Border Patrol unveiled a new plan for tightening America’s borders yesterday.

The 2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan includes tactics and technologies developed over the past few years like unmanned aircraft systems – aka, drones – but also more focus on preventing risk.

The past few years have been a period of unprecedented growth in resources for the Border Patrol. Right now, there are more law enforcement officers on the border – more than 21,000 – than at any time in Border Patrol history.

Photos courtesy University of Texas at Austin

Glenn Chandler, the director of the burgeoning University of Texas Butler School of Music, has stepped down. The resignation comes at the encouragement of Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts

Chandler had served as the Butler School’s director since 2001.

Dempster says he and Chandler had different visions of the role and the future of the school of music. The core issue was that Chandler wanted the school to become its own entity separate of the College of Fine Arts. Instead, Dempster wants the school to become more integrated into the College of Fine Arts.

Photo by I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Last night's storm caused power outages to around 3,000 Austin Energy customers all over the city. North Central Austin was especially hard hit.

Austin Energy spokesperson Ed Clark says 17 crews worked overnight to restore energy. Six more crews focused just on tree trimming. Clark says fallen tree limbs were a big problem in last night's storm.

Crews made repairs at about 200 locations. Two power poles were toppled and lines fell at a dozen locations. Austin Energy expects power to be back up everywhere by mid-morning.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/texasgovernor

Texas’ Voter ID Law in Legal Limbo

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that if Texas does not hand over requested documentation by Wednesday, the trial on Texas’ Voter ID Law will most likely be delayed. A delay in the trial means that Texas will not see the law implemented in time for the November election, according to the Texas Tribune.

The trial was scheduled to start July 9, until yesterday’s decision. The DOJ is specifically requesting information on voters and state databases; the state has until Wednesday to comply, says the Tribune.

KUT News previously reported that the DOJ had previously used demographic and census data to argue the  law would have a disproportionate impact on minority citizens.

Image courtesy Department of Public Safety.

Starting today, new applicants for Texas driver’s licenses and IDs will have to meet stricter residency requirements.

First-time applicants have to meet all of the previous requirements, as well as present two additional documents that prove they live in Texas — like a current mortgage or lease agreement and a vehicle registration or title. You can view a complete list of acceptable documents to prove residency here

Pages