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 Liang Shi for KUT News

The big story out of the Austin City Council meeting on Thursday was the decision to withdraw a proposal that would have called for a community task force to advise on single-member council districts for future elections. A citizens group pushing to put its own districting proposal on the ballot applauded the withdrawal.

Several other items related to city elections did pass, including an item which will ask voters whether to move local elections from May to November.

The council also held a public hearing and approved an ordinance over zoning for “alternative financial services businesses,” aka payday lenders.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

At 142-items long, saying the Austin City Council faces a full agenda today is an understatement.

Today’s regular meeting is filled with a number of contentious and convoluted issues – certainly not the stuff incumbent council members up for re-election would prefer to address on the eve of early voting. Here's a roundup of three big items up today:

1. Speaking of Voting: Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would create a task force to study options on organizing the city into council districts. The task force would be made up of Austin voters. (Currently council seats are elected at-large.)  The proposal has garnered pushback from a citizens group, Autinites for Geographic Representation, which is collecting signatures to put their 10-1 district plan on the ballot.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Luci Baines Johnson and her husband have donated $1 million to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in southwest Austin. The donation will be used to help build a garden designed for children.

The daughter of the former president says it will feature a maze, an elevated walkway, and giant bird nests that kids will be able to climb into.

KUT News

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples says he doesn’t expect the Texas beef industry will be significantly affected by a case of BSE — or mad cow disease – found in a California dairy cow.

The disease was discovered when the cow was selected for random sampling. It did not enter the food supply, and mad cow disease cannot be transmitted through milk.

Still, Staples and those in the Texas beef industry are watching the futures markets closely. Prices dropped immediately after the news of the discovery but rebounded overnight.

Photo courtesy NBA Development League

Game 1 of the NBA Development League finals is tonight at the Cedar Park Center.

The Austin Toros face the Los Angeles D-Fenders . The Toros are affiliated with the San Antonio Spurs.

Photo courtesy Van Sutherland via Flickr

This morning, Capital Metro bus drivers and mechanics met their soon-to-be employers. Representatives from the companies that Cap Metro is contracting out services with were at the bus garages at 4 a.m. for a quick meet and greet.

Yesterday, the Capital Metro Board of Directors voted to outsource hundreds of employees. Those include regular bus drivers and mechanics along with people who provide door-to-door services for the disabled.

A new law required Cap Metro either to outsource their workers or bring them in as state employees.

Photo for KUT News by Ihwa Cheng

Today the Austin City Council will consider changes to a temporary lease agreement with Austin Pets Alive. Austin Pets Alive has been using a portion of the Town Lake Animal Center since the city shelter moved five miles east to the Austin Animal Center, and now the nonprofit wants to operate out of the entire building.

Also on the agenda at today’s work session, beginning at 9 a.m., is a resolution that would establish an advisory task force on drawing geographical districts for city council elections. The proposal is similar to what was proposed by the city's Charter Revision Committee.

Flickr user Noah Jacquemin,

Migration from Mexico to U.S. at Net Zero — Or less

Are more Mexican immigrants leaving the United States than entering? Maybe. A new report by the Pew Hispanic Center found net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has stopped—and perhaps reversed.

In an analysis of censuses and other data from both countries, researchers determined 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. from 2005 to 2010. Over that same five-year period, 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from America to Mexico.

Photo by KUT News

A new report shows 38 percent of U.S. students who were enrolled in postsecondary classes during the Fall of 2011 semester were adults (under the definition of the study, an adult was at least 25 by October 15). That percentage is down slightly from 2010 but went up by more than 4 percent from 2009 to 2010. 

The study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows adults looking for education are consistently choosing to enroll on a full-time basis over part-time. Adult students also prefer 4-year, public institutions. The center looks at data from more than 3,300 college institutions—representing 93 percent of student enrollment.

Meanwhile, the average age of a student at the University of Texas at Austin (22.5) is actually getting younger. 

Photo by KUT News

AISD Budget Meeting Tonight

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees will meet tonight to discuss the 2013 budget, and policy on consulting with employee unions.

Cap Metro staff has proposed separate contractors for regualr bus routes and its paratransit services, pictured above.
Photo courtesy Flickr user i-Ride Capital Metro

Today, Capital Metro staff met with the agency Board of Directors to make recommendations on new contractor bids. Monday, the board will make a final decision.

These are the last few steps towards a new labor structure for Capital Metro. The changes are required to comply with a new state law that requires transit employees to either become employees of the state or to become employees of a private contractor. The union that represents most of the employees chose the latter option so they could retain collective bargaining rights.

The board will need to choose one contractor for employees of fixed-route bus services and another for employees of paratransit services (door-to-door services for people with disabilities). The board could also choose to have one contractor employ workers of both services.

Photo by KUT News

The unemployment rate is down again in the Austin area.

According to Workforce Solutions, the unemployment rate for March dropped to six percent — that’s just a tenth of a percent lower than in February but remains well below the state and national averages.

Workforce Solutions Capital Area Executive Director Alan Miller says things are moving in the right direction at a slow and steady pace.

Willie and a friend gets a sneak peek at his bronze likeness.
Photo courtesy

Willie Nelson Statue Unveiled

A statue of famed country musician Willie Nelson will be unveiled today.

The eight-foot tall, one-ton statue will stand on the plaza located on Willie Nelson Boulevard (aka Second Street) and Lavaca Street, at the foot of the Austin City Limits Live Theater. Capital Area Statues has worked on the project over the past several years and as board president Lawrence Wright describes it, the statue will be another fixture of Austin’s culture.

“This gift to Austin will become an instant, iconic representation of our great city and its love affair with music.” 

A looming labor switchover means Capital Metro will only have about 200 direct employees.
Photo by Emily Donahue for KUT News

This summer, some 850 workers will no longer be directly employed by transit authority Capital Metro, or its non-profit contractor StarTran — instead, they’ll be contracted out to a soon-to-be named private company.

It’s a change that has to be made because of a state law passed last year, requiring transit employees to either become state employees or employees of a private contractor. The union that represents most of the workers chose the contractor option, as to maintain collective bargaining rights.

Tomorrow, staff will recommend to the Capital Metro Board of Directors which of the contractor bids it believes is best. They may recommend one contractor for fixed route services (regular bus lines), and another for paratransit services (door-to-door service for people with disabilities). Staff may also recommend a single contractor for both.

Protesters were arrested for occupying UT President Bill Powers' office yesterday.
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

UT Students Protest for Workers Rights

The Daily Texan reports a total of 19 protesters, not all of them students, were arrested yesterday for occupying UT President Bill Powers’ office. They were there in protest against alleged sweatshop-like conditions where UT apparel is produced.

The protesters are members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition and included 17 students and two members who are not students.

According to the Texan, the demands of the protestors was a request for the University to switch to the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring organization that conducts investigations of working conditions in factories. A statement on the WRC homepage specifically mentions their goal to protect the rights of workers who make clothes.

KUT News

Austin has made yet another “best of” list. This time, it’s Austin-Bergstrom International Airport that’s getting the accolades — or more precisely, the ABIA outpost of The Salt Lick.

That’s right — the website Food Republic ranks The Salt Lick at ABIA as Number Four on its list of “The World’s Best Airport Restaurants.”

The website says:

Texas barbecue doesn’t get much better than Salt Lick BBQ and an outpost of the preternaturally popular 800-seat restaurant in Driftwood is located in the West Terminal (but fills the entire airport with the bewitching scent of brisket). Try a sloppy, but satisfying, pulled pork sandwich topped with slaw and Original Recipe barbecue sauce for a taste of Hill Country on the tarmac.

Free curly fries are among the freebies businesses offer customers this Tax Day.
Photo courtesy

Some retailers are trying to ease the burden of Tax Day with free and discounted products.

Here's a look at some of the businesses offering a little something extra this April 17 – at participating locations, of course.

Update: Looking to get that midnight postmark? Sorry, but Austin's post offices are no longer staying open until midnight for tax day. Read more here.

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11:59 p.m. is the deadline to have your tax returns postmarked. The General Mail Facility at 8225 Cross Park Drive near Anderson Lane and U.S. 290 East will be collecting mail until midnight to help procrastinators.

But unlike in years past, post office officials don’t expect a huge late-night rush. Many people now use the internet to submit their tax forms. Sam Bolen is a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service. Bolen says he’s not sure how much longer Austin will have a post office open late for Tax Day.

A ruling will be issued today on the school finance trial.

Schools Finance Lawsuits Get Court Date

A tentative trial date is set for four Texas school finance lawsuits.  State District Judge John Dietz has set the trial for October 22.

Hundreds of school districts from across the state are unhappy with the way Texas distributes money. Attorney Mark Trachtenberg, who represents 86 of those districts, says state funding cuts have contributed to depriving districts of the resources they need to meet standards set by the state itself.

Gov. Perry called on legislators to back his "Budget Compact" today.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Governor Rick Perry is calling on state lawmakers to cut spending and keep taxes level in the state’s next budget. Perry unveiled details of the “Texas Budget Compact” in Houston today.

“By keeping this tight rein on spending, we can build a more solid, predictable economy that doesn’t put off tough decisions until, in some cases, it’s too late to deal with them,” Gov. Perry told the crowd in Houston. In details noted on the Governor’s website, Perry also called to “preserve a strong Rainy Day Fund” and “cut unnecessary and duplicative government programs and agencies.”

The state is in the middle of a two year budget passed by lawmakers in 2011. That budget cycle cut spending by $15 billion.