Veronica Zaragovia

State Reporter

Veronica Zaragovia reports on state government for KUT. She's reported as a legislative relief news person with the Associated Press in South Dakota and has contributed reporting to NPR, PRI's The World, Here & Now and Latino USA, the Agence France Presse, TIME in Hong Kong and PBS NewsHour, among others. She has two degrees from Columbia University, and has dedicated much of her adult life to traveling, learning languages and drinking iced coffee. 

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2015 Legislature
4:22 pm
Fri February 6, 2015

Bill Would Require More Texas Parents to Vaccinate Children

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, is introducing a bill that would reduce the number of reasons parents can use to get their children in public schools exempted from required vaccinations.
Pascal Dolémieux/flickr

A state lawmaker wants to boost vaccine requirements for children in Texas public schools and give parents fewer exemptions.

Right now, public schools in Texas can waive immunization requirements for students whose parents claim exemptions including medical, military or what the state calls reasons of conscience.

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Criminal Justice
11:49 am
Fri February 6, 2015

Texas' Use of Solitary Confinement Worsens Inmate Mental Illness, Report Says

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project says Texas' prison agency uses solitary confinement way too much.
Still Burning/flickr

Texas prisons kept 6,564 people in solitary confinement in 2014, and civil rights groups in Texas have a new report out that argues the state is using what it calls administrative segregation way too much: for an average of four years per inmate, and in some cases, as long as two decades.

Inmates are locked up alone in a 60-square-foot cell most of the day in Texas, and researchers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project say that worsens mental illness and makes inmates more dangerous to guards and to the public. It also costs taxpayers at least $46 million a year in extra security costs, according to the report.

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Health
11:04 am
Thu February 5, 2015

As HIV Doctor Pool Shrinks Across U.S., Recruitment Efforts Grow

Dr. David Wright, an HIV physician in Austin, speaks with University of Texas Medical Branch student Lola Longe in his office at University Medical Center Brackenridge in Austin.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

The number of young physicians applying to infectious disease fellowships has been steadily declining over the last five years. Experts in Texas and across the country are worried about this looming shortage of HIV providers and brainstorming ways to turn this trend around.

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2015 Legislature
8:57 am
Tue February 3, 2015

Senate Finance Panel Starts Tackling Texas Budget

Members of the Texas Senate Finance Committee began tackling the 2016-2017 Texas budget at the State Capitol on Feb. 2, 2015.
Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

Members of the Texas Senate Finance Committee have begun meeting regularly to work on the state budget for the next two fiscal years.

Texas has an estimated $7.5 billion left over from the current two-year budget cycle, which gives lawmakers more money to work with as they plan state spending for the 2016-2017 budget.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, says she’s willing to talk about options for that extra money, including paying down state debt.

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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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Health Care
5:09 pm
Tue January 27, 2015

Dell Family Foundation Makes Major Donation to UT Hospital

A rendering of the Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, slated to open in 2017.
Seton Healthcare Family

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is donating $25 million in a challenge grant to pay for Seton Healthcare Family’s new teaching hospital in Austin.

Susan Dell, who announced the decision today, says they want the community to get involved in donating the remaining $25 million. The $50 million combined will go toward the Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas.

"We will have state-of-the-art treatments for our patients, we’ll be able to attract the best talent in the country to our team here in Central Texas," Dell said. "One of Michael and my biggest goals is always about elevating the level of care for the entire community here in Central Texas, and this project helps us do that."

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Austin
9:36 am
Fri January 23, 2015

City Leaders Join Obamacare Enrollment Push As Deadline Nears

Austin city leaders joined Get Cover America in a press conference on Jan. 22, 2015, to remind people about the upcoming deadline to sign up for health insurance through healthcare.gov.
Credit Callie Hernandez/KUT News

The end of the open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act is less than a month away. In Austin, city leaders are pushing hard to get the word out.

At City Hall Thursday, some Austin City Council members reminded people they have until Feb. 15 to sign up.

"I just want to join my colleagues in this great group in getting the message out to folks that now is the time to do it," Austin Mayor Steve Adler says. "It’s easier than you think, and there’s more assistance available than you might think."

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Texas
5:33 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Paid Leave, Child Care Could Help Reduce Gender Inequalities

A study from UT Austin and the UC-Santa Barbara suggests if more workplaces support work-family balance, women are more likely to prefer egalitarian relationships.
Credit morgueFile

Most young women and men prefer to equally share family and work responsibilities, according to a new study from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California Santa Barbara.

The researchers found that regardless of their social class, both men and women ages 18 to 32 prefer relationships in which the woman isn’t doing more of the housework and the man isn't spending more time at work.

Women who participated in the survey say they’d prefer to not be the primary caregivers and homemakers, if they could have support from their workplaces.

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2015 Legislature
9:08 am
Tue January 20, 2015

After Today's Inauguration, Legislature Will Get to Work

Several events take place in Austin on Jan. 20 in the inauguration of Texas’ Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick.
Gage Skidmore

Several events take place in Austin today as part of the inauguration of Texas’ new governor and lieutenant governor, from a swearing-in ceremony to a black-tie ball.

The day kicks off on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol at 11 a.m. Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick will take the oath of office, and so the 48th governor and 42nd lieutenant governor of Texas will be sworn in.

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2015 Legislature
3:18 pm
Mon January 19, 2015

Texas Nursing Homes Could Get Licenses Revoked Under Three Strikes Bill

State Sen. Charles Schwertner has filed a 2015 bill that would lead to revoking the license of a nursing home with three or more violations.
KUT News

A bill filed Friday in the Texas Senate would lead to revoking the license of any nursing home with three or more violations. 

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed this bill to raise the standards at nursing homes, which have gotten national criticism recently. Last year, national advocacy group Families for Better Care ranked Texas as the worst state for nursing home quality.

Schwertner's bill is informally called the three strikes bill because it would require the Department of Aging and Disability Services to revoke a nursing home’s license if the facility has three or more serious health and safety violations.

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2015 Legislature
11:20 am
Mon January 19, 2015

Texas Health Care Spending Discussion Begins As House Releases Base Budget

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has released a two-year base budget, a starting point for budget discussions over the 2015 legislative session.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus released a two-year base budget last week, while the Senate is still working on its version.

Base budget estimates like this one [read a PDF version here] are just starting points for budget discussions over the course of the legislative session, but budget analysts are looking to see what's the starting point for spending on health care.

The House is beginning that discussion with almost $76 billion for Health and Human Services, while Medicaid would get about $60 billion – both small increases over the last budget. Mental health and substance abuse would get more than $3 billion, about the same as the last budget.

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Affordable Care Act
8:53 am
Fri January 16, 2015

More Spending Underway to Boost Texas Obamacare Signups in 2015

Insurance agents working with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas answered questions outside of a Target in San Antonio from potential customers on Dec. 12, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured Texans have signed up for health insurance since the federal government began requiring it last year.

Still, Texas continues to have the highest rate of uninsured people in the country. The state doesn’t spend any money to promote the federal health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

Last year, nonprofits spent much of the enrollment period educating people on the ACA. Their efforts were slowed by the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov website. In the second year of the insurance marketplace, some Texas nonprofits are changing their strategy, and insurers, hospitals, and city governments are also doing more to help people enroll.

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Affordable Care Act
12:53 pm
Thu January 15, 2015

Obamacare Deadline Is Today For Coverage Starting Feb. 1

For consumers wanting a health insurance plan through the federal marketplace, Jan. 15 is a deadline for coverage that becomes effective Feb. 1.
healthcare.gov

People who qualify for health insurance through the federal marketplace should keep in mind some looming deadlines – like today, for people wanting coverage to start Feb. 1.

Open enrollment will end soon for those who qualify for a health insurance plan on the federal marketplace. That deadline is Feb. 15 for coverage that begins on March 1.

People who want their coverage to start Feb. 1 must enroll and pay for their health insurance plan by the end of today, Jan. 15.

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2015 Legislature
9:30 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Will Texas Senate Keep Its Two-Thirds Rule in 2015?

The Texas Senate will vote whether to keep or scrap the two-thirds rule after Jan. 20, 2015.
Bryan Winter/KUT News

Texas senators have long honored a tradition known as the two-thirds rule, which means two-thirds of the chamber’s 31 members – or 21 of them – have to agree to bring a bill up for a vote.

The full Texas senate will have a vote to decide whether to keep this rule or scrap it in the 2015 session, but Texas senators will have to wait until after the Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, R-Houston, is sworn in before they vote whether to keep the two-thirds rule.  

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2015 Legislature
4:18 pm
Tue January 13, 2015

Gun Rights Advocates Drum Up Support for Open Carry Bill

Murdoch Pizgatti, president of Come and Take It Texas, operates the Ghost Gunner machine outside the Texas State Capitol on Jan. 13, 2015.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Gun rights activists demonstrated at the Capitol today in support of a bill that would allow people to carry handguns openly without a permit.

The author of the bill is State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Tea Party Republican from Tarrant County. He stood alongside thousands of signed petitions in favor of House Bill 195. Rep. Stickland said paying for a permit is unfair to low-income Texans. 

"There are a lot of people out here who do not have the disposable income to pay these fines for the right to carry," Stickland said.

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Abortion
1:50 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

Portions of Texas Abortion Law Under Scrutiny Again by Federal Judges

On Jan. 7, judges at the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard oral arguments from opponents and backers of Texas' abortion law, HB2.
Karina Kling/Time Warner Cable News

Back in October, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked two parts of a Texas abortion law called HB2, but only temporarily, until a federal appeals court rules on their constitutionality.

One key provision of the Texas law would require that all abortion clinics adopt the building standards of ambulatory surgical centers, a standard that most existing providers don't meet. These buildings cost millions of dollars to construct.

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Austin
2:51 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

Health Workers Help Latino Parents Overcome Language Barriers in Austin

Sendero Health Plans recently started a pilot program that sends community health workers to homes of Spanish-speaking parents who need help.

Sendero Health Plans recently started a pilot program that sends community health workers with the Latino Healthcare Forum to homes of Spanish-speaking parents who need help understanding what the doctor recommended -- an effort meant to reduce ER visits.

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2015 Legislature
8:43 am
Tue January 6, 2015

Abortion, Family Planning Bills Filed Ahead of Texas' 2015 Legislative Session

Texas' 84th Legislature might debate bills related to abortion and family planning in the 2015 legislative session.
Liang Shi for KUT News

The Texas Legislature made headlines in 2013 when it passed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country,

That law, known as HB2, bans most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, it requires doctors to receive admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the abortion clinic and only allows abortions at ambulatory surgical centers. Parts of that law are being challenged this week at a federal appeals court.

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2015 Legislature
8:40 am
Tue January 6, 2015

Can Texas Insure More Low-Income People Without Expanding Medicaid?

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott says he expects Texas lawmakers will consider ways to reduce the rate of the uninsured next legislative session.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the nation, and last legislative session, lawmakers did have some discussion on how Texas could draw down federal dollars to insure more people, but only if the options don't include expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

At least one of the bills filed already would allow Medicaid expansion, but that doesn’t mean any will make it to the floor of the House or Senate for discussion.

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Aging in Texas
10:15 am
Mon January 5, 2015

Texas Researchers Seek World War II Vets for Study on Memory, Identity

World War II veteran Joe Berger receives a visit from Cadet Third Class Garrett Goldstone, who's with the University of Texas at Austin Air Force ROTC, on Nov. 11, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

A team of researchers, led by a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, has been studying characteristics of memory among World War II veterans.

The team is finding that these seniors have an unusual ability to remember their life stories, which may be a result of serving in that particular war.

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