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
9:54 am
Wed May 6, 2015

Bill Scaling Back Tuition Benefits for Texas Veterans Moves Forward

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed SB 1735, which would scale back free tuition benefits for Texas veterans.
KUT News

The Texas Senate has approved a bill, SB 1735,  that would scale back free tuition benefits given to some military veterans and their dependents. Lawmakers expanded eligibility for the law, known as the Hazlewood Act, in 2009, but under the new bill it would be scaled back again.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), a veteran himself, says he wrote the bill because public institutions can’t afford to cover everyone who qualifies, so the state has to cut back to save the program for future veterans.

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2015 Legislature
8:52 am
Wed May 6, 2015

Abortion Coverage Would Get Dropped Under Texas Bill

The Texas Senate passed a bill on May 5, 2015, that would eliminate abortion coverage from health insurance plans in Texas.
msjacoby/flickr

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate tentatively passed a bill that would prohibit abortion coverage under many health insurance plans. It could get final approval today.

The bill would only allow coverage for abortions in cases where there’s a medical emergency. State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) says his measure gives Texans who don’t support abortion the choice not to pay for others to get the procedure.

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2015 Legislature
4:43 pm
Fri April 17, 2015

Fracking Bill Gets Tentative OK from Texas House

A bill that would override local fracking bans in Texas was tentatively approved by members of the House on April 17, 2015, with a vote of 122 to 18.
Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

A bill that would override local fracking bans in Texas was approved by members of the House, after several hours of debate. 

The bill is aimed at blocking cities from banning activities like hydraulic fracturing. Last year, voters in the city of Denton approved a ban on fracking in their city limits.

State Rep. Drew Darby, a Republican from San Angelo and the bill's author, says it’s intended to preserve the state government’s right to regulate oil and gas activity.

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2015 Legislature
8:02 am
Fri April 17, 2015

John Legend Heads to the Lege to Drum Up Support for Criminal Justice Bills

Musician John Legend spoke at the Texas Capitol yesterday along with other lawmakers including Houston Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis.
Sarah Montgomery for KUT

John Legend is well-known for his music. He’s won Grammys and, most recently, he and Chicago rapper Common won an Academy Award for the original song “Glory” from the film Selma. During his acceptance speech, Legend used the podium to draw attention to the high incarceration rate in the U.S.

Yesterday, he came to the Texas Capitol to continue that advocacy and kick off a national campaign called Free America, which aims to drop the country’s incarceration rate.

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2015 Legislature
9:13 am
Thu April 16, 2015

'Marlise's Law' on Pregnant Women's End-of-Life Directives Gets Hearing at Capitol

The Texas House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on April 15, 2015 regarding a bill known as "Marlise's Law," about pregnant women's end of life directives.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

When Marlise Muñoz was hospitalized in 2013 with a pulmonary embolism, she was 14 weeks pregnant. Though she had told her family that she never wanted to be on life support, doctors at a Fort Worth hospital kept her on life support until a judge ruled that because she was brain dead, the medical team could take her off of the machines.

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2015 Legislature
8:17 am
Wed April 15, 2015

Texas Senate Passes Two-Year Budget Bill

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

On a vote of 30-1, the Texas Senate has passed a two-year budget that would spend more than $211 billion dollars on everything from education and healthcare to border security, and would include cuts to property and business taxes. 

The debate didn’t take nearly as long as the 18 hours on the House side, but Democrats did voice their opposition. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), the only member to vote against the budget bill, criticized the $811 million that would go to policing the border.

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2015 Legislature
10:43 am
Wed April 8, 2015

Texas Education Bill Aims to Answer School Finance Question

State Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock has authored a school finance bill, HB 1759, that would put another $3 billion dollars back into Texas public schools.
Nathan Bernier/KUT

The Texas House lawmaker in charge of public education has unveiled a plan that he says answers the question: What to do about school finance?

That question has been looming over Texas lawmakers since 2011, when more than 600 school districts sued the state over billions of dollars in cuts to school funding. 

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2015 Legislature
10:25 am
Tue April 7, 2015

Hispanic Evangelicals Say Texas Bill Wrongfully Targets Undocumented Christians

Hispanic evangelical pastors in Texas say they oppose a bill by Sen. Charles Perry, shown here, that prohibits local governments from passing sanctuary city measures.
KUT News

Hispanic evangelicals in Texas have common ground with some conservative Texas lawmakers on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. When it comes to a measure known as the sanctuary cities bill, however, evangelicals say their faith stops them from supporting the measure.

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2015 Legislature
10:00 am
Thu April 2, 2015

Rally Draws Attention to Wage of Home Caregivers in Texas

At the Capitol on April 1, 2015, advocates for people with disabilities showed up in force to draw attention to how much home care attendants earn at minimum an hour in Texas.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT News

At the Capitol Wednesday, advocates for people with disabilities showed up in force to draw attention to how much home care attendants earn, which isn't much more than minimum wage.

The chants were hard to ignore at the rotunda. Home care attendants came to ask Texas lawmakers to raise their minimum wage, since in the state, caregivers get a minimum of $7.86 an hour.

At the rotunda, Sarah Watkins, who is in a wheelchair, said she has a tough time keeping a caregiver for long.

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2015 Legislature
7:47 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Texas House Gives Preliminary Approval to Budget Bill After Hours of Debate

Lawmakers debated the House budget bill, HB1, all day and night of March 31, 2015.
KUT News

At 5:39 a.m. Wednesday, the Texas House gave preliminary approval of its state budget bill for 2016-2017.

House lawmakers spent nearly 18 hours going through amendments that would add or take away spending, hot button issues included, and passed the budget on a vote of 141-5.

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2015 Legislature
7:39 am
Tue March 31, 2015

Texas Senate Gives First OK to Grading Schools A Through F

Texas Senators voted preliminarily to pass a bill on March 30, 2015, that would give Texas public schools a letter grade based on standardized test scores.
Nathan Bernier/KUT News

The Texas Senate is moving forward with a proposal to assign letter grades to Texas public schools.

Supporters say this bill would boost failing schools, while opponents say these grades will stigmatize schools and create more of a problem. 

State Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican, says his bill, SB 6, would empower parents. They’d have more information about how their children’s schools are doing once their school gets an A through F grade based on standardized test scores.

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2015 Legislature
9:32 am
Thu March 26, 2015

Texas Bill Would Ensure that Only Secretary of State Can Issue Marriage Licenses

A bill from State Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would give all power to grant marriage licenses to the Texas Secretary of State. A judge granted an order earlier this year that allowed a county clerk to issue a license to a same-sex couple.
Courtesy of Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant

On Wednesday, a panel of House lawmakers discussed a proposal to change how marriage licenses are issued in Texas, giving that power to one appointed official: the Secretary of State.

The bill comes after the Travis County clerk issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple last month, after being ordered to do so by a judge.

State Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) says his bill would take away the ability of the state’s 254 county clerks to issue marriage licenses, instead giving that power only to the Secretary of State.

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SXSW 2015
11:30 am
Thu March 19, 2015

If Embraced by the Industry, Med Tech Showcased at SXSW Could Transform Health Care

People are developing social networks and medical technology that could help transform the fee-for-service health care system in the U.S.
KUT News

Mary Lou Brown has felt so lonely living in Austin. Since her diagnosis with lupus in 2003, she hasn’t found any support groups for people with the disease. She gets a lot of help from her husband and son, but she says no one gets what it’s like to be in pain all day long.

"[The pain] goes from your heel all the way to the scalp, where no one can touch you," Brown says.

Most of us have an immune system that protects us from germs. But if you have lupus, your immune system can’t tell the difference between the bad guys and healthy tissue, so it attacks the healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain.

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SXSW 2015
3:12 pm
Wed March 18, 2015

Has SXSW Interactive Done More to Embrace Latinos in 2015?

The 'Bilingual Media: Latino Entertainment in the 21st Century' took place on March 17, 2015 at the Austin Convention Center.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

During the South by Southwest Interactive conference last year, only a handful of panels were on Latinos in tech, and those panels were held at an isolated Holiday Inn, nowhere near the convention center downtown.

This year, the panels on Latinos have stretched across a number of days, and all of them have been inside the bustling convention center. We spent some time with people at South by Southwest who identify as Latino to hear about their experience at the conference this year.  Listen to their voices below. 

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Affordable Care Act
9:20 am
Tue March 17, 2015

ACA Enrollment Period Extended for Those Who Were Uninsured in 2014

The federal government has allowed a special enrollment period through April 30, 2015 for certain people who faced a tax penalty on their 2014 tax return and are still uninsured.
KUT News

The signup period to buy an Obamacare plan for 2015 ended last month, but now, there’s a separate window to sign up for a very specific group of people.

Elizabeth Colvin, the director of nonprofit Insure Central Texas, which helps people with the health insurance application process, says this is only for people who are penalized on their 2014 tax return for being uninsured last year.

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2015 Legislature
10:59 am
Fri March 13, 2015

'Marlise's Law' Would Let Stand Pregnant Women's End of Life Directives in Texas

Ernest Machado speaks at the Capitol on March 12, 2015 to shore up support for a bill that would remove the pregnancy exclusion from Texas law on end of life advanced directives.
KUT News

The case of Marlise Muñoz made national headlines when her family sued a Fort Worth hospital to take her off life support.

She was kept on machines for roughly two months, but doctors couldn’t remove her because she was pregnant. This case is now in the spotlight again, but this time at the Texas Capitol. 

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Affordable Care Act
10:26 am
Fri March 13, 2015

Texans Bring Call for Medicaid Expansion to Capitol Steps

At a rally for Medicaid expansion in Texas at the Capitol on March 12, 2015, pets participated, too.
KUT News

As the legislative session picks up steam, dozens of people from across the state came to a rally on the Capitol steps Thursday to show support for Medicaid expansion in Texas under the Affordable Care Act.

Speakers included Texas residents and business community leaders like the president of the Texas Hospital Association and chambers of commerce. 

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Affordable Care Act
12:06 pm
Thu March 12, 2015

Most Texans Who Enrolled in Obamacare Plan Received Tax Subsidy

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 85 percent of consumers in Texas qualified for a tax credit of about $240 dollars a month to reduce their 2015 premiums.
KUT News

In a challenge to the Affordable Care Act heard recently by the Supreme Court, King v. Burwell, the argument was that people who bought health coverage on a federal exchange, like the one in Texas, cannot qualify for a tax credit to make the monthly premium cheaper. That's because of wording in the health care law that challengers of the legislation say only allows the IRS to give tax credits to people on a state exchange.

While that battle plays out in Washington, the federal government has released numbers this week showing how many people are receiving tax credits.

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2015 Legislature
10:42 am
Thu March 12, 2015

Senate Bill Could Change How Texas Agencies Make Deals

State senators are reviewing a bill that would change Texas laws on how state agencies award contracts.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT News

A state senator says Texas has "gaping holes" in the laws on contracting. To change that, a panel of lawmakers is reviewing a bill from State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, that would overhaul how billions of dollars in state funding are awarded.

Under the bill, the more money involved in a state agency contract, the more competitive bids required before signing a deal. Agencies would have to post their contracts online and develop a contract management database, for instance.

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Texas
10:41 am
Tue March 10, 2015

Updated: Texas Man Cleared by DNA Gets Posthumous Degree

An online petition collected more than 12,000 signatures in support of asking Texas Tech University to grant a posthumous degree to Timothy Cole. Friday the board voted to award him the degree.
thepetitionsite.com

Update March 10, 2015 9:45 a.m. Texas Tech University's Board of Regents voted Friday to award an honorary degree to Timothy Cole. The Associated Press first reported about this vote on Monday, after the university released a statement on the regents' vote.

Original story Dec. 11, 2014: Timothy Cole was the first person to receive a Texas posthumous pardon for a crime he didn’t commit. That happened in 2010. Now, a Texas resident wants Texas Tech University to grant Cole an honorary degree.

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