Veronica Zaragovia

State Reporter

Veronica Zaragovia reports on state government for KUT News, and gets to team up with an extraordinary group of KUT journalists on how legislation affects the people of Texas. She's reported as a legislative relief news person with the Associated Press in South Dakota and has worked as a freelancer and intern with  the Agence France Presse, TIME, WDET Detroit public radio and PBS NewsHour, among others. She's dedicated much of her adult life to traveling, learning languages and drinking iced coffee. 

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Immigration Reform
4:12 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

Texas Conservatives Say Congress Must Break Gridlock on Immigration Reform

Although immigration legislation may be a tougher prospect now that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost his primary to a Tea Party opponent, a number of Texas Republicans say they’ll keep urging Washington to change immigration law.
flickr.com/wallyg

Now that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost his primary to a Tea Party opponent, immigration legislation may be a tougher prospect.

But in Texas, a number of Republicans say they’ll keep urging Washington to change immigration law.

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Abortion
4:36 pm
Tue June 10, 2014

Update: Abortion Doctors Regain Admitting Privileges at Dallas Hospital

Two Texas doctors have filed a lawsuit against University General Hospital Dallas for revoking their admitting privileges.
Nathan Bernier, KUT

Update:  Drs. Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia have reached a settlement [PDF] with University General Hospital Dallas. The hospital  has restored their admitting privileges, which enables them to keep providing abortions by complying with Texas' new abortion restrictions.

Original Story (April, 17, 2014): Two Texas doctors that offer abortions are challenging a hospital for revoking their admitting privileges.

Read the petition here.

In a letter, University General Hospital Dallas says granting admitting privileges to doctors who perform abortions would be disruptive to the hospital’s reputation.

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Immigration
4:20 pm
Tue June 10, 2014

Report Alleges Abuse of Immigrants at Private Texas Prisons

A report out June 10, 2014 by the ACLU and ACLU of Texas alleges undocumented immigrants live in abusive conditions at private prisons in Texas.
KUT

Undocumented immigrants live in deplorable conditions at private prisons in Texas, according to a report out today by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The report is based on years of interviews the ACLU and ACLU of Texas have conducted with immigrants detained at so-called Criminal Alien Requirement prisons. Inmates said conditions include overflowing bathrooms and infestations of vermin.

Rebecca Robertson, Legal & Policy director of the ACLU of Texas, says these companies are in business to make money – and federal Bureau of Prisons contracts are lucrative.

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Medical Marijuana
12:08 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

Why Veterans Could Influence Texas Medical Marijuana Laws

A story in Texas Monthly's June issue poses the question: Can Texas veterans change the minds of state lawmakers against legalizing medical marijuana?
flickr.com/eggrole

Can more than 1.5 million Texas veterans change the minds of state lawmakers opposed to legalizing medical marijuana?

William Martin, director of the Drug Policy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, poses that question in the June issue of Texas Monthly. In his article “War Without End,” Martin talks with veterans using pot to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The story that’s most illustrative is a woman who uses the name Myst," Martin says. 

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Affordable Care Act
5:32 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

How Prisoners Are Reigniting the Debate Over Texas Medicaid Expansion

The debate over Medicaid expansion in Texas came up at the Capitol at a hearing on May 29, 2014, because of concern over rising costs of inmates' health care.
Nick Cowie for Texas Tribune

The debate over Medicaid expansion in Texas came up at the Capitol today in a new way: there’s concern about how to pay the rising costs of health care for prison inmates.

Costs related to infectious diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV are on the rise in the Texas correctional system. Another number on the rise: the amount of Texas inmates older than age 55.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, says it’s another reason why the state should consider expanding Medicaid eligibility as offered by the Affordable Care Act.

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Health
4:10 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Texas Pilot Program Combines Medicare, Medicaid Into One Plan

A 2015 pilot program in Texas for people on both Medicaid and Medicare would help them get the care they need in an appropriate facility.
Spencer Selvidge/KUT

In Texas, about 400,000 people are on both Medicare and Medicaid. Right now, they’re on separate health plans: the state handles Medicaid, while the federal government oversees Medicare. 

But a pilot effort is underway to shed some redundancy and unnecessary cost – by folding the plans into one.  

Combining services under one plan would help people get the care they need in an appropriate facility – a nursing home instead of a hospital, for example, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Spokesperson Stephanie Goodman says it increases cost-saving incentives if one plan is not making decisions that are paid for by the other plan. "By combining it, you can get people better care in the right setting, lower costs generally, and the savings can be shared by both the state and federal government," Goodman says.

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Texas
4:48 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Amid Low Voter Turnout Overall, More Republicans Expected to Vote

Because of low voter turnout, few people came through the doors of the Austin Public Library's Carver Branch on May 27, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Texas voters are deciding today who will be on the ballot in some high-profile elections in November. But few voters turn out in primary runoffs like this one.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says she estimates a 6 or 7 percent turnout today.

"It looks like by the time the day’s over, that the Republicans will probably have a little more of a turnout," DeBeauvoir said. "They seem to have a little more interesting set of races on their side."

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Memorial Day 2014
3:39 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

Families Mourn Central Texas Soldiers Who Died in Combat

Family members of three Central Texas soldiers who died in combat last year took part in a ceremony at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery on May 26, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

As rain fell over Central Texas, people gathered to remember those who have died in war.

At the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen, near Fort Hood, retired Command Sgt. Major Elijah King, Jr. stopped to put flags and flowers by a memorial to soldiers in his brigade who died in Iraq during the first deployment.

"It’s important for Americans to remember those who have given their lives, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoyed," King said. "If you haven’t served it’s difficult to understand."

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Veterans Affairs
1:24 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Central Texas Courts Help Veterans Tested by War Stay Out of Jail

Donnie Hilliard starts the Travis County Veteran's Court Program on May 15, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Across the country and here in Texas, counties have been setting up special courts specifically for veterans in recent years.

Those veterans that go through the court have to stick with a series of commitments to avoid jail time.

Travis County has had a veterans court since 2010. Two more Central Texas counties will open their own courts in the coming months.

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Deepwater Horizon Spill
5:34 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

Texas Legislature Left Out of Loop on $5M from BP to Governor's Office

BP gave $5 million to Gov. Rick Perry’s office in September 2010. At a Capitol hearing on May 21, 2014, lawmakers learned of this for the first time.
Image courtesy SkyTruth http://www.flickr.com/photos/skytruth/

Today when a Texas House panel hosted a hearing to get an update on money from BP after the Deep Water Horizon explosion, lawmakers learned about money BP gave to the Governor’s office, without looping the Legislature in. 

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Texas Foster Care
9:34 am
Wed May 21, 2014

The Rate of Texas Foster Care Youths On Meds is Falling – And Could Fall More

A new Texas law could reduce the rate of medicated foster kids even more. It's been falling for about 10 years.
Liang Shi for KUT

President Obama recently called for millions in new spending aimed at reducing the number of foster care children being prescribed psychotropic medications.

In Texas, the percentage of children on these medications has been dropping in recent years, but concerns remain.

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Texas
5:54 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

Texas A&M Plans Nursing Program to Help Sexual Assault Victims

The Texas A&M Health Science Center is working on a forensic nursing program that would boost the number of the state’s nurses trained to help rape victims seek care and justice.
Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Only 35 percent of injured sexual assault victims in the U.S. receive medical care, according to a new study that suggests not enough nurses are trained to help victims and conduct forensic exams.

But there’s an effort to change that.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center is working on a forensic nursing program that would boost the number of the state’s nurses trained to help rape victims seek care and justice.

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Energy & Environment
4:32 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

Austin Energy OKs Deal For Texas' Single Biggest Solar Farm

Austin Energy has signed a deal with Reliant Energy to build the largest single solar facility in Texas by 2016.
flickr.com/demmbatz

Austin Energy will soon be getting more of its power from the sun.

The city-owned electric utility has signed a deal, announced today, with a San Francisco-based firm to build the single largest solar facility in Texas by 2016. Under a 20-year power purchase agreement, Recurrent Energy will build a 150-megawatt solar farm in West Texas.

Austin Energy spokesperson Carlos Cordova says the deal will help the public utility and the Austin City Council to achieve two goals – "to have 200 megawatts of all of our energy derived from solar power, and 35 percent of all of our energy be derived by renewable energy."

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Veteran Affairs
5:47 pm
Mon May 12, 2014

Texas Hearing to Address Claims of Doctored Wait Times at VA Clinics

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, hosted a press conference on allegations of manipulated wait times at VA clinics in Austin and San Antonio.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

On the heels of allegations that VA clinics across the country manipulated wait times, a state senate hearing will ask veterans whether they've struggled to get a timely doctor’s appointment.

Lieutenant Governor candidate and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, says she’s especially troubled by allegations of misrepresented wait times at clinics in San Antonio and Austin. The chair of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, Van de Putte says an independent investigation should take place.

"People responsible need to be held accountable," she says. "These scheduling clerks didn’t just decide to falsify reports all over the country at the same time."

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Texas
5:29 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

Texas' Underfunded Roadways Get Spotlight at Capitol Hearing

A select Texas House Committee on Transportation hosted a hearing on May 6, 2014 at the Capitol to discuss the unfunded transportation need in Texas.
Daniel Reese

A select Texas House Committee on Transportation is reviewing the underfunded transportation needs in Texas – and it’s having a difficult time.

"I don’t want to make this so much of a basic 101, but transportation financing and funding is very complicated for the people that are involved, let alone those who are not," says state Rep. Joe Pickett, (D-El Paso), the committee’s chair.

Panel members heard from experts like David Ellis, a senior research scientist with the Texas A&M  Transportation Institute. He says the Texas Department of Transportation needs $4 billion more annually to maintain the current quality of roads. That’s on top of the $10 billion a year spent now on road construction and upkeep. He says wear and tear also costs drivers more.

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Texas
5:20 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

New Horse-Mounted Patrol Aims to Deter Crime at State Capitol, Texas Style

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Jerald Sams rides a DPS horse at the Texas State Capitol on May 6, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Visitors to the Texas State Capitol complex will notice a new mounted patrol unit of the Texas Department of Public Safety. On Tuesday, people were petting and feeding the horses, which are intended to deter crime on the 46-square-block area. 

More than 12,000 state and civilian employees work at the capitol complex on any given day. Texas Public Safety Commission chair A. Cynthia Leon says when the legislature is in session, that population can soar to 80,000 people.

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Texas
5:10 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Campaign Contributions From 'Dark Money' Groups Under Spotlight at Texas Capitol

The Texas House State Affairs Committee took up campaign finance transparency at a public hearing on May 1, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia, KUT

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill last session that would have subjected some groups to stricter campaign finance disclosure rules.  Now, the Texas House State Affairs Committee is taking another look at campaign finance law. 

The committee is taking up the issue of secret campaign spending by politically active nonprofits – aka "dark money" groups that can contribute large sums of money to political action committees without having to disclose their donors. Committee Chair Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, says voters have a right to know who’s influencing elections.

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Federal Judicial Vacancies
10:01 am
Wed April 30, 2014

Texas Judges at Federal Courts Struggle As Bench Vacancies Grow

Texas has some of the busiest federal courts in the nation – and some of the most judicial vacancies. The Western District Court in Austin doesn't have vacancies, but judges struggle with heavy dockets.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Texas has some of the busiest federal courts in the nation – and some of the most judicial vacancies. That means judges who are on duty in Texas are struggling.

Right now, seven seats are vacant at federal district courts in Texas. Four more vacancies are expected by 2015. That’s more than 20 percent of federal judgeships in the state.

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Mental Health
3:44 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

First Psychiatric Emergency Department in Central Texas Opens its Doors

Jesús Garza, Seton's president, speaks at an event shortly before Seton's psychiatric emergency department opened its doors on April 29, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

The first psychiatric emergency department in Central Texas opened today at University Medical Center Brackenridge.

The department's aim is to divert patients away from general community emergency rooms into more appropriate and cost-effective care. Now Central Texas adults experiencing a behavioral health crisis can now get help at any time of the day.

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Mental Health
4:22 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Mental Health Support for Texas Inmates on Lawmakers' Agenda

Texas lawmakers hosted a hearing on April 22, 2014, to look into what else should be done to provide mental health services for inmates at state facilities.
Liang Shi, KUT News

Texas lawmakers are looking into whether more should be done to provide mental health services for inmates at state prisons.

Prison officials say inmates already have access to medication and individual or group counseling for mental illness. Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston says the legislature has provided enough mental health funding in recent years for prisoners and parolees. And, he says, it shows.

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