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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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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

Liang Shi/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.

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.

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.

Photo by jmtimages

The 114th U.S. Congress is getting attention for how few women will chair committees in the House, but when it comes to Texans – they won’t be under-represented. Texas Republicans will chair six of the 21 U.S. House committees.

Early voting starts today in several special elections, including one to fill a State House seat vacated by State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington.

Voters in Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes and Lee Counties are casting a ballot once again. They’re choosing a new Texas House member to represent House District 17, a seat that opened up after Rep. Kleinschmidt resigned to work for the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Texas has Medicaid programs that help parents or guardians care at home for children who would otherwise be eligible for nursing facility care, but recently the requirements for children to qualify for some programs have changed.

Photo by Keith Burtis/

Last June, The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners adopted a rule allowing dentists in the state to diagnose and treat certain sleep disorders like snoring and sleep apnea in collaboration with a physician, but a number of physicians groups have spoken out against this new rule, including the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

KUT News

In February, a U.S. district judge in San Antonio ruled that Texas’ gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia didn’t allow gay couples to marry right away, however. He issued a stay on his ruling pending an appeal from the state.

Next, three judges at the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from both sides in this case challenging the same-sex marriage ban in Texas.

Filipa Rodriques/KUT News

In Texas, more than 250,000 children are living with grandparents or other volunteer caregivers, but a new report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities suggests that many of them are not up to the task financially and could use more support and guidance.

Straight ticket voting in Texas reached an all-time high in last month’s elections, according to a new report released by the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy and Political Studies.

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

We've all heard the stories about how a lack of health insurance can force someone to ignore small health issues, until they end up in the emergency room with a more traumatic, and sometimes untreatable, problem. This is happening frequently with the country's uninsured Latina population.

In Austin and across the U.S., nonprofits are helping connect them with health care resources in their communities.

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is recommending that all Texas health agencies be consolidated into one “mega-agency," but the move would need approval from Texas lawmakers next legislative session.

Back in 2003, Texas lawmakers passed a measure that reduced the number of health and human services agencies from 12 to five. Now, the Sunset Advisory Commission has approved merging those five agencies into one.