Texas

Environment
1:25 pm
Fri November 30, 2012

Austin Finishes its Driest November in 100-Plus Years

The drought's impact on McKinney Falls State Park.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

It didn’t rain at all in Austin this month, making it the driest November in more than 100 years. Only three other years on record show no rainfall for the month, all in the 1800’s: 1861, 1894 and 1897.

In fact, it hasn't rained 0.03 inches or less in Austin in November since 1950.

So will the dry weather stick around? The latest forecasts don’t indicate either an unusually dry or an unusually wet winter for Texas.

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The Lead
8:43 am
Fri November 30, 2012

The Lead: Austin Apartments Booming, Recycling Expanding, Closing Out a Dry November

Happy Friday! The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for patchy fog and higher than normal temperatures today. Here’s KUT News’ top stories:

“‘There’s no question that we are in a rapid development mode for apartments right now,’ said Charles Heimsath with Capitol Market Research, a real estate tracking firm in Austin.  ‘Condominium development has kind of taken a back seat to apartment development for the short run.’

So why is this happening? Well, for one, the apartment occupancy rate is high. Capitol Market Research says it’s at 97 percent in Austin right now and reports that rents downtown are twice as expensive as the city average.”

“The Keystone XL Pipeline, which will take oil from sand pits in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, is under construction across hundreds of miles of Texas land. And some of the residents who own that land are none too happy about it. For StateImpact Texas, Terrence Henry reports.”

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Health
8:16 am
Fri November 30, 2012

Texas Cancer Research Agency Gave Out $11M Without Review

A new controversy faces CPRIT.
Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The state’s cancer research agency has revealed it handed out an $11 million grant without reviewing the proposal.

It’s the latest challenge facing the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT.

The grant was awarded to Peloton Therapeutics in June 2010, making it one of CPRIT's first grants.

The cancer research institute says the oversight was discovered during an internal review.

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George H. W. Bush
11:45 am
Thu November 29, 2012

Former President George H.W. Bush in Houston Hospital

Former President George H.W. Bush in September at the Ryder Cup golf match in Medinah, Ill.
Mike Ehrmann Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 29, 2012 10:47 am

"Former President George H.W. Bush remains in a Houston hospital, where he has been for seven days as doctors battle a lingering cough that has drawn concern," the Houston Chronicle writes.

But Bush's chief of staff, Jean Becker, tells the newspaper that the former president, now 88, has bronchitis and that it's expected he'll be released from Methodist Hospital this coming weekend.

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The Lead
9:11 am
Thu November 29, 2012

The Lead: Texas Utility Funding, Cyclists Ride for Safer Streets

Good morning. The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for highs in the 70s after this morning’s fog burns off. Here’s some of KUT News’ top overnight stories.

“Fiscal transparency and cost cutting are buzzwords to watch for as state lawmakers gather in Austin next January. But with all that talk, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a pile of money — nearly a billion dollars — that’s been growing in a state fund for years, not being used for its intended purpose.

KUT’s Mose Buchele reports for StateImpact Texas on the $850 million System Benefit Fund.”

“The Austin City Council Wednesday reviewed its plan to offer incentives to the credit card company Visa to establish an information technology center in the city.

The incentives total $250 per job per year, for 10 years. To earn the money, Visa has to create 794 full-time jobs. Those jobs average $113,000 annual salary plus benefits. The council heard comments from the public, including Paul Robbins, who said Austin’s already high housing and utility costs are a reason to oppose incentives for ventures like Visa and Formula One.”

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The Lead
8:49 am
Wed November 28, 2012

The Lead: Austin, Travis County Reconsider Economic Incentives

Good morning, Austin’s in for a sunny but cool day, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s KUT News’ top overnight stories:

"The City of Austin will soon consider changes to its economic incentives program, which aims to lure companies to move here. Tuesday, a City Council committee drafted recommendations about living wages, training and workers’ rights. The committee heard from workers and business leaders about the proposal to require companies pay workers at least $11 per hour to qualify for incentives."

"Texans who live in larger cities need to be very careful about how they buy their electricity, because they may be paying too much.  StateImpact Texas reporter Dave Fehling has been looking into prices that have been kept secret."

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Environment
4:37 am
Fri November 23, 2012

An Arbor Embolism? Why Trees Die In Drought

A forest near Trieste, Italy, is largely dead owing to drought stress during the summer of 2012.
Andrea Nardini Nature

Originally published on Fri November 23, 2012 12:53 pm

Scientists who study forests say they've discovered something disturbing about the way prolonged drought affects trees.

It has to do with the way trees drink. They don't do it the way we do — they suck water up from the ground all the way to their leaves, through a bundle of channels in a part of the trunk called the xylem. The bundles are like blood vessels.

When drought dries out the soil, a tree has to suck harder. And that can actually be dangerous, because sucking harder increases the risk of drawing air bubbles into the tree's plumbing.

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Transportation
3:31 pm
Thu November 22, 2012

100-Vehicle Pileup In Southeast Texas Kills Two, Injures Dozens

Originally published on Thu November 22, 2012 3:26 pm

At least two people are dead and dozens injured in a 100-vehicle pileup on Interstate 10 in southeast Texas that's being blamed on early morning fog on Thanksgiving Day.

KFDM TV reports that the dead included a man and a woman in a Chevy Suburban that was crushed by a tractor trailer. State troopers told the TV station that between 80 and 120 people were hurt; they were taken to hospitals in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Winnie. The crash occurred southwest of Beaumont, 80 miles east of Houston.

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Health
8:49 am
Thu November 22, 2012

Texas Researchers Developing New HIV Vaccine

A single-dose vaccine against HIV is being patented by a Texas group.
Amanda Mills, Centers for Disease Control

The San Antonio-based Texas Biomedical Research Institute has applied for a patent for a new genetically engineered HIV vaccine. This new vaccine would provide lifelong protection from the disease with a single dose.

The vaccine is designed to target the cells that line the body’s surface structures. which are the point of entry into the body in approximately 90 percent of HIV cases. Once HIV enters the body through these cells, it quickly spreads to the lymph nodes and other organs, where it replicates throughout the body. The new vaccine would stimulate the body’s outer layers and cells to generate cells that produce antibodies to HIV. 

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Transportation
7:29 am
Wed November 21, 2012

Six Things You Need to Know About Thanksgiving Travel

Millions of Texans are expected to hit the roads for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

Today is historically one of the busiest travel days of the year. KUT News has compiled a list of things you need to know before you hit the roads... or skies.

1. Yes, It May be Busy

AAA Texas estimates that about 3 million people in Texas will hit the road for Thanksgiving—that's up about 1.6 percent from last year.

2. It May Cost You Less to Fill Up

The good news for those travelers is that gas prices across the state continue to fall. The statewide average price for a gallon of unleaded is $3.16. Prices in Austin are slightly higher at $3.19.

Click here to find gas prices near you.

3. You'll Probably See Officers Out

The Austin Police Department and the Department of Public Safety will have more officers on the roads over the next few days. They’ll be targeting speeders and drunk drivers.

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Politics
11:42 am
Mon November 19, 2012

What if Bush Leapfrogged Other Texas Republicans?

George P. Bush
Gage Skidmore, Texas Tribune

What if George P. Bush wanted to run for governor in 2014?

It’s not what most people are talking about, now that he’s knocked on the political door. When he filed papers this month designating a campaign treasurer — the first legal step on the path to a candidacy — most of the conversation focused on the lesser statewide offices, things like land commissioner and comptroller.

And his father, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, sent out a fundraising letter last week saying his son was looking at the General Land Office.

But if you are, like many political journalists, a fight promoter at heart, you can make out faint rumblings about something bigger.

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Business
4:02 pm
Fri November 16, 2012

Hostess No More: Texas-based Twinkies Maker Closes Shop (Updated)

Twinkies were long thought to last forever. It turns out they may not.
Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update: Company spokesperson Tammy Taylor tells KUT News that “Hostess Brands had 230 employees in Texas. All facilities are shut down, with the exception of retail outlets, which will remain open for about a week to sell remaining product in going out of business sales.”

Taylor says that “severance will not be paid at this time” to the laid-off employees; “funds for these amounts are not in the ‘Wind Down’ budget that Hostess lenders approved.”

Original post (1:25 p.m.): It’s the end of Hostess Brands, the Texas-headquartered maker of Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs.  This morning Hostess said it filed a motion in bankruptcy court to request permission to liquidate its assets.

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Texas
9:01 pm
Thu November 15, 2012

Fatalities Reported as Train Hits Veterans Parade Trailer in Texas

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 9:54 am

At least four people are dead and several others injured after a train crashed into a trailer carrying veterans during a parade in West Texas.

The Midland Reporter-Telegram spoke to Midland Chief of Police Price Robinson. Here's what the paper says:

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2013 Legislative Sesssion
2:28 pm
Thu November 15, 2012

Texas Legislators Start Wrangling on State Budget (Update)

Texas' spending cap is the prime topic before the Legislative Budget Board today.
Erik Reyna for KUT News

Update: The Legislative Budget Board approved a 10.7 percent spending increase for the 2014-2015 budget. That means – for now – that lawmakers can spend up to $77.9 billion in the two year budget.

That amount will go up in a few months,  as lawmakers add billions to the current budget to pay for an underfunded Medicaid system.

Republican lawmakers pledged today to spend less than the cap allows – no matter the number.

Original Post (10:14 a.m.): The Texas Legislative Budget Board is meeting this morning to set the state’s spending cap for fiscal years 2014-2015.

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The Lead
9:04 am
Thu November 15, 2012

The Lead: F1 Rounds the Corner

Good Thursday morning to all. We’ve got a beautiful day ahead of us as we rev up for the festivities Formula 1 is bringing our way. There will be partly sunny skies, with a high near 65. As for tonight, the skies will be cloudy, with low near 50.

Here are some stories KUT News and our partners have been working on this week:

Some of the 100,000 people expected for Austin’s first Formula One race have already started streaming into town. The international sporting event has a reputation of attracting the super rich, and there may be some truth to that. “We’re flying in our own celebrity DJ,” said Nicholas Frankl, an event promoter who with his sister runs My Yacht Group. “We have Lamborghini sponsoring the event. We have the most expensive Champagne available in America today, called Comte de Mazeray. It’s 24-karat gold-infused Champagne.”

DNA testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner sought for more than a decade further implicates him in the New Year’s Eve 1993 triple murder for which he was sentenced to die, according to an advisory that the Texas Attorney General’s Office filed Wednesday in Gray County state district court. But a lawyer for Skinner, who was convicted in 1995 of the murders of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in Pampa, said the DNA testing is incomplete and indicates that another person may have been at the scene of the crimes.

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2013 Legislative Sesssion
11:41 am
Wed November 14, 2012

Forget Welfare Recipients: Should State Officials Be Drug Tested Too?

Turnabout is fair play, says one Texas lawmaker proposing drug tests for those seeking political office.
Erik Reyna for KUT News

Gov. Rick Perry is holding another press conference this afternoon to discuss possible changes to welfare and unemployment insurance – including the possibility that so called "high-risk" recipients be required to take drug tests.

Today Perry will stand alongside State Sen. Tommy Williams in Conroe to once again talk about his support for a bill filed this week. It's an issue Perry has pounced on and appears to be making a priority for the 2013 Legislative Session. Just yesterday, Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst held a rare joint press conference yesterday to praise the bill filed by State Sen. Jane Nelson.

Now, a state representative from Beaumont is throwing the bill's supporters a challenge. State Rep. Joe Deshotel wants Perry, Dewhurst and Nelson to support adding a drug test requirement to the application to run for state office.

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Texas
7:12 am
Wed November 14, 2012

New Agency Head Appointed Amid Criminal Investigation

Howard Baldwin (left) stepped down as Commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services. John Specia, Jr. (right) will take his place.
Photos: Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Background Image: flickr.com/thomasletholsen

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has appointed a new head of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

The previous commissioner resigned last week as an Abilene office of the department is under criminal investigation.

Abilene Police say employees at the Child Protective Services office were not cooperative in the investigation into a toddler’s death in August. Police believe some employees may have tampered with evidence.

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Politics
9:03 am
Tue November 13, 2012

Are Stricter Rules Ahead for Welfare Recipients?

Lawmakers are filing the first bills of the 2013 legislative session.
KUT News

Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are holding a joint press conference this morning about possible changes to welfare and unemployment insurance.

Monday was the first day Texas lawmakers filed bills for the 2013 Legislative Session.

A Republican State Senator from Flower Mound filed a bill that she says would strengthen work and job training requirements under welfare. State Sen. Jane Nelson says the bill would also institute some drug testing for so-called "high-risk participants" and tighten rules to prevent welfare funds from being used for alcohol and tobacco.

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The Lead
8:39 am
Mon November 12, 2012

The Lead: Veterans Day News, Armstrong Out at Livestrong

Good morning. This morning's chilly temperatures  aren't going anywhere; the National Weather Service says the season’s first freeze is expected in the Hill Country tonight. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

On Monday, state officials and business leaders will also gather at the Capitol to show gratitude. The event is part of Operation Enduring Opportunity, which encourages businesses nationwide to hire and recruit veterans and their spouses.

On Veterans Day, Americans salute those who have served this country in the armed forces. But service takes many forms: and this year, KUT followed one family dealing with military service. From the soldier whose family has served for generations dating back to World War I, to the family who had to learn how to live without him.

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Women's Health
7:25 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Planned Parenthood to Remain in Women's Health Program

Pete Schaekken, the lawyer representing Planned Parenthood speaks to the press.
Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

Planned Parenthood will continue participating in the Women’s Health Program — for now. Travis County District Judge Stephen Yelenosky on Thursday approved a temporary injunction to delay the state’s implementation of the “Affiliate Ban Rule,” which would bar the nonprofit from participating in the program, until a full trial can be held in December.

Planned Parenthood is "likely to prevail on their claim that the rule is inconsistent with the instructions of the Texas
Legislature," wrote Yelenosky in a letter authorizing the temporary injunction. 

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