Texas

Business
5:38 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Coke Workers in Fort Worth Can Union Bid

Had a unionization vote passed in Fort Worth, it would have been the Coca-Cola's company's first union shop in the South.
flickr.com/huffstutterrobertl

Yesterday, Coca-Cola workers in Fort Worth rejected an offer to unionize at their bottling plant.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the vote, which failed 215 to 191, would have made the bottling plant the first corporately-owned Coke plant in the south to unionize.

In that respect, the fact that the vote failed may be less surprising than the fact it made it that far in the first place. (The Star-Telegram notes that the vote represented the second attempt to join the Teamsters in as many years.)

As a “right to work” state, Texas has a low amount of union activity. And like most states around the country, the strongest unionization occurs in the public sector – making the scene in Fort Worth all the more surprising.

“I always tell people we don’t have unions in the Unites States,” says Dan Hamermesh, professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin. “And in the private sector nationwide, we don’t. Eight percent are unionized nationwide. In Texas it’s way below that … but my guess is four percent in the private sector here in Texas. So it’s a very non-union state.”

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Texas
2:06 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

That's A Lot of Cat: North Texas Tabby Weighs In at 41 Pounds

Skinny's size has attracted notice - and a plethora of potential adoptive families.
Richardson Animal Shelter

Cats love attention, but a feline at the Richardson Animal Shelter outside of Dallas is positively gobbling it up.

Skinny the Cat is a five year-old tabby. So far, so normal. But there’s more to this cat – a lot more. Skinny weighs in at 41 pounds.

Skinny’s size attracted the notice of the Associated Press, which reported on the North Texas tabby.  And thankfully, now the animal center is deluged with calls from folk looking to care for the cat.

“We have fielded a lot of calls,” says Dennis Wooten, manager of the Richardson Animal Center.  “The challenge now is sorting throw all those calls to find out what’s best for Skinny.”

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City Budget
2:53 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

With Across the Board Cut Nixed, Slow Going on City Budget

At today's budget deliberation. Mayor Leffingwell's proposal for a two percent departmental cuts was a non-starter
KUT News

Any hopes for a quick adoption of the City of Austin’s annual city budget went out the window this morning, as a proposal from Mayor Lee Leffingwell for a flat two percent cut to departmental budgets created a heated discussion among City Council members.

Citing the impact of a proposed 2.2 cent increase to property taxes – just short of the maximum increase allowed by state law without a special election – Mayor Leffingwell called for a two percent cut to most of the city’s general fund departments, which would create approximate savings of $4.5 million. A 2.2 cent property tax increase would mean an additional $18 each month in city fees and taxes for the owner of a median-valued home (approximately $186,000).

Leffingwell excluded the city’s public safety departments (police, fire and EMS) from the cuts – departments that are the biggest portion of the general fund.

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Transportation
2:44 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

At 85 mph, Texas Has the Fastest Road in the Nation

When a Central Texas toll road opens in the fall, drivers will enjoy the highest speed limit in the nation.

A new toll road is opening soon in Central Texas, stretching from Austin to the town of Seguin, outside of San Antonio.

State Highway 130 was built to relieve traffic along neighboring Interstate 35, one of the most congested roadways in Texas. But this stretch of toll road has a draw of its own: It recently had its speed limit approved at 85 mph, the fastest in the nation.

The dream of barreling down an open road at 85 mph is undoubtedly appealing to gridlock-prone Texas motorists. (Portions of SH 130 are already open - with a slightly lower speed - but have seen relatively scant traffic.)

Hoping that dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare is Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit highway research group funded by the auto insurance industry. He notes that speed limits have been on the increase for some time.

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Transportation
1:17 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

This Austin Street is One of Texas' Most Congested. But Do You Know Where it Is?

You've likely been trapped in its traffic recently, but could you describe where SL 343 is?
Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) names several Austin roads in its list of the "100 Most Congested Roadway Segments in Texas" today. One of the local offenders, clocking in at 68th worst, is State Loop 343.

Now who can tell us where SL 343 is?

Once you learn, you won’t be surprised by the loop's inclusion on this gridlocked list: SL 343 is the whole of South Lamar Boulevard. Starting at its southern limit at SH 71 and US 290, SL 343 travels north, turning east at First Street/Cesar Chavez, until it ends at I-35.   

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Texas
4:09 pm
Thu September 6, 2012

Attorneys Claim Hasan Offered Guilty Plea in Fort Hood Shooting Trial

Maj. Nidal Hasan stands accused of multiple murders in 2009's Fort Hood shooting.
courtesy Bell County Sheriff's Department

What looked like another increasingly routine hearing of Maj. Nidal Hasan – the accused gunman behind the 2009 shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas – now appears to be less so, as Hasan’s lawyers claim he offered to enter a guilty plea.

Hasan’s trial has been slow to start, as legal wrangling over whether or not the Army can shave Hasan’s beard has taken center stage. Hasan claims the beard is an expression of her Muslim faith, but Army codes dictate a soldier must be clean-shaven at his court martial. Today, Judge Col. Gregory Gross ordered that Hasan’s beard by shaved, reports The New York Times.

Overshadowed by the beard aspect was an announcement from Hasan’s attorneys that he had offered to enter a guilty plea, but as the Associated Press reports,  he’s prevented from doing so in the Fort Hood case:

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Education
1:13 pm
Thu September 6, 2012

Texas to Request No Child Left Behind Waivers

Pres. George W. Bush signing the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.
White House

Texas is asking the federal government to waive requirements associated with No Child Left Behind, the signature package of education reforms championed by former President (and former Texas Governor) George W. Bush. The announcement comes after more than half of Texas schools failed to meet the annually escalating standards last school year. 

In a message on the Texas Education Agency website, the new Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announces plans to submit requests to the U.S. Department of Education waiving provisions in 2001’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, as well as parts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"The state recognizes that the lack of NCLB’s reauthorization in a timely manner has created an obsolete system that does not adequately reflect the accomplishments of the state’s schools," the statement reads. "This, combined with [Local Educational Agencies] being required to meet and function within two different assessment and accountability systems, takes valuable resources and time away from the intent and focus of improving student achievement and school accountability.”

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Austin
12:30 pm
Wed September 5, 2012

Judge Tosses Mechanical Bull Suit From Court

The bull at the center of the lawsuit.
flickr.com/aewang

Talk about a bum steer: A Houston court has tossed a lawsuit against an Austin bar – and its mechanical bull.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Rebels Honky Tonk in downtown Austin prevailed in court case brought by a customer, Revel Thom, who was tossed from the bar’s mechanical bull in 2010, fracturing his vertebrae:

Although Thom suffered back pain four to five years before he rode the bull, he said nothing about his condition to the operator, according to the appellate court ruling. He rode the bull until he was thrown off, resulting in the fracture of the T-12 and L-1 vertebrae, court documents state.

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Texas
10:54 am
Wed September 5, 2012

More Turnover, Turmoil at Lackland Air Base

Col. Eric Axelbank has been transferred from Lackland Air Force Base.
U.S. Air Force

A colonel has stepped down and a sergeant’s court martial begins, all against the backdrop of an ongoing sex and sexual abuse scandal at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base.

Col. Eric Axelbank, who oversaw the 37th Training Wing at Lackland, stepped down yesterday. Col. Mark Camerer now takes his place. The San Antonio Express-News notes that while the Axelbank’s departure was officially described as routine, the transition ceremony was “uncharacteristically closed to the media.”

It’s the second upper-echelon personnel change in as many months, following the August dismissal of Col. Glenn E. Palmer, who served as commander of Air Force Basic Military Training at the 737th Training Group at Lackland, the base that oversees training for all new Air Force recruits. The Express-News describes Palmer as having “led efforts to raise awareness about the problem” of sexual abuse and sex between recruits and instructors on the base.

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Formula One
3:00 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

Governor Perry Revs Up For Italian Grand Prix

A racer seen at Austin's recent Formula 1 expo.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

As the Austin forecast calls for more 100 degree days, Governor Rick Perry and his wife Anita left this morning for eight days in Italy, where money and motorsports are in the wind.

On the agenda are various economic development meetings, a speaking engagement at Lake Como, and Sunday's Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, in Milan.

With Austin's United States Grand Prix only a few weeks away, the Perrys will be watching a sport that's followed, often obsessively, around the world, but that has had about as much traction in the United States as professional soccer. (see Esquire: "Will America Ever Catch The Formula 1 Bug?") The United States has hosted 41 Formula 1 races in the past, at seven different locations, but the sport has not gained ground on American motorsports like NASCAR and IndyCar racing.

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Wildfires
1:07 pm
Tue September 4, 2012

The Labor Day Wildfires, One Year Later

Firefighters trudge through Bastrop State Park.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Labor Day wildfires.

As part of a remembrance of the fires, which claimed two lives, more than 1,600 homes, many pets and livestock, and thousands of acres of wildland, KUT News is debuting a one-hour special today: “Forged in Flames: An Oral History of the Labor Day Wildfires.” It airs at 3 p.m. CST on KUT 90.5 FM, and will stream online at kut.org.

A year has passed since the fires broke out, but its aftermath continues to make news. Today, the Federal Emergency Management Office issued a statement noting $63 million in disaster assistance has been distributed to Texas since the fires. Over $39 million of that total was approved for homeowners and business owners; and some $23 million has gone to state and local governments helping citizens rebuild.

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Politics
12:17 pm
Mon September 3, 2012

Attorney General Rides a Losing Streak

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Bob Daemmrich for Texas Tribune

Greg Abbott, the state’s ambitious and litigious attorney general, is on a losing streak.

Federal courts in Washington ruled against him in two crucial voting rights cases last week, first finding that the redistricting maps drawn by the Republican Legislature didn’t protect minority voters as the law requires, and then ruling the state’s tough new photo voter ID law unfairly burdens minority voters.

Neither ruling appears to be a threat to the elections now under way. In the case of redistricting, the state’s maps were replaced this year with interim maps prepared by another set of federal judges. In the case of voter ID, there doesn’t appear to be enough time for the courts to turn around an appeal and order the new standards before November.

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Media
10:16 am
Mon September 3, 2012

Trailblazing Broadcaster Ann Arnold Passes Away

Ann Arnold was the first female press secretary for a Texas governor,
Texas Association of Broadcasters

Texas Association of Broadcasters President Ann Arnold passed away over the weekend following a fight with leukemia. Colleagues refer to Arnold as a groundbreaking journalist and tenacious leader.

The 67-year-old journalist served as TAB president for 25 years. Arnold also served as the first female press secretary to a Texas Governor – Gov. Mark White in the 1980s. And that’s in addition to stints  heading the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's capitol bureau, and serving as a capitol correspondent for United Press International.

"She was an extraordinary woman brimming with passion for the broadcast industry and American democracy. Her advocacy in Austin and Washington made a profound difference for broadcasters and we are all better for it," TAB Vice President Oscar Rodriguez says in a statement about Arnold’s death.

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Texas
6:19 pm
Fri August 31, 2012

Whittington Loses (Again), But Says He's Not Done

austinconventioncenter.com; c-span.org

There's tough, and then there's Texas tough.

Dick Cheney shot him, accidently, and he got back up.

He says the City of Austin took some land that belonged to him, and he fought back. And fought. And fought some more.

Harry Whittington lost his Texas Supreme Court case today.  But he says he’s not done, telling KUT News that he’ll likely file a motion for a rehearing of the case.

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Wildfires
3:11 pm
Fri August 31, 2012

Forged in Flames: Watch the Trailer for KUT's Wildfire Special

Scenes from the wildfire response in Bastrop.
KUT News

September 4 marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating Central Texas wildfires which claimed over a thousand homes and altered countless lives. 

The KUT News staff has taken the reporting it did at the time and built upon it, compiling hundreds of interviews, photos, videos and more. The results can be heard in “Forged in Flames: An Oral History of the Labor Day Wildfires,” a one-hour special airing Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 3p.m. and  Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. A website featuring an interactive timeline, interviews and much more is also launching on kut.org Sept. 4.

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