Texas

News, policy discussions, and major events happening in or related to Texas, told from an Austin perspective

The announcement that the Texas Comptroller's Office accidentally made public the personal information of about 3.5 million people online got us wondering in the KUT newsroom. How is online security different in the US from in other countries? 

Paolo Cunha Martins was happy to show us. 

Photo courtesy Firefighter Jimmy Taylor, Austin Fire Department

After a tour of West Texas ranches and rangeland burned by wildfires, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has set up a public donation fund to help ranchers whose land has been devastated.  He said the State of Texas Agricultural Relief Fund, or STAR Fund, is the best place to donate and give help.

Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords

The state's Forensic Science Commission begins two days of meetings.  On their agenda will be discussion of a final report on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham.  A 1991 arson ruling convicted Willingham of setting fire to his Corsicana home and killing his three daughters. He was executed in 2004.

Several expert reviews of the evidence have indicated that the fire was an accident. 

Image courtesy Austin Fire Department

Wildfires Threaten More Areas of Texas

The Texas Forest Service says more parts of the state now need to be worried about the threat of wildfires. The agency says the area with significant fire potential will expand today to include parts of Central, North, and South Texas. That includes all areas west of line that curves down from just west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to Fredericksburg, to Del Rio. 

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The Texas House has unanimously voted to pass a bill to place stricter limits on government seizure of land through eminent domain.  But it still has one more test before it heads to Governor Rick Perry's desk.

The bill would require governmental bodies to make a "bona fide" offer to land owners and to send a letter to the State Comptroller, detailing what the land would be used for.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Photo by Don Hankins http://www.flickr.com/photos/23905174@N00/1594411528/

Today, the Texas State Comptroller's Office starts mailing out letters to everyone affected by the security breach that left 3.5 million personal information files publicly accessible online. 

The breach means everyone who is a member of the Teachers Retirement System of Texas, the Public Employees Retirement System of Texas,  or the Texas Workforce Commission likely had their information made public,  Comptroller of Public Account's spokesperson Allen Spelce confirmed in an interview with KUT.

To find out if your information was compromised call 1-855-474-2065.

Photo by pobre.ch http://www.flickr.com/photos/npobre/

Social security numbers, names, mailing addresses and other information of 3.5 million Texans were disclosed on a state computer server that was accessible to the public for about a year.  Comptroller Susan Combs' office issued this apology and explanation.

Large wildfires erupted yesterday in Brewster and Angelina counties, adding to the 309,500 acres of wildfires the Texas Forest Service has battled over the last week. A Garland-based company called Sky Helicopters posted the video above to YouTube. 

Photo by TexasEagle http://www.flickr.com/photos/texaseagle/

Here's the latest information from the Texas Forest Service as it struggles to contain wildfires that have already blackened 309,500 acres. This report was circulated to media this morning. We present it to you in its entirety.

TEXAS FOREST SERVICE INCIDENT MANAGEMENT SITUATION REPORT
Monday, April 11, 2011
National Preparedness Level: 1
Southern Area Preparedness Level: 3
TFS Preparedness Level: 5

CURRENT SITUATION

Yesterday Texas Forest Service responded to 12 fires for 22,432 acres, including new large fires in Brewster and Angelina counties.  In the past seven days TFS has responded to 83 fires for 309,526 acres. 

Photo by Jim Reese for KUT News

West Texas Fire Knocks Out Marfa Public Radio

A fire in the Fort Davis area was responsible for knocking out nearby Marfa Public Radio’s signal this weekend.  The fire burned the power lines that feed the station's mountaintop transmitter.  KUT's digital technology manager, Jim Reese, was flown over to help.  He said Marfa Public Radio went back on the air around 6 p.m. Sunday.  "Marfa Public Radio is the only station [there] that has wide area coverage, so there were no media outlets at all functioning for about 24 hours," said Reese. 

Wildfires Rage Across Texas

Hot, dry and windy conditions kept firefighters across many parts of the state busy this weekend.  26 Central Texas firefighters deployed to West Texas Sunday to help battle the wildfires in that region.  One team was sent to Fort Davis.  The Texas Forest Service told KUT resources were also sent in from 25 states.  

Photo courtesy the Texas Forest Service.

Wildfire Danger at Historic Highs Today

State officials are warning of extreme wildfire danger across much of the western half of Texas today, as hot, dry, windy conditions couple with low humidity. 

The Texas Forest Service was fighting several wildfires yesterday, but was bracing for more, reported the Associated Press.

Photo courtesy the Texas Forest Service

Officials are sending more resources to help battle a massive wildfire in West Texas that's already burned about 50,000 acres.

Photo by KUT News

House May Ease Graduation Requirements

The Texas House will take a final vote today on a bill that would ease graduation requirements for Texas students. Starting next year, high school students are required to take a total of 12 end-of-course exams called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), and they have to pass the exams in order to graduate.  In the bill the House will vote on today, high school students will have to pass fewer of the new state exams in order to graduate.

Image by Apers0n http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Apers0n

A bill passed in Texas Senate today would give prison inmates more access to DNA evidence, as they appeal their convictions.

The Associated Press reports the bill sponsored by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) would require DNA testing, if the biological evidence hadn't been tested before our would yield more accurate results with newly-developed testing techniques.

As many as 40 inmates have had convictions overturned in the past few years, based on retesting DNA evidence.

Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords

The US Supreme Court has blocked tonight's scheduled execution of Texas inmate Cleve Foster. 

The high court agreed this morning to consider a review the grounds for Foster's appeal of his death sentence.

Foster's execution would have been the first in Texas to use pentobarbital as part of its lethal three-drug mix. 

"This stay does not have to do with the litigation surrounding the lethal injection and the new protocol adopted by the TDCJ [Texas Department of Criminal Justice]," said Maurie Levin, one of Foster's attorney in the appeals process.

Photo by KUT News

Texas House Approves Budget Bill

The House approved a budget of $164.5 billion last night for the next biennium with a 98-49 vote, largely along party lines. The budget is around $23 billion smaller than the state's current two-year budget. As expected, the House budget makes deep cuts to public education and health and human services spending.  The legislation now heads to the Senate where changes are expected.

Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda/via Flickr

Lawyers for two condemned Texas prisoners are asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate how the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has obtained drugs used in executions.

Their argument hinges on what sounds like a technicality: the address used to register the state's drug supply.

Photo by KUT News.

Dry, drier, driest: Drought conditions are returning to Central Texas, and one expert thinks it could be this autumn before the region gets enough rain to reverse the trend. 

That has officials at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) making sure people throughout the region know what condition our water supply is in.  The authority has launched a "Drought Update" page that shows a graphical representation of the drought situation.

Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Japan Continues to deal with the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed whole towns, left more than ten thousand dead and crippled a nuclear facility in Fukushima.

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