Texas

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

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Brenham-based Blue Bell Creameries announced today it will lay off more than one-third of its workforce, as it struggles to bring its production back online after listeria contamination was found in its ice cream products and at several of its plants.

Three deaths have been linked to the contamination.

750 full-time and 700 part-time workers will be laid off. That represents 37 percent of the company's 3,900 employees.

Why Mad Max Might Really Be a Texan

May 15, 2015
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He's just a Texan posing as a Brit posing as an Aussie.

Is Mad Max a crypto-Texan? About as much as a character played by an English actor in an Australian film shot in the African desert can be. Director George Miller has said he's making a "western on wheels." And Max is a character straight out of the American West. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth part of the dystopian series.

KUT News

It's been almost 100 years since the state school opened its doors to adults with severe developmental disabilities. Today the state school is called Austin State Supported Living Center, and it's facing closure via two bills in the legislature: Senate Bill 204 and House Bill 2699.

The process started last summer when the state's Sunset Advisory Commission, the group of legislators who study which state agencies are obsolete, decided the school needed to close. Despite opposition from the parents and guardians of the 215 people who live at the school, the bills are steadily inching their way through the legislative process.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

Minors seeking to obtain abortions without parental consent would face more restrictions under a bill that received preliminary approval Wednesday from the Texas House.

After about four hours of debate and a barrage of failed amendments by Democrats, the House passed House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria on a 98-47 vote. The measure would enact several restrictions on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows some minors to obtain abortions without their parents’ permission. The measure now awaits final approval by the House before it can go to the Senate.

Texas law requires minors to obtain consent for an abortion from at least one parent. But if obtaining an abortion could endanger the minor, she can look to the courts for judicial bypass to obtain the abortion without parental consent.

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Greg Puriski has worked as a ramp worker for Southwest Airlines for 19 years, and he’s always felt like he was an asset to the company. “The last few years — I want to say the last five years or so — the culture has changed, from where we’re more like a regular legacy carrier or regular corporation, to where we’re not really appreciated anymore, and it just feels like there’s procedure changes all the time,” Pruinski says.

Callie Hernandez/KUT News

Every legislative session, there are bound to be bills targeting some regulation or other in Austin.

Which is why every session, Austin City Attorney Karen Kennard heads to the Capitol to learn more about the bills and to see if their impact on Austin would be positive or negative. These are her projections.

In the May 3 "Draw Muhammad" attack in Garland, Texas, there were some loose ends that got cleared up Monday by local police chief Mitch Bates. Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi from Phoenix were killed by Garland police officers after the two men drove from Arizona and opened fire at the event featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Brian Khorey/AP

Update 4:45 p.m. Governor Greg Abbott today declared a state of disaster in Bosque, Clay, Denton, Eastland, Gaines, Montague and Van Zandt counties, authorizing further mobilization of state resources to assist affected communities. Additional counties may be added to the declaration as the situation develops.

Current state forecasts indicate the continuation of possible severe thunderstorms, large hail, damaging winds, flash flooding, river flooding and tornadoes across the state throughout the week. 

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Less than a month remains in this year's legislative session, and Texas lawmakers face hundreds of bills and several procedural deadlines this week.

Today is the last day House committee members can vote on bills that originated in the House, which means it's the last day a House bill has a chance of being placed on the calendar for the whole chamber to hear.

Nathan Bernier/KUT

A waiver program that provides billions of dollars for Texas hospitals expires next year, and a panel of House lawmakers is asking state health officials if they have a Plan B. 

The 1115 Medicaid transformation waiver, among other things, gives billions in federal dollars to Texas hospitals that provide care for patients who don't have health insurance.  

In 2013, Texas spent almost $4 billion in what's called "uncompensated care" for low-income Texans.

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Listeria bacteria was found in Blue Bell ice cream's Oklahoma plant two years ago, according to test results the federal government released yesterday.

The report, which was released after a Freedom of Information Act request from the Houston Chronicle's Mark Collette, also revealed the company continued to ship ice cream produced in that plant after what the FDA said was inadequate cleaning. The reports also showed failures at a Blue Bell facility in Alabama and at the company's flagship facility in Brenham.

Jennifer Whitney/Texas Tribune

Governor Greg Abbott’s bill to improve pre-kindergarten got one step closer to his desk yesterday. The Texas Senate approved House Bill 4 in a 25-6 vote. The Texas House had already approved the bill before sending it to the Senate, but it still has a few more hurdles to jump through.

The bill puts $130 million dollars toward pre-K programs, but those programs would have to meet certain standards to receive the money, including teacher certification and curriculum standards.

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On Wednesday, Texas Senators passed a bill (SB 1252) that would create an inter-state southern border compact — a group of states that would share resources to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the bill.

It didn't pass, however, before Democrats and Republicans brought up their differences on the need for border security. 

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Teens in Travis County say they’re not getting taught about safe sex, and parents say they don’t know how to talk to their kids about it, according to a new report from the University of Texas and the Healthy Youth Partnership. [Read a PDF version of the report here.]

Travis County, and Texas as a whole,  have higher teen birth rates than the country overall, which the new report attributes to teens receiving misinformation about birth control, an embarrassment associated with buying condoms and peer pressure surrounding sex.

KUT News

The Texas Senate has approved a bill, SB 1735,  that would scale back free tuition benefits given to some military veterans and their dependents. Lawmakers expanded eligibility for the law, known as the Hazlewood Act, in 2009, but under the new bill it would be scaled back again.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), a veteran himself, says he wrote the bill because public institutions can’t afford to cover everyone who qualifies, so the state has to cut back to save the program for future veterans.

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On Tuesday, the Texas Senate tentatively passed a bill that would prohibit abortion coverage under many health insurance plans. It could get final approval today.

The bill would only allow coverage for abortions in cases where there’s a medical emergency. State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) says his measure gives Texans who don’t support abortion the choice not to pay for others to get the procedure.

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As time goes by, the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo seems to be turning more into a Texas celebration. Sure, Texas used to be Mexico — and that's in part why there's a shared tradition. But some wonder if the tradition could become exclusive to Texas.

Hernan Jaso likes to claim Texas should have some exclusivity to Cinco de Mayo because, "General Ignacio Zaragoza was born in what is now Goliad, Texas."

Cooper Neill/Texas Tribune

The Texas House gave final approval Monday to a bill that would change how schools report how much of their student body is vaccinated. The bill passed, 98 to 40, but only after a loud and long debate.

Right now school districts anonymously collect data on how many kids are vaccinated and then report that data district-wide. Austin Independent School District has an overall vaccination exemption rate of 1.6 percent, for instance. The bill that passed out of the House Monday would break down the data for individual schools.

The self-declared Islamic State is taking credit for a thwarted attack on a contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas.

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From Texas Standard:

Last year, music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify generated more revenue than CD sales. Musicians say they aren’t happy with how much they’re getting in return, especially now that streaming companies like Amazon, Google, and even NPR, have formed a lobbying group to try to lower the amount they pay to musicians. 

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