12:56 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Facing Budget Crunch, Texas Parks and Wildlife Pleads For Help

About half of the operating costs are generated by entrance fees, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is asking the public to visit state parks like this one, Garner Park, to help eliminate a $4.6 million deficit.
Photo by Mathew High http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthigh/5792578283/

Did you like to go camping in triple digit heat? Would it be more appealing if campfires were banned? Apparently most people don't like to sweat in the dark, even if it's in a beautiful natural surrounding,  and that's helped blow a $4.6 million hole in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's (TPWD) budget.

Now that the weather is more mild and burn bans are being lifted across Texas, TPWD is pleading for people to visit state parks and to make donations.  The agency is holding eleven news conferences across the state today, reminding people that close to half of state park revenue -- about $69 million of the operating budget -- comes from park entrance fees.

“A ‘triple whammy’ of record heat and drought, devastating wildfires and a corresponding decline in visitation and revenue has created a critical need for Texas State Parks,” announced TPWD exective director Carter Smith in a news release. “We are reaching out for help.”

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4:39 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Migrants Say They're Unwilling Mules For Cartels

A Border Patrol agent looks for footprints from illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.- Mexico border in 2010. Traffickers have begun using immigrants as drug smugglers, recruiting voluntarily and forcibly.
John Moore Getty Images

Originally published on Sun December 4, 2011 6:06 pm

Mexican drug cartels have found a new source of labor to backpack marijuana into the United States: illegal immigrants.

Federal agents, prosecutors, defense attorneys and migrants themselves say that traffickers have begun recruiting undocumented immigrants at the border, both voluntarily and forcibly. Now, U.S. courts along the border have to decide what to do with terrified immigrants who come before them and say, "The cartel made me do it."

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12:41 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

FEMA Extends Short Term Housing Help To Wildfire Victims

A home in the Bastrop neighborhood of Tahitian Village that was razed by flames in early September.
Photo by KUT

Wildfire victims in six counties will be able to get hotel and motel vouchers for an extra 30 days. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has extended its temporary housing assistance program until January 8.  

The six counties are Bastrop, Cass, Marion, Montgomery, Travis and Waller. FEMA says it has handed out vouchers to more than 400 people since starting the program on September 9. People who lost their homes to wildfires are still eligible to apply for disaster assistance from FEMA.

The worst single-year drought in Texas history created tinder dry conditions that helped several Central Texas wildfires spread rapidly over Labor Day weekend. The worst of them was in Bastrop County. It scorched 34,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,600 homes. 

11:36 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Texas to Enact Five-Year Water Plan

The Texas Water Development Board is expected to adopt a new water plan in December.
Photo by KUT News

Facing a severe drought and dwindling water sources, Texas is moving toward adopting its next five-year state water plan.

Drafting the plan is never easy, and this time it grew difficult because of a reservoir dispute in northeast Texas; questions about climate change science; and the sheer population growth of the state.

Amid that scenario, the Texas Water Development Board is expected to consider approving the water plan Dec. 15 after postponing a decision at its last meeting, agency officials said.  

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Central Texas
10:01 am
Tue November 29, 2011

Lawyer Group Files Grievances in Morton Case

Judge and former prosecutor Ken Anderson speaks about the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton.
Photo by Justin Dehn, Texas Tribune

The Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability filed grievances with the State Bar of Texas on Monday against former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, his former assistant Mike Davis and current District Attorney John Bradley, alleging that the prosecutors violated state laws and professional ethics in the case against Michael Morton.

Morton was released last month after spending nearly 25 years in prison, wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife in 1986. Morton's lawyers have discovered that prosecutors did not turn over to defense attorneys or the trial judge evidence that pointed to another man as the murderer and could have prevented the wrongful conviction.

The State Bar would not confirm receipt of the grievances, but the agency said last month that it had launched its own investigation of prosecutorial misconduct in the case. Morton's lawyers are also pursuing their own investigation of alleged wrongdoing.

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11:51 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Burn Ban Lifted In Bastrop County

Bastrop emergency officials say a burn ban in the county has been lifted.
Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

It was only twelve weeks ago that dangerously dry conditions fueled a horrific wildfire in Bastrop County. The flames scorched more than 34,000 acres and destroyed 1,600 homes. Two people were found dead.

This morning, it is apparently safe to burn again in Bastrop.

The Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management posted on its Facebook page that county commissioners have voted to lift the burn ban. But emergency officials added a word of caution.

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2:45 pm
Fri November 25, 2011

Have The Crackdowns On Immigration Gone Too Far?

Protesters march outside the Alabama Capitol during a demonstration against the state's immigration law in Montgomery, Ala., on Nov. 15.
Dave Martin AP

Originally published on Fri November 25, 2011 3:29 pm

The architect of Arizona's controversial immigration law has been voted out of office. That law and similar statutes are undergoing difficult court challenges. And the strictest law, in Alabama, has ignited a withering backlash expected to force major changes.

Have the crackdowns on illegal immigration finally gone too far?

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10:55 am
Fri November 25, 2011

More Than a Post Office

The United States Postal Service is bleeding money. It lost more than $5 billion over the last year alone.  

So, USPS is closing 3,700 post offices. More than 200 of them are in Texas. But for many small communities, it's a serious blow, because the post office is a lot more than just a place to send and receive mail.  

KUT freelancers Jeff Heimsath and Lucia Duncan traveled to East Texas to report on the impact of post office closures in rural towns. Check out their video above and then read the story.

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10:18 am
Wed November 23, 2011

Texas Judge Videotaped Beating Daughter Is Suspended With Pay

Hillary Adams (left) as her father was striking her with a belt. She set up a video camera to record what she says was one of many such beatings.
YouTube.com (warning, video is graphic)

Originally published on Wed November 23, 2011 7:00 am

The Texas judge who sparked national outrage earlier this month when he was seen on video beating his then-16-year-old daughter has been suspended with pay while authorities continue their investigation, the Texas Supreme Court has announced.

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3:36 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

13,000 People Being Fed Free Thanksgiving Dinner Today

H-E-B employees prepare approximately 13,000 plates for tonight's Feast of Sharing Event.
Photo by KUT News

The Palmer Events Center will host a massive cooking effort today. H-E-B employees and volunteers expect to serve over 13,000 people there for the 21st annual Feast of Sharing.

Each plate is free of charge and includes traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and turkey.

While on site at the event, coordinators said volunteers were still welcome. Just show up and be ready to serve a lot of food.

Here's the event, by the numbers: 

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12:04 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Burn Ban Busts Aggie Bonfire Again

The Aggie bonfire in 2005
Photo by mikel_duke http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikelduke/

Chalk up another casualty of the Texas drought: Texas A&M University’s annual student bonfire was called off because of a burn ban in Robertson County. It’s the second year in a row that Aggie students havehad to cancel the towering 45 foot inferno.

“We’ve been under severe drought conditions now for a year,” Michelle Haver, a court coordinator for the Robertson county judge, told StateImpact Texas a joint reporting project of KUT and NPR.

As the bonfire’s website explains, the stack site will be open to visitors, but “under no circumstances” will they start a fire.

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10:37 am
Tue November 22, 2011

Tourists Converge on Kennedy Assassination Site in Dallas

President John F. Kennedy the day he was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963
Photo by Victor Hugo King http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_F._Kennedy_motorcade,_Dallas_crop.png

Today marks the 48th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in downtown Dallas. As always on this date, Dealey Plaza draws more tourists than usual. Some who were alive in 1963 come to visit the place they’ve heard about for decades.

Others, like 21 year-old Australian Gene Mudry, learned about  the assassination in school and says the event reverberates for him, because it was so big.

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1:31 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

Texas Voter ID Law in Jeopardy?

Photo by Simrat Sharma KUT News

The U.S. Department of Justice informed the Texas Secretary of State’s office that it has yet to provide the federal government sufficient information about the contentious voter ID law — which could affect the bill's scheduled implementation date of Jan. 1.

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central texas
4:48 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Former Morton Prosecutor Apologizes for “System’s Failure”

Former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson as he was about to testify last month about how Michael Morton was wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife
Photo by Texas Tribune

The former Williamson County District Attorney who helped secure a 25-year sentence for Michael Morton for a crime he didn’t commit apologized today and suggested he has been wracked with guilt. Ken Anderson, now a Williamson County district judge, held a last minute press conference this afternoon.

“I don’t know how strong I can say this,” he said on a live stream of the news conference that we watched on KXAN’s website. “If there’s anybody who’s confused about whether I’m beating myself up and whether I’m absolutely sick about this case, you’re wrong, because I am.”

But Anderson stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, adding that, “I’m apologizing for the system’s failure.”

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5:14 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

TCEQ: Leander and Cedar Park Could Run Out of Water in 2012

Leander and Cedar Park in Williamson County are among eighteen Texas communities on a high priority water list maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to our reporting partners, the Texas Tribune.

The Tribune put together the interactive map you see above using data collected from the TCEQ. Each color dot indicates the estimated number of days a city has left until it runs out of water unless something changes.

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