travis county

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In an order handed down today, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman declared Texas's ban on same-sex marriages "unconstitutional."

The restriction of marriage to the "union of a man and a woman" violates the 14th amendment by excluding same-sex couples, the order says.

flickr.com/fabliaux

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

Representatives of Travis County children and parents involved in legal abuse and neglect cases have only 10-minute judicial hearings to present evidence of their safety and living situations, according to county civil court judges. County attorneys for indigent children and parents say their caseloads are to the point that they must hire private attorneys to help represent those involved.

Mose Buchele, KUT News

Travis County is under a burn ban for the first time this summer.

Fire Marshal Hershel Lee says the area has been getting drier over the past few months and yesterday’s rain just wasn’t enough to make a significant different in the soil moisture.

“There’s very little moisture in the top eight inches of soil for plants to grow so the plants have lost their fuel moisture and are more susceptible to fire starting easily," Lee said. "With all of these factors taken into consideration, long-term forecast of 10 to 12 days of 100 degree weather, we felt it was time to implement a burn ban.”

Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

Travis County residents could see a property taxes increase in the $901 million proposed budget for 2015. The increase, however, isn’t because of rising property values, but because of the demand for countywide services.

The budget calls to build out integral services for the ever-expanding county, but may lower the tax rate. County officials will debate and hear public comment on the budget before the final Sept. 23 vote.

flickr.com/neilconway

Advocates for the disabled are calling out drivers for parking illegally in handicapped spaces – and they now have both technology and government on their side.

A new app called Parking Mobility allows citizen volunteers to submit photos of handicapped parking violators directly to authorities. Today, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to move forward with a six month pilot program allowing qualified volunteers to become deputies whose submissions can turn into citations. The current penalty for illegal parking in a handicapped space is a minimum fine of $500.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Dozens of jurisdictions across the country have backed away from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation program known as Secure Communities.

But Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton is not backing away from the controversial program. And in response, a group of Austin attorneys announced Thursday they plan to start suing the county for its Secure Communities detentions.

As ICE writes, the program "prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators." But critics charge the program has been overused and resides on shaky legal ground. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update: Austin City Council member and mayoral candidate Mike Martinez is asking the city’s Public Safety Commission to consider recommending an independent review of city response to the deadly Halloween flooding.

A report done by city staff highlighted more than 100 response problems, including communication issues between agencies and with the general public. Read more about the findings in the original story below.

In emails to the commission, Martinez requests the group consider calling for an independent review. Martinez also finds fault with the framing of the city's report, writing "My general impression is that the failures and opportunities are large, and the successes are relatively small. Giving them equal weight with a tally of successes, opportunities, and failures seems to undermine the seriousness of any analysis." 

The Public Safety Commission will also hear reports from Austin Fire, Police and EMS about the response to last October’s flooding.

Original story (April 15): In Austin, it’s almost certain a flood will hit in the future. What we don’t know is when.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

It’s taken the City of Austin and Travis County almost six months to finalize a report detailing emergency response to the 2013 Halloween floods: what worked, what needs improvement and what – flat out – did not work.

See the full report here [PDF].

The report repeatedly highlights communication problems: between agencies, then between first responders, then with the general public. There was no clear channel of communication. There was no awareness about the kind of people who lived in the affected area either: a majority-minority community that does not primarily communicate using English.

Joy Diaz/KUT

The flood-stricken neighborhood of Onion Creek honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today by cleaning a community park that’s been covered with debris since last year’s Halloween flood.

Metallic doors, glass from broken windows, gas tanks were among the many items strewn about the park. Mary-Lee Plumb-Mentjes filled an entire bucket with broken glass. “I’ve always picked up trash,” Plumb-Mentjes said. “We’ve been given two hands [and] I feel we should use [them] when we see something,”

KUT News

September is Travis County’s Voter Registration Awareness Month – and the county Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar are kicking things off with a new online tool to help volunteers find new voters.

Citizen registrars can now use the county’s website to view lists and maps of addresses with unregistered and suspended voters, broken down by Travis County precincts. While the maps do not verify that eligible, but unregistered, voters reside at those locations, the new resource still helps deputy registrars and other organizations identify areas that may be neglected by the voting process.

flickr.com/riosetiawan

Dry conditions have led to more burn bans being issued for Austin and surrounding areas.

The ban temporarily prohibits open fires and grilling in parks. Smoking continues to be prohibited in parks. The ban does not include propane grills and stoves in designated picnic areas.

flickr.com/rutlo

The U.S. House is considering a version of a farm bill that could heavily impact benefits for Texans receiving food stamps.  

The change to state policy standards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could take away 482 million meals for the hungry, and could cut 171,000 people from food assistance statewide, according to the Texas Food Bank Network.

Flickr/Camilla Nilsson http://www.flickr.com/photos/49365126@N07/5489383908/

Victims of spousal abuse in Austin have a new option if their children are to receive supervised visits with the other parent. Travis County has opened PlanetSafe at 11th and Nueces, a supervised visitation and safe exchange center.  Its grand opening is today. 

The facility is operated by the local non-profit Safe Place, and was established with the help of $600,000 in federal grants from the Office of Violence Against Women. Travis County supplied the use of the building for a nominal rent and is paying for staffing. 

CAMPO

Starting tomorrow, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization – better known as CAMPO – begins asking for the public’s ideas on a series of projects.

Some projects are being dropped, while others are being picked up for consideration. 

flickr.com/alancleaver

Own some property in Travis County? Want to know how it's taxed?

Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler and Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant are hosting a series of property tax forums.

The Travis County tax officials will present information about the appraisal process, exemptions and deferrals, payment plans and the deadlines that all those paying property tax should know. They will also be available to answer questions.

flickr.com/proimos

Update: The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is holding a meeting this afternoon to present and outline key goals and objectives of the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP).  The action-oriented plan is designed to improve the health of Austin and Travis County residents. It will highlight community health issues like obesity and access to primary care.

The meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. at City Hall.

flickr.com/jstephenconn

Williamson County is ranked as the healthiest county in the Lone Star State, according to a collection of  county health rankings

The study from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that Williamson County is the healthiest county in Texas this year, ahead of Collin County in Northeast Texas.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Good morning, Austin! Ready for a sunny start to SXSW Music? The National Weather Service says Austin's due for a high near 77 today.  The evening will be clear with a low around 44.

Here's a roundup of some KUT News stories for today:

The Lead: Austin's Police Chief says he thinks South by Southwest has been a little calmer so far this year.

But APD Chief Art Acevedo acknowledges that things will probably start to heat up a bit as the music portion of the festival gets going. Acevedo plans to hit the streets over the next several days.

friendsofthehollow.com

Update: Travis County Parks reversed its decision to change boating rules at Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis at a public meeting last night.

In fact, after about a week of tension between Travis County Parks and people who frequent Hippie Hollow, the meeting ended with laughter and applause.

“This is a great example of a grass roots movement. Where people are trying to reach out the administrators who work in their government and the guys come to the table and listen to what the folks have to say,” Friends of the Hollow member Randall Huntsinger said.

Texas Advocacy Project

The Texas Advocacy Project and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office are launching its annual “Handbags for Hope” drive.

The sixth annual installment of the drive asks Austin-area residents to donate new and gently used handbags to give to domestic violence victims.

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