Daily Roundup | KERA News

Daily Roundup

The U.S. Supreme Court has thrown out voting district maps drawn by federal judges in Texas that favored minorities.

Friday’s unsigned opinion left the fate of election primaries set for April unclear. The justices ordered the three-judge court in San Antonio to come up with new plans, but the high court did not compel the use of maps created by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature.

Minority groups complained they were denied sufficient voting power by Republican lawmakers who sought to maximize GOP electoral gains in violation of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

The Dallas County Health Department has a new supply of low-cost meningitis vaccine - required of all new and returning college students under age 30 as of January 1, 2012.  But Health Department Director Zach Thompson expects this latest supply won't last long. The first shipment didn't.

Daniel James

Preliminary estimates from the Texas Forest Service show the year-long drought in Texas may have claimed as many as a half-billion trees.

The agency surveyed forestry professionals from regions around Texas, which has a total tree population of about 4.9 billion. Researchers analyzing the information have determined from 100 million to 500 million, or from 2 to 10 percent of all trees, have been lost.

The sole major Democratic candidate to replace Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has dropped out of the race.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ric Sanchez made the announcement via email late Friday afternoon.

While the Republican field to replace Hutchison is extremely crowded, Sanchez was the only major candidate from the Democratic party. He said pressing personal challenges, including the destruction of his home by fire, forced him to get out of the race.

Hutchison announced earlier this year that she was retiring.

Big Drop in North Texas Unemployment

American Eagle, the regional airline affiliate of American Airlines, may furlough more than 220 Texas-based pilots and flight attendants in February to cut costs under bankruptcy protection.

American Eagle vice-president Cathy McCann told the Texas Workforce Commission that 119 pilots and 104 flight attendants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area could lose their jobs around Feb. 13th.

Fort Worth-based American has about 74,000 employees, and Eagle has about 14,000, including part-timers. Parent company AMR Corp. filed for Chapter 11 protection Nov. 29th.

Dallas City Hall is buying a four million dollar band-aid for the city's sophisticated billing system. The system, purchased five years ago, has cost 15 million dollars MORE than anticipated.

Outside consultants have had to help city employees run it.

Council members have approved more than three million dollars for software upgrades and maintenance. They also approved a 900 thousand dollar, three-month contract extension for the private company to continue to run the system.

The Texas Railroad Commission has adopted the rules for disclosing what's in fracking fluid used in natural gas drilling.

Commission Chair Elizabeth Ames Jones says Tuesday's rules put into action the frac fluid disclosure bill passed during the last Legislative Session. She says it should reassure Texans.

Jones: They'll know more of what is going in the ground than they are able to find out is in a can of soda that they're drinking.

The list of fracking chemicals will be required on wells granted permits after February first.

State of Texas

The Texas Comptroller says the economic recovery is taking hold, producing higher than expected tax revenues.

State Comptroller Susan Combs said that could lead to a $1.6 billion budget surplus for the fiscal biennium ending in 2013. According to data she released Monday to the Legislature, the state is on track to collect $82.7 billion over the next two years. The 2012-2013 budget is only $81.1 billion.

In the last two budget cycles, lawmakers were forced to slash government spending to make up for budget deficits and tap the Rainy Day Fund.

jmtimages (cc) flickr

From Bill Zeeble & BJ Austin, KERA News & Wire Services

The US Supreme Court has created another uncertainty for Texas candidates.

Late today the high court blocked the use of Texas state legislative and congressional district maps that were drawn by federal judges to boost minorities' voting power. The court issued a brief order Friday that applies to electoral maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio for the Texas Legislature and Congress.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is suing the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board in federal court for denying its proposed specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag.

The DMV board rejected the plate 8-0 last month, after Gov. Rick Perry said on the presidential campaign trail that he opposed it.

The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court in Austin against the eight DMV board members who voted.

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State sales tax revenue was up 12.2 percent last month in Texas.That's compared to receipts from the previous November. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced the figures Wednesday.

She says it marks the 20th consecutive month of revenue growth. Sales taxes are one of the largest sources of revenue for the state and a 2009 slump contributed to this year's state budget shortfall.

Dallas, TX – Ten mail processing centers in Texas are among 252 nationwide that will close in a $3 billion money-saving move by the government.

The U.S. Postal Service said Monday that it seeks to move quickly to shut the processing units and slow first-class delivery, amid declining mail volume. The Postal Service is projected to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year.

2010 snow, Dallas Farmers Market

Dallas, TX –

Winter's First Appearance In Forecast

The first winter weather of the season is on the way for North Texas.

National Weather Service forecaster Jennifer Dunn says this weekend will be rainy and windy. Then a cold front moves in.

Dunn: And that cold front is actually going to eventually allow cold air, near freezing temperatures to filter in North Texas which could bring a chance for some winter precip; maybe a winter mix of possibly some ice, maybe some snow on Monday.

Dallas, TX – The state's electric power grid operator says Texas needs more generating capacity if it's to avoid repeats of last February's rolling blackouts and the summer's power supply crises.

In statements issued Thursday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas says extreme conditions this winter could mean a worst-case of demand for 60,000 megawatts with generation dipping to about 57,000 megawatts.

Dallas, TX – A man who crashed through a Love Field security gate and gained access to the runway has been sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.

47-year old Michael Browne was driving a stolen truck in August of 2010 when he led Dallas police on the high speed chase. Browne pleaded guilty to a charge of interfering with security screening personnel.

The incident prompted aviation officials to investigate and strengthen access to secure areas at Love Field.

Man Convicted For Starving Child

Dallas, TX – Texas is announcing six more weeks of unemployment benefits for jobless Texans who have exhausted their claims.

The Texas Workforce Commission says the extension is a result of the unemployment rate reaching 8.5 percent or higher over the previous three months.

The Workforce Commission says the U.S. Department of Labor approved the processing of claims starting December 11th.

Credit: jmtimages (cc) flickr

Dallas, TX – The Supreme Court has been asked to stop a federal court from implementing a state redistricting map in Texas that could increase minority representation in the state Legislature.

The state's attorney general, Greg Abbott, filed the request with the high court on Monday. The court-drawn map was drafted after minority groups challenged the original plan passed by the Republican-dominated state Legislature.

Credit: jmtimages (cc) flickr

Dallas, TX – Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks has announced her intention to run for one of the new congressional districts created under a redistricting map released today.

The federal court's map will temporarily override one drawn by Republicans in the state legislature. The judges created three new congressional districts dominated by minority voters.

Currently Eddie Bernice Johnson is the only minority representing North Texas in the U.S. House.

Dallas, TX – A Texas House committee has heard testimony on why it's important for authorities to hold onto evidence in criminal cases - even those when the defendant pleads guilty.

The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee wants to improve Texas DNA testing.

Rebecca Bernhardt, policy director of the Texas Forensic Service, told the committee Tuesday that DNA evidence is sometimes destroyed as part of guilty plea agreements with defendants.

Dallas, TX – Plano Police are releasing additional information in a series of attacks on members of the same sorority.

Detectives say they believe a man on surveillance video released last month actually used a pay phone at the Mesquite convenience store to call one of the sexual assault victims to inquire about her welfare.

Dallas, TX – The unemployment rate in Texas dropped slightly to 8.4 percent in October, down from the last month's 8.5 percent.

The Texas Workforce Commission said Friday that the state added 2,500 jobs in October. Texas's unemployment rate remains below the national rate of 9 percent.

Commission Chairman Tom Pauken says private employers in Texas are "investing their capital" in hiring more workers, adding 286,200 jobs since October 2010, for a growth rate of 3.4 percent.

Credit: jmtimages (cc) flickr

Dallas, TX – A federal court has issued new Texas political maps for the 2012 election.

Every 10 years lawmakers redraw districts to reflect changes in the U.S. census, but minority groups have mounted a legal challenge to the redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature. So a federal court had to draft temporary maps for 2012.

Dallas, TX – After a morning conference between attorneys for the city and Occupy Dallas, protesters remain in their tent compound behind City Hall. But Occupy Dallas attorney Jonathan Winocour says the protesters must watch their p's and q's.

Dallas, TX – The devastating Texas wildfire season has now been going on for a year, and there's no end in sight.

A few fires have flared up recently - unlike the numerous massive blazes this spring and summer.

But the Texas Forest Service says more large fires are expected this winter because of the ongoing drought. So officials are not declaring an end to the wildfire season that started Nov. 15, 2010.