Austin Report

The conventional wisdom used to be that cultural trends in the United States emerged on the west or east coasts and spread across the country. In the digital age, social media has consigned that notion to the dustbin of history, with full immersion now taking days or even hours, not weeks or months. 

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The South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) is underway in Austin through March 22.

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Three groups involved in legislative efforts to drastically limit abortion rights to the extent that the Roe v. Wade decision will allow are back on the battle lines in Austin this week, but their opponent is not Planned Parenthood or NARAL.

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Weather was an issue last week, with snow falling in every state except Hawaii and Florida. A sharp increase in black bear attacks had Floridians on the alert. Closer to home, hundreds of local citizens battled rain and dense fog to travel to Austin for the biannual Golden Triangle Days at the state capital where they talked, listened and even made a little merry with lawmakers, government officials and their respective staffs.

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Tradition. It is not just the name of the opening number in the Broadway musical where the fiddler on the roof extols tradition as a way for people to keep their balance; it is also a way we keep a firm grip on the past while moving inexorably into the future.

Word hit Austin last week illustrating that contradiction at one of the state’s leading universities: Texas A&M.

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Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott delivered his first “State of the State” speech to lawmakers crowded into the House chamber on Tuesday, Feb. 17. That traditional address early in the Legislative session is where Texas governors detail their agenda for those who must pass it into law – or not.

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Some bad ideas never seem to go away, especially in the Texas Legislature. That is certainly the case with the voucher movement to divert taxpayer dollars to private or religious schools. It is a tough sell to a majority of legislators – and the citizens they represent – at a time when public education funding in this state is on the chopping block in every session.

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The 84th Texas Legislature convened in mid-January, and change has come in the wake of the 2014 elections – but not fast enough to satisfy Tea Party adherents who elected more of their eager partisans to the House and Senate. They also elevated one of their own – Sen. Dan Patrick – to the pivotal job of lieutenant governor.

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An item on the meeting agenda for the board of directors of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) raised more than a few eyebrows in Austin this week and was seen as cause for potential concern for coastal residents.

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Some 3,000 teachers converged on the state capitol on March 11 from all across Texas to lobby their legislators to restore school funding and talk about issues like high-stakes testing, private-school vouchers, and teacher pensions. The Texas American Federation of Teachers sponsored the rally as AFT members from Brownsville to the Panhandle, from deep East Texas to far West Texas, spent the better part of the day visiting their area lawmakers one by one to make the case for public education.

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