Naked City

Austin Stories

A bill to create a Travis Co. health care district passed easily out of a House committee last week while the Senate companion was expected to advance to a floor vote today (Thursday). Proponents in the House had hoped to see the bill move effortlessly to the Local and Consent Calendars Committee (where noncontroversial bills end up). It instead went to the Calendars Committee, because Austin GOP Reps. Todd Baxter and Jack Stick are not entirely enamored with the idea of a tax-financed health care district. -- Amy Smith

Groups representing environmentalists and bass fishermen have dropped their suit against the city over stocking Lake Austin with sterile grass carp to combat hydrilla infestation. The plaintiffs agreed to wait and see how the current strategy works before again challenging the city's permit to introduce the non-native fish -- which have in the past completely denuded Texas lakes. Last winter's unusual cold has itself (if temporarily) reduced hydrilla coverage of the lake. -- M.C.M.

Bill Welch -- the lone growth-friendly voice on the board of the Barton Springs/ Edwards Aquifer Conservation District -- has resigned after a three-year stint. The Pct. 3 director left to pursue another hitch, where he is better known as Col. Welch. Called to active duty by the U.S. Air Force Reserve late last year, Welch recently notified BSEACD that his status had been extended "in support of the war against terror and evil. ..." Despite sharp differences of opinion with his colleagues on the board, Welch remained cordial and approachable, even after heated debate on cases pitting pumping rights against environmental interests. Board President Jim Camp is taking applications until May 9 from persons interested in filling Welch's unexpired term, which ends in May 2004. A map of Pct. 3 and other details are available at www.bseacd.org. -- A.S.

Travis Co. commissioners on April 29 passed a resolution urging the state to impose a moratorium on executions while a "blue-ribbon commission" studies Texas' application of the death penalty. County Judge Sam Biscoe and commissioners Margaret Gomez and Ron Davis voted in favor of the measure; Gerald Daugherty voted no and Karen Sonleitner abstained. Nationwide, 80 local governments, including the cities of Baltimore, Oakland, and Cincinnati, have passed similar resolutions. Bills proposing either a moratorium or a commission to review the death penalty -- by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, and Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin -- are currently pending in the Legislature. -- Jordan Smith

Members of the Zilker Neighborhood Association met with Wheatsville Co-op earlier this week to discuss how a co-op location might occupy the abandoned shell left by the Fiesta supermarket on South Lamar, which closed earlier this year. Residents plan to hold an organizing meeting this weekend to get started on raising the community support Wheatsville says it needs to open a sibling to its home base on the Drag. -- Lauri Apple

As spring comes to Hyde Park, so does the Legislature, and at least two bills are pending on behalf of Hyde Park Baptist Church in its battle with neighbors over the church's endless expansion and construction plans. HB 2674, by Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, would forbid any city to regulate churches within historical zoning districts; the bill passed out of State Cultural and Recreational Resources last week. Oddly enough, only one witness registered but did not testify -- HPBC lawyer Richard Suttle, registered on behalf of "self." Suttle told Naked City he attended as a resource witness only, but that the bill could protect HPBC interests on some tracts. And HB 2456, by perennial HPBC water-carrier Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, would effectively force Austin to allow HPBC to build as if it were located downtown and not in a single-family neighborhood. Plenty of people testified against HB 2456 in Land & Resource Management. And last week the bill was re-referred to Urban Affairs, considered at an ad hoc meeting called on the House floor during lunch, passed favorably to Local & Consent Calendars, and unless somehow derailed will pass the House without objection by the end of next week. Neighborhood groups and municipal reps are lobbying furiously against both bills. -- Michael King

Travis Co. Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir is anxious to quell doubts about the security of the eSlate electronic voting system making its full-fledged debut in the current City Council election, and somebody gave her a good PR opportunity last week. On April 21, the Northcross Mall early-voting location was broken into; a Dell laptop computer was stolen, and it appeared one of the voting machines may have been tampered with, but DeBeauvoir says election security was not compromised. The laptop had software allowing remote access to Travis Co. voter-registration records (already public information) so that election workers could verify eligibility, but no other election-related data. The eSlate itself was not connected to the electronic "ballot box" -- which is removed from the site by law enforcement each night and returned the next morning -- so vote counts were not affected. Just to be safe, DeBeauvoir said, the affected machine was taken out of service for the remainder of this election. Austin police are investigating. -- Lee Nichols

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