News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
• Drummer Slain Exactly what led up to the death of drummer Bill Maddox – killed Dec. 27 at his Southwest Austin home – is unclear, though reportedly Maddox's wife, Rhonda, called police early Monday morning to report a burglary in process. Ultimately, Maddox was shot, as was a neighbor, John Debrecht, who is now in critical condition at University Medical Center Brackenridge. Reportedly, while Debrecht lived in Maddox's Scenic Brook neighborhood near Oak Hill, the two men did not know each other. According to a Debrecht family source, he may have been "confused" and thought that the Maddox home was actually his. "The original call was burglary in progress, and that's where the investigation started," said Travis County Sheriff's Office spokesman Roger Wade. "Where it will end up, I don't know." For more, see "Off the Record," p.43. – J.S.
• Howard Returns Fire Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has challenged Republican opponent Dan Neil to put up or shut up in his attempt to take her seat. On Dec. 27, Howard's attorney Buck Wood filed a formal response to Neil's Dec. 20 petition to the Texas House of Representatives for an election contest. Rather than claiming malfeasance by the incumbent, Neil's lawyers accused the Travis County Elections Division of incompetence, ranging from losing ballots to potentially allowing 1,900 felons to vote. Wood argued that Neil's filing is factually vague and legally wrong, and that if the ballots were counted as he wanted, Howard's victory would actually increase to 38 votes. Howard has also filed a notice of intent to get an oral deposition from Neil on Jan. 4. "If his motives aren't purely political," she said, "then he should have no problem answering questions about the allegations he has made." – Richard Whittaker
• Bipartisanship, Texas style The passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill has been praised as a bipartisan victory of the lame duck Congress. However, the final vote seems to be a victory for absenteeism during the holidays, and the Texas delegation remained split along party lines throughout passage. All of the Texas Republicans voted against the bill when it first came to the floor in July, and even though members voted 255-159 to back it, it failed without a two-thirds majority. The House finally passed it on Sept. 29, 268-160, with the Texas GOPers again voting no. The Senate then slashed the fund from $7.2 billion to $4.3 billion before passing it by voice vote on Dec. 22 (this after the entire Senate Republican Caucus, including Texans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, helped scuttle a cloture vote on Dec. 9). It went back to the House for final approval, where it passed 206-60. This time, only 11 of Texas' 32 members of Congress turned up, and yet again, they voted along party lines. At least the absenteeism was bipartisan, with only six Republicans and five Democrats showing up. – R.W.