› City Council is on holiday break until Jan. 12, when it will soon face the particularly vexing question of how to respond to Austin Energy's request for a new rate structure – AE says the increases are necessary for the city-owned utility to remain solvent, but environmentalists and advocates for the poor have argued that the new rates are inequitable and short-sighted.
› Christmas Day visitors to Lady Bird Lake were greeted that afternoon by a spectacular explosion and fire that completely destroyed an elegant, two-deck boat used by partygoers for decades; fire officials have said the cause was arson.
› The holiday season and colder weather has not meant the end of the Occupy movement in Austin or elsewhere; Occupiers have de-emphasized the city encampments and begun focusing on specific actions against foreclosures, cuts to services and education, and even the dreary presidential campaign spectacle in Iowa. "See "Occupy Austin, 2011."
› Here's a heartwarming story to greet the new year: State changes in eligibility rules may end cancer treatment for elderly patients whose Medicaid coverage helps meet their Medicare deductible. Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis has asked the Health and Human Services Commission to waive the new regs for these patients. "These cuts are about to put at risk the lives of some of our most vulnerable Texans," Davis said.
› Federal Judge Lee Yeakel heard testimony and arguments last week that the "banning" of scores of protesters for various infractions from City Hall amounts to an illegal suppression of First Amendment rights; Yeakel said he would issue a ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Texas Civil Rights Project early next year. See "Did City Stifle Free Speech?"
› More bad news for Gov. Rick Perry's presidential aspirations. Primary season begins on Jan. 3 with the Iowa caucuses, where Perry trails in fourth place behind Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul. At least he is on that ballot; he's currently suing the Virginia GOP and the Virginia State Board of Elections after his campaign failed to collect the 10,000 signatures required for ballot access. Perry, who has railed against activist judges and for states' rights, says the rules violate his Constitutional rights.
› Three cheers for beer! Local firm Jester King Craft Brewery has triumphed in its challenge to Texas' outmoded and inaccurate beer-labeling rules. See "Free To Be Beer!"
› Austin and Round Rock ISDs have joined Dallas, Houston, and 59 more of the largest school districts in Texas in a legal challenge to the state's school finance system. There are now four lawsuits on this issue, filed by school districts representing more than 60% of Texas students, pending in the courts.