Category: Law & Politics

Sweet New Law for Texas Honey Producers

September is National Honey Month and Texas bees are celebrating a new state law that will lighten the regulations placed on small scale beekeepers.

Round Rock Honey drives from hive to hive in style with their decorated van and personalized license plate. The family-owned and operated business not only produces the purest of wildflower honey but also educates future beekeepers and the general public.

Round Rock Honey drives from hive to hive in style with their decorated van and personalized license plate. The family-owned and operated business not only produces the purest of wildflower honey but also educates future beekeepers and the general public. Photo by: Erin MacInerney

By: Morgan Bridges, Erin Griffin, Erin MacInerney, Jamie Pross

To bee or not to bee, won’t be a question anymore for bee hobbyists producing under 200 gallons of honey annually. The new Texas statute means they will be exempt from costly state health licensing requirements other larger manufacturers face.

The queen bee of honey, Hayden Wolf, thinks this will increase honey production around the state. As the 2015 American Honey Princess, Wolf represents Texas all around the nation advocating the importance of bees in keeping our ecosystem humming perfectly.

“This new law helps my family and I because we have always wanted to sell our honey,” Wolf says. “It’s a great opportunity for beekeepers.”

The 19-year-old manages 12 hives with her parents in East Texas but does not produce enough honey or have the time to make a business out of it.

The new law would allow beekeepers like Wolf and her family to sell their honey directly to consumers at farmers markets or small venues as long as proper labeling distinguishes their product from those bottled in inspection facilities.

Bee enthusiasts say the warm Texas climate is a haven for raising honey bees.  Many keepers from Northern states bring their hives to Texas during the winter months.

“It’s a lot easier than getting a pet,” Wolf says. “You don’t even have to take them on a leash and walk them everyday!”

If you are concerned with getting the proper vitamin bee from your honey, don’t let that adorable bear-shaped bottle at the supermarket fool you.

Pollen studies conducted by Professor Vaughn M. Bryant of Texas A&M University found that over 75 percent of honey sold at large chain stores and restaurants had the pollen removed making it impossible to trace the legitimate source or ingredients.

Take a look at a jar of honey and you might find ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners. What you won’t see on the label are antibiotics, heavy metals and other harsh chemicals that could have contaminated the honey throughout the process.

These honey bunches of lies make it easier for manufacturers to cut costs and extend shelf life consequently removing the health benefits completely

The honey sold at co-ops, farmers markets and “natural stores” yielded the full, expected amounts of pollen.

The new law encourages sales of local honey which means a higher chance of consuming 100 percent, organic honey without the cheap additives.

“There are many benefits of honey and if you are not getting the pure product, you might not be getting those benefits,” Wolf says. “The best way to know you are actually getting the best honey is to know your beekeeper personally and ask them questions.”

Texas ranks sixth in the nation for honey production, but our bees still face major threats of disease, negative effects of pesticide use and global warming.

“It’s a fairly simply hobby but it has become harder to keep our bees alive in the past years. Now we have to check the hives every two to three weeks,” Wolf says. “It used to be easier in the old days.”

Mystery syndromes not fully understood such as Colony Collapse Disorder have created quite a buzz in the last decade. Annual bee colony losses averaged around 42 percent this past year according to a study conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America.

“It is important we try to keep them alive, to keep ourselves alive,” says Melanie Brown, Founder of BEEVO, The University of Texas’ Beekeeping Society. “Bees pollinate a lot of our crops and without them, we would have a serious shortage of food.”

About 80 percent of the food on grocery store shelves are there thanks to bees according to the International Bee Research Association.

Brown says the BEEVO club has a substantial following since initiating this last spring.
The goal of the society is to engage students, faculty, and staff in urban beekeeping as part of an effort towards sustainable pollinator populations.

“I’m more passionate about the environmental impacts of beekeeping but there are a lot of people on campus who are just super into beekeeping,” Brown says. “I am happy they now have an outlet to share their knowledge.”


Bee Story-8


What does Mopac’s expansion mean for local environment?

By Taylor Turner, Garrett Callahan, Jacob Kerr and Kylie Fitzpatrick

As Austin’s population continues to rise, so do the construction zones on the city’s roadways.

Between 2011 and 2016 Austin is expected to have a growth percentage of 6.1 percent, according to Forbes, making Austin one of the fastest growing cities in the country. And to combat the extra population, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority have already begun several construction projects they believe will increase mobility and traffic in the Austin area.

Cars heading southbound on Mopac become stuck in traffic due in part to the highway's expansion project.

Cars heading southbound on Mopac become stuck in traffic due in part to the highway’s expansion project.

But many local environmental groups believe there is a significant threat to the local ecology as construction projects develop.

One of the projects is the Mopac South expansion project, which would build two toll lanes in each direction from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane in addition to a double-decker bridge crossing Lady Bird Lake. The plans also pass over a segment of the Edward’s Aquifer, which runs into Barton Springs.

Activists against the construction said the project would increase pollution in the spring’s waters with the rise in traffic. According to Keep Mopac Local, an initiative against Mopac’s construction plans, the project would add up to 60,000 travelers per day in addition to the 130,000 cars that already use the highway. The organization said the additional travel would increase urban runoff and pollution in the Barton Springs waters.

“The water that goes into this aquifer doesn’t have any sort of filtration so pollution that goes into this aquifer goes into Barton Springs,” said Aubrey Cravotta, an outreach coordinator with Save Our Springs Alliance, which is part of Keep Mopac Local.

A man dives into Barton Springs Pool, a man-made swimming facility fed by the springs.

A man dives into Barton Springs Pool, a man-made swimming facility fed by the springs.

Cravotta said one of the consequences of any increased pollution is the further endangerment of species living in Barton Springs, including the Barton Springs Salamander.

The Barton Springs Salamander, a small, completely aquatic salamander, became formally recognized in 1993. The salamander only lives in Barton Springs in Austin, but has become increasing less visible in the Zilker Park waters.

In late April 1997, the Barton Springs Salamander was listed among the U.S. Endangered Species after its population sharply declined entering the 1990s. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the salamander had a large population in the early 1970s, but has since fallen due to pollution in the waters.

The waters the salamanders are found in are feed by a small segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which is influenced by rainwater and water flow. However, this also presents an opportunity for contaminates to run into the water that can endanger the species living there.

Most species of salamanders, once they reach adulthood become terrestrial, no longer keeping their external gills. However, the Barton Springs Salamander stays aquatic for its entire life, retaining its juvenile characteristics and external gills to breathe.

The Barton Springs salamander is one of the two endangered species that can only be found in Barton Springs.

The Barton Springs salamander is one of the two endangered species that can only be found in Barton Springs.

If pollution and other contaminates, which Cravotta said has the ability to increase with the construction project, inhibit the waters, the salamander’s ability to breathe will be prohibited, which has resulted in its population decline in past decades.

“That’s why the species was put on the endangered species list because of these true threats of and possibility of contaminants affecting the entire species at once,” said Dee Ann Chamberlain, an environmental scientist with the Austin Watershed Protection Department.

To help combat the declining population, the City of Austin has set up a Captive Breeding program within the Austin Watershed Protection Department, which helps maintain the Barton Springs Salamander’s population.

“The idea is to have a population of the species in captivity that you could introduce into the wild if something happened to the species,” Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain also said the Captive Breeding program helps the city better understand how the species lives. Since the Barton Springs Salamander lives mostly underground, the program allows for the species habitation to be seen first hand.

Untitled Infographic

“Parts of their life history is difficult to understand looking at them in the wild so we’ve had to study their life history working with them in captivity,” Chamberlain said. “It’s like thinking of it as putting together different pieces of a puzzle to put together all the different parts.”

Currently, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation are in the last year of an environmental study that looks at the environment impacts that the expansion project could cause. At the end of the year, if the study finds to have any impact on the Barton Springs Salamander or any other endangered species, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority said it would take steps to fix them.

“At the end of the year, there is going to be a final report were all those issues will be identified,” said Rick L’Amie, the communications director with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. “It’s too early to say what [the issues] are right now because we are still studying it.”

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APD uses new approach to tackle drug market in East Austin

By: Jacob Kerr, Judy Hong, Becca Gamache & Carola Guerrero De León

Mission Possible Austin is home to the Drug Market Intervention Program on 12th and Chicon St. Photo by Becca Gamache

Mission Possible Austin is home to the Drug Market Intervention Program on 12th and Chicon St.
Photo by Becca Gamache

(Austin, Texas) – The corner of 12th and Chicon streets has turned a corner.

Read more

A Fraction of the Whole

Questions about sexual assault survey remain

Experts say survey lacks transparency

By Bobby Blanchard and Scarlett Klein

The University of Texas will spend $87,500 to participate in a sexual assault survey that some experts say lacks transparency.

Dozens of other schools are opting out of the survey, which is being conducted by the Association of American Universities. Twenty-seven of the 60 Association of American Universities member institutions in the United States are participating in the survey, which would gather information on the location and frequency of assaults. The association announced in November it would conduct the “campus climate” survey by contracting the research firm Westat.

In a statement, Association of American Universities President Hunter Rawlings said in addition to combating sexual assault, one of the reasons to conduct the survey was to preemptively push back against a mandated government-developed survey from the United States Congress, which Rawlings said would be an unproductive “one-size-fits-all survey.”

“Our primary purpose in conducting this survey is to help our institutions gain a better understanding of this complex problem on their own campuses as well as nationally,” Rawlings said in his statement.

But critics of the survey said it would not be helpful for studying sexual assaults on college campuses. Their biggest concerns, critics said, was transparency, citing concerns that only aggregated data will be released from the association as a result of the survey. Data for individual campuses will not be released to the general public for policy experts and researchers to compare, but the AAU will give individual universities their campus-specific data.

Select the image below to view an interactive map of universities reporting sexual assault. Red dots are schools participating in the AAU’s sexual assault survey and green dots are non-participating schools. Click the dots to view the number of sexual assaults reported at each university.

 Data Source: U.S. Department of Education/AAU

In addition to activists for sexual assault condemning the survey, experts in academia have expressed concerns over it as well. Sixteen professors across a variety of institutions wrote a letter addressed to the presidents of the Association of American Universities. In their letter, the policy experts said the survey lacked transparency because its questions and methods are secret, and would not be available to the greater scientific community before the survey is conducted.

“Accuracy of data regarding sexual violence has been known for years to be very sensitive to the way it is measured,” the letter said. “Sound collaborative scientific efforts involve advisory boards of highly qualified scientists. In the case of the AAU survey, only two members of the advisory committee appear to have any experience in survey assessment on sexual assault, although the committee does have several lawyers and administrators.”

According to data from the U.S. Department go Education, there were just eight sexual assaults reported at UT-Austin in 2013. Some other institutions in the Association of American Universities reported similar numbers, while Harvard University reported as many as 35.

sexual offenses chart

In addition to participating with the Association of American Universities, UT-Austin will conduct its won survey, said UT spokesman Gary Susswein. Meanwhile researchers at the School of Social Work have been working on their own study – set to be published in August.

“We’re asking them…why didn’t they report? We want to know what is the reason that prevents them to report,” researcher Deidi Olaya-Rodriguez said. “We want to get as many answers as we can.”

About this project

This project was completed by UT-Austin journalism students Bobby Blanchard and Scarlett Klein. Both students did the reporting and worked on the HTML and CSS presentation. Blanchard wrote the story and created the interactive and static graphics. Klein shot and edited the video. Graphics included a Google Fusion table and a datawrapper bar chart. The HTML and CSS design is helped in part by JQuery. The written story is 600 words long.

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Voter Turnout – It’s Not Bigger in Texas

By Maria Roque, Sara Cabral, Anna Daugherty and Olivia Starich.

Texas is a state steeped in tradition.

From maintaining its cowboy heritage through rodeos to football tailgating, Texas prides itself on upholding a history of consistency.

Among Texas’ less admirable traditions is the state’s low voter turnout, which consistently ranks among the lowest in the country. The state’s figures for the National Election, which took place last Tuesday, are no exception.

Recent efforts to synchronize the mayoral and city council election schedule with the national elections and the rapid growth of Texas cities outpacing others in the nation could have helped boost turnout for last week’s national election. Despite these changes, voter turnout in the Lone Star state was down 271,000 votes from the 2010 elections, with approximately 33.6 percent of the 14 million registered voters showing up to the polls.

This midterm election was a historic election for both Texas and Austin. It was the first election during which the voter ID law was implemented and the election with the most open seats since 1906. The gubernatorial race also gained national attention early in 2014 when candidate Wendy Davis, known for her 2013 filibuster on women’s reproductive rights, was officially pitted against now governor-elect Greg Abbott.

The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, housed in the University of Texas’ School of Journalism, aims to improve civic engagement in Texas through nonpartisan research and education.

According to the 2013 Texas Civic Health Index report by the Annette Strauss Institute, Texas ranked 51st in the nation for voter turnout in 2010. Texans ranked 42nd for voter registration with 62 percent of voting-eligible citizens reported being registered to vote.

Regina Lawrence, director of the institute, said Texans likely do not vote because they are convinced that an individual vote will not make a difference. While this may be true for larger national elections, Lawrence suggests that offices at and below the state level are more easily impacted by individual voters.

“You may or may not know that some of our local legislators, our local representatives were chosen in their last election by literally a handful of votes, 10, 15, 20, 50 votes” Lawrence said. “So in that context, your individual vote actually matters quite a bit.”

At the local level, the election marked two important firsts for Austin. The November election was the first time for the mayoral and city council election to coincide with the federal election schedule. Austin constituents also voted for the first group of City Council members under the 10-ONE system. Under this system, council seats changed from six city-wide representatives to a council of 10 representatives, one for each geographic district in Austin. Many races went into run-offs, so results are not conclusive.

On a statewide scale, results proved disconcerting for members of the Democratic party as Republicans swept most statewide offices, including the highly-contested Governor and Lieutenant Governor positions.

Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, suggested that a voter identification law enacted in 2011 may have dissuaded voters from going to the polls. Hinojosa maintains that many of those would-be voters might have been Democrats, which could have resulted in a different outcome.

The voter ID law, introduced and passed as SB 14, is undergoing review in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after being ruled unconstitutional last month, and remains a contentious issue following the Texas elections.

According to the appeal, approximately 600,000 voters may have been disenfranchised; however, there is currently no concrete calculation of disenfranchised votes. The impact of SB 14 on voter turnout or the outcome of major races cannot be determined.

Regardless of the effect SB 14 might have had on voter turnout, Texas’ civic participation remained habitually low, with early estimates suggesting that Texas out-voted only Indiana by a small margin. Other factors are deterring would-be voters from casting their ballots.

Election Day 2014 on the UT Campus from Maria T. Roque on Vimeo.

A 2012 U.S Census Bureau election report shows that the two most common reasons for not voting among constituents ages 18-44 years old were, “too busy” and “not interested.” Texas is also poorly-ranked on other civic health measures. Texas residents ranked 49th for contacting elected officials, and 44th for discussing politics a few times a week or more.

“The phrase you’ll hear is that Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a non-voting state, and it’s very true,” said Max Patterson, president of University Democrats. “A lot of people don’t understand the impact of their vote because they have that mentality that this is a red state, it doesn’t matter, especially on the local levels.”

A single vote carries less weight at the national level, which is why Lawrence suggests that collective action, driven by grassroots political discussions and information sharing via social media, is imperative to make large-scale change.

Lawrence and Patterson agree that the power to increase participation and produce change lies in increasing voting numbers and in improving civic engagement. Analysis of voter demographics shows that one of the nation’s largest demographic groups is still missing from the polls: millennials.

Despite constituting 52 percent of the world’s population and numbering 86 million in the United States, millennials have the lowest voter turnout nationwide. Their absence in the polls is troubling since political issues such as unemployment and debt management directly affect them. Millennials lay claim to a 40 percent unemployment rate and 70 percent of the group has an average personal debt of $30,000.

In its efforts to get millennial voters involved and thinking about politics, the Annette Strauss Institute holds civic fairs, similar to science fairs, for middle and high school students, where students develop a project around an issue of interest.

“[Research shows that] when you ask students to get actively involved with something and they get to decide what the problem is and what the solution is, that that’s really empowering and that those young people do tend to go on and vote more consistently once they’re old enough to vote,” Lawrence said.

The institute also hosts post-election debriefings for the Austin and UT communities in addition to other programming designed to get would-be voters talking about issues in their communities.

The key to boosting Texas’ voter turnout likely lies in driving millennials to the polls. Lawrence’s work with the Annette Strauss Institute and outreach efforts by student-led organizations such as UT’s University Democrats continue to entice students towards a higher level of civic engagement. However, until obstacles such as personal time constraints and lack of interest can be negotiated by young would-be voters, the quest to boost voter turnout in Texas could continue to be an uphill battle.