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District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston, a Democratic Party candidate for Texas Supreme Court, says a series of laws passed by the Texas Legislature in the 1980s help free Texas farm workers from “slavery.” She credited her father, former Rep. Lloyd Criss, D-Galveston, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and former Rep. Alex Moreno, Jr., D-Edinburg, among others, for what she says was “landmark civil rights” legislation in Texas. See related story.

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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured with constituents in this file photo, is urging voters to support Proposition 15, a state constitutional amendment that would, with statewide voter approval, authorize a $3 billion, 10-year initiative “to make Texas into one of the nation’s leading center for cutting-edge research.” Hinojosa, a co-sponsor of Proposition 15, said Texans “have a chance to take a giant step toward curing a deadly disease that sooner or later touches every Texan’s life. More than 87,000 of our friends and loved ones will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year, and 36,000 will succumb to it.” Proposition 15 is on the November 6 election ballot. Early voting is currently ongoing.

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Tejano music superstar Roberto Pulido of Edinburg, a member of the private Tejano Walk of Fame Committee, on Tuesday, October 16, announced to the Edinburg City Council that the Tejano Walk of Fame ceremony, which honors legends of the music genre, will be held once again in the three-time All-America City. The date is Thursday, November 15, beginning at 6 p.m. at The Social Club, a restaurant located at 205 Conquest Boulevard. Sponsorship fees and ticket prices will soon be announced by the group, which also includes Dr.Dahlia Guerra, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas-Pan American, featured here behind Pulido. The event raises scholarships for music majors at the university. Scheduled to be inducted this year are performers Paulino Bernal y Conjunto Bernal of McAllen; Gilberto Pérez y sus Compadres of Mercedes; Emilio Gerardo y Los Aguilares of San Antonio; Gilberto López y su Conjunto of Edinburg; and Freddy Martínez of Corpus Christi. The concert will include performances by Little Joe y La Familia, Roberto Pulido; his son, Bobby Pulido; the Renaissance Rockers; The UTPA Mariachi; and René Sandoval. More information on sponsorships and tickets may be obtained by calling 316-4700. See story later in this posting.

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Gilberto López of Edinburg, surrounded by some of his family, reacts with appreciation on Tuesday, October 16, to a city proclamation honoring the legendary member and renowned accordionist of Los Dos Gilbertos, an Edinburg-based Tejano music group. López is one of five Tejano music professionals who are going to be inducted into Edinburg’s Tejano Walk of Fame on Thursday, November 15 during an elaborate ceremony to hosted by The Social Club in Edinburg. “In 1971, Gilberto López united with Gilberto García, another accordion player, and together they became known as Los Dos Gilbertos,” said Mayor Joe Ochoa. “Los Dos Gilbertos gained popularity with their accordion duets in South Texas, Chicago, Michigan, California, and other parts of the United States and Mexico.” López was honored by the mayor and city council “for his dedication to conjunto music, and his many contributions to the Hispanic culture of the city of Edinburg.”

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Judge Susan Criss’ family legacy includes helping abolish “slavery” of farm workers in Texas

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston has earned more than enough credentials to seek the March 4 Democratic Party nomination for the Texas Supreme Court. But she is still inspired at what her father – former Rep. Lloyd W. Criss, Jr., D-Galveston – helped accomplish with a series of major laws he helped pass in the 1980s that she says “freed farm workers in Texas from slavery.”

The Texas Supreme Court is the state’s highest legal arena for civil matters and is comprised of a chief justice and eight justices elected on the statewide ballot.

Lloyd Criss, Jr., who was chairman of the powerful House Committee on Labor and Employment Relations, worked closely in the House of Representatives with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, especially

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, then a state representative, and then-Rep. Alex Moreno, Jr., D-Edinburg, to pass historic legislation to protect tens of thousands of Texas farm workers from economic exploitation, health hazards, stoop labor, and even poisoning.

“It is hard to believe, but it is true – farm workers, mostly Mexican Americans, were denied the basic protections that everyone else had back then because they had no political power, no one to fight for them,” said Judge Susan Criss. She has served for almost a decade as the judge of the 212th District Court in Galveston County.

“It is astonishing to realize that for all practical purposes, slavery still existed in Texas as late as the 1980s,” Judge Susan Criss said. “I am so proud that my father was able to play a key role in helping bring justice to thousands of our fellow Texans.”

As chairman of the key House committee, Lloyd Criss, Jr. used his considerable political influence to help pass bills carried by Hinojosa and Moreno, two rising political stars who were champions for laws that are now viewed as “civil rights landmarks”, the judge said.

Among the key legislation shaped by Lloyd Criss, Jr., in conjunction with Hinojosa, Moreno and other Hispanic legislators, was a state law that now requires farm workers to be protected by workers compensation, which is medical and disability insurance for people who are injured on-the-job, she noted.

Also, her father helped on other key measures, including a law that abolished the use of a short-handle hoe by farm workers, a tool that would result in painful, permanent back injuries to users. He also supported efforts to do away with the long-time practice of aerial spraying of dangerous pesticides on farm workers while they were still in the fields, she added.

Eventually, Lloyd Criss, Jr. also fought for a law that now requires that outdoor toilets for men and women be provided for farm workers at their work sites, Judge Susan Criss said.

Lloyd Criss, Jr. also carried the legislation that provided unemployment insurance for farm workers, a goal that had been sought for about 50 years. That measure was so significant that César Estrada Chávez, the co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America and a national civil rights activist, came to Austin to support the Criss legislation.

“In my personal and professional lives, I have worked hard to carry the fight for justice for all, which is the guiding principle that was instilled in me by my family, especially by my father,” Judge Susan Criss said. “It is important for Texans to know that I am running for Texas Supreme Court because I will bring the qualifications, experience, knowledge, and especially, the heart needed to look out for everyone in Texas, especially the weak and powerless.”

Pol. Ad paid for by Susan Criss Campaign. Lloyd Criss, Treasurer.
PO Box 16474, Galveston, TX 77552

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Democrat Mikal Watts drops out of U.S. Senate bid, leaving Rep. Noriega, D-Houston, and incumbent Sen. Cornyn, R-Texas for November 2008 showdown

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Mikal Watts, one of the most successful attorneys in South Texas, and who has an office in Edinburg, on Tuesday, October 24, said he was dropping out of the race for U.S. Senate.

Watts unexpected departure leaves Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, as the only candidate seeking the March 2008 Democratic Party primary nomination, although the name of former Texas Comptroller John Sharp is making the rounds.

The winner of next March’s Democratic Party primary election will face Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Watts, who had pledged to invest millions of dollars of his own fortune to defeat Cornyn, said the strain of the campaign on his family was too much to bear.

“After spending the last several months putting everything into this campaign, I have seen the toll this effort has taken on my young children,” Watts said in a statement released to the news media. “For these reasons, my wife and I have made the decision that I will not be seeking the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in 2008. While the decision not to seek the Democratic nomination has been a difficult one, I know that it is the right one for my family at this time.”

Watts had been a strong favorite among key Valley political leaders, including Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, Rep. Aaron Peña,D-Edinburg, and Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, who had previously endorsed his candidacy.

Noriega issued his own statement, saying he had received a call from Watts informing him of his decision.

“As Teddy Roosevelt once said, the credit goes to the man in the arena. And Mikal Watts will always have my utmost respect for standing in the arena,” Noriega said. “Mikal and I made plans to sit down together in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’ll continue the campaign that we started together and fight for the vision for a better Texas that we continue to share.”

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, the Democratic nominee against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, in November 2006, said the apparent willingness of Watts and Noriega to work together to defeat Cornyn is a good sign for the Democratic Party.

“The announcements today bode remarkably well for Democrats winning in November 2008, and beyond,” said Radnofsky, the first woman to have won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Texas. “This will help fundraising and merge the interests and needs of the diverse and expanding Texas Democratic Party.”

Watts’ statement follows:

“For the last five months I have been exploring a race for the United States Senate because I believe that our junior senator, John Cornyn, has let Texas down and is more concerned with his cronies and friends in Washington than with what’s best for Texas.

“After spending the last several months putting everything into this campaign, I have seen the toll this effort has taken on my young children. For these reasons, my wife and I have made the decision that I will not be seeking the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in 2008. I was brought up to believe that public service is a noble endeavor and I will continue to be involved at some level in the future. However, I realize that my time now should be devoted to serving my children so they may grow up in a healthy environment with both parents at home to meet their needs.

“The reasons for creating my exploratory committee still exist. As I have criss-crossed the state and met and talked with tens of thousands of good Texans, it is evident how much the people of Texas want and need a Senator who will fight every day for their interests and not the special interests. We need to elect a new Senator in Texas and I will personally do everything possible to support the Democratic nominee.

“It is hard to express the gratitude I feel for all the support my family and I have received as we have pursued this effort. I know that our vision for the future of Texas is one that all of our friends and supporters share. It’s been one of the greatest blessings of my life for their faith in me, and for all of their hard work over the past months. While the decision not to seek the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate has been a difficult one, I know that it is the right one for my family at this time.”

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Sen. Hinojosa receives honor from NAACP for work on Texas Youth Commission, criminal justice reform

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has received a special recognition award from the NAACP for his work to reform the Texas Youth Commission and for his work in criminal justice.

The award was presented Saturday, October 13, at the National Association of Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) statewide conference held in McAllen.

Hinojosa is the author of Senate Bill 103, comprehensive legislation that reformed the Texas Youth Commission after numerous complaints of sexual and physical abuse.

Hinojosa also authored legislation to create the Texas Forensic Science Commission to create more stringent guidelines for DNA testing. These guidelines have resulted in the freedom of hundreds of wrongly incarcerated people.

He is also the author of comprehensive identity theft legislation to protect Texans from identity thieves.

Hinojosa has worked on many social justice issues with the NAACP during the 20 years he has been a public servant.

“I look forward to continuing my work with the NAACP on issues important to Texas families,” Hinojosa said.

Terry Mills, Treasurer of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, said the organization wanted to honor the senator for his contributions to social justice, consumer protection and for his reform of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

“We are very proud because he has always fought for civil rights and for justice,” said Mills. “With regards to TYC, children were put in there and the overseers were supposed to be watching out for these kids. Instead we learned they were being sexually and physically assaulted by these overseers. Sen. Hinojosa got involved and their house of cards came falling down. He exposed the injustice going on in TYC and made sure those kids got help and that TYC was reformed.”

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Eddie Sáenz to host October 25 campaign kick-off; Rep. Peñã schedules November 8 reelection party

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Eddie Sáenz, who is challenging Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, for the Democratic Party primary nomination on March 4, will be hosting his campaign kick-off celebration on Thursday, October 25, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Trenton Point, 2314 W. Trenton Road in Edinburg.

In his announcement, posted on his campaign website, www. SáenzforSouthTexas.com, the Edinburg civil engineer encourages voters to join his “growing campaign to create new jobs, expand health care, improve our schools, and renew our faith in the future.”

There event, which will feature food, beverages, and music, is open and free to the public.

Peña, an Edinburg attorney, has announced his own reelection campaign kick-off event, which is set for Thursday, November 8, at the ECHO Hotel, located at 1903 S. Closner Boulevard in Edinburg. Peña’s reelection bid celebration is set from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Peña’s kick-off, which also will have food, beverages, and refreshments, is also free and open to the public. His announcement was made on his web site – http://www.acapitolblog.com

So far, there are no other candidates in the race for House District 40, which includes all but southwest Edinburg, La Joya and Sullivan City in western Hidalgo County, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and San Carlos in eastern Hidalgo County, and northern Hidalgo County.

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Houston, El Paso, and Dallas residents appointed by Gov. Perry to UT System Board of Regents

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, October 19, appointed one resident each from Houston, El Paso, and Dallas to the University of Texas System Board of Regents for terms to expire Feb. 1, 2013.

The new regents succeed regents Rita C. Clements of Dallas, Judith L. Craven of Houston, and Cyndi Taylor Krier of San Antonio. The newly appointed regents serve terms scheduled to expire in 2013 and are subject to confirmation by the Texas Senate.

The new regents are:

James D. Dannenbaum of Houston is chairman of Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation. He is an executive committee member of the Chancellor’s Council of the University of Texas System and past member of the Texas Tax Reform Commission. Dannenbaum is chairman of the Texas Cancer Council, and a member and past finance committee chair of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Chaplaincy Fund Board. Additionally, he is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Consulting Engineers Council of Texas Inc., and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. Dannenbaum received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Paul Foster of El Paso is president and CEO of Western Refining Co. He formerly served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the business advisory council of the University of Texas at El Paso. Foster is an executive committee member of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Council. He serves on the board of the El Paso Community Foundation, American Red Cross of El Paso and the American Heart Association of El Paso. Foster is a member of the Western Petroleum Marketers Association, the Western States Petroleum Association and the National Petroleum Refiners Association. He received a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University.

Printice L. Gary of Dallas is founder and managing partner of Carleton Residential Properties. He formerly worked as a division partner for Trammell Crow Residential Co. and as division president and corporate controller for Fox and Jacobs Inc. Gary formerly served on the Texas Tax Reform Commission and the North Texas Tollway Authority. He is a board member of C.C. Young Inc. and the National Equity Fund Inc.-Chicago. Additionally, he served as a Carleton College trustee from June 2003 to June 2007, and is a past member of the Dallas Citizens Council and the Southwestern Medical Foundation. He received a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and a master of business administration degree from Harvard University.

James R. Huffines, chairman of The UT System Board of Regents, issued the following statement today (October 19) regarding the appointments

“Gov. Perry’s appointment of these outstanding individuals to the UT System Board of Regents is wonderful news for all of us in the UT System family and for all Texans. Each of them possesses a wide array of professional experience and shares a deep commitment to fostering excellence in higher education and health care across the state, which makes them superb choices. I, along with the rest of the Board, look forward to serving with them as we continue to carry out our strategic goals and mission.”

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Congressman Hinojosa reacts to President Bush’s veto of expansion of children’s health insurance program

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, October 18, released the following statement in response to the vote to override the President’s veto of the Children’s Health Insurance bill. Earlier this month, President Bush vetoed the measure, which would have provided health care coverage for 10 million low-income American children. The measure failed by a vote of 273-156; 289 votes were needed to override the veto.

“We have a responsibility as individuals and as a nation to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Unfortunately, House Republicans chose to vote against America’s children and instead stand by the myths and misstatements that our President has spread about this bipartisan compromise.

“SCHIP is critical to our nation’s interests and to the millions of children whose families cannot afford private insurance. It is especially vital to the Rio Grande Valley since more than 50 percent of insured Latino children are covered by SCHIP or Medicaid. By vetoing this bill, the President has ignored the majority of Americans who support this effort. He has failed the low-income families in his home state of Texas, which has more uninsured kids than anywhere in the country.

“Currently, 20 percent of children in Texas are uninsured. Our state desperately needs the SCHIP funds provided in this bill, which would insure almost one million low-income Texan children. The President is directly hurting our state’s well-being by disseminating false statements and empty reasons for his veto.

“This bill is not a government takeover or socialization of health care as the President claims. It does not provide federal funding for illegal aliens, nor does it expand coverage for the middle class. What it does do is cost-effectively insure kids so that fewer taxpayer dollars have to pay for treatment in emergency rooms – the most expensive way to care for a child’s health.

“It costs less than $3.50 a day to cover a child through the Children’s Health Insurance program. This bill simply gives states like Texas the resources and incentives to enroll children who are eligible but not signed up for SCHIP and Medicaid. In Texas, this equates to 440,000 eligible uninsured children.

“I believe a society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and must vulnerable members. This fight to insure America’s children is not over. I urge Republicans who have sided with the President against this bill to start listening to the overwhelming majority of Americans who recognize the importance of protecting our nation’s future.”

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Tejano Walk of Fame returning to Edinburg on Thursday, November 15 at The Social Club

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Tejano Walk of Fame, a scholarship fund raiser that also honors entertainment giants of Tejano music, is returning to Edinburg on Thursday, November 15, organizers told the Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, October 16.

Tejano is Spanish for Texan.

Generally, Tejano music is described as roots-based hybrid of traditional Mexican music styles, including rancheras, polkas, and cumbias that also incorporate blues, pop, and country music elements.

In 1999, the Tejano Walk of Fame was created by a citizens’ advisory panel organized by Mayor Joe Ochoa and the Edinburg City Council. Located on the grounds of the Edinburg Auditorium at 415 W. McIntyre, the Tejano Walk of Fame features a sculpture by Richard Hyslin that honors Edinburg native José Roberto Pulido, a pioneer in Tejano music.

For five years, at least five Tejano music stars per year from throughout Texas were honored during elaborate ceremonies that included an indoor concert at the city auditorium, preceded by the stars’ official induction, which included the laying of individual marble pavers with a star and the name of the inductee engraved.

The annual event, which was discontinued in 2004, has been credited by city and local chamber of commerce officials as helping draw thousands of visitors to the city to view the Tejano Walk of Fame.

But now, a private committee, which includes Ochoa and Pulido, have arranged for the event to return to the three-time All-America City.

Pulido and other members of the Tejano Walk of Fame Committee on Tuesday, October 16, made their presentation before the city council, laying the groundwork for possible financial help from the city to help pay for the purchasing and laying of the granite pavers for the next five inductees.

No action was scheduled to be taken by the city council that evening, although Ochoa later said he hopes the city council will agree to help cover the costs for the pavers in a meeting later this fall.

Meanwhile, the Tejano Walk of Fame Committee continues to move forward with the major event, which will include a dinner and a concert on Thursday, November 15, beginning at 6 p.m. at The Social Club, a restaurant located at 205 Conquest Boulevard.

Money raised from that event will go into a scholarship fund, named in honor of Pulido, that is used for music majors at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Additional information on the event is available by calling 316-4700.

Committee members are expected to announce the sponsorship fees and ticket prices for the event in a matter of days.

Scheduled to be inducted this year are performers Paulino Bernal y Conjunto Bernal of McAllen; Gilberto Pérez y sus Compadres of Mercedes; Emilio Gerardo y Los Aguilares of San Antonio; Gilberto López y su Conjunto of Edinburg; and Freddy Martínez of Corpus Christi.

The concert will include performances by Little Joe y La Familia, Roberto Pulido; his son, Bobby Pulido; the Renaissance Rockers; The UTPA Mariachi; and René Sandoval.

In addition to Ochoa and Pulido, the other members of the Tejano Walk of Fame Committee are: Héctor Casas, owner of The Social Club, who is donating the club’s services to the event; Marc González, funeral director with González Family Funeral Home in Edinburg; Sonny González, funeral director with González Family Funeral Home; Dr. Dahlia Guerra, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at UTPA, and sister to former Mayor Richard García; Mary Patlán with the Edinburg city government; Flaco Pulido, a brother of Roberto Pulido; and Johnny Torres, a spokesperson for the Hidalgo County Health Department.

Marc González, one of the committee members who addressed the city council, said his personal interest in music prompted his involvement in the effort.

“This endeavor – which was started six years ago by the city and was in a standstill for a few years – has been brought back by popular demand,” he said. “There were many citizens who wanted the event to continue, and that is what we are here for.”

Torres, who also has a professional DJ service, said many of his clients always were interested in the Tejano Walk of Fame.

“Every weekend, we have events where we play at different weddings, anniversary celebrations, parties, and a lot of people in Edinburg had been asking me, ‘What happened to the Tejano Walk of Fame? It was a great project for the city.’ So, exactly a year ago, we came forward to the city council and asked what happened,” Torres explained. “We want to continue to effort. There are a lot of Tejano musicians who deserve to be recognized for their many years of dedicated music. There is not a gathering that happens and we have music. We want to continue to tradition, and help out as much as we can.”

Sonny González, who has worked for 30 years as a sound engineer for Tejano groups at their concerts, said Tejano music, which was very popular in the late 1990s with such acts as Selena, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jiminez, is coming back.

“You have all these norteño bands coming in from Mexico, and they have put a dent on Tejano music just a little bit, but now Tejano music is going back to the top of the charts,” Sonny González said. “Tejano music is energetic, and it comes from the heart.”

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Eddie Sáenz launches full flight of TV ads, asks voters to approve $3 billion cancer research

By KELLY FERO

Eddie Sáenz, a Democratic candidate for House District 40 state representative, on Wednesday, August announced that he launched a full flight of television ads beginning that evening to urge voters to approve a groundbreaking initiative in the November statewide ballot designed to make Texas a worldwide leader in the fight against cancer.

“We owe to ourselves and the people we love to find a cure for this deadly disease,” Sáenz says in the ad, which will run on all Rio Grande Valley stations from this evening through Election Day on November 6. A Spanish-language version was also scheduled to air over the same time frame on select stations.

Sáenz produced the ad with his campaign team.

(Editor’s note: Sáenz is challenging Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, for the March 4 Democratic Party primary nomination. So far, there are no other candidates in the race. House District 40 includes all but southwest Edinburg, La Joya and Sullivan City in western Hidalgo County, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and San Carlos in eastern Hidalgo County, and northern Hidalgo County.)

Entitled “Prop. 15,” the 30-second ad features Sáenz speaking directly into the camera while images from hospital emergency rooms play out on the screen.

(Editor’s note: The ad incorrectly identifies him as chairman of South Texas Health Systems, although the news release announcing his ad campaign correctly identifies him as of chairman of the Board of Governors of South Texas Health Systems – a citizens’ advisory panel.)

The transcript of the ad follows:

“I’m Eddie Sáenz.

As Chairman of South Texas Health Systems, I know that cancer touches all of our lives – including mine. My mother is breast cancer survivor, and my father was diagnosed with liver cancer just a few weeks ago.

(The camera then pans back to reveal Sáenz’ parents, Joe and Mary, standing next to him as he continues.)

We owe it to ourselves and the people we love to find a cure for this deadly disease. That’s why I’m asking you to vote for Proposition 15 on the November 6th ballot. Your vote could help kill cancer in our life times – and theirs.”

Sáenz said a “yes” vote on Proposition 15 would double the amount of money currently spent for cancer research in Texas at a time when experts believe they are on the verge of major breakthroughs into what causes the deadly disease. He said the measure calls for a $3 billion investment over the next 10 years to make Texas a center of research into cancer prevention.

The legislation putting the initiative on next month’s ballot was promoted by Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, former State Comptroller John Sharp, and others leaders.

In addition to his chairmanship of the Board of Governors of South Texas Health Systems, Sáenz also served as chairman of Avance, a non-profit organization whose focus is to strengthen families and helped to implement the enrollment process for the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program in South Texas.

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Edinburg has second-best jobless rate, at five percent, in the Valley for September

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s jobless rate, which is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy, in September, 2007, came in at five percent, the second-best showing among major Valley cities, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Elias Longoria, Jr., and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

The September 2007 jobless rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 799 jobs over September 2006, and a growth of 1,984 jobs over September 2005.

With the exception of the July 2007 level, Edinburg has posted either the lowest, or second-lowest jobless rate, in the Rio Grande Valley each month this year.

The state’s jobless rate in September averaged 4.3 percent.

The U.S. unemployment rate in September was 4.7 percent.

The latest figure, compiled by the Texas Workforce Commission, compares with a 5.4 percent jobless rate in September 2006, and a 4.7 percent jobless rate in September 2005.

The five percent jobless rate for September 2007 also represented a slight increase in the jobless rate from August 2007, which came in at 4.9 percent.

Only McAllen, which reported a 4.5 percent jobless rate, registered a better showing than Edinburg in September 2007.

All cities in Hidalgo County for September 2o07 had a combined 6.2 percent jobless rate, while all cities in Cameron County had a combined 5.8 percent jobless rate during the same month.

Among the Valley’s largest cities, Weslaco in September 2007 posted a 6.8 percent jobless rate, followed by Brownsville with a 5.9 percent jobless rate, while Pharr and Mission registered 5.5 percent and 5.4 percent jobless rates, respectively.

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in September 2007 at 5.2 percent.

The jobless rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed.

To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and actively seeking work.

In September 2005, there were 25,279 people employed in Edinburg.

In September 2006, there were 26,464 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City.

In September 2007, there were 27,263 people employed in Edinburg.

Those levels represent some of the lowest unemployment rates and the largest numbers of people employed in the city’s history.

In 2006, the annual jobless rate for Edinburg was 5.3 percent, while in 2005, the annual jobless rate for Edinburg was 4.7 percent.

The monthly breakdown of the city’s jobless rate in 2007 follows:

In September, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5 percent.

In August, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.

In July, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5.8 percent.

In June, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5.5 percent.

In May, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.

In April, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.3 percent.

In March, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.

In February, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.8 percent.

In January, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.

Statewide, according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment in Texas grew by 23,100 jobs in September, for a total of 217,400 jobs in the past year.

The Texas seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 4.3 percent in September, up slightly from 4.2 percent in August, and down from 4.8 percent a year ago.

“Our continued job growth reflects the state’s solid economic foundation and remains the best indicator of a strong Texas economy,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Diane Rath. “At 4.3 percent, the Texas unemployment rate remains well below the national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.”

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced the lowest MSA unemployment rate in the state at 3.0 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Amarillo, Odessa, and Lubbock MSAs tied for second at 3.5 percent.

Trade, Transportation and Utilities employment recorded the largest over-the-month gain since November 2005, adding 10,700 jobs in September. Professional and Business Services posted gains of 5,800 positions in September, producing 65,700 positions since last year for an annual growth rate of 5.3 percent.

“Texas employers continue to spark the state’s economy with the annual job growth rate at 2.2 percent, well above the national rate of 1.2 percent,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “Texas significantly outpaces the nation in job growth in industries such as Construction, Professional and Business Services, and Natural Resources and Mining.”

The Construction industry spurred job growth again this month, adding 3,800 jobs in September and bringing 17,200 positions to the state since last year. Education and Health Services employment also showed strong results with a growth of 3,100 positions, for a total of 25,900 jobs over the year.

Leisure and Hospitality added 4,200 positions this month, an increase of 39,000 since September 2006.

“Texas workers and job seekers can find opportunities in almost every field with job growth across most industries,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “Now is the perfect time to find new jobs or improve careers.”

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Long-awaited 13th check for retired teachers expected to be issued in January 2008

By DAN SUTHERLAND

Retired educators will be receiving a much needed and long awaited benefit increase according to Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller.

Truitt, who chairs the Texas House Committee on Pensions & Investments, learned on Thursday, October 18, that the Texas Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will be able to issue a 13th check, a one-time increase in the annuity paid to retired teachers.

This is the first benefit increase for retired teacher annuities since 2001.

State officials and retired educators had been eagerly awaiting TRS actuaries to complete their annual valuation study, the results of which were released on October 18.

The actuaries noted that, as a result of the retirement fund’s investment gains and increased funding approved by the 80th Legislature, TRS will be able to distribute the 13th check after being voted upon by the TRS Board of Trustees.

That formal action is expected to take place at the next board meeting on November 9, and the retired educators may anticipate receiving their additional benefit in January, 2008.

“I’m so pleased for our retired teachers who have had to wait too long for financial relief. The $650 million new dollars appropriated to the fund by the Texas Legislature to TRS last session was key in making the 13th check a reality,” said Truitt.

Truitt carried Senate Bill 1846, which increased the state’s fund contribution for active teachers from 6.0 percent to 6.58 percent and authorized the 13th check.

The Texas Constitution prohibits the Teacher Retirement System from providing a benefit increase to its annuitants unless the fund is actuarially sound. The TRS fund has over $100 billion in assets, but has been actuarially unsound since the drop in the stock market after the 9/11 attack in 2001.

“Thanks to the hard work of many concerned legislators, including Sen. (Robert) Duncan (R-Lubbock) the author of SB 1846, as well as the work of Reps. Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio, and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, both on the Appropriations Committee, we were able to make this happen. It was a privilege to work with them and all Texas legislators to improve the strength of the TRS fund for the good of our current and future retired teachers,” said Truitt.

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Legislature emphasizes high school completion, college readiness

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

More than 21 percent of Texans over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma, and in the Rio Grande Valley those rates are estimated at 39 percent or higher.

If Texas wants to thrive in a competitive global economy, it will require higher educational standards from our future workforce and provide the means for every student to achieve them.

The Legislature has recently taken steps to secure the educational success of our children and schools by increasing funding targeted at high school completion and college preparedness.

This past 2007 Legislative Session, we passed House Bill 2237, the Texas High School Completion and Success Initiative, and appropriated $107 million to fund it.

While dropout rates continue to hover at 35 percent in Texas according to some reports, a more telling story is in a 2005-06 report by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) indicating that only 80 percent of high school students are graduating within four years.

Another study by the Intercultural Development Research Association has calculated statewide completion rates as low as 65 percent.

Sadly, Texas has not gained much ground in our high school completion rates during the past 10 years. In 1996, TEA reported that 75 percent were graduating within four years–a mere 5 percent difference!

A nationwide comparison by the National Center for Educational Statistics reported in June 2007 that Texas ranked 35th in freshman completion rates compared to the other 50 states and the District of Columbia. When students cannot graduate within the prescribed time, they often become discouraged and give up. That is why this new Initiative is so critical to our goals, and much of its funding will be geared to school districts with the greatest need.

The Initiative builds upon what we did during the 2006 Special Session, when we allocated a new $275 per student allotment, specifically targeted to improve college readiness among high school graduates.

Over 50 percent of those who continue on to college are enrolling in at least one remedial math, reading or writing course because they’re simply not college-ready.

Texas high schools continue to struggle to prepare these students, but especially schools with more at-risk students and limited English proficient students. The four-year high school completion rates for these youngsters facing additional barriers are at 67% and 49%, respectively.

Part of the solution is funding received for the 2006-07 school year by 30 school districts and charter schools in my Senatorial District of $16.8 million from the new high school allotment, and also similar funding they received for the 2007-08 academic year. School districts are using these funds innovatively to improve college readiness and reduce dropout rates.

Some school districts have established special stipends for math and science teachers, lowered the teacher-pupil ratio or created after-school and weekend courses to help failing students.

Weslaco I.S.D. has developed a program to lure back students who have dropped out by providing more personalized instruction, flexible schedules and encouraging programs to help students pass their General Equivalency Diploma (GED) exams. They’ve even hired a team of teachers and aides, and a college readiness specialist who encourages education continuance by linking students with compatible programs at South Texas College or UT-Pan American. Since implementation of the Weslaco program last year, 150 students have participated and 50 have received their GEDs so far.

The recently enacted High School Completion and Success Initiative requires TEA to establish several grant programs to fund the construction of science labs, teacher professional development, student club activities aimed at dropout prevention, implementation of innovative high school improvement programs and intensive technology-based supplementary instruction.

The bill also establishes a council to identify priorities and make recommendations to improve the alignment of high school education, college education and workforce readiness. TEA will be required to study best practices on dropout prevention, provide a report to the Legislature, and establish an online clearinghouse of information and findings. Additionally, college readiness standards and expectations will be established, with personal graduation plans encouraged for each ninth grade pupil.

To further enhance these programs, I would like to see these initiatives coupled with more direct contact with school guidance counselors. With so many social factors influencing our youth today, personalized attention is key in helping students keep their eyes on graduation and beyond.

I am confident that these legislative commitments will make a significant academic impact. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will also work to ensure that these programs remain funded. The future of Texas and its children depends on how well we meet their educational demands.

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State to increase job opportunities for Valley students with disabilities, say Sens. Zaffirini, Lucio

By NICK ALMANZA

Sens. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, on Friday, October 19, announced that the Lower Rio Grande Valley Workforce Development Board (Workforce Solutions) received a $125,000 grant from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities. The grant is for the first year of a three-year project to increase employment opportunities for students with developmental disabilities.

Funds will be used to develop partnerships and integrate resources between the workforce development board, local school districts and adult service agencies, including Easter Seals, local One-Stop Career Centers and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.

During the first year the project will work with 30 students from high schools in Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. “This is an important grant that will help us find employment for so many special education graduates,” Zaffirini said. “Project RISE will help provide services and supports that students with severe disabilities need to explore their employment options, develop job hunting skills and prepare for positions that match their skills and interests.”

Lucio added that the project also will work with local businesses to identify employment opportunities for students. “Workforce Solutions plans to work with major employers in the fastest-growing industry sectors in this area, such as healthcare and banking,” Lucio said.

The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities is a 27-member board dedicated to improving the lives of the 411,500 Texans with developmental disabilities. The Council uses a variety of activities – such as grant projects, technical assistance, public awareness and leadership training – to enable people with disabilities to live, grow up, attend classes and work in the community. Developmental disabilities are severe, chronic disabilities that occur before the age of 22, such as autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, mental illness, traumatic brain injury and epilepsy.

Additional information on the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities can be found via http://www.txddc.state.tx.us or 1-800-262-0334.

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Proposition 11: Making record votes in Texas Legislature permanent

By REP. JUAN M. GARCÍA

(D-Corpus Christi)

On November 6, 2007 Texas voters will have the opportunity to enshrine open government into the Texas Constitution.

Proposition 11 on this November’s constitutional ballot would require the Texas House and Senate to record all final votes, publish the votes in their official journals and on the Internet, and maintain the voting records online for at least two years in a format that is searchable by bill number and subject.

As a joint author of House Joint Resolution 19 (HJR 19), the legislation that put Proposition 11 on the November ballot, I worked with a bipartisan group of legislators in the House and Senate to give voters the opportunity to advance open government in Texas. I believe that the voters of Texas deserve to know how their legislators voted on every substantive issue that comes before the Legislature.

There’s been a gradual culture change in the manner in which our Legislature conducts business. Gone are the days in which votes on final passage were saved for Fridays, giving most members an early start on the weekend as designated “Floor Captains” remained behind to vote for them, safe in the knowledge that most votes weren’t documented anyway. Since 1999, the number of regular-session record votes in the House has increased by more than 76 percent. Through the Internet, Texans have free access to online bill tracking of legislation and live video of floor debates and committee proceedings. In 2005, the House passed measures that lowered the threshold for a record vote from a request by any three members to any one member. And this past January the House showed additional support for record votes by adopting my “Garcia Amendment” that requires record votes on passage of all final measures.

However, without enshrining this change into the Texas Constitution, any future Legislature can reverse this commitment to transparency in government. House rules are debated and changed each session. Having mandatory record votes in the House rules is good, but having this practice mandated in the Constitution is better. Basic, fundamental law, which is what constitutions are, should require that no legislation that’s going to change peoples’ lives should become law without the public knowing how their lawmakers voted. Proposition 11 will provide that every member of the Legislature is held to account for his or her vote on final passage of legislation. Its passage will make record votes permanent and ensure that record votes will always be a part of our legislative proceedings.

Currently, 41 states mandate record votes. By adopting Proposition 11, Texas will join the vast majority of the state legislatures (and the U.S. Congress) that require record votes, as well as take our place at the forefront of accountability along with the other 15 states that make voting information accessible to citizens by displaying legislators’ votes online.

This is not a bill just for the media, but something that average Texans tell me they want and need. My office gets calls and letters every day from concerned constituents who are trying to track new legislation that impacts their livelihood, their tax burden or their children’s education. The people of Texas want and deserve to know how their representatives vote on laws that affect their lives. It is my hope that the debate over Proposition 11, and the resulting openness if it passes, will empower constituents to become more engaged in our governing process.

There’s nothing Republican or Democrat about requiring accountability from policymakers. If Proposition 11 passes, November 6, 2007 will be a good day for advancing open government.

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