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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured here on Tuesday, November 27, after endorsing the reelection of Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has been appointed to the Joint Interim Committee on State Water Funding by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The legislative committee will focus on key issues for state water funding for future planning projects. The committee was created as part of SB 3, a comprehensive statewide water bill that was passed during the last legislative session. Hinojosa said water will remain a top issue for Texas for many generations to come. “SB 3 was a key piece of legislation for the future of water use in Texas,” Hinojosa said. “I look forward to working with the committee on one of the state’s most important natural resources.” While it appears that Hinojosa may not draw an opponent for his Texas Senate seat, Gonzáles is facing a challenge from fellow McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos, who is seeking the Republican Party nomination. Gonzáles laid out her platform during her campaign rally, held in McAllen. See story about her political rally, along with a transcript of her speech, later in this posting

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Two of the area’s more well-known political leaders, La Joya Mayor Billy Leo, featured left, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, strike a pose for a portrait shot during the November 27 campaign kick-off of Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen. Although the two men share the Democratic Party designation, Leo favors the election of a Democrat to be Speaker of the House of Representatives in Austin in January 2009, while Peña has pledged his support to the incumbent Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, a Republican from Midland. The Speaker of the House is arguably the most powerful position in the Texas Legislature, with the power of life and death over all measures considered in the 150-member House of Representatives. The speaker is elected every two years by the House members. Peña’s opponent for the March 4 Democratic Party primary nomination is Eddie Sáenz, also of Edinburg, who has promised to vote for a Democrat for Speaker if Sáenz defeats Peña. See story on Peña filing for reelection and story on Sáenz opposing a voter I.D. bill, both included later in this posting.

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Stephen López of Edinburg belts out a patriotic song on Tuesday, November 27, with an image of Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, appearing to look on in approval. López, a gifted singer whose talents have put him in demand at political and social gatherings in the Valley, continues to take the region by storm with his dynamic voice and stage presence. This latest performance helped kick off the campaign reelection bid for Gonzáles, who is facing a challenge from fellow McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos, a candidate for the Republican Party nomination.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio on Tuesday, October 30, held a formal ceremony to dedicate the Mario E. Ramírez, M.D., Library at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen. Ramírez, who practiced family medicine in Starr County for 43 years, served on the UT System Board of Regents from 1989 to 1995. At its August meeting, the board approved a request by the Health Science Center to name the library for Ramírez. In this portrait, Ramírez, featured left, stands near a plaque that was to be posted outside of the Mario E. Ramírez, M.D., Library at The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio/Regional Academic Health Center/Harlingen Campus. With Ramírez are his wife, Sarah; son, Roberto L. Ramírez; daughter, Patsy Kittleman; and daughter-in-law, Liza Ramírez. See story later in this posting.

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Texas Supreme Court candidate Susan Criss says UT System should build law school in the Valley

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Texas Supreme Court candidate Judge Susan Criss, D-Galveston, who helped create a video that encourages minority students to become attorneys and judges, is calling on the University of Texas System and state lawmakers to build a UT law school in the predominantly Hispanic Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Criss, a veteran district judge and former prosecutor, was executive producer in 2003 and 2004 for the video, “The Color of Justice,” a 12-minute film that encourages Texas high school students to study hard, go to college, and consider law as a career.

As part of her lifelong commitment to promoting equal opportunities in Texas, Criss is now taking that message to the highest levels.

“Of the more than 77,000 lawyers in Texas, only 14 percent are from minority populations, according to a report produced last spring by the State Bar of Texas,” said Criss. “Yet more than 59 percent of Texas schoolchildren are considered to be from minority populations, and Mexican Americans make up one-third of our state’s population. We need to encourage more minority students to pursue careers in the law.”

Criss is the first statewide candidate since Tony Sánchez of Laredo, a former UT System regent who was the Democratic Party nominee for governor in 2002, to advocate for a UT law school for the Valley.

Criss, who has presided over some of the most famous trials in Texas in recent times, is seeking the March 4 Democratic Party primary nomination for Place 8 on the Texas Supreme Court.

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.

Last year, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who is currently a candidate for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, also said the Valley deserved a UT law school.

Criss said the Valley provides an outstanding pool of qualified law students.

“Any successful law school must have two main elements – a great administration and faculty, and diversity among its students,” said Criss. “As it now stands, it is just too much of a financial and personal burden for qualified Valley residents to attend law school hundreds of miles away from home. Texas is losing out on this great talent.”

Criss, who attended UT Law School in Austin in the early 1980s before graduating from South Texas College of Law in Houston in 1986, said she will soon take the issue to the UT System regents in the hope of securing their endorsement for the “long-overdue goal.”

She wants both the UT System and the Texas Legislature, through their respective legislative committees, to begin in-depth studies on what it would take to get a UT Law School up and running in the Rio Grande Valley, a region that is approaching 1.5 million residents.

Beyond that, she will lobby the Legislature in 2009 to seek the creation and funding of the law school.

In 2007, Criss said, Valley lawmakers “took a big, big step” in that effort with the filing of legislation by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and his son, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, to create a UT Law School in the Valley.

The companion bills – House Bill 1099 and Senate Bill 1400 – were considered by the House Higher Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee last spring.

Although neither bill made it out of the Legislature, the committee hearings provided key information, including, for the first time, the cost of such a facility, she said.

“We now know about how much it would cost to have a UT law school, serving about 200 students a year, but now we need to know what is UT going to do about it, and what can the Valley do to help itself out,” said Criss. “That’s why I am calling for public hearings – both by the UT System and the Legislature – to be held in the Valley on this most important issue, so we can be ready to pass it through the Legislature in 2009.”

Criss also noted that Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, reportedly added an amendment to another bill during the 2007 legislative session that also would have created a law school in the Valley.

Although Martínez’ legislative effort also fell short, it served further notice of the importance of a law school for deep South Texas, she said.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also has been a longtime champion for a UT law school for the Valley. He has supported a version that would focus on the study of international law, in addition to the required curriculum at the UT Law School in Austin.

The legislation filed by the Lucio lawmakers called for the creation of a law school that by 2012 would serve about 200 students. It would cost about $10 million a year, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

Bill Analysis

According to a bill analysis of Senate Bill 1400, the law school legislation filed during the 2007 regular session by Sen. Lucio and Rep. Lucio addressed the following concerns, which follow verbatim:

AUTHOR’S / SPONSOR’S STATEMENT OF INTENT

The nearest public law school to South Texas is the University of Houston in Houston, and the nearest private law school is St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. It is extremely difficult for a resident of the South Texas region who wishes to pursue a legal education to leave their family and work to relocate outside of the region for three years to pursue a legal education.

There is a need for lawyers in the South Texas region to address the growing population and growing legal needs of the area. In 2002, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported that the Rio Grande Valley was the region of the state with the greatest need for more lawyers.

As proposed, S.B. 1400 establishes the first public law school in South Texas at The University of Texas at Brownsville.

RULEMAKING AUTHORITY

This bill does not expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to any state officer, institution, or agency.

SECTION BY SECTION ANALYSIS

SECTION 1. Amends Chapter 78, Education Code, by adding Section 78.11, as follows:

Sec. 78.11. UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT BROWNSVILLE SCHOOL OF LAW. Requires the board of regents of The University of Texas System (board) to establish and maintain The University of Texas at Brownsville School of Law as a professional school of the university.

(b) Authorizes the board to prescribe courses leading to customary degrees offered at other leading American schools of law and authorizes the board to award those degrees.

(c) Requires the school of law to be located in Cameron County.

SECTION 2. Requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to prepare a feasibility study to assist the board in establishing a law school as provided by this Act not later than December 1, 2007.

SECTION 3. Effective date: upon passage or September 1, 2007.

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

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Justice Linda Yañez of Edinburg first Democrat to file for the Texas Supreme Court, faces Judge Susan Criss

By MIKE CARRERA

Signaling a major threat to the one-party rule of the state’s highest court, Justice Linda Yañez of Edinburg on Monday, December 3, was the first Democrat to file the official papers for candidacy for the Texas Supreme Court, complete with nearly 800 signatures representing Texas voters from all 14 appellate court districts across the state.

Yañez, the Senior Justice of the 13th Court of Appeals, which hears cases in Edinburg and Corpus Christi, and who was first appointed by Gov. Ann Richards, stated clearly the need for change.

“One-party rule has bred arrogance, group-think, and allowed pay-for-play politics that favors insurance companies and large firms over consumers and decisions of juries made up of our peers,” noted Yañez. “It is time to bring some balance to the state’s highest court.”

According to the non-partisan organization Texas Watch, the nine-member, all-Republican Texas Supreme Court ruled against consumers 82% of the time in its last term – overturning 81% of the cases decided by juries comprised of regular Texans. Moreover, the court has issued unanimous opinions 90% of the time, signaling little legal thought on important matters of law.

“It’s important that we field candidates with appellate court experience,” Yañez added. “The Supreme Court does not decide guilt or innocence, or decide between plaintiffs and defendants, they determine whether law has been applied fairly or not.” That, Yañez explains, requires justices who have argued the finer points of law.

Having served as a state appellate court justice for over 14 years, Yañez has written thousands of opinions, many of which have set critical precedent for the application of the law in Texas.

Yañez, though, began her career not in the courtroom, but in the classroom. A former public school teacher, she saw that working families needed advocates, and after getting her law degree she worked with Legal Aid as well in private practice concentrating in family, immigration, criminal and voting rights issues.

Yañez was a member of the legal team that successfully carried a case all the way to the United States Supreme Court defending the rights of all children to a public education.

A former Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School, Justice Yañez received a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia, led President Clinton’s transition team on immigration issues, received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Hispanic Bar Association and was recently appointed to the State Bar of Texas Task Force on Court Administration.

Yañez has filed as a candidate for Place 8, which is currently held by Republican Phil Johnson who was appointed to the bench in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry.

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Sen. Hinojosa says state law not intended to extend terms of Edinburg’s, other school boards in Texas

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

A vote that could come as early as Tuesday, December 11, to extend the length of the terms for Edinburg school board trustees is not authorized by the Texas Legislature, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Wednesday, December 5.

The seven-member local governing board, based on the advice of school board counsel Jacques Treviño, has been considering approving a resolution – as early as its upcoming December 11 meeting – that would increase the length of their terms in office to four years. Currently, ECISD school board members serve three-year terms.

That action is based on legislation approved by state lawmakers last spring, attorney Treviño has contended.

But Hinojosa says that was not the goal of the law.

“We passed the bill,” Hinojosa said of Senate Bill 670. “That bill was intended to impact one school district which had a problem, it was not intended to have statewide impact.”

Asked what would happen if the local school board members vote to extend their terms in office, Hinojosa said, “I would imagine at some point it would be challenged in court or the Attorney General’s Office would issue an opinion specific to this statute.”

The veteran lawmaker added that “no one has contacted our office on this issue, but the reality is, it was not the intent of the Legislature.”

What impact his comments have on the local political scene could come as early as Tuesday, December 11, the next scheduled date for a regular session of the ECISD governing board.

The formal agenda for the Tuesday, December 11 session won’t be posted until Friday afternoon, December 7 – 72 hours before the scheduled meeting – as required by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

As of press time late Wednesday afternoon, December 5, the school district’s public information office had not yet been advised by school board president Carmen González whether at least politically-controversial measures would set for action early next week.

In addition to increasing the length of the terms, the Edinburg school board could also approve changing to November as the month for school board elections. Currently, the school board holds its elections in May.

The general public received its first in-depth look at the measures on Tuesday, November 27, when Treviño, the school district’s general counsel, provided a power-point presentation of the developing issues.

Treviño, who has been researching state law since last summer, contends that the Legislature requires the Edinburg school board – and possibly other Texas school boards – to increase the length of the trustee’s terms in office.

The attorney says state law requires them to increase the term to four years, and it only would require a majority vote by the seven-member board of trustees.

The options for which the local school board vote could come on Tuesday, December 11, essentially boil down to these two scenarios, he believes:

• Does the school board allow trustees to finish out their three-year terms in May – the next scheduled election date for the school board – and then the four year terms begin? Two of the seven incumbents – González and Board Secretary Ciro Treviño (no relation to the school board attorney) – are up for reelection in May, 2008.

• Does the school board switch the election date from May until November, and then the four year terms begin? That would add six months to the current terms of trustees González and Treviño.

The options have been developed in response to last spring’s passage of Senate Bill 607, which was designed to address issues unique to the board of trustees of the Alief independent school district, located in the Houston region.

At a Tuesday, November 27 public hearing on the issues, a handful of Edinburg residents, who evidently had an advanced look at two major plans, favored extending the terms to four years in length, and switching the school board elections from May until November, beginning this spring.

No action was scheduled, or taken, by the school board during the November 27 public hearing.

The November 27 testimony favoring a plan to extend the terms to four years, and change the election date from May to November, featured comments that were typewritten and delivered, even though the 5 p.m. public hearing represented the first time the plans were presented to the general public.

School board trustees received the plans about a week earlier, and copies of those measures began circulating in the community.

Attorney Treviño also believes that action must be taken by December 31, although he acknowledged — based on a question from Board Secretary Treviño – that the school district may not face any punishment from the state if the school board does not change the length of the terms or the election date.

Responding to a question from trustee Robert Peña, Jr., the school board attorney said none of the area state legislators have been asked for advice on how to deal with the new state law that has drawn so much confusion.

If the board does not schedule any action on December 11, they would still be able to address the issues in a special meeting after that date but before December 31.

Any changes adopted by the school board that affects school board elections also will have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, raising the specter of legal challenges by any school board trustee or citizens who object to those changes.

The issues have been brewing behind-the-scenes for several months, following last spring’s passage of SB 670, which was designed to address issues unique to the board of trustees of the Alief independent school district, located in the Houston region.

But as is sometimes the case, the bill flew through the legislative process without any apparent concerns that it would affect possibly dozens of school districts statewide, including Edinburg.

Attorney Treviño had offered to provide an advanced look of the plans to this reporter on Tuesday, November 13, but only after he had discussed the options with the trustees during an executive (closed) session, which he said is allowed by state law.

The offer was declined; instead, a request was made that the school district’s public information department prepare a press release on the issues in order to minimize any misunderstandings of the politically-charged measures.

So far, neither the school district nor the school attorney have issued a detailed printed explanation. Attorney Treviño, superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr., and Mario Salinas, the school district’s Assistant Superintendent for District Administration, have been researching the impact of of the Legislature’s actions since last June.

When the state law began to receive public attention in early November, the three men have remained readily available to answer any questions from the public.

“We are compelled to do this,” the school board attorney said Wednesday, November 14. “Our interpretation of an Attorney General’s opinion is it is mandatory that we do it. It’s not just the board members wanting to give themselves an extra year on their term.”

So far, no school board member has said they support any changes.

An Attorney General Opinion is a written interpretation of existing law. Opinions interpret legal issues that are ambiguous, obscure, or otherwise unclear. Accordingly, although an Attorney General Opinion is advisory, it carries the weight and force of law unless or until it is modified or overruled. Ultimate determination of a law’s applicability, meaning or constitutionality is left to the courts.

The school board attorney said on November 14 that his November 27 presentation would be designed to explain that “this is the law, this is why we have to do it, these are the pros and cons of both plans. We are going to try to explain everything in the power-point presentation, go over the law, and AG opinion that pretty much compels us to go to a four year term.”

On Tuesday, October 30, Garza, Salinas, school district attorney Treviño, and board members Peña and David Torres went to Austin to try to get answers to a difficult problem. They met with Elizabeth Hanshaw Winn, lead attorney with the Elections Division of the Texas Secretary of State, trying to get a handle on what stands to be a political hot potato along many different levels.

“We wanted to get an opinion from the Secretary of State on the mandates of the new law, because we need to know what options we have,” Salinas said in early November.

Such action also would require the U.S. Department of Justice to come into the process, making sure that any proposed changes do not discriminate on a number of different levels.

A bill analysis, which is background provided by the Texas Legislature, explained the history that led to SB 670, and some of the impact of the measure:

House Bill 1, passed by the 79th Legislature, Third Called Session in 2006, mandated that school districts hold joint elections with a municipality, county, or the state. This would require 50 to 70 school districts to change from May to November elections, either because they are not part of a municipality with a May election, or because the district is not located in a municipality and therefore, will have to join with the county or state elections.

The approved bill and subsequent changes came about because Alief ISD, located in part within the Houston city limits, currently holds elections each May, and about one-third of the trustees are elected to the school board each year for three-year terms. Because the district is required to change to a November election, trustees will be running for election in even-numbered presidential and non-presidential years and in odd-numbered Houston city election years. This would raise the costs of the elections for Alief ISD.

SB 670 authorizes a school district’s board of trustees to adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees not later than December 31, 2007, to address the rising costs of multiple elections and the confusion among voter precincts.

This bill does not expressly grant any additional rule-making authority to a state officer, institution, or agency.

SB 670 amends Section 11.059, Education Code, by adding Subsection (e), as follows:

(e) Authorizes the board of trustees of a school district to adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees not later than December 31, 2007. Requires the resolution to provide for a term of either three or four years and to specify the manner in which the transition from the length of the former term to the modified term is made. Requires the transition to begin with the first regular election for trustees that occurs after January 1, 2008, and requires that a trustee who serves on that date serve the remainder of that term. Provides that this subsection expires January 1, 2013.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles says teamwork, hard work, have made District 41 part of the American Dream

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Like a growing number of her constituents in House District 41, which includes southwest Edinburg, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, wasn’t born here – but as the popular Texas saying goes, she got here as fast as she could.

Gonzáles, originally from San Marcos in Central Texas, told hundreds of supporters during her Tuesday, November 27 reelection campaign kick-off that her legislative district is so full of promise for a good life that the proverbial ship has finally come in for a region whose people have struggled economically for generations.

“What is happening in the Valley is that it is truly a place where you can live the American Dream,” she said. “You can come here with a strong work ethic, with an innovative idea, and you can make a great name for yourself and for your family. I’m excited about the place that the Valley has become, and I am proud to be involved in shaping its future.”

In addition to southwest Edinburg, House District 41 includes most of McAllen, a portion of northeast Mission, and all of Palmhurst and Alton.

Gonzáles is seeking her third two-year term in the Texas House of Representatives in the November 2008 general election.

She is facing fellow McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos – also a transplanted Valleyite who hails from the border community of Crystal City – who is making his first run for public office, seeking the Republican Party primary nomination.

The party primaries both will be held on March 4, 2008.

Although she did not mention Villalobos by name, she did fire the first public volley against him, citing a newspaper report about an answer she said Villalobos gave to an area publication.

“They asked him, ‘What was your platform? Why are you running?’ And he said, ‘I will tell you after the primary,'” Gonzáles reported, then retorted, “‘Well,’ I thought, ‘Does he not know what it is?’ I can tell you why I am running”:

“I’m running because I see opportunity here for the Rio Grande Valley. Because I see in the faces of young children that I visit in the schools, the potential they have if we give them the opportunity for education.

“I see how so many people still need health care, and I want to help provide it.

“I see economic opportunity for those people who are just starting their businesses, and they have innovative ideas, but they need the head start to help get it off the ground.

“I see opportunities to provide housing for low-income families, so people have a home, for their children, of which they are proud.

“I want to do all of that for the Valley, and with your support, I know I can do it. I know I am your gal to do it.”

Seizing on the continuing economic growth of the region, Gonzáles gave examples of prosperity that is coming to more South Texans, while urging communities to also help the poor.

“Just this year alone, we created 9,900 jobs in the Rio Grande Valley, and a lot of them are here in my district – House District 41,” she said. “These jobs that were created didn’t happen because of luck. They happened because more and more people are wanting to come to the Valley. More and more people are wanting to stay here in the Valley, and to seek jobs and opportunities that we have.”

Aware that House District 41 includes large numbers of affluent voting blocs – presumably areas which would favor Republican candidates – Gonzáles stressed her ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to benefit her legislative district.

“I’m proud of the great relationships that I have established with other members of the Legislature, on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “It is those relationships that have helped me to pass so much legislation in just two short sessions.”

Among the region’s legislative measures she helped pass during the 140-day 80th regular session – and for which she shared credit with the Valley’s House and Senate state lawmakers – all Democrats – included:

•$2 million for a park in McAllen;

•$3 million for a drug treatment center in Edinburg;

•$5 million for the University of Texas Regional Health Centers in Edinburg and Harlingen;

•A 13 percent increase in state funding for UT-Pan American;

•$40 million in state matching funds to encourage economic development in the Rio Grande Valley; and

•$45 million for a new Department of Public Safety headquarters to be built in the McAllen area.

“We did very, very well,” Gonzáles said. “These are just a few of the things we were able to do in a short 140 days. But these advances don’t happen because of luck. They are due to team work and they are due to hard work.”

Former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, one of the political heavyweights in the Texas Democratic Party, was among dozens of elected leaders and political candidates who showed up for her campaign rally.

Famous for his arsenal of political stories, Sharp was primed to heap praise on Gonzáles, who he proclaimed “one of the best state representatives I have ever seen in my life.”

But just as he was picking up steam with the accolades, former Hidalgo County Democratic Party chairman Bobby Guerra, who helped serve as a speaker, gently interrupted Sharp, letting him know that he was to introduce a video clip, produced by Evelyn Escamilla, that highlighted Gonzáles’ developing legislative legacy.

Following the presentation, Sharp, himself a former state representative and state senator, pretended to complain, lamenting that “everything I was going to say in my introduction about her was in that video.”

But not to be outdone by technology, Sharp still had the last word – and receive the biggest laughs of the evening.

Reminding legislative veterans and political novices that everyone starts at the bottom, Sharp recalled how the legislative process makes humble even the biggest political stars.

“There is an old saying in the Texas House of Representatives about freshmen members,” Sharp said. “You get there as a freshman and you say, ‘I’m going to read every single bill anybody introduces,’ which is 6,000 or 7,000 bills.

“Then, after a week, you say, ‘I’m going to read every bill that comes to my committee,'” he continued.

Looking at Gonzáles and other lawmakers in the audience, who knew by painful experience the coming punch line, Sharp admitted:

“And then, you say, after another committee meeting, ‘I’m going to try to read every bill that I introduced!”

The biggest cheers of the evening were generated by Gonzáles, who is part of an even smaller minority in the Legislature – a female and Hispanic lawmaker.

“They say a woman’s place is in the home,” Gonzáles reflected. “Well, there is nothing wrong with a woman being at home providing for her family. But I have the time, the energy, and the ability to be in House of Representatives, and I want to stay there, and with your help, I can.”

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Transcript of Rep. Verónica Gonzáles campaign speech

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, delivered her campaign kick-off speech on Tuesday, November 27, at the McAllen International Museum. The text of her speech follows:

This is the time of the year we give thanks for the many, many blessings we have.

Just this year alone, we created 9,900 jobs in the Rio Grande Valley, and a lot of them are here in my district – House District 41. These jobs were created didn’t happen because of luck. They happened because more and more people are wanting to come to the Valley. More and more people are wanting to stay here in the Valley, and to seek jobs and opportunities that we have.

We have students who are graduating from South Texas College. They have more than 18,000 students. The University of Texas-Pan American has more than 18,000 students. These are students who are graduating who are ready, willing and able to fill these jobs. So, having these jobs here has been tremendous for our area.

What is happening in the Valley is that it is truly a place where you can live the American dream. You can come here with a strong work ethic, with an innovative idea, and you can make a great name for yourself and for your family. I’m excited about the place that the Valley has become, and I am proud to be involved in shaping its future.

I am also proud that this session that the Rio Grande Valley, and my district, District 41, did very, very well in Austin. I don’t know if you know this, but we got so many things this session: we got $2 million for a park here in McAllen. This is going to be like the River Walk, like an Epcot Center. It is going to have arts and entertainment. It is going to have high-end retail, high-end restaurants, it is going to be a place where you can take your kids and enjoy. There are so many plans the city (McAllen) has for that, and the legislative delegation is going to be involved in those plans to make it better.

We got $2 million to move the reservoir from where it is because we want to put the park there. We are going to make it so that people, when they come across the border from Mexico – our friends from the south – they can enjoy what we have here as well in the Rio Grande Valley.

We got $45 million for a new DPS headquarters that was badly needed; $3 million for a substance abuse center in Edinburg; $5 million for the RAHC in Edinburg and in Harlingen; a 13 percent increase for the University of Texas-Pan American; $10 million for South Texas Hospital; $400,000 for the Rio Grande Valley Nature Center; $600,000 for the Gladys Porter Zoo; and the list goes on and on.

We did very, very well.

And as a state, we didn’t do so bad, either.

We increased funding for education by $4 billion this session. We put the teacher retirement system back in black. We just passed a proposition that puts Texas in the forefront of finding a cure for cancer – $3 billion for cancer research over 10 years.

CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) – we made major reforms to CHIP to add another 123,000 children to make them eligible for CHIP.

We increased mental health funding, which was so badly-ignored and needed, by $82 million.

We revamped the business tax. This session we passed legislation to make it fairer for smaller businesses, because we want people their share, but we don’t want to cripple our economy and our small businesses.

For economic development, we contributed $40 million in state matching funds to encourage economic development in the Rio Grande Valley.

We passed tough laws to keep child serial predators off of our streets, and to require stiff punishments for those who hurt children.

We appropriated more than $100 million to secure our borders all along the Texas-Mexico border.

These are just a few of the things we were able to do in a short 140 days. But these advances don’t happen because of luck. They are due to team work and they are due to hard work.

A gentleman came up to me recently and said, ‘I just married a lady here, and I’m from North Texas.’ He said he was speaking to his state representative, and told her he was moving here. And she said, ‘Oh, you know, the Rio Grande Valley did very well this session. They did that because the delegation worked very well together to make sure the Valley did very well as an area.’ She said, ‘If Houston or Dallas had done that, they would have gotten a lot more.’

I’m proud of that. We don’t always agree on everything – all the local representatives, but one thing we do agree on is that we want to make the Valley strong, and we worked very hard to make sure we got good funding for the Rio Grande Valley.

One of the things I was told when I first ran was that relationships were key. They really are. You have to get along with the other members, they have to be able to trust you, because ultimately, they are the ones who vote on your legislation, they are the ones who decide if your legislation has a chance to live or die. Let me tell you, it is a lot easier to kill a bill than to pass one.

I’m proud of the great relationships that I have established with other members of the Legislature, on both sides of the aisle. It is those relationships that have helped me to pass so much legislation in just two short sessions. It is those relationships that brought so many of my colleagues for legislative fashion show that I had – I have the pictures back there – and they came on their own nickel to come and be in the show.

People ask, ‘How does that help us, a legislative fashion show?” Well, I knew that if I could get them down here, if I could get representatives from all over the state to come down, and they could see what we have down here, and they could meet the people, a name or a face with an issue, the next time that I ask them for a vote on something, it is going to be a lot harder for them to say no, because they know us.”

It is those relationships that have helped me secure some good opportunities in the Legislature. I am so glad that (Rep.) Pete (Gallegos, D-Alpine) is here. He is the chairman of the Mexican American Legislature Caucus. He is our leader. We work hard for areas where we have high Mexican American numbers, and when we have issues that impact Mexican Americans. Pete gave me the opportunity to head up the Immigration Task Force this session. Those relationships helped me get leadership positions in the House Democratic Caucus. I am very proud of that, they gave me those opportunities, they showed me that trust to head up those positions.

But I am most proud of the relationships that I have established here, with my constituents, in the Rio Grande Valley. As you saw from the (video) testimonial, I have been up and down in the Valley. I have been with mental health professionals, with educators, with veterans, with mayors, you name it, with business people, and everyone, the residents in the colonias. I have done that because I have a very diverse district.

I have a district that has people who are very fortunate that live in the beautiful homes in the gated communities, but I have people who live in the colonias, who still live where the floor is dirt. I strongly believe that we have people who rise up to help themselves, so we help all our community. I help the business people, but I also want to help the poorest people, because they are the spirit of our community. We have to help each other in our community. I am proud to be able to work with all of them.

I am so glad that I have been able to pick up the phone, call people and say, ‘You know what, I need your help on this issue. Can you come to come and testify in Austin?’ And they come. Or I say,

‘You’re the expert in this area. What do you think of this piece of legislation?’ And they always tell me. And those relationships are key, that’s what gets us moving forward in Texas, and moving forward for our community.

My friends always say, ‘You’re always prepared.’ They joke about it, in fact. Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, I didn’t run for this position to be something great or make a name for myself. I’m not here for the ego, by any means, and I definitely am not doing it for the money – it doesn’t pay much. I did it because I wanted to give back to my community because you have been so good to me here.

When I came to the Valley 16 years ago, the Valley has done nothing but given me opportunity after opportunity, and I wanted to give that back to my constituents, who work hard. If I have you to support me, I will do that.

I know you now know, as my partner told you up here, that I have an opponent. I drew an opponent this time. Let me say that the newspaper has called him, and they asked him, ‘What was your platform? Why are you running? What’s your platform?’ And he said, ‘I will tell you after the primary.’

Well, I thought, does he not know what it is? I can tell you why I am running.

I’m running because I see opportunity here for the Rio Grande Valley. Because I see in the faces of young children that I visit in the schools, the potential they have if we give them the opportunity for education.

I see how so many people still need health care, and I want to help provide it.

I see economic opportunity for those people who are just starting their businesses, and they have innovative ideas, but they need the head start to help get it off the ground.

I see opportunities to provide housing for low-income families, so people have a home, for their children, of which they are proud.

I want to do all of that for the Valley, and with your support, I know I can do it. I know I am your gal to do it.

They say a woman’s place is in the home. Well, there is nothing wrong with a woman being at home providing for her family. But I have the time, the energy, and the ability to be in House of Representatives, and I want to stay there, and with your help, I can.

Thank you so much for coming.

••••••

Rep. Peña files for reelection for House District 40, pledges to build on successes, faces Eddie Sáenz

By ORLANDO SALINAS

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Monday, December 3, hit the ground running by filing for reelection in the earliest hours of the first day candidates are eligible to place their names on the primary ballot. Family, friends and supporters joined him at the Democratic Party headquarters for his filing.

(Editor’s note: Peña is being challenged by Eddie Sáenz, also of Edinburg, for the March 4 Democratic Party primary nomination.)

“It is an honor to once again file for reelection to the Texas House of Representatives,” said Peña. “I am proud of the support I have received throughout the community. Together we have accomplished so much, but the best is yet to come.”

Peña is eager to get back to work after completing a legislative session that many consider to be one of the most successful in the history of South Texas. Some of the work that Peña is most proud of includes authoring legislation that provides health coverage to an additional 127,000 Texas children through the CHIP program.

Peña fought for and delivered a supplemental “13th” check that retired teachers will receive in January, and he has promised to put a permanent raise at the top of his next legislative agenda. Public school teachers have received two raises in the last two sessions but their pay still remains below the national average. Peña has filed a teacher pay raise bill in his three previous sessions and will go back to Austin to fight for another.

The representative also succeeded in securing millions of dollars for important projects in South Texas including $3 million for a substance abuse treatment center, $5 million for the Regional Academic Health Center, and $45 million for a regional DPS center. In 2005, Peña authored legislation creating the $26 million Wellness and Recreation Center at the University of Texas Pan American, and during the 2007 regular session, he secured $40 million for a fine arts complex at the university.

“Our community succeeds when people decide to serve the public good rather than their own self interests,” said Peña. “Over the last few sessions we have built up some real momentum and there is still important work to be done. We can not afford to change direction.”

If reelected, Peña will return to Austin to fulfill his mission to organize federal, state and local resources and establish a four-year medical school to complement a full-fledged VA hospital in South Texas. Recognizing that effort and commitment to the health and well being of the community, the political action committee of the Texas Medical Association recently endorsed Peña’s reelection.

“The future that we all hope to provide for our children can only be achieved if we reject the outdated and failed politics of the past,” said Peña. “We move forward by bringing people together and inspiring the best in us.”

Peña was first elected to the Texas House in 2002 and is seeking re-election to a 4th term. During his tenure he has been recognized as a top negotiator and one of the most powerful Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives. District 40 covers northern Hidalgo County, which includes the communities of Edinburg , Edcouch, Elsa, La Joya, and Sullivan City. He is Chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

••••••

Eddie Sáenz vows to fight against renewed Voter I.D. push, says Rep. Peña missed key votes on measure

By KELLY FERO

Democratic Texas House challenger Eddie Sáenz on Friday, November 30, said that if elected he will help lead the fight to defeat a renewed push by Republican leaders in Austin to limit the ability of Hispanics and other minority voters from exercising their legal rights at the polling place.

(Editor’s note: Sáenz is challenging Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, for the March 4 Democratic Party primary nomination.)

“My simple guarantee to voters is this: when the Austin politicians and their allies try again to take away our voting rights, I will be present and accounted for to make sure they don’t succeed,” Sáenz said.

Austin Republicans this week signaled their plans to try again to pass an onerous law that would make it more difficult for elderly, low-income, and minority Texans to vote.

Sáenz said Peña was absent earlier this year when Democratic leaders tried to defeat a GOP-led effort to restrict voter rights. Peña missed a total of 16 record votes on the measure and was nowhere to be found when the key vote, on an amendment by Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, passed by a one-vote margin.

Peña’s absence prevented a tie vote, which would have forced the Republicans to pull the measure from consideration. (http://aaronburrpena.blogspot.com/)

“This was a cynical attempt to suppress our vote and the key issue last legislative session for champions of civil rights,” Sáenz said. “Yet, my opponent went into hiding when the time came to stand with his own community and stand against his Austin political bosses.”

There is overwhelming evidence that the Republicans’ proposed voter identification plan is a solution in search of a problem, Sáenz said. Despite false claims that an estimated 1.2 million undocumented immigrants could be casting ineligible ballots and tainting Texas elections, the politicians in Austin pushing for the controversial restrictions have been unable to document a single case of an illegal immigrant impersonating a legitimate voter.

Studies have shown that voter I.D. proposals are designed to create barriers for legitimate voters, especially low-income, minority, and elderly voters. More than 21 million U.S. citizens lack the photo I.D. that Republicans want to require.

In addition, a 2004 study prepared for the Federal Election Assistance Commission by scholars at Rutgers and Ohio State showed that Hispanics are 10 percent less likely and African Americans are 5.7 percent less likely to vote in states that have passed stringent voter I.D. laws like the one proposed for Texas.

Sáenz, owner and chief executive officer of one of South Texas’ leading civil engineering firms, is a recognized expert in helping cities, school districts, and other public entities improve their operations and basic services.

As chairman of the board of governors – a citizens advisory panel – of South Texas Health Systems, Sáenz helped lead the effort to pass Proposition 15, the cancer research fund approved by voters last week. His opponent voted against putting the measure on the ballot.

Sáenz also served as chairman of Avance, a non-profit organization that works to strengthen families. Avance helped implement the enrollment process for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in South Texas. Since his opponent took office, hundreds of thousands of eligible children of working parents have been stripped of their CHIP benefits.

A former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition Transportation Committee, and the Edinburg 2020 Action Committee, and a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Sáenz graduated from McAllen High and earned his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife and their daughter live in Edinburg.

••••••

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores files for reelection bid to represent House District 36, faces Sandra Rodríguez

By ED SERNA

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, on Monday, December 3, filed the necessary paperwork for his run at a seventh term to represent House District 36.

(Editor’s Note: Flores is being challenged by Sandra Rodríguez of Pharr in the Democratic Party primary election.)

Flores looks to build on more than 20 years of public service and his current leadership role in Austin to bring meaningful benefits home to the Valley. Since the 2003 legislative session, Flores has chaired the powerful Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and is currently one of the senior-ranking members on the Ways & Means Committee.

“I’m ready to continue delivering meaningful results for the Rio Grande Valley,” said Flores. “I want to continue using my leadership position, experience, and knowledge of the legislative process to find solutions to the unique challenges that face the Valley today. I will build on my proven track record of supporting issues that are important to my constituents and securing critical funding for local projects that improve the lives of all Valley families.”

A lifelong resident of Hidalgo County, Flores has focused on several issues during his tenure in the legislature, including education, healthcare, transportation, and infrastructure. Flores sponsored the bill that created the World Birding Center and ensured that its headquarters would be located in Hidalgo County, generating critical revenue for the local economy and establishing the Rio Grande Valley as a world-renowned bird-watching destination.

A long-time champion for veterans causes, Flores passed legislation that established the Valley’s first Veterans Cemetery in 2001. Flores also played a critical role in securing millions of dollars for South Texas College to help with the college’s expansion and growth.

During the most recent legislative session, Flores helped pass a bill that restores CHIP funding to provide health insurance for thousands of Valley children.

Flores also took a leadership role in passing legislation that expands educational programs for South Texans and secured millions of dollars in funding for local economic development and infrastructure improvement projects. Additionally, Flores passed legislation that is expected to generate millions of dollars for the local economy and position the Valley for future growth.

“I’ve been fighting for Valley families for more than a decade in Austin and I’m pleased by the results we’ve achieved to date, but we still have plenty of work to do to improve lives and create opportunities for Valley families and businesses,” said Flores. “I am personally committed to ensuring that the Valley has the best access to healthcare, quality jobs, educational opportunities, and a sound infrastructure.”

Along with chairing the powerful Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and serving on the Ways & Means Committee, Flores serves on the Redistricting Committee.

Flores represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the Cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.

The primary election day is slated for March 4, 2008. Early voting in person begins on February 19, 2008 and runs through February 29, 2008.

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Dr. Mario E. Ramírez, South Texas icon and former UT regent, has medical library named in his honor

By WILL SANSOM

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio on Tuesday, October 20, held a formal ceremony on Tuesday, October 30 to dedicate the Mario E. Ramírez, M.D., Library at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen.

Ramírez, who practiced family medicine in Starr County for 43 years, served on the UT System Board of Regents from 1989 to 1995. At its August meeting, the board approved a request by the Health Science Center to name the library for Ramírez.

Ramírez served the Health Science Center from 1995 to April 2007 as vice president for South Texas/border initiatives. He established the Med/Ed Program, which encouraged more than 2,200 young students to attend college and consider careers in the health sciences.

At least 100 Med/Ed alumni are pursuing advanced studies and are practicing professionals in medicine, nursing, allied health and dentistry.

“Mario Ramírez has focused his life on the care of patients and the education of students,” said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center. “Fittingly, the library that bears his name is open to all who desire to gain knowledge in the health sciences, from high school student to physician.”

Encompassing 11,000 square feet, the Ramírez Library is the first and only state-of-the-art medical library in the Rio Grande Valley. It has a collection of 1,000 medical texts and provides access to the complete electronic resources of the Dolph Briscoe Jr. Library located at the Health Science Center in San Antonio.

“This medical library has brought a new dimension to physician and student education in the Valley, and in that way it is like Dr. Ramírez, who has done so much to put the next generation of our young people on the road to becoming health care professionals and scientists,” said Leonel Vela, M.D., M.P.H., regional dean of the Regional Academic Health Center.

“Dr. Ramírez has been a great library supporter and role model for medical students,” said Greysi Reyna, interim administrator of the Ramirez Library. “He is very dedicated to his profession. It was great to find out that the library would be named for him.”

Ramírez Library users include students from all the universities and junior colleges in Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo and Starr counties, Reyna said. The library also supports hospitals in the area with medical literature needs. The library’s outreach program teaches high school students how to use medical resources, including the National Library of Medicine’s online resources.

In March 2005, the National Library of Medicine’s outreach program garnered the nation’s highest award for libraries and museums. First Lady Laura Bush and Robert S. Martin, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, presented Reyna and a high school student with the National Award for Museum and Library Service at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

RAHC faculty physicians and residents also are making use of the Ramírez Library’s services, especially online, Reyna said.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.

••••••

Rep. Flores commends Hidalgo High School for national recognition by US News & World Report

By ED SERNA

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, on Friday, November 30, commended Hidalgo High School for its recognition as a top high school in America – and Texas’ highest ranked high school – by a leading national publication.

The rankings, announced on Thursday, November 29, are part of US News & World Reports’ first-ever America’s Best High Schools ranking. Hidalgo High School ranked 11th best high school in America out of the more than 18,000 public high schools considered.

“The entire region should be proud of Hidalgo High School’s much-deserved national recognition,” said Flores. “I applaud everyone from the school leadership to the teachers to the parents at Hidalgo High School for their efforts in extending opportunities to our students so that they can achieve their dreams. Also, the students deserve praise for their hard work in helping to achieve Texas’ highest ranking.”

The publication specifically lauded Hidalgo High School’s efforts and achievements in educating and reaching out to the children of challenged immigrants. The more than 18,000 public high schools were ranked based on a statistical formula that considered student performance and adjusted for student circumstances. The top 100 schools earned gold medals.

“The Valley presents a unique setting in the nation due to varying factors and requires us to work together to find creative approaches when it comes to paving a pathway to success for our children,” said Flores. “Hidalgo ISD is doing that and it’s refreshing to see that they are getting recognized nationally for their hard work.”

Flores represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the Cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.

(Editor’s note: Flores is being challenged in the March 4 Democratic Party primary by Sandra Rodríguez.)

••••••

Rep. Noriega files for Democratic Party nomination against Republican Sen. John Cornyn

By ANDREW DUPUY

Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, on Monday, December 3, officially became a candidate for the United States Senate, answering the call to serve from a network of Democratic Texas grassroots community leaders.

“Leaders in Washington are out of touch with the fundamental values of regular Texans,” said Noriega, a five-term state legislator and Lieutenant Colonel in the Texas National Guard. “This is a mission to reclaim our United States Senate seat. This is a mission to restore true Texas values. This is a mission on behalf of millions of regular Texans who are ready to reclaim America’s global standing, Texas’ true values, and the voice in Washington that belongs not to the politicians, but to the people.”

Monday morning, after a kick-off breakfast in his hometown of Houston, Noriega flew to Austin to file his candidacy papers with Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie.

Noriega, who served a 14-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, supports ending the war in Iraq and setting firm timetables for withdrawing troops. Noriega also outlined the need to provide veterans and their families with better medical care, and to help hard-working Texans afford health insurance, college and housing.

Noriega and his wife Melissa, a Houston City councilwoman, have two sons. Prior to his service in the state legislature and the Texas National Guard, Noriega taught in the Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College System and managed economic development for CenterPoint Energy.

Texas has never elected a Houston resident to the U.S. Senate. Several Senators from Texas were born in Houston, but lived elsewhere at the time of their election, and one Houstonian was appointed but served less than one month.

••••••

Sen. Cornyn, Secretary Chertoff, review push for Valley levee proposal, consult on border wall

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Wednesday, December 5, met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff in a renewed effort to urge the Secretary to consider a valley levee proposal Sen. Cornyn had brought to his attention earlier this year.

In November, Cornyn wrote to Chertoff, requesting that he give consideration to a proposal to incorporate the levees of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) as DHS moves forward with border fencing plans under the Secure Fence Act.

“I have met on several occasions with local leaders, Border Patrol, IBWC, FEMA, and community members. They have proposed several solutions that could be mutually beneficial to address the various federal missions in the area, including boosting border security and improving flood control in the region. To ensure these ideas are considered in Washington, I’ve appealed again to Secretary Chertoff to urge him to take advantage of their valuable perspective,” Cornyn said.

The IBWC proposal was one of many topics addressed at an October roundtable meeting hosted by Cornyn in Pharr, which brought together local mayors, county officials, Border Patrol agents, and representatives from FEMA, IBWC, DHS, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to discuss FEMA’s Levee Certification process as it applies to the IBWC levees.

Cornyn also received an update on DHS’ progress on border fence implementation in Texas and the status of negotiations with affected Texas private landowners. He has repeatedly emphasized the need for DHS to meet with border community leaders to ensure that local concerns are heard.

“I am committed to ensuring that the Homeland Security Department consults with state and local officials on border security efforts. An open dialogue on the implementation of security measures along the border will ensure that we achieve these goals in the most effective manner,” Cornyn said.

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Attorney General Abbott takes action against web sites that illegally collect personal information from minors

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Wednesday, December 5, took legal action against two Web sites that cater to children but fail to adequately protect their privacy and safety. Texas is the first state to file an enforcement action under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal law that generally prohibits Web sites from unnecessarily collecting personal information from children under 13.

According to Attorney General investigators, TheDollPalace.com and Gamesradar.com unlawfully collect personal information such as names, ages, and home addresses from children. Investigators also discovered that the sites’ parental consent features were easily manipulated and circumvented. The lack of reasonable controls readily allow children to access the sites’ various features, including interactive chat rooms and forums, without their parents’ knowledge.

“These defendants are charged with operating child-oriented Web sites that violate the law by failing to protect young users,” Abbott said. “Federal law provides important protections to prevent children from divulging sensitive personal information and to shield them from inappropriate sexual or violent content online. The Office of the Attorney General will continue aggressively enforcing laws to protect young Internet users.”

Both Web sites violate COPPA by failing to include necessary disclosures and failing to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children. TheDollPalace.com, for example, simply asks young users who are attempting to register, “Is a parent with you right now?” Children who click “Yes” are directed to a page that allows them to simply click “OK” to vague disclosures regarding information collection and use. Gamesradar.com similarly fails to properly obtain parental consent.

Under COPPA, these Web sites must make a greater effort to ensure that parents consent to their children providing personal information online. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers several options for Web site operators to obtain verifiable parental consent. Among them, the FTC recommends that Web sites maintain a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel for parents to call in their consent or provide a form for the parent to print, complete, sign, and mail or fax back to Web site operators.

Investigators also found that the sites allow children to access potentially inappropriate content. TheDollPalace.com allows users to access chat rooms and interactive forums that discuss topics parents may find inappropriate for young children.

COPPA further prohibits sites from requiring children to disclose excessive personal information as a precondition to participating in online games and features. Today’s enforcement action alleges that TheDollPalace.com requires children to fill out a 10-page personal profile in order to meet other site users and “search for friends.” The questionnaire asks children for detailed personal information, such as height, weight and eye color, and personal habits, including smoking and drinking behaviors. It also asks children about the type of person they would like to meet, including the options, “I would like to meet someone older than myself,” “My idea of a fun date,” and “sexual issues.” Despite collecting this detailed information, much of it does not appear on the user’s profile nor is it otherwise used for purposes of allowing users to meet and interact.

Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting online child predators. In light of today’s enforcement actions, Attorney General Abbott reminded parents to closely monitor their children’s Internet activities by using the following safety tips:

• Teach children never to give out personal information such as their last name, birthday, home address or telephone number, especially in a chat room, over an online bulletin board, or to an online pen pal, without your permission.

• Make sure your children know never to agree to a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online.

• Instruct your children never to respond to e-mail or chat messages that make them feel uncomfortable or from someone they don’t know. Stress that they should show such messages to you.

• Surf the Internet with your kids. If it is not possible for you to actually surf with your children, at least talk to them about the Web sites they are visiting.

• Place the computer in a public room in your home so that even when you are not surfing online with your children, you can monitor their use. Do not allow computers in a child’s bedroom or permit the use of Web cams.

• Establish ground rules for your children’s Internet usage, including the hours they may surf and the kinds of Web sites they may visit. Post the rules near the computer.

• Learn how to use parental controls and archiving features. You should be able to check your child’s e-mail account and review the sites your child has visited on the Internet.

To find out more about Attorney General Abbott’s efforts to protect children and crack down on online predators, visit the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.oag.state.tx.us or call (800) 252-8011.

••••••

Historic border policy conference held in El Paso tackles immigration, border security issues

By ELHIU DOMÍNGUEZ

One hundred and fifty community leaders from the four US-Mexico border states, including mayors, law enforcement chiefs, community groups, religious institutions, academics and other sectors, on Thursday, November 29, and Friday, November 30, dedicated two days to develop new visionary proposals for border security.

In spite of coming from diverse backgrounds such as churches, activist groups, county and city government, realized that they all share common frustrations for the widening gap between the reality of border communities and border policies imposed from Washington, D.C.

“Border communities live in a different reality than the highly politicized border that D.C. and pundits talk about,” said José R. Rodríguez, El Paso County Attorney and Co-chair of the US/Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force, one of the groups that convened the two-day meeting in El Paso.

“The border is home to more than six million people. We have built relationships of trust and interdependence with our counterparts in Mexico. We need national border policy that recognizes and upholds this reality,” Rodríguez concluded.

Community leaders also point to an increase in human rights violations by border enforcement agencies and practices that have little oversight or accountability to the local border residents. One border town, Douglas, Arizona has a ratio of one Border Patrol agent for every 27 residents.

“Whether we have 100 agents or 100,000 agents, if they are not sufficiently trained to uphold basic rights and de-escalate tense situations, our communities will continue to be treated like they are suspects or security-risks,” explained Paul Newman, a county supervisor whose district includes the Arizona border has lobbied members of Congress to improve training, oversight and rights protections along the border as part of immigration reform and border enforcement bills.

Rodríguez and Newman joined with more than 100 others for two days in El Paso,to develop what they call a “new vision” for border policy and a blue print for how border communities can push locally and nationally for border security that integrates community security, accountability, human rights and economic development.

“This is an unprecedented, historic meeting. Never before have leaders spanning local government, business, faith-based, legal, services, law enforcement and human rights groups come together to strategize in such a united way,” said Fernando García, director of the Border Network for Human Rights based on the Texas and New Mexico borders and one of the convening groups of the meeting. “There is clearly a human rights crisis on the border and every facet of border society feels the urgency, like never before, to resolve it.”

“Border communities have become pawns in a highly-charged political debate that appears to be rooted in fomenting fear rather than finding meaningful solutions,” expressed Jennifer Allen, director of the Border Action Network, an Arizona-based human rights groups helping to organize the meeting. “But unlike the news pundits and D.C. policy makers, our basic rights, human dignity and economic well-being depend on practical, accountable and humane border security policies. The Border Policy Conference may become an important instrument for border sectors to provide a rational and realistic approach to this contentious debate.”

The US/Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force is made up of local elected officials, law enforcement chiefs, community organizations, academics, attorneys, faith and community leaders of border cities and counties in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The Border Human Rights Collaborative includes Arizona?based Border Action Network and Texas and New Mexico?based Border Network for Human Rights.

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