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Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, will be honored on Wednesday, April 30 by South Texas College at its Pecan Campus in McAllen. The event, which is free and open to the public, represents a major coup for the community college because as speaker, Craddick is one of the three most powerful men in the Texas Legislature, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, also both Republicans. Craddick’s visit also represents his first public venture into South Texas after he helped significantly fund the successful reelection bids in March by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview. Both South Texas Democrats were roundly criticized for being loyal to Craddick and some of his policies, including a controversial plan which was blamed for costing the Rio Grande Valley an additional congressional seat, and with it, hundreds of millions of dollars annually in federal funds. However, Peña and Flores opposed Craddick’s congressional redistricting efforts, and countered that by being loyal to Craddick, South Texas has picked up large increases in state funding and programs at higher levels than many other regions of the state.

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In a spirited ceremony “a la Bobcat-style,” Edinburg High School was honored on Wednesday, April 22, by the College Board with a 2008 College Board Inspiration Award and a check for $25,000 at a special assembly. EHS is one of three schools in the nation to receive the coveted 2008 award. Featured accepting the 2008 College Board Inspiration Award at the event, from left, are: ECISD Trustee Robert Peña; Gabriel Luna, Jarrod Salaiz, and Cassandra Sáenz, EHS student leaders; Peter Negroni, College Board Senior Vice president; ECISD Trustee David Torres; and ECISD Trustee and Vice President Omar Palacios. See story later in this posting.

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Small business owners from not only South Texas but from as far away as Georgia joined faculty and staff members at The University of Texas-Pan American April 16-17 to learn how to successfully identify and pursue government contract opportunities with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Participating in the workshop hosted by UT-Pan American, and co-sponsored by the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which contracted with RGF Consulting Corporation (RGFCC) to conduct the workshop were, from left: Cassandra Ford, presenter, RGFCC; Clarence Randall Jr., OSDBU; Teneshia G. Alston, HSS; Deborah Walker-Sewell, RGFCC; Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, UTPA vice president for Research and Sponsored Projects; Felicia Gaston, presenter, F.M. Gaston Associates; Theresa Bailey, UTPA director of Sponsored Projects; and Robert Flowers Jr., presenter and RGFCC president/CEO. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, recently addressed the membership of Us Too – McAllen Chapter, a prostrate cancer support group, as a guest speaker to deliver her message of hope for advancing cancer research in Texas at the Edinburg Regional Medical Center. “Statistics are well known, but they are no less shocking,” said Gonzáles. “These men and their families are the lucky ones.” Among the most shocking statistics state that in Texas; one in four deaths is caused by cancer. A new case of prostate cancer occurs ever 2.5 minutes and a man dies from prostrate cancer every 19 minutes. The estimated total cost of cancer in Texas is $30 billion a year. Gonzáles shared with the audience of cancer survivors her hope with the success of Texans’ efforts to approve the landmark creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. See story later in this posting.

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Gov. Perry orders flags at half-staff in memory of Lena Guerrero of Mission, who was first woman and first minority to serve on Texas Railroad Commission

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, April 25, directed that flags be flown at half-staff in memory of former Texas Railroad Commissioner and State Rep. María Elena “Lena” Guerrero, D-Austin, who passed away earlier that day.

Guerrero, 50, who was raised in Mission, was the first woman and the first minority to serve on the Texas Railroad Commission.

She was also the second female Hispanic, after Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, to be elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

In addition to being one of the most effective state representatives from Austin during the 1980s, she was appointed to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1991 by Gov. Ann Richards, and served as chairman of that powerful state board.

Perry, who was endorsed by Guerrero during his 2006 successful reelection bid against one Democratic and two independent challengers, issued the following statement on Thursday, April 24:

“Lena Guerrero was a bright, passionate woman who worked hard to represent the interests of her constituents both as a representative and as Railroad Commissioner. We served together in the Texas House of Representatives, and I came to know and admire her both as an esteemed colleague and a friend. Her fellow Democrats were surprised at our friendship and her endorsement of my candidacy, but she was the sort of person who placed loyalty and principle ahead of politics.”

“Our state is a better place for her time spent in it and she will be greatly missed. Anita and I extend our deepest sympathies and prayers to her family during this time of great loss.”

The governor’s directive applies to all U.S. and Texas flags under the control of the state. Flags will remain at half-staff on the state Capitol building and on flag displays in the Capitol complex, and upon all state buildings, grounds, and facilities throughout the state on Thursday and Friday and the day of the funeral, once set.

Individuals, businesses, municipalities, counties, and other political subdivisions are encouraged to fly the flag at half-staff for the same length of time as a sign of respect.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, who served with Guerrero when she was a state representative, also expressed his condolences:

“The Texas sky seems a little dimmer from the passing of Lena. This formidable woman played a significant role in shaping Texas history, government and politics.

“Having a keen passion for public service, Lena served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1985 to 1991. She was an ally and a colleague I highly valued, especially since we served together in the House because our tenures overlapped. In 1991 I began serving in the Texas Senate, and the late Gov. Ann Richards appointed her to the Texas Railroad Commission, the first Hispanic and first woman ever to serve on that post.

“One could not know Lena without feeling the surge of energy emanating from her physically and spiritually. Like me, Lena came from a large, loving Hispanic family. They stood by her through the triumphant and the tough times.

“Lena never let any of us give up, and she never gave up even until the very end. She was an inspiration for Hispanic women and loyal to all who had the fortune to befriend her.

“I am proud to say that she was a friend, as do the many hundreds grieving her departure today.

“She loved Texas and Texas loved her right back. May God bless her soul and comfort her family.”

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, also reflected on Guerrero’s legacy in state politics and on behalf of women and Hispanics in Texas:

“I am saddened to hear about the passing of a good friend. Today former Texas Railroad Commissioner Lena Guerrero died after a long battle with cancer.

“I first met Lena in the Young Democrats when she visited Pan American University. In the late seventies, she was serving as the state president of the Young Democrats and was visiting our fledgling organization. I was pleased to find out that she was from the Valley and had risen so high in the organization. It was quite a rise from the balmy fields of South Texas where as a child she worked as a migrant worker.

“Not long after she served with distinction in the Texas Legislature, representing a district in Central Austin. Gov. Ann Richards appointed her to the Railroad Commission in 1991. She was the first woman and first Hispanic to hold that post. Lena went on to serve as a lobbyist and I had many pleasant experiences working with her and her husband in my service in the Legislature.

“Texas loses a real trail blazer and bright spirit with the passing of Lena Guerrero. My deepest condolences are expressed to her family and to all those who knew and loved her. May God speed.”

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Lena Guerrero Obituary

Lena Guerrero, former State Representative and Texas Railroad Commissioner, passed away in her sleep on April 24, 2008 under the loving care of her husband Lionel “Leo” Aguirre.

Lena was a force of nature and the center of her two Leo’s lives, and that of her very extended family and extensive network of friends and political colleagues.

Lena was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer over eight years ago and given only months to live. They didn’t know Lena.

Lena Guerrero was a champion. In her professional and political career, she was a champion for the disenfranchised, those who needed someone to help fight for their rights in Austin. She had a particular passion for mentoring young Hispanic women.

Within her family, she was a champion too. She dealt with the struggles in her personal life in the same way she dealt with those in her public life – with tenacity, vigor and a sense of humor that will be missed more than words can say.

Lena was born in 1957 and reared in Mission. She moved to Austin in 1976 to attend the University of Texas where she became active in politics and public affairs in the Democratic Party. She was elected president of Texas Young Democrats at the age of 21 in 1979.

In 1984, at the age of 25, she became only the second female Hispanic elected to the Texas Legislature. Her district included parts of central and east Austin.

She quickly mastered the rules, procedures and politics of the House to become known as one of the state’s most effective lawmakers – often out good ‘ol boying the good ‘ol boys.

During her legislative career, she was known as a champion for the rights of migrant farm workers and the prevention of teenage pregnancy. She also played a central role in passing legislation to preserve the views of the Texas Capitol.

In 1991, she became the first woman and first Hispanic to serve on the Railroad Commission of Texas when appointed by Governor Ann Richards. She lead the effort to help independent oil and gas producers increase production in Texas at a time when the industry was struggling, and she was a strong advocate for the use of alternative fuels.

Lena is the daughter of Adela Salazar Guerrero and the late Alvaro Guerrero. Her mother, her husband, Lionel “Leo” Aguirre – whom she married in 1983 – and her son, Leo G. Aguirre, survive her.

In addition, she is survived by her siblings Judy Alberts and husband, Don; Carmen Guerrero; Alvaro Guerrero, Jr. and wife, Mari; Mary Guerrero-McDonald; Rosie Villarreal; Sue Guerrero; Elda Guerrero and Everett Guerrero. She is preceded in death by her father in law Fermin Aguirre. Other surviving family members include Lena’s mother-in-law Esperanza Aguirre, Elma and Joaquin Rodriguez, Fermin and Lorena Aguirre, Raul and Linda Aguirre, Rolando Aguirre, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Public visitation was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 25, at the Mission Funeral Home, 6204 S. First Street in Austin. Recitation of Holy Rosary was scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Mass of Christian burial was scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, 1206 E. Ninth Street in Austin. Burial would follow at the Texas State Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to Ballet Austin, 501 W. 3rd Street, Austin, Texas or United Farm Workers, P.O. Box 62, Keene, California, 93531, Attn: Arturo Rodríguez, President. They are both organizations that Lena actively supported personally and professionally. If you prefer, please make a donation to a charity of your choice.

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About $50,000 spent so far for May 10 Edinburg City Council races, with early voting to begin April 28

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Almost $50,000 has been collectively spent in the first two months of campaigning for two Edinburg City Council spots, which are up for election on Saturday, May 10, according to the finance campaign reports filed April 10 by the two incumbents and their respective challengers.

Johnny Rodríguez, co-owner of Austin Personnel Services, so far has spent the most – $19,123.96 – of all four candidates, which include his political rival, Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza, and the two other contestants, Councilmember Gene Espinoza and his challenger, Leonel Guerrero.

Garza, the assistant court coordinator with 430th District Court Judge Thomas Wingate, reported expenditures totaling $9,845.56 in her second bid for reelection to the City Council, Place 4.

Meanwhile, Espinoza, a public relations consultant with Rio Grande Steel, Ltd., has spent $10,860.86, compared with Guerrero, a pharmacist with Cornerstone Pharmacy, who has invested $10,474.76, in the campaign for City Council Place 3.

The reports cover the period from January 1 through April 10.

The top fundraiser so far is Garza, who reported receiving $10,391.33 in contributions, including an $800 loan to her campaign from herself.

Becky García is listed as her campaign treasurer.

Her opponent, Rodríguez, reported raising $5,400 in contributions, but he and his wife helped out their campaign with six loans totaling $8,611.87.

Rodríguez wife, Melissa, is listed as his campaign treasurer.

Espinoza has raised $9,400 in campaign contributions, plus listed a personal loan to his campaign which added another $2,000 to his political treasury. According to his financial report, he has $3,000 in outstanding loans as of April 10.

His listed his wife, Ramona, as his campaign treasurer.

Guerrero has raised $900 in political contributions, but listed a $5,000 loan, from Loan Star National Bank, and also helped pay for his campaign expenditures with personal funds.

He listed a brother, Lauro Guerrero, III, as his campaign treasurer.

Early voting locations and times for the city council and the school bond construction races follow.

Voters will be asked to provide a current voter ID card, current drivers license, or other document that designates their home address. If the home address is listed as being outside the city limits, those voters may only cast ballots in the school construction bond election, which also is slated for May 10.

Early Voting, City and School elections:

Edinburg City Hall, Fireman’s Training Room

• Monday, April 28 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Tuesday, April 29 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Wednesday, April 30 – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Thursday, May 1 – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Friday, May 2 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Saturday, May 3 – 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

• Sunday, May 4 – 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

• Monday, May 5 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Tuesday, May 6 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Extended Early Voting, School Election only:

Branch early voting only for the school construction bond issues, coordinated by Edinburg school district, will be held at Harwell Middle School, located at 801 E. Canton Road on Monday, April 28, Tuesday, April 29, Friday, May 2, Saturday, May 3, and Monday, May 5, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On Election Day, May 10, Edinburg area voters who did not cast their ballot during early voting will go to their respective precincts, which are:

• POLLING PLACE NO. 1

Precincts 30, 105, 109 (NW)
Fireman’s Training Room
210 West McIntyre Street

• POLLING PLACE NO. 2

Precinct 14 (SE)
Jefferson Elementary School
904 South 12th Street

• POLLING PLACE NO. 3

Precincts 52, 73, 106 (SW)
Freddy Gonzalez Elementary School
2401 South Sugar Road

• POLLING PLACE NO. 4

Precincts 53, 110 (SE)
F. Barrientos Middle School (Former Betty Harwell Middle School)
1100 East Ebony Lane

• POLLING PLACE NO. 5

Precincts 31, 69, 108 (NE)
Fountain Park Center
1210 East Kuhn

• POLLING PLACE NO. 6

Precincts 13, 54, 107 (SW)
Robert E. Lee School
1215 West Sprague

• POLLING PLACE NO. 7

Capilla De San Jose,
Lull Precinct 68
4101 Flores

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Yes4Kids raises almost $4,500 in first round of campaign to support May 10 passage of school construction bonds

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Yes4Kids, a political action committee formed earlier this year to support two major school construction bond issues that will face area voters on May 10, has raised almost $4,500 in support of that effort, according to a campaign finance report filed by the group with the Edinburg school district.

The paperwork, which identifies Verónica Sáenz, of 378 Sapphire in Edinburg, as the campaign treasurer, covers the period from March 7 through April 10.

The next campaign finance report is due on May 2.

In the first round of activities, six individual contributors, composed of four architects and two financial consultants, provided the lion’s share of the money, donating from $400 to $600 apiece.

The largest expenditure was $1,544.75, paid on March 31, to the ECHO, located at 1903 South Closner Boulevard in Edinburg, for a conference room rental, followed by a $609.90 payment on April 8 to A&A of Mission for political materials.

This reporter also received a $200 payment on March 31 for photography services, provided by Ismael García, of the group’s campaign rally kick-off, while the Edinburg Review was paid $285 on March 21 for a political advertisement.

The group, led by two faculty members at the University of Texas-Pan American – Francisco J. Guajardo and Bryant Morrison, both of Edinburg – on March 11 announced formation of the political action committee, known as a PAC.

ECISD voters are being asked to vote on two separate proposals, either during early voting, which will take place from Monday, April 28 through Tuesday, May 6, or on election day, Saturday, May 10.

Also during those two periods, Edinburg residents will be voting on two city council spots.

Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza, assistant court coordinator with 430th District Court Judge Thomas Wingate, is facing a challenge from Johnny Rodríguez, co-owner of Austin Personnel Services, for City Council Place 4, while Councilmember Gene Espinoza, a public relations specialist for Rio Grande Steel, Ltd., is being challenged by Leonel Guerrero, a pharmacist with Cornerstone Pharmacy, for City Council, Place 3.

In the school bond election, Proposition 1 includes building four (4) elementary schools, two (2) middle schools; converting Harwell Middle School into a fourth high school; three (3) multi-purpose fine arts centers at each of the existing high schools; Brewster School addition/renovations, and land acquisition for a total of $111,920,000. Proposition II includes $37,675,000 of 1998 Lease Purchase Bonds to be converted into Series 2008 voter authorized IFA supported bonds.

According to the Yes4Kids campaign finance report, the organization has raised $4,498.90, along with a $900 pledge, while spending $3,438.22, leaving a $546.78 balance. The PAC has not taken out any loans to help finance the campaign.

The list of contributors includes:

  • Rike-Ogden-Figueroa-Allex–Architects, Inc., 1007 Walnut, McAllen, on March 11 ($600);
  • Escamilla & Poneck, Inc., a public finance law firm, 100 Travis Park Plaza, San Antonio, on March 14 ($500);
  • Negrete and Kolar Architects, 1601 E. 7th, Austin, on March 11 ($500);
  • Estrada, Hinojosa and Company, a public finance law firm, 1717 Main Street, Dallas, on March 17 ($500);
  • Ero International LLP, an architectural firm, 300 S. 8th, McAllen, on March 11 ($500);
  • Carolina Pérez, an attorney, P.O. Box 3186, Edinburg, on March 17 ($400);
  • Bryant Morrison, 1524 Bluebonnet, Edinburg, on March 15 ($273.90 in-kind contribution);
  • Verónica Sáenz, 318 Sapphine, Edinburg, on March 11 ($250);
  • Edinburg Medical Center, 1200 S. 10th, Edinburg, on March 14 ($50); and
  • Verónica Sáenz, 318 Sapphine, Edinburg, on March 7 ($25);

The list of expenditures follows:

  • ECHO, 1903 South Closner, Edinburg, for conference room rental, on March 31 ($1,544.75);
  • A&A Design, 1003 Ragland Road, Mission, for political materials, on April 8 ($609.90);
  • Edinburg Review, 320 W. University Drive, for a political ad, on March 21 ($285);
  • City Bank, Florida, for political printing, on March 25 ($273.90);
  • Sals Vinyl Graphics, 2030 North Cage Boulevard, for printing, on March 31 ($221);
  • David Díaz, P.O. Box 774, Edinburg, for photography services, on March 31 ($200);
  • Ludy Leal, Edinburg, reimbursement for stakes, on April 3 ($121.78);
  • Staples, 1606 W. University Drive, for supplies, on April 7 ($37.88);
  • Ludy Leal, Edinburg, reimbursement f0r balloons, on March 31 ($34.29);
  • Staples, 1606 W. University Drive, for invitations, on March 25 ($31.39);
  • Hidalgo County Elections Deparment, Edinburg, for data, on April 8 ($17.50); and
  • Staples, 1606 W. University Drive, for supplies, on March 25 ($10.83).

Early voting locations and times also have been announced. Voters will be asked to provide an voters ID card, current drivers license, or other document that designates their home address. If the home address is listed outside the city limits, those voters may only cast ballots in the school bond election.

The early vote locations and times follow:

Edinburg City Hall, Fireman’s Training Room

  • Monday, April 28 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 29 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 30 – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 1 – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Friday, May 2 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 3 – 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 4 – 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Monday, May 5 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 6 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Branch early voting, only for the school construction bond election, and coordinated by Edinburg school district, will be held at Harwell Middle School, located at 801 E. Canton Road on Monday, April 28, Tuesday, April 29, Friday, May 2, Saturday, May 3, and Monday, May 5, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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Hidalgo County Judge, Commissioners adopt ethics policy to govern conduct of government employees

By CARI LAMBRECHT

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, April 22, adopted the first ever ethics policy, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III has announced.

The ethics policy contains general principles, ethical principles, and a listing of civil and criminal statutes relating to public servants.

“This ethics policy will guide county leaders and employees in performing their day to day duties. We are committed to providing excellent public service, and to do this to our highest ability, we put down in writing our belief system, or the way we feel employees should act and how service should be administered,” said Salinas.

The ethics policy is one of many policies the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court has been proactive in preparing and adopting during the past 16 months.

Other policies have included the revised zero tolerance drug policy (adopted January 29, 2007), the nepotism policy (adopted February 26, 2008), and the fuel credit card policy (adopted February 26, 2008).

“All four of these policies have been designed to make government more accountable to the taxpayers,” Salinas said.

“Now that the ethics policy is in place, it every county employee’s, department head’s and elected official’s responsibility to adhere to it and promote it,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores. “The ethics policy sets general rules and guidelines for staff to follow so there are no questions as to what is right and wrong. By adoption of these policies, Hidalgo County can try to prevent questionable activities, such as family relationships between supervisors and employees, from occurring in the future.”

Another way in which the county has been proactive in assuring quality control is that Salinas has requested that the Local Government Assistance Division of State Comptroller Susan Comb’s office to come to Hidalgo County to help various county departments perform “Control Self Assessments.”

The Comptroller’s CSA program will help department’s identify risks such as major disasters, sudden loss of key personnel and lost or stolen computer data and develop a plan to take protective measures to save resources. Judge Salinas has requested that key departments, including his own office, take part in this assessment.

The assessment will take place this summer and are tentatively scheduled for the first week of July.

“Hidalgo County’s value system centers around being responsive to residents, honest, fair and respectful, and always doing what is in the public’s best interest,” Salinas said. “The ethics policy and these other policies and initiatives reaffirm our mission to serve the people, build partnerships and achieve prosperity for Hidalgo County.”

For the latest Hidalgo County news, visit http://www.judgejd.com.

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Texas Border Coalition to testify before congressional panel during May 28 Border Wall hearing in Brownsville

By NATALIE LUNA

Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, who also serves as chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, is among several key witnesses who will appear before a major congressional committee in Brownsville on Monday, April 28, to rally opposition to the federal government’s plans for a 2,000-mile-long border security fence, dubbed the “Border Wall” by its detractors.

He will testify before a field congressional field hearing, headed by Congressman

Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, that will hold its public session at the University of Texas at Brownsville. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. in the Lecture Hall of the Science, Engineering and Technology Building (SET-B) at UT-Brownsville.

The Texas Border Coalition is an alliance of mayors, county judges, and economic development leaders representing more than two million residents who live on the Texas side of the border with Mexico. It lobbies on behalf of major legislation designed to benefit the border region.

Entitled “Walls and Waivers: Expedited Construction of the Southern Border Wall and the Collateral Impacts on Communities and the Environment”, the field hearing will focus on the construction of the border wall and the impacts it will pose to border communities and the environment.

The hearing is a joint effort of Grijalva’s subcommittee, and the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, chaired by Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo, D-Guam-at-large.

The other congressional members scheduled to attend the hearing are:

  • Grace Napolitano D-California, chairwoman of the Water and Power Subcommittee;
  • Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee;
  • Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee;
  • Eni Falemavaega, D-American Samoa, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment;
  • Duncan Hunter, R-California, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee; and
  • Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado.

In addition to Foster, other witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing are:

  • Rick Schultz, National Borderland Coordinator, Department of the Interior;
  • Ronald D. Vitiello, Chief Patrol Agent, Rio Grande Valley Sector, U.S. Customs and Border Protection;
  • Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., Tohono O’odham Nation;
  • Dr. Juliet García, President, University of Texas-Brownsville;
  • The Most Rev. Raymundo J. Peña, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville;
  • Laura Peterson, Senior Policy Analyst, National Taxpayer’s Union;
  • John McClung, President and CEO, Texas Produce Association;
  • Betty Pérez, local land owner; and
  • Ken Merritt, former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader (Ret.).

The minority has requested the following witnesses:

  • Rosemary Jenks, Director of Government Relations, NumbersUSA;
  • Zack Taylor, former Supervisory Border Patrol Agent (Ret.); and
  • Joan Neuhaus Schaan, Executive Director, Houston-Harris County Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council.

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Transcript of testimony opposing Border Wall to be delivered before congressional committee by TBC chairman Foster

By CHAD FOSTER
Chairman
Texas Border Coalition

Chairman Grijalva, Chairwoman Bordallo and subcommittee members, I am Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas and Chairman of the Texas Border Coalition. I am speaking today on behalf of 2.1 million Americans in 14 border counties of the 1,250-mile Texas-Mexico border. Ours is a region of contrasts, exhibiting differences and similarities of language, culture, tradition, and economy. The multi-national, multi-cultural nature of our communities on both sides of the international boundary gives our region a distinct sense of place.

You are in a place today where the blending of cultures is unique, where Brownsville and Matamoros played central roles in shaping the history of our continent. Two civil wars occurred simultaneously right here, and created such cross-cultural alliances and enmities that we could spend days rediscovering them. Welcome to our home.

The Texas Border Coalition thanks you for your leadership in exploring the issues related to the border wall and the waivers of federal law executed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to expedite the wall’s construction.

The proposed fencing for the Texas-Mexico border has been built on a false premise that one-size fits all. The reality is that Texas is the only southern state with a natural international boundary in the Rio Grande.

Farmers irrigate from the river, ranchers water their herd in the river, and children are baptized in the river. It truly is a river of life. That’s why any physical barriers must first take into consideration how to minimize impact on private landowners as well as the many municipalities that hug the banks of the river. To this date, this has not been the case.

The Texas Border Coalition supports smart and effective measures that will achieve true border security, such as the Vega Project in Webb County, the Eagle Pass Park project, the Brownsville Weir and Reservoir project, and the clearing of the banks of the Rio Grande – north and south – of vegetation such as carrizo cane and salt cedar that provide hiding places for illegal border-crossers. We support physical barriers in areas where they make sense and are agreed to by elected county and municipal officials. We support smarter, more effective solutions where fences won’t work that include radar, cameras, sensors and more effective deployment of Border Patrol personnel.

The Texas Border Coalition believes that Congress committed a strategic error in the approval of the Secure Fence Act and then compounded that error in providing the Secretary of Homeland Security with the unilateral authority to waive – in effect repeal – all federal laws to expedite construction of the wall. We support repeal of the unconstitutional waiver-repeal authority and urge the repeal of the Secure Fence Act in favor of measures that will provide our region with real security.

Illegal border crossing arrests at the Texas-Mexico border have been falling for more than two years, without a wall, a great tribute to the deterrence of our Border Patrol and Border Protection agents. Arrests this year along the southern border are likely to be roughly half the nearly 1.6 million during the peak in 2000.

We are winning control of the border between the ports of entry, and that puts our ports under greater stress. According to the Government Accountability Office, we need 4,000 new officers to secure the ports of entry. We need $4 billion in infrastructure and technology. If the goal is security, and that is the one of the main concerns of the Texas Border Coalition, we need your help to fund these priorities that are ignored by the president’s budget.

Let me remind you that the 9-11 terrorists entered the United States through ports of entry. Most undocumented aliens enter the United States through ports of entry. Most of the illegal drugs entering the United States come through ports of entry. No border wall will solve those problems.

It is that context that we question whether the DHS commitment to secure the border is no more than hollow promise that depends on ineffective measures. We have recommended alternatives both at the ports of entry and between them that will provide for a safer border region, a safer America. We need more boots on the ground with the equipment required to provide for commerce and security. The Administration has developed a pattern of rejecting these practical, effective solutions in order to pursue a misguided policy. That pattern has reached a logical, ridiculous extreme with the waivers executed by Secretary Chertoff.

We’ve met with Secretary Chertoff to share our concerns, which he acknowledged but said Congress tied his hands. He told us to change the law. Our delegation did just that, repealing restrictive portions of the Security Fence Act and authorizing him flexibility, all in the fiscal 2008 Comprehensive Appropriations Act. He has chosen to ignore the new law in pursuit of the strategy he devised to accomplish the old statute.

In their headlong rush to achieve an arbitrary deadline to erect an ineffective wall, the Administration has chosen to abandon our nation’s laws that commit us to preserving our environment, our culture, our history and our religious liberties.

These waivers will affect the natural movement of animal species, including the larger mammal species that are on the threatened or endangered species lists and cause irreparable harm to the unique eco-systems and bio-systems located along the Rio Grande River. They will provide carte blanche for the destruction of cultural and religious artifacts that are irreplaceable to our heritage. The avoidance and mitigation of these damages is not an inconvenience to the government. They are essential elements of our national fabric, guaranteed to the people of the United States under Articles I and II of the Constitution. We don’t demand the enactment of new law. We’ve already achieved that. We demand that Congress require the enforcement of our commitment to being a nation of laws.

The Texas Border Coalition believes we can do better. Based on our experience, the only way to restore the rule of law is to repeal the secretary’s waiver authority. We need change and to achieve it we also urge your subcommittees to support the repeal the Secure Fence Act in favor of measures that will provide our region with real security.

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Laredo Mayor Salinas to chair Texas Border Coalition’s Transportation Committee

By JULIE HILLRICHS

Laredo Mayor Raúl Salinas was appointed chairman of the Texas Border Coalition’s (TBC) Transportation Committee at a coalition meeting on Tuesday, April 15.

The committee, in consultation with all transportation related entities along Texas’ southern border, is responsible for gathering data and developing a transportation policy position for the coalition.

“Laredo and other cities along the Texas border are growing at a very rapid pace; therefore, building and maintaining a strong transportation infrastructure is vital to the economic development of the entire region and our great state,” Salinas said.

“With ever-increasing demands on our transportation system for both local mobility and international trade transportation improvements, it is essential that the voice of Texas border communities be heard in Washington, D.C. and Austin,” he added.

“Because transportation is so vital to our border region, I will maximize my time and efforts to bring to the forefront the pressing issues that impact the transportation community by working closely with all our legislative leaders in Austin and in Washington to address the needs of the transportation industry. I am extremely humbled to accept this appointment and I promise that I will work tirelessly to fulfill the responsibilities that go with important position,” Salinas concluded.

TBC represents the collective voice of border mayors, county judges, and communities on issues that affect Texas-Mexico board region quality of life.

The coalition was formed in 1998 when communities from the Texas border region came together to form the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition (TBIC) to develop key recommendations for the 76th Texas Legislature. Cities, counties, workforce development organizations, community colleges, universities, and hundreds of individuals participated in subcommittees charges with the responsibilities of developing strategies to address the infrastructure needs of the region.

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate stays steady at 4.5 percent in March 2008, with more than 28,000 people employed

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg posted a 4.5 percent unemployment rate in March 2008, about the same as during the previous month, and represented the second best showing among all major Valley cities, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has reported.

By comparison, the state’s unemployment rate in March 2008 averaged 4.3 percent, a small increase from the February 2008 level of 4.1 percent, while the U.S. unemployment rate in March 2008 was 5.1 percent.

The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy.

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.

All cities in Hidalgo County for March 2008 had a combined 6.4 percent unemployment rate, an improvement over the February 2008 level of 6.6 percent and the January 2008 posting of 7.3 percent.

For March 2008, all cities in Cameron County had a combined 5.8 percent unemployment rate, compared with a 5.9 percent level in February 2008 and 6.5 percent in January 2008.

McAllen, which usually has the lowest monthly unemployment rates in the Valley, had the best showing among major Valley cities in March 2008 at 4.3 percent, an improvement over the 4.5 percent rate in February 2008.

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in March 2008 at five percent, compared with 5.1 percent in February 2008.

Among the Valley’s largest cities in March 2008, Weslaco posted a 6.6 percent unemployment rate, an improvement from the previous month’s 6.9 percent level, followed by Brownsville with a 5.9 percent rate, also an improvement from the previous month’s six percent level.

Mission posted a 5.6 percent unemployment rate in March 2008, compared with 5.7 percent in February 2008, while Pharr reported a 5.2 percent unemployment rate in March 2008, compared with 5.3 percent in February 2008.

For all of 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg averaged 4.8 percent, according to the latest state figures compiled by the TWC.

In 2006, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent, while in 2005, Edinburg’s unemployment rate averaged 4.9 percent.

The best showing in history for Edinburg came in November 2007, when the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent.

The highest unemployment rate in the past year for Edinburg came in July 2007, reaching 5.8 percent.

The March 2008 unemployment rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 2,585 jobs since March 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

In March 2008, there were 28,091 people employed in Edinburg.

In March 2007, there were 27,724 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City. In March 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.3 percent.

In March 2006, there were 26,935 people employed in Edinburg. In March 2006, the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent.

In March 2005, there were 25,426 people employed in Edinburg. In March 2005, the unemployment rate was 5.1 percent.

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

The unemployment 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.

The breakdown of the city’s jobless rate for the past 15 months follows:

  • March 2008, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.5 percent.
  • February 2008, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • January 2008, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.
  • December 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.7 percent.
  • November 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 3.7 percent.
  • October 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • September 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 5 percent.
  • August 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.
  • July 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 5.8 percent.
  • June 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 5.5 percent.
  • May 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • April 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.3 percent.
  • March 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • February 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.8 percent.
  • January 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment grew by 13,500 jobs in March. Texas employers now have added 213,700 jobs in the past 12 months for an annual job growth rate of 2.1 percent.

After a record low of 4.1 percent in February, the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.3 percent in March, down from 4.4 percent a year ago.

The U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.1 percent this month, up from 4.8 percent in February and 4.4 percent in March 2007.

“Our Texas economy continues to show significant underlying strength with gains of nearly 40,000 jobs during the last three months,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken. “Unemployment rates remain near record lows, and our annual job growth rate remains a strong 2.1 percent, well above the U.S. job growth rate of 0.4 percent.”

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.6 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Odessa MSA was second at 3.0 percent, followed by the Amarillo MSA at 3.1 percent.

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities added 7,800 positions in March, for a total of 36,900 jobs created since March 2007. Leisure and Hospitality increased by 4,300 jobs last month, for a total of 41,300 positions added in the past 12 months.

“Texas employers continue to create jobs in virtually every industry sector, outpacing the nation as a whole,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “Notable annual job growth rates include Natural Resource and Mining at 7.5 percent, and Leisure and Hospitality at 4.3 percent.”

Education and Health Services grew by 2,200 positions in March, with 36,100 jobs added over the year. The Natural Resource and Mining sector gained 1,300 jobs, for a gain of 15,100 jobs over the year.

“Significant job gains continue to provide opportunities for Texas workers,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “Job seekers are in tremendous demand as employers try to fill open positions during this period of such low unemployment.”

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Dolly Elizondo to be sworn-in as Hidalgo County Democratic Chair in McAllen on Monday, April 28

Following a long line of notable Hidalgo County Democratic chairs, Dolly Elizondo will be sworn in on Monday, April 28, 2008 at 6:00 PM at Casa de Palmas Renaissance Hotel in McAllen. The swearing-in ceremony will be history in the making. Elizondo is the first female to be voted into this office.

Also being sworn in will be approximately 37 precinct chairs who were elected in the March 4 primary. One of Elizondo’s campaign promises was to fill in precinct vacancies that exist in the county.

“Precinct chairs are the heart of the democratic party – they are vital to the electoral process.” Elizondo said.

Attending Monday’s ceremony will be various state senators, state representatives, former county chairs, and a delegation from the Nueces County Democratic Party.

Elizondo is a Mission native and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of Texas – Pan American. She has been a real estate broker, holding national designations, for over 10 years. For more information contact Elizondo at 581-4333.

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Edinburg High School receives 2008 College Board Inspiration Award, only one out of three in nation

By GILBERT TAGLE

In a spirited ceremony “a la Bobcat-style,” Edinburg High School was honored on Wednesday, April 22, by the College Board with a 2008 College Board Inspiration Award and a check for $25,000 at a special assembly.

EHS is one of three schools in the nation to receive the coveted 2008 award.

Edinburg is the only school district in the Valley and Texas to have two high schools that have received the College Board Inspiration Award. Edinburg North High School was the recipient of the 2004 College Board Inspiration Award.

College Board Senior Vice President Peter Negroni presented the $25,000 check and crystal Inspiration Award to EHS student leaders, Cassandra Sáenz and Jarrod Salaiz. Both Sáenz and Salaiz delivered outstanding comments in behalf of the student body that spoke about the school’s remarkable academic program and dedicated teachers and campus administrators that devote great time and energy to help EHS students reach for and attain success.

Every year the College Board presents three exceptional secondary schools with Inspiration Awards, which recognize schools that have made great strides in improving the academic environment for all students while raising aspirations and preparedness for higher education. The two other 2008 Inspiration Award recipients are Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington, D.C., and Berkmar High School in Lilburn, Ga.

The $25,000 award will be used by the school to boost Edinburg High School’s extensive efforts to guide and encourage students to realize the promise of higher education.

“Although students face social, cultural and economic barriers, EHS has an unsurpassed commitment to equity in education. Edinburg is continually striving to increase the number of its graduates who attend college,” Negroni said.

“Edinburg High School has done a commendable job of setting the bar high and ensuring that its students don’t just reach it, but surpass it,” said Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. “The school has formulated an exceptional preparation program that offers its students a first-rate education and a chance to take advanced course work that will prepare them for the future. There is no doubt that Edinburg High School is preparing our nation’s leaders of tomorrow.”

EHS was recognized for beginning to prepare students for college in their freshman year with a mentor program to facilitate high school transition, an introduction to Advanced Placement/Pre-AP classes and college planning activities. While 98 percent of its students face socioeconomic challenges, EHS has created a culture of student achievement that balances a rigorous curriculum with a wide range of innovative support programs to respond to varied student needs.

“This is a great day for Edinburg High School and the Edinburg CISD,” said Edinburg school district Superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr. As a school district, our goal has been and will continue to be – to put educational success within reach of every student,” said Garza. “Our success as a nation demands that we provide young minds from all backgrounds and circumstances with the education and skills necessary to go out and make a difference in the world.”

“Edinburg High School has been recognized for the dedicated efforts that its teachers, students, parents and the community of Edinburg have made in ensuring that EHS graduates are indeed prepared to lead,” added Garza.

EHS was founded on the premise of “Excellence through Education” and that premise has become part of this great school’s longstanding tradition, Garza said.

“It is by no accident that Edinburg High School is one of only two schools in the nation to be named an AVID National Demonstration School with Distinction in 2007,” the superintendent noted. “It is by no accident that it has produced six Dell Scholars, three Gates Millennium Scholars and 86 students who received University of Texas-Pan American scholarships, more than any school in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Garza said, “It is by no accident that EHS has been selected to receive the 2008 College Board Inspiration Award.”

Garza told the EHS students present at the assembly, “You are to be commended for not settling for mediocrity, but instead reaching for excellence by taking and passing the rigorous courses and curriculum that this school offers.”

To the teachers and staff of EHS, Garza said, “You are among the finest educators of this decade. Your hard work, dedication, commitment, perseverance and optimism have brought you all a great reward today.”

“I can say with the greatest of pride – that through the halls of EHS walk some of the world’s best and brightest teachers and students,” said Garza. “In the words of the late Coach Robert Vela, long-live Bobcat Pride!”

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Rep. Gonzáles shares hope for cancer cure with Us Too – McAllen prostrate cancer support group

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, recently addressed the membership of Us Too – McAllen Chapter, a prostrate cancer support group, as a guest speaker to deliver her message of hope for advancing cancer research in Texas at the Edinburg Regional Medical Center.

“Statistics are well known, but they are no less shocking,” said Gonzáles. “These men and their families are the lucky ones.” Among the most shocking statistics state that in Texas; one in four deaths is caused by cancer. A new case of prostate cancer occurs ever 2.5 minutes and a man dies from prostrate cancer every 19 minutes. The estimated total cost of cancer in Texas is $30 billion a year.

Gonzáles shared with the audience of cancer survivors her hope with the success of Texans’ efforts to approve the landmark creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

“Texans have shown their great compassion in approving a constitutional amendment that will put us one step closer to finding a cure for cancer,” she said.

The Scientific Research and Prevention Programs Committee’s primary role will be disbursing grants and working with the Oversight Committee, which will includes distinguished members of the scientific community active in cancer treatment and both public and private research institutions.

“This initiative is a testament to Texas’ commitment to make cancer research a priority,” said Gonzáles. Currently, the state’s top 16 research institutions have a total of $2.8 billion to spend on all types of research, not just cancer research. The voter-approved legislation provides $3 billion – or $300 million over ten years – to be dedicated exclusively to cancer research.

Us TOO McAllen Prostate Cancer Support group is a support, education, and advocacy group. Meetings are free and open to the Survivor/Provider community and are held every first Thursday of the month. For more information call Bob Wright at (956) 457-9378 and or the Us TOO International website at http://www.ustoo.org.

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Rep. Flores among House members appointed by Speaker Craddick to property tax relief panel

By CHRIS CUTRONE

Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Wednesday, April 23, announced the formation of the Select Committee on Property Tax Relief and Appraisal Reform, which will oversee all matters relating to property tax relief and reforming the property appraisal system.

Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, will chair the committee and Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, will serve as vice chair.

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, was the only Valley House member appointed to this legislative panel.

“The House is committed to doing everything it can to provide meaningful and responsible property tax relief to those who are strained by the burden of soaring taxes,” Craddick said. “Under the experienced leadership of Rep. Otto, I have full confidence that the members of this committee will come together and create a workable solution to this issue.”

The committee will review the sections of the Texas Constitution and the tax code that limit or authorize limiting the appraised value or increases in the appraised value of property for tax purposes. It may request assistance from any executive branch agency, and it will issue a report to the House of Representatives before the 81st Legislative Session, which may include draft legislation or recommendations for legislation.

“I would like to thank Speaker Craddick for allowing me to chair this committee,” Otto said. “This issue of property tax increases continues to frustrate property owners who feel the current system is too subjective and unfair. I look forward to working with the committee members as we consider realistic ideas to improve the system for all taxpayers.”

In addition to Flores, Otto and McKinney, other members of the committee are:Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston; Rep. Dan Flynn R-Van; Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton; Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford; Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville; Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, R-San Antonio; Rep. Inocente “Chente” Quintanilla, D-Tornillo; and Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood.

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Congressman Hinojosa celebrates Earth Day, pledges support for legislation to protect environment

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, April 22, celebrated Earth Day and pledged to continue his work in Congress to protect the environment, fight global warming and spur a cleaner, more prosperous economy for the people of South Texas.

“We have a solemn responsibility to protect our planet and ensure we all have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink,” said Hinojosa. “We have taken key steps forward, but much more work remains and I will continue to fight to protect our environment for future generations. We must remain steadfast in our efforts to preserve our unique natural heritage.”

Democrats recently passed landmark legislation that addresses the global warming crisis while creating new green collar jobs, cutting energy costs and helping end our dependence on foreign oil.

The historic Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 has been signed into law and will increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards, which could help save American families hundreds of dollars per year at the gas pump. New building, appliance and lighting efficiency standards included in the new law will save consumers $400 billion through 2030. Additionally, the new law will help save 5.3 billion metric tons in energy-related CO2 emissions from 2008-2030 and cut the growth in energy-related emissions of CO2 by 10 percent.

As the nation’s largest producer of wind energy, Texas in particular is set to gain from the bill’s unprecedented investment in clean technologies and wind energy. Texas farmers who grow crops for biofuel production will also reap the benefits included in this ambitious legislation.

“Throughout our history, America has prospered thanks to an abundant supply of affordable energy. But if we want to remain a global leader, we cannot continue to take these resources for granted,” Hinojosa said. “We must find new ways to fuel our economy so that our future competitiveness does not suffer.”

Democrats are also working to enact new legislation that will encourage investments in renewable energy and create hundreds of thousands of good-paying green collar American jobs. The Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008 would invest in clean, renewable energy and promote energy efficient technologies. The bill extends and expands tax incentives for renewable electricity, energy and fuel, as well as for plug-in hybrid cars, and energy efficient homes, buildings, and appliances. The solar investment tax credit in this legislation alone will reduce carbon emissions by 240 million tons, or the equivalent of taking 52 million passengers cars off the road for one year.

“For too long, our energy policy has been out of touch with the economic, environmental, and geopolitical realities that America faces,” Hinojosa said. “Democrats recognize the need to diversify our energy supply, invest in clean energy, and better protect our economy. We are moving our country on the path toward energy security and providing much-needed aid to Texas consumers and entrepreneurs.”

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Gov. Perry seeks relief from skyrocketing food prices, seeks federal RFS mandate waiver

Seeking immediate relief from skyrocketing food costs, Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, April 25, asked the federal government for a 50 percent waiver from the federal renewable fuel standard (RFS) mandate for ethanol produced from grain.

“We appreciate the good intentions behind the push for renewable fuels. In fact we’re diversifying our state’s energy portfolio at a rapid rate, but this misguided mandate is significantly affecting Texans’ family food bill,” said Gov. Perry. “There are multiple factors contributing to our skyrocketing grocery prices, but a waiver of RFS levels is the best, quickest way to reduce those costs before permanent damage is done.”

Corn prices rose 138 percent globally over the last three years and global food prices increased 83 percent over the same time period. With the implementation of the new RFS mandate, some estimates predict corn prices will rise to $8.00/bushel for the 2008 crop, resulting in a negative impact of $3.59 billion to the state.

While well intentioned, the RFS mandates the levels of renewable fuel usage regardless of market signals. The artificial demand for grain-derived ethanol is devastating the livestock industry in Texas and needlessly creating a negative impact on our state’s otherwise strong economy while driving up food prices around the world. Overall, the Texas economy is the strongest in the nation, primarily because of market-driven policies.

Texas plays a significant role in feeding and fueling the nation. Not only is our state the nation’s largest beef-producer, Texas also ranks in the top 10 states in poultry/egg and dairy production, which rely heavily on corn-based products for feed. Texas is also a leading producer of the nation’s domestic fuel supply.

The impact on the cattle industry is particularly harmful to family ranches. According to the USDA, two-thirds of the 149,000 cattle producers in Texas have fewer than 50 head of cattle.

Granting this waiver will provide all Texans much needed relief at the grocery store, and it will enable the Texas livestock industry to continue providing its significant share of our nation’s food supply.

In 2007, 25 percent of the U.S. corn crop was diverted to produce ethanol, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which projects that 30 to 35 percent will be diverted in 2008. With ever increasing mandates of corn crop diversion to ethanol production through 2015, the impact on food prices globally, and to Texas specifically will only worsen.

The RFS program was established by the federal government through the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It was amended in 2007 by the Energy Independence and Security Act, which increased the RFS mandate.

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Senate committee considers energy efficient buildings

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

More energy efficient homes and offices and using solar power could be Texas’ best chance to reduce energy consumption, according to testimony offered at Thursday’s Government Organization Committee meeting on Thursday, April 24. With sky-high fuel prices, governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce energy usage. Experts on energy efficient construction from Texas and around the world told lawmakers that “green” buildings can offset these rising costs.

University of Texas Asst. Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Webber testified other countries and states, like California, have kept electricity cost growth costs flat through more energy-efficient construction and solar-based power, without compromising economic development. “Conservation is compatible with economic growth,” he said.

Erin Keyes, a student of Webber’s at UT, participated in a General Land Office study of solar energy generation capacity in the state. Her study concluded that while Texas has an immense capacity to generate solar power, it currently only has about 6.5 megawatts of generating capacity. She attributed this to the relative costs of installing wind versus solar power, since it is four times cheaper to install wind power than the equivalent generation capacity in solar. Keyes testified, however, that costs of wind power installations are rising and solar installation costs are decreasing, so this disparity may disappear in the near future.

One reason Texas has an immense capacity for solar energy, according to ThinkSolar CEO Elmar Niewerth, other than its size, is the amount of sunshine it receives. Niewerth testified that Texas has the highest potential solar energy generation capacity of any state.

Solar power is just one component of more efficient houses and offices, testified Clark Wilson of Green Builders, Inc. Water and energy costs in homes and commercial offices consume more energy than any other source, about 38 percent of total energy costs in the U.S. By building more efficient buildings, Texas can reduce energy costs in a way that encourages efficiency in other areas. Build a home with better insulation, for example, and less energy is needed for climate control, which in turn leads to smaller, more efficient air conditioning equipment, which further reduces energy costs.

One way Texas can encourage more efficient buildings is by subsidizing construction costs, Wilson said. While efficiency saves money in the long run, the initial costs for installation or retrofitting can be high. Solar panels for a residential home can top $30,000. Even selling the excess solar generated energy might not offset initial costs for many years. States that have programs to help home owners and builders access more efficient energy technology cheaply predictably have more solar power capacity. If Texas makes it cheaper to build, buy and install “green” technologies, home owners and builders will find the long-term savings an incentive to move to more efficient technologies, he said.

The Senate Government Organization Committee is chaired by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and consists of Senators Kim Brimer, R-Ft. Worth, Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, Mike Jackson, R-La Port, Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Mario Gallegos, D-Houston.

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Workshop attendees at the UT-Pan American learn about government contracting process

By GAIL FAGAN

Small business owners from not only South Texas but from as far away as Georgia joined faculty and staff members at The University of Texas-Pan American April 16-17 to learn how to successfully identify and pursue government contract opportunities with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The two-day workshop, titled “Preparing and Submitting Government Contract Proposals,” is a joint initiative of HHS and the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) to train Minority Serving Institutions and minority-owned small businesses to become familiar with the processes and procedures associated with government contracting. RGF Consulting Corporation (RGFCC), located in Maryland, was contracted by HHS to conduct the training conference, which was hosted by the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) at UTPA.

According to Robert Flowers Jr., president/CEO of RGFCC, HHS alone has available $14 billion per year in contracts, an amount second only to the U.S. Department of Defense. Its product and service needs as found on FedBizOpps (http://www.fbo.gov) – one of a number of federal contracts resource sites – range widely from medical supplies such as flu vaccines to research and development to the construction of facilities. All contracts $25,000 and above must be publically announced.

He explained that there are three major processes to learn in doing business with the government and specifically with HHS – acquisition/procurement, technical proposal writing and crafting compliant cost proposals, all of which were covered in the workshop. The 80 workshop participants also had the opportunity to meet and network in order to stimulate collaborations and joint contract proposals and subcontracting.

While the effort requires commitment and a thorough knowledge of your business and its capabilities, Flowers said it is worth it to provide a “new stream of revenue” to small businesses and Minority Serving Institutions.

“Last year The Baltimore Sun reported that Johns Hopkins University is the second largest government contractor in the state of Maryland behind Lockheed Martin and their take in 2006 was $908 million in contracts,” he said. “That’s big business for schools.”

Charles B. Randall Jr., an OSDBU senior adviser from Washington, D.C. said his agency wants to reach out through the workshops to encourage more bids from small and diversified businesses.

“We have performance goals driven by law,” he said, adding that a certain percentage of federal agency contracts each year are to go to small businesses in a number of categories of ownership – disadvantaged, women-owned, HUB (Historically Underutilized Business) Zone, and service-disabled/veteran.

Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, UTPA vice provost for Research, encouraged attendees to ask questions and to get to know one another.

“As a region, statewide and nationally, we can work together to find solutions to problems. These are opportunities available but also needed,” she said.

As an assistant professor at UTPA in mechanical engineering, Dr. Dumitru Caruntu attended the workshop with an interest in mechanical research opportunities.

“I am working in biomechanics and vibration, so this would be an important part of my proposal work. You have to convince them (government) that you can do an honest and good job. If you get a contract and don’t perform, you are not going to get a second one,” he said.

René Treviño, marketing director of Probado Technologies Corporation, an IT services company out of Corpus Christi, said his company had already written successful proposals as a prime contractor based on past experience and “street” knowledge but had never had any formal training. He was particularly looking forward to learning more about the cost proposal component.

“This workshop is bridging some of those little gaps or questions we have had – how to handle this situation or how do we address this issue,” he said. “The workshop is very professionally delivered – from the speakers, to the facilities, to the deliverables you get.”

For more information, contact Theresa Bailey, director of Sponsored Projects, at 956/384-5004 or e-mail tbailey@utpa.edu. You can also learn more by logging on to http://www.utpa.edu/orsp.

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Education, industry leaders testify before state higher education subcommittees

By CELESTE VILLARREAL

Testimony regarding college student and facility loans, future economic and related workforce trends and healthcare insurance for students highlighted higher education hearings at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, April 23.

The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education held a joint hearing with the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee to address the interim charges issued by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst about facility loans and to make recommendations regarding any necessary changes in the statutes and administration of the loans.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chair of the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee and chair of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, joined members of the two committees to discuss the statutes, effects, and success and failures of higher education authorities that issue bonds used for student loans and facility construction.

Testimony was offered by representatives from South Texas Higher Education Authority, North Texas Higher Education Authority, Panhandle Plains Higher Education Authority, Office of the Attorney General, Brazos Higher Education Service Corporation, and McCall, Parkhurst & Horton law firm.

After the joint committee adjourned the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee convened to hear testimony regarding future economic trends, related workforce trends, and healthcare insurance for students.

“Each session we focus on financing higher education and the needs of college students, including health insurance,” Zaffirini said. “We must develop a consensus about how to work with industry and civic leaders and with educators in developing a strong workforce and ensuring the future wellbeing of Texas. Our Senate committees are studying all options so that legislators can prioritize adequate education funding and healthcare for our young people.”

The legislature appropriated $16.5 billion for higher education during the current biennium.

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Rep. Riddle brings illegal immigration message back home after Sunflower State presentations

By JON ENGLISH

While national headlines have focused on the country’s forecasted economic woes, Texas lawmakers drew attention Monday, April 21, to what they claim will be the number one issue before the Legislature in the 2009 session: illegal immigration.

“My district and the people of Texas are demanding action,” Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, told the House State Affairs committee. “And if we don’t do what we need to do this session, there’s going to be a price to pay.”

Riddle was making her first appearance before her Texas colleagues since her visit to Kansas in February, where she testified before the Kansas Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs regarding their S.B. 458, the Kansas Illegal Immigration Relief Act.

The Kansas measure has since passed the Senate and is pending action in the House of Representatives.

Back in Texas on Monday, April 21, Riddle had strong words for the committee regarding the fate of similar legislation last session in the Texas House.

“I shared with the Kansas Senators that last session, we here in Texas BLEW our opportunity to address this issue and protect our citizens,” Riddle said. “We didn’t do our job. We failed our citizens in Texas.”

Riddle said she offered her testimony before the committee to enlighten her colleagues as to the sense of urgency seen in other parts of the country to combat illegal immigration, and the sense of urgency she says is lacking in her home state among many legislators.

“I find it odd that the people of Kansas were very interested in what we in Texas have to say [about illegal immigration], and I’m not so sure that our legislature in Texas is quite as eager to hear what we have to say regarding our own citizens,” Riddle said.

The committee met in Austin on Monday, April 21, to discuss potential legislation that would enable local law enforcement to be more proactive in enforcing federal immigration laws. Peripherally, more sweeping changes to Texas immigration policy were discussed by the members and witnesses during the seven-hour hearing.

At the conclusion of Riddle’s testimony, a committee member suggested to her that just because no bill was actually brought to a vote last session doesn’t mean positive steps hadn’t been taken to advance the issue.

“John Quincy Adams said ‘Duty is ours, results are God’s,'” the member said. “He said that in 1830 and it’s still pretty good in 2008.”

“Yes, and I think God would have us work on this and then vote,” Riddle replied.

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CALA: Despite reforms, problem jurisdictions make Texas one of worst legal climates in country

By ELIZABETH WALKER

Despite significant reforms to Texas’ legal system, the state continues to rank as one of the ten worst legal climates in the country, according to a recent report by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. Texas ranked 41st in the nation on several measures in the 2008 report; the state was ranked 44th in 2007.

“This survey shows that despite real progress in Texas, we are still hamstrung by a handful of rogue jurisdictions that continue to land the Lone Star State on the list of notoriously bad legal climates,” said Bill Summers, President of the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “Procedural rulings that defy Texas law and safe havens for some personal injury lawyers tarnish the reputation of the entire state.”

According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, the Rio Grande Valley and the Gulf Coast are still regarded as unfair legal environments due to the high number of lawsuits, large awards and unfair day-to-day practices in terms of class certification, discovery, evidentiary rulings and jury instructions.

The ILR report comes on the heels of a recent report in the national Forbes Magazine that also listed the Texas Gulf Coast and Rio Grande Valley as one of the “worst places to get sued” in America. Both echo the most recent annual report from the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), which dubbed south Texas a “judicial hellhole” — where uneven justice and unfair legal practices are commonplace – for the sixth year in a row.

“Our continued distinction as a judicial hellhole adds to the very real impression that you can’t get a fair shake in Texas,” Summers said. “Questionable rulings and unfair practices by courts in the Valley and along the Gulf Coast affect the entire state and can affect the ability to attract businesses and jobs to all parts of the state.”

Summers noted that a majority (63%) of practicing attorneys surveyed for the ILR report said the litigation environment in a state is likely to impact important business decisions at their company, such as where to locate or do business, up from 57% in 2007.

The 2008 State Liability Systems Ranking Study was conducted by Harris Interactive for ILR. The survey, now in its sixth year, surveyed more than 957 senior attorneys to explore how reasonable and fair the tort liability system is perceived to be by U.S. businesses. The attorneys were asked to judge a number of factors, including overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits, judges’ impartiality and competence, and juries’ predictability and fairness. Attorneys surveyed represented a wide range of public corporations and had an average of 19.3 years of relevant legal experience (including their current position), had been with their company an average of 11.6 years, and had been in their current position an average of 9.1 years.

CALAs are non-profit community coalitions dedicated to raising awareness of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse. The CALA movement was launched in Texas in November 1990 and now counts more than 25,000 Texas supporters among its ranks. For more information about CALA, visit http://www.tala.com.

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Sen. Hutchison: Digital television transition border bill clears key committee

By MACK MACKOWIAK

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, on Thursday, April 24, announced that legislation she introduced to address the unique concerns of South Texas and other border residents regarding the digital television (DTV) transition has been unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The Digital Television Border Fix Act of 2007, S.2507, establishes a process for broadcasters along the border to apply for FCC permission to continue both analog and digital broadcasting for a short time after the transition, which will take place at midnight on February 17, 2009.

“The lack of awareness about the approaching DTV transition may leave many Texans unprepared,” Hutchison said. “The major concern is that residents who continue watching stations from Mexico rather than taking steps to prepare for the transition may not receive AMBER Alert and Emergency Alert System messages.”

At midnight on February 17, 2009, federal law requires full-power broadcasters in the United States to cease analog broadcasting and to broadcast in digital format exclusively. The lack of analog broadcasting after this date poses special challenges for border communities. Sen. Hutchison’s legislation allows broadcasters along the border to continue analog broadcasts for five years, but maintains Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authority to deny stations in the affected area the ability to simulcast in both analog and digital if it does not serve the public interest or causes interference with DTV stations or public safety. The legislation applies only to stations within 50 miles of the common border with Mexico.

When the DTV transition occurs, customers who rely on rooftop antennas or “rabbit ears” to receive television broadcasts will have to subscribe to a “pay” television service, purchase a television with a digital tuner, or acquire a converter box for each analog television in their home to continue receiving American television. At the same time, “free” analog television signals originating in Mexico will remain available to border residents.

The slow progress of education efforts on this issue and the expense of these preparations may discourage many households from participating in the transition. If this occurs, it could pose an unnecessary and avoidable public safety risk.

“I am pleased the Commerce Committee has moved this legislation forward to ensure that Texans living along the border will not lose access to public safety communication messages sent through television stations,” said Hutchison.

With committee approval, the Digital Television Border Fix Act may now be placed on the calendar for consideration by the full Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, is the chief co-sponsor of this legislation.

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