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Crispin Fuente, store manager for JC Penny in Edinburg, participates in the ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, August 1, as Mayor Joe Ochoa, featured to Fuentes’ left, helps steady the ribbon. Almost a year to the day after groundbreaking was held for The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, the 103,000-square-foot JC Penney officially became the first retail center to open its doors at the planned 1.1 million square-foot retail, entertainment, and hotel complex, located on the northwest corner of U. S. Highway 281 and Trenton Road. The 80-store complex on 130 acres will provide one of the most unique shopping experiences in Texas. Following JC Penney will be the opening of Burlington Coat Factory in mid-August. TJ Maxx, The Shoe Department, and Academy Sports will open in the fall of this year, in time for the holiday season. More store openings will follow into next year with the addition of Lane Bryant, Ross Dress for Less and First National Bank during the early part of 2009. In addition to the mayor, other elected leaders at the ribbon-cutting included Councilmember Alma A. Garza, Councilmember Noé Garza, Elias Longoria, Jr., a member of the board of directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Edinburg school board trustee Ciro Treviño, and Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector Armando Barrera.  See story later in this posting.

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Former Edinburg Mayor Richard García, on behalf of himself and his law firm, García, Quintanilla and Palacios, has donated $10,000 to an annual fundraiser drive designed to help young people served by the Edinburg Boys & Girls Club RGV. In doing so, he issued a challenge to those in the legal community to match the gift, which was donated to the "It Just Takes One Campaign" now underway.  The campaign will raise funds for the Clubs’ after-school programs and services for youth, ages 6-18, living in Edinburg and surrounding communities. Scheduled to run through August 15, the campaign seeks donations primarily from individuals. García said he and his law partners, including Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio "Terry" Palacios and C.J. Quintanilla, have previously donated money to the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg RGV. "The community needs to see the importance of the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg, to see that there are people contributing," García said. "Edinburg has been very good to me over the years, and I figure one of the best ways I can give back to my community is to help our children." See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, featured right, shares a laugh with Dr. Carlos Mohamed, M.D, featured left, and other Houston lawmakers during a Thursday, July 10 visit to Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, which has a state-of-the-art cancer treatment center as part of its medical complex. Cohen, a 38-year breast cancer survivor, was the first House sponsor of Proposition 15. Last November, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment which will fund $3 billion in cancer research grants to conduct research to prevent or cure cancer, support existing research efforts in Texas, and implement the Texas Cancer Plan, a statewide blueprint for cancer prevention and control. A few days after her visit to Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Cohen was a keynote speaker at “The American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer: Coming Together 2008 – A National Forum on Cancer Care in the United States” held July 14 – 15 in Baltimore, Maryland.  Featured in this photograph at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance were, from left: Mohamed, who is an obstetrician and gynocologist; Prisylla Jasso, director of the Border Health PAC, which represents Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Rep. Alma Allen, Ph.D., and Cohen.  See story on Cohen later in this posting.

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, announced on Friday, August 9, that the 10th annual sales tax holiday will take place Friday-Sunday, August 15-17. The tax holiday will provide Texas families with much needed back-to-school savings, and, for the first time, school backpacks and messenger bags costing less than $100 also will be tax exempt. "Family budgets are stretched farther than ever, especially with the high price of gasoline, groceries and other necessities,"  Zaffirini said. "I am pleased that even more items qualify for tax-free status this year so that families may enjoy greater savings." Most children’s and adult’s clothing and shoes priced less than $100 can be purchased tax-free during the holiday. A complete list of items that will be tax exempt during the sales tax holiday is available at http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxpubs/tx98_490/tx98_490.html. Since 1999 the clothing sales tax holiday has saved shoppers more than $388 million in state and local sales taxes. Zaffirini voted to expand tax holiday laws during the 2007 legislative session. Caption by Sarah Rayburn.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber Champion Committee recently announced that 10 new members have joined the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. Some businesses are new to the Edinburg area, while others are existing, and all help in sustaining Edinburg’s economy.  New members are as follows: Law Offices of Contreras & Muñoz;Molduflex; Wolfy’s Wine & Liquor; Elite Rehab Service LLC; State Farm Insurance; Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg; Hacienda Ford; Copy Plus; Monte Cristo Pharmacy; and The Brass Chair Barbershop. Featured in this photograph, taken at Monster Carwash, include, back row, from left:  Aaron Ramírez, Dr. Walt Greene, Roy Peña, Gary Myers, Dina Araguz, Marty Martin, María Martínez, Joel Porras, and Imelda Rodríguez. Front row, from left:  Frank Lara, Óscar Hinojosa, Joe Sánchez, Celine Schulz, Elva Jackson Garza, Flo Prater, and Jay Flores.

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Edinburg rode out Hurricane Dolly in good shape, based on first reports, says Mayor Ochoa

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Without diminishing the seriousness of the weather-related problems that continue to challenge many Edinburg residents, the three-time All-America City was very fortunate in dealing with the wrath of Hurricane Dolly, which caused extensive flooding and knocked out power on Wednesday, July 23, for large portions of deep South Texas.

"Thank God we are all back here, safe and sound," Mayor Joe Ochoa said during the Edinburg City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, August 5, the first formal meeting of the municipal government’s elected leadership since Dolly’s hard hit on the Rio Grande Valley.

The mayor singled out Fire Chief Shawn Snider, who is in charge of the city’s emergency operations center, for Snider’s work in helping direct the city’s responses to public safety immediately prior, during, and after Hurricane Dolly’s unsettling trek through the region – the first direct hit by a hurricane since Allen in 1980.

"I would like to take this opportunity to give a great hand of applause to Chief Snider for his great command of the city’s emergency operation center during this event for three to five days in a row," the mayor said.

Ochoa also praised all city employees, many of them who were pressed into duty, leaving their families during the weather emergency  in order to work at City Hall, which served as headquarters for Edinburg’s municipal government responses to the storm.

"To Mr. (City Manager J.J.) Rodríguez, and all the staff who stayed around-the-clock in the emergency operations center, on behalf of myself and the city council, and certainly on behalf of the 60,000 beautiful people of Edinburg, congratulations and thank you," Ochoa said. "We know you guys will always step up to the plate, no matter what. Thank you very much for doing this for us."

The mayor said that a more comprehensive report on the hurricane’s impact on Edinburg will be presented by Snider at a later date. But initial reports showed that the community responded courageously to Dolly, Ochoa said.

Leading up to the hurricane, Ochoa reported that "there were more than 24,000 bags of sand given out during this period."

When the high winds, reported up to 70 miles per hour locally, and the heavy rains left Edinburg hours later, the city’s rainwater drainage system performed well, the mayor said.

Edinburg’s downtown region, which for decades would almost always suffer from damaging flooding and standing water following large rain events, finally faced and passed a major test, he observed.

"I think one of our first experiences was that the drainage (improvements) we moved on so quickly in the downtown area have finally proven themselves," Ochoa said. "The downtown area did not flood as it used to in the past."

The amount of rainwater that was dumped in Edinburg and outlying areas was significant, he added.

"More than two million gallons of water were helped pumped out of the city and surrounding areas," Ochoa said.

Lupe Rodríguez, a resident of Lull, a longtime unincorporated community which was eventually annexed by the city, reported that his region of town, located in northwest Edinburg, suffered from flooding.

"I want to give you thanks for all the work you have done, but over in Lull, we need your help to clean the highways over there because they are full of dirt," Lupe Rodríguez said. "This time, Dolly was a wake-up call for us, because most of the lots are full of water. It took some days for the water to get out of the community.  Help us on the alleys."

The Lull resident added, "There are some trees that are in the way. We know your people have a lot of work to do, but don’t forget about us. I hope you can begin work very soon. We like to keep our community clean, just like you living in Edinburg."

Fallen trees and debris were among the biggest problem that faced Edinburg as the result of the hurricane, the mayor said.

"More than four million pounds of tree shrubs and debris have gone into our landfill as of today," Ochoa said. "What we normally would do in a six month period we picked up and destroyed in only half a day. That is how busy the city staff has been."

Ochoa readily acknowledged the obvious.

"I know there were many inconveniences, and for some of us, there continue to be," the mayor said. "I want to tell the public that I sincerely appreciate your patience and your cooperation with city staff in making sure that everything was run properly without interference."

The public’s responses to the storm, working with the local government, helped make Edinburg "as safe as possible" during the hurricane, he said.

"But we move forward," Ochoa continued. "This city has shown we will work together, not only within our own departments, but also with other communities."

He  noted that the local government provided pumps to South Padre Island and San Carlos, some of the many communities in South Texas which bore the brunt of Dolly’s flooding and the misery caused by the hurricane.

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Former Mayor García contributes $10,000 to Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg RGV, challenges area lawyers to also help raise money to serve city’s youths

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Former Edinburg Mayor Richard García, on behalf of himself and his law firm, García, Quintanilla and Palacios, has donated $10,000 to an annual fundraiser drive designed to help young people served by the Edinburg Boys & Girls Club RGV.

In doing so, he issued a challenge to those in the legal community to match the gift, which was donated to the "It Just Takes One Campaign" now underway.

Garcia is the senior partner in the McAllen law firm, which has deep roots in Edinburg. He also currently serves as president of the board of directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The campaign will raise funds for the Clubs’ after-school programs and services for youth, ages 6-18, living in Edinburg and surrounding communities. Scheduled to run through August 15, the campaign seeks donations primarily from individuals.

Funds raised will help sponsor kids to attend summer camp and provide quality after school programs such as the Power Hour homework help program, computer skills training, career exploration, arts and crafts, fitness and sports, and character and leadership programs such as SMART Moves (alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention program) and Youth of the Year (the Club’s premier recognition program).

García, a native son of Edinburg who, like thousands of area residents have worked hard to become American success stories, said he wants to help as many youngsters as he can to achieve their dreams, too.

"These young kids are really in need of getting these type of programs offered by the Boys and Girls Club, but without them, where would they go?" he asked. "We are very lucky that many of Edinburg’s youngsters have access to important programs for after school and summer activities, but there are so many children who don’t."

García said he and his law partners, including Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio "Terry" Palacios and C.J. Quintanilla, have previously donated money to the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg RGV.

"The community needs to see the importance of the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg, to see that there are people contributing,"  García said. "Edinburg has been very good to me over the years, and I figure one of the best ways I can give back to my community is to help our children."

Serving as the campaign’s chair is Dr. Susan Griffith.

The campaign’s goal this year is to raise $60,000 for the Clubs’ annual operating budget. Griffith  said.

“We are proud to announce that to date, our campaign has raised $18,000 as a result of Richard Garcia’s lead gift and gifts from 100 percent of our board members and staff," said Griffith. "All we need now is the rest of our community to show their support, and we will be able to reach, we hope to exceed, our goal.

“Our clubs are making a difference in the community,” added Griffith. “Last year, our local clubs served 19,892 youth, a 10 percent increase from the year before. But there are still many more children in our community that need the kind of positive influence and guidance the clubs provide, and we want to reach out to these youth and their families.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs’ mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need them the most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.

“The cost of providing the Boys & Girls Club experience to one child for a year is about $300,” said Griffith. “You can see what a valuable investment that is when you compare it to the cost of incarcerating a youth who go in the wrong direction – usually $50,000 or more.  The Clubs give a good return on investment.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV, founded in 1970, is a non-profit, privately-funded 501{c}{3} organization and depends on private donations and volunteers to accomplish its mission.  The Clubs annually serve some 19,000 youth.  To make a donation or to volunteer, contact Sabrina Walker-Hernández, Chief Professional Officer at 956.383.2582 (office) or visit the Web site at http://www.edinburgkids.com.

(Sabrine Walker-Hernández contributed to this article.)

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Sen. Hinojosa calls on Public Utility Commission to protect elderly, low-income Texans from having electricity shut off during hot summer months

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Wednesday, August 7, filed an emergency petition with the Public Utility Commission of Texas to adopt a rule suspending disconnection of electric services of Texans who are elderly, low-income, caring for infants, or medically fragile.

Hinojosa says, "This rule is not charity, but a necessary life saving measure." This rule does not mean customers will not have to pay their electric bill, but it does offer life saving measures. The rule, if adopted, gives those who meet the necessary guidelines the ability to defer summer electric bill payments for five months.

If the Public Utility Commission adopts this rule, those who meet the necessary guidelines and contact the providing electric company, and then receive written confirmation, should not have their electricity disconnected. Hinojosa says this is a rule that will help save the lives of those who have to choose between either buying necessities such as food and prescription drugs for their families or paying for electricity.

Hinojosa encourages Texans to contact the Public Utility Commission in support of this petition.

To contact the Public Utility Commission by mail, write to:

PUC Commissioners

1701 North Congress Avenue

P.O. Box 13326

Austin, Texas 78711-3326

To call the PUC toll-free, call (888) 782-8477 (English or Spanish)

To email the PUC, write: customer@puc.state.tx.us

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The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley helps spur new construction in city to almost $9 million for June

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Total construction activities in Edinburg in June 2008 was more than $8.7 million, with more than $4 million in new construction at The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley leading the way for the month,  the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The latest construction figures come as The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, located on the northwest corner of U. S. Highway 281 and Trenton Road, on Friday, August 1, opened the new shopping center with its first store – JC Penney’s latest 103,000 square foot facility.

The construction permit for building J.C. Penney was issued last year, and so it is not part of the more than $8.7 million in construction activities reported for the month of June 2008.

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

It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president; Fred Palacios; Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.; and Elias Longoria, Jr.

The construction figures include the value of everything from installing plumbing to building the structures, but not the price of the lots.

Also, the city figures do not include the value of any construction work being conducted at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Groundbreaking for The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley took place on August 2, 2007.  Almost a year later, to the date, the celebration of J.C. Penney on Friday,  marked the inaugural official opening for the shopping center.

Hundreds lined up outside the doors to J.C. Penney that Friday morning, prior to the 9 a.m. celebration, and the event was attended by numerous political, business, and community leaders, including Mayor Joe Ochoa, Councilmember Alma A. Garza, Councilmember Noe Garza, EEDC board member Elias Longoria, Jr., Edinburg school board member Ciro Treviño, EEDC executive director Ramiro Garza, Jr., Robert Gandy, III, president of First National Bank of Edinburg, and Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector Armando Barrera, Jr.

Paul Rappaport of First Hartford Realty, general manager of The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, said the grand opening of one of the shopping center’s anchor stores was exciting news, not only for the city, but for the region.

“We have been looking forward to getting to this point and are very excited to see our first store open for business," said Rappaport. "This is only the beginning of what you will see at The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley. As the region and the City of Edinburg grows, so will The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley." The center is expected to grow to approximately 1.1 million square feet of retail, entertainment and hotel space and is highly anticipated to be the major shopping destination within Edinburg when completed. The 80-store complex on 130 acres will provide one of the most unique shopping experiences in Texas, he predicted.

“Following JC Penney will be the opening of Burlington Coat Factory in mid-August," Rappaport noted. "TJ Maxx, The Shoe Department, and Academy Sports will open in the fall of this year, in time for the holiday season. More store openings will follow into next year with the addition of Lane Bryant, Ross Dress for Less and First National Bank during the early part of 2009."

First Hartford Realty Corporation is a commercial real estate developer based in Manchester, Connecticut.  The company has developed more than 35 million square feet of real estate, including more than six million square feet of retail space since the company’s inception in 1949.  For more information, please visit  http://www.firsthartford.com.

Most valuable projects

Jeff Radesi received a building permit for the most valuable project in June – a $3.5 million commercial facility to be located in The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley at 651 E. Trenton Road.

Bert Ogden Motors received a building permit for the second most valuable project in June – also a

commercial facility, valued at $600,000, located at 4221 South Highway 281, near the Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, in the Kelly-Pharr Subdivision.

Radesi also received a building permit for work valued at $500,000 for a commercial facility – the third most valuable project to begin in June –  located at 443 E. Trenton Road, also part of The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley.

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance came in fourth in this list of new construction activities, in June receiving a building permit for a commercial addition/repair, valued at $470,000, in the Doctors Center Subdivision, located at 5403 Doctors Drive.

The most valuable home approved for construction in June is worth $165,000. The city issued a building permit to Randy Rives for a single-family residence located at 3217 Country Club Drive in the Monte Cristo Country Golf Course and Country Club Subdivision.

Year-to-date, Edinburg has reported $54,694,976 in total construction, compared with $115,440.96 during the first half of 2007.

In June 2008, total construction in Edinburg was reported at $8,738,440, compared with $13,149,130 in June 2007.

What are building permits?

The values of the construction are listed in building permits issued by the city’s Code Enforcement Division.

Building permits are permits taken out in order to allow excavation and to protect public safety.

Building permits represent the estimated cost of construction, not the selling price.

The building permits do not include the price of the lot.

A start in construction is defined as the beginning of excavation of the foundation for the building.

A building permit is permission issued by a city’s planning department to oversee and approve any changes to structures.

They are documents designed to guarantee that any construction work, from remodeling to demolition to building a new home or business facility, meets the city’s building codes.

Single-family new homes

In June 2008, building permits were issued for the construction of 25 single-family homes, valued at $1,506,329, compared with 87 single-family homes, valued at $7,269,572 in June 2007.

Year-to-date, building permits have been issued for the construction of 159 new single-family residences, valued at $13,623,329, compared with 365 single-family residences, valued at $34,481,773 from January through June 2007.

Four homes, each valued at $100,000 or more, were  authorized for construction in June 2008:

  • Randy Rives, 3217 Country Club Drive ($165,000);
  • Rigoberto Salinas, 3302 Wilderness Drive ($145,000);
  • Rey Benavidez, 408 Padre Lane ($110,000); and
  • West Wind Homes, 3523 Prestwick Street ($100,000).

Commercial new construction

In June 2008, the value of new commercial construction – not counting government facilities or churches – reached $6,164,000, compared with $2,056,575 in June 2007.

Year-to-date, new commercial construction reached $25,134,150, compared with $57,698,225 during the first six months of 2007.

In June 2008, 11 commercial facilities each valued at $100,000 or more were issued building permits:

  • Jeff Radesi, 651 E. Trenton Road ($3,500,000);
  • Bert Ogden Motors, 4221 South Highway 281 ($600,000);
  • Jeff Radesi, 443 E. Trenton Road ($500,000);
  • Macias Investments, 4715 S. Jackson Road ($220,000);
  • Jeff Radesi, 449 E. Trenton Road ($201,000);
  • Jeff Radesi, 437 E. Trenton Road ($190,000);
  • Jeff Radesi, 443 E. Trenton Road ($175,000);
  • José Chapa, 701 E. Cano Street ($165,000);
  • Editu G. Garza, 4115 N. Doolittle Road ($160,000); and
  • José Peña, 302 E. Mahl ($150,000);

Multi-family new homes

No building permits were issued in June 2008 for multi-family homes, compared with 32 permits issued in June 2007 (31 duplexes, one three/four unit residence) for construction valued at $2,367,500.

Year-to-date, building permits have been issued for 10 new multi-family homes (all duplexes), valued at $920,000, compared with 56 new multi-family homes during the first six months of 2007 (54 duplexes and two triplexes/fouplexes), valued at $7,726,500.

Residential repairs

Also in June 2008, work was authorized for alterations, valued at $183,361, on single-family residences, compared with alterations, valued at $558,542, on single-family homes in June 2007.

Year-t0-date, alterations on single-family residences were valued at $2,329,905, compared with $3,123,307 between January and June 2007.

Commercial repairs

Also in June 2008, work was authorized for alterations, valued at $784,750, on commercial structures, compared with alterations, valued at $480,941, on commercial structures in June 2007.

Year-to-date, repairs/alterations on commercial structures total $2,848,721, compared with $2,163,629 from January through June 2007.

Non-taxable structures

There were building permits issued for work valued at $100,000 for alterations/repairs on non-taxable structures in June 2008, compared with $389,000 in June 2007.

Year-to-date, building permits for work valued at $9,838,871 were issued for repairs/alterations on non-taxable structures, compared with $10,247,500 during the six months of 2007

(Letty Reyes, project manager with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, contributed to this article.)

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Rep. Cohen, part of Houston delegation which toured Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, addresses national forum on cancer care

By TAMMI WALLACE

Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, was recently a keynote speaker at “The American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer: Coming Together 2008 – A National Forum on Cancer Care in the United States” held July 14 – 15 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Cohen was in Edinburg on Thursday, July 10, as part of a legislative delegation from Houston visiting Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, which has a state-of-the-art cancer treatment center as part of its medical complex.

During her presentation in Baltimore, Cohen recounted the passage of Proposition 15, which established the Cancer and Prevention Research Institute in Texas, to an audience of physicians, administrators, advocates, and policy makers gathered for a national forum on cancer care.

During the 80th session of the Texas legislature in 2007, Cohen, a 38-year breast cancer survivor, was the first House sponsor of Proposition 15. In November 2007, Texas voters approved the constitutional amendment which will fund $3 billion in cancer research grants to conduct research to prevent or cure cancer, support existing research efforts in Texas, and implement the Texas Cancer Plan, a statewide blueprint for cancer prevention and control.

“I am always overwhelmed when I am in the company of people whose goals and passions are to eliminate cancer and improve the quality of life of those affected with it,” said Cohen of her experience in Baltimore. “Following my presentation, people came to me clearly interested in duplicating what we were able to do in passing Proposition 15. Maybe we will see other such bills pass across the United States.”

The Commission on Cancer is a consortium of professional organizations dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for cancer patients through standard-setting, prevention, research, education, and the monitoring of comprehensive quality care.

Also last month, Cohen received the Texas Academy of Family Physicians (TAFP) 2008 Patient Advocacy Award on Saturday, July 19, 2008.

During TAFP’s 59th Annual Session and Scientific Assembly at the Westin Galleria, Cohen was cited for her service as a member of the House Committee on Public Health, as the first House sponsor of the bill creating the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, and for her work to maximize federal funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

TAFP honored Cohen for her work in the Texas Legislature serving as a strong advocate of physicians in managed care and other issues facing the medical community. The Patient Advocacy Award is presented annually to an individual who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to protecting and advancing the welfare of patients in Texas.

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Ross Dress for Less, a Fortune 500 company, to join tenant roster at the Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley

Ross Dress for Less, a Fortune 500 company, will open their fifth location in Edinburg, a key player in the rapidly growing South Texas market area of the Rio Grande Valley.

The store will be located at The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley on Highway 281 and Trenton Road,  and will open the store in early 2009. The 30,000 square foot store will carry the latest styles and the hottest brands in clothing for the entire family.

The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley broke ground on August 2, 2007 with a great deal of excitement and interest from the community and city leaders. The $80 million dollar open-air shopping center developed by Manchester, Connecticut based First Hartford Realty Corporation will feature more than 1.1 million square feet of retail space on a 130-acre site.

The super regional shopping center will feature traditional department stores, big box retailers, national and local specialty stores, restaurants, entertainment and a full-service hotel.

Ross Dress for Less joins previously announced tenants JC Penney, Burlington Coat Factory, Academy Sports, TJ Maxx, The Shoe Department and First National Bank of Edinburg.  Senior executives from First Hartford Realty in charge of spearheading the leasing effort confirmed that additional retailer announcements will be forthcoming.

“The growth of the South Texas market is quite evident as national retailers like Ross Dress for Less open multiple locations throughout the market," said Jay Shaw, First Hartford Realty Corporation Senior Vice President/Director of Leasing. "We are proud to offer an optimal site to accommodate Ross’s expansion plans and facilitate growth of their customer base in the region."

Ross Stores, Inc. (Nasdaq: ROST), a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Pleasanton, California, is the nation’s second largest off-price retailer with fiscal 2007 revenues of $6 billion. Including the new locations opening in July, the Company will now operate 888 Ross Dress for Less stores in 27 states and Guam and 55 dd’s DISCOUNTS in California, Florida, Texas and Arizona. Ross offers first-quality, in-season, name brand and designer apparel, accessories, footwear and home fashions for the entire family at everyday savings of 20 to 60 percent off department and specialty store regular prices. Additional information is available at http://www.rossstores.com.

First Hartford Realty Corporation is a commercial real estate developer based in Manchester, Connecticut  The company has developed over 35 million square feet of real estate, including over 6 million square feet of retail space, since the company’s inception in 1949.  For more information, visit http://www.firsthartford.com.

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Edinburg CISD once again leads Valley in Exemplary campuses, according to Texas Education Agency

By GILBERT TAGLE

Commitment, team work and dedication by teachers and principals to helping students succeed were the key factors in enabling the Edinburg CISD to achieve 12 Exemplary elementary campuses and 15 Recognized campuses for the 2007-2008 school year.

The high ratings were developed and announced by the Texas Education Agency.

“Our teachers and campus leaders deserve the credit for the children’s success in mastering the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test,” said Superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr.  “At the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year, we challenged our campus principals and teachers to go the extra degree in their teaching and their focus on helping students achieve success, and that is just what they did."

“Our school board and our administration take their hats off to the schools and their leaders,” Garza said. “We also salute the students and their parents for aiming high and supporting the district’s push to help every child master the TAKS.”

Garza said elementary campuses earning the TEA’s Exemplary rating include: Austin, Canterbury, Cavazos, De la Viña, Escandón, Esparza, Hargill, Jefferson, Lincoln, Magee, Treviño and Truman schools.

Campuses earning the Recognized rating include: Avila, Brewster, Betts, Cano-Gonzalez, Eisenhower, Guerra, Freddy González, JFK, Lee, LBJ, Monte Cristo, San Carlos, Travis, Zavala and Villarreal schools.

Garza said the 2007-2008 was a banner year for the Edinburg school district. “Our district stands out among the others in success.”

“It is no coincidence that the ECISD has become a leader in education in the Valley, the Region One area and the state,” he added. “We have a community that cares about its children and makes education a priority. Our teachers, our parents, our business community, our school board and our school administration are united in supporting the educational success of students at all levels.”

In the 2007-2008 school year, Garza said the ECISD had:

  • Six ECISD elementary schools named in the Texas Monthly’s “Best Public Schools  in Texas” list;
  • Thirty-three schools received Gold Performance Acknowledgements from the Texas Education Agency for high academic performance in 14 different categories;
  • Edinburg High School named an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) National Certified School with Distinction, one of only two schools nationwide to receive such a recognition;
  • Eight elementary schools named by the Texas Education Agency as Distinguished Title I, A Schools;
  • Three elementary schools recognized by the TEA for Distinguished Progress Achieved; and
  • Edinburg High School awarded the 2008 College Board Inspiration Award for making great strides in improving the academic environment for all students and preparing them for college.

ECISD is the only district in the Valley and Texas to have two high schools to receive the coveted Inspiration Award)

Newsweek magazine named Edinburg High School and Edinburg North High School named among the “Top Five Percent of Schools” in the nation

The 2008-2009 school year begins August 25 for all ECISD students.

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Legislative task force needs to be created to monitor efforts to help limited-English speaking students

By REP. ROBERTO ALONZO

One of the most comprehensive legal decisions in education history has recently been issued by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice.

It concerns the civil rights of English language learners (ELL), a ruling which finds that Texas is failing to overcome language barriers in educating an estimated 140,000 Latino students in our secondary public schools.

I think it is imperative that both the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and the Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC) join forces and get prepared for what promises to be an interesting appeals process by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to overturn this decision.

While we must applaud Judge Justice for reversing his own decision of over a year ago (July 2007), not surprisingly TEA has already made it public that it will ask the Attorney General’s Office to appeal the latest Justice ruling.

As such, I think it is critically important that members of the Legislature, particularly representatives of both the MALC and SHC, be well-prepared, educated on the issue, and well-versed on the statistical data to help support and keep Judge Justice’s decision intact.

As chairmen of the two major Latino caucuses in the Legislature, I therefore appeal to you to jointly form some type of Bilingual Education Task Force to closely monitor the development of this important ruling and issue a report to all members when we convene for the 81st Regular Session in January 2009.

According to the 95-page court decision, the State of Texas, specifically TEA, has been given a deadline of January 2009 to address the issues of ineffective monitoring and poor ESL programs for secondary students, low test scores, high dropout rates among Latinos, graduation rates, and other educational flaws that violate the civil rights of ELL students.

If past history is any indication, there is no doubt that TEA will once again continue to use the same excuse as before by saying that they are "already addressing the issue," when in reality, we know that is not the case as the picture for ELL learners in Texas continues to look dismal. That seems to be a typical TEA response anytime a ruling like this is issued by a court.

However, keep in mind also that numbers and statistics do not lie. Most of the numbers and other verifiable data cited by Judge Justice in his court ruling come directly from TEA, and most of the accumulative historical records clearly show that our state-approved language programs for ELL students have not improved the performance of secondary students with limited English skills. And that is the bottom line – plain and simple.

If the state of Texas is to do an adequate job of closing that gap and have a skilled, educated workforce for future generations, we must take action now. And while Judge Justice’s decision is a welcome invitation to action now, as well as a major wake-up call for all state and local policymakers, I am certain that the formation of a Bilingual Education Task Force made up of members from both the MALC and SHC is well in order right now, especially since the court’s decision deadline of January 2009 will fall immediately after the start of the 81st Regular Session.

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Remember to vaccinate children before school begins

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

The old cliché "life goes on" cannot be truer for us in the Rio Grande Valley who continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly.

While we are still battling mosquitoes and clearing flood-ravaged areas, we can’t ignore the school bells that will soon be ringing throughout South Texas. A high priority for parents preparing their children for the first day of school should be getting them immunized.

The NeMours Foundation reports that parents may sometimes hesitate to vaccinate their children because they’re worried the child will experience serious reactions or acquire the illness the vaccine is supposed to prevent. However, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) informs us that vaccines are safe and serious side effects are very rare. Vaccines, like any other drug, are not without some risks. However, unlike other drugs, vaccines are held to a high safety standard since they are given to healthy individuals.

Other than perhaps sheer luck, vaccines are the safest and most effective prevention tool for serious and sometimes fatal diseases like pertussis (whooping cough), measles, tetanus, hepatitis B, diphtheria, as well as others. This year three infants have died in Texas from whooping cough. They were likely exposed to older children or adults who were coughing. The infants were too young to be immunized, but had the children or adults around them been vaccinated, perhaps they would not have contracted the disease at all.

"Immunizations are important, particularly for children in a school setting, because students spend a large amount of time in close situations," explains Mr. Jack Sims, Manager of the Immunization Branch of DSHS. "If any of these children are unvaccinated, the potential is there for an outbreak to occur."

Vaccines can save lives and halt the spread of disease, especially among children.

Public health officials use the term “herd immunity,” which means that the more highly vaccinated a specific group or population, is the less likelihood of an outbreak.

Our schools in Texas have very high vaccine coverage overall; each vaccine’s coverage is at 95 percent or higher, meaning that 95 percent of the children in a school are vaccinated. For Senate District 27, most public and private school kindergarteners were vaccinated for 2007-08 at rates ranging from 87 to 100 percent.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tells us that some vaccine variations are acceptable and changes in recommendations frequently occur as new vaccines are developed. Many of these vaccines are available as combinations to reduce the number of shots a child receives. It is best to consult a health professional to determine the best vaccinations and schedule for each child.

For complete information on immunizations, including school requirements and how to obtain an exemption, a person can log onto http://www.immunizetexas.com or call 800-252-9152, with information available in both English and Spanish.

Parents or guardians can obtain a copy of a child’s shot record by contacting either the child’s private physician or the local city/county health clinic where the child received the immunizations. For assistance in locating a city/county health clinic, a person can call 2-1-1. For those who have consented to having their child’s immunization information entered into the statewide immunization registry called ImmTrac, the family’s private physician or the local city/county health clinic can search the registry. Immunization records are not available online for the general public to access.

When considering any medical treatment, there are risks and benefits. Yet DSHS tells us that the benefits of vaccinating far outweigh the risks, which are usually mild and localized reactions, but often there is no reaction to a vaccine.

Mr. Sims cautions, "We forget the days when Americans were hit with polio. Some died, some live with life-long disabilities."

For a brighter outlook, he adds, "Today, polio only exists in a few countries around the world, and the United States has not had a case of polio since 1979."

Let’s do all we can to prevent the resurgence of deadly diseases like polio in our communities. Working with DSHS, our city/county clinics, schools, local physicians and families, we can ensure a safer and healthier South Texas.

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Hurricane disaster aid in Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy counties includes agricultural workforce

By ANN HATCHITT

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has announced that workers and businesses in the agricultural  industry directly affected by Hurricane Dolly are among the recipients eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance  (DUA).

DUA benefits are available as a result of Presidential Disaster Declaration FEMA-1780-DR.

TWC is accepting applications for DUA from individuals in Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties whose  employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted due to Hurricane Dolly beginning Tuesday, July 22, 2008.

Applications for DUA must be filed by Tuesday, September 2, 2008.

DUA is available to individuals who:

  • Worked or were self-employed in or were scheduled to begin work or self-employment;
  • Can no longer work or perform services because of physical damage or destruction to the place of  employment as a direct result of the disaster;
  • Establish that the work or self-employment they can no longer perform was their primary source of income,
  • Do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits from any state;
  • Cannot perform work or self-employment because of an injury as a direct result of the disaster; or     • Became the breadwinner or major support of a household because of the death of the head of household.

Applications filed after Tuesday, September 2, 2008, will be considered untimely, unless the individual provides good  cause for filing after the deadline.

Individuals will need their Social Security number, a copy of their most recent federal income tax forms or check  stubs, or documentation to support they were working or self-employed when the disaster occurred. To receive DUA  benefits, all required documentation must be submitted within 21 days from the day the DUA application is filed.

DUA is available to individuals for weeks of unemployment beginning Sunday, July 27, 2008, and up to Saturday,  January 24, 2009, as long as their unemployment continues to be a result of the disaster.

To file for DUA, individuals may call the nearest TWC Tele-Center from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Central Time, or call toll-free at (800) 939-6631.

Additional information is available at http://www.texasworkforce.org.

Reemployment services are available through  Texas Workforce Centers or by accessing http://www.WorkInTexas.com for information.

••••••

Sen. Hutchison’s bill affecting digital television transition along border is approved by Senate

By MATT MACKOWIAK

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Friday, August 1, announced that legislation she introduced to address the unique concerns of South Texas and other border residents concerning the digital television (DTV) transition has passed in the Senate by unanimous consent.

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.

“Many Texas residents are unprepared for the fast-approaching DTV transition, especially those who live along the border. Households that continue watching stations from Mexico, rather than taking steps to prepare for the transition, may not receive AMBER Alert and Emergency Alert System messages,” Hutchison. “The Senate-passed bill will give border broadcasters flexibility to broadcast in both analog and digital formats beyond the transition date so border residents’ access to important public safety information is not threatened.”

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. Hutchison’s legislation allows broadcasters along the border to continue analog broadcasts for four 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 best efforts of industry, advocacy groups, and state and federal governments have failed to encourage many residents to make necessary preparations. This is due to the expense of these preparations and the continued availability of analog programming from Mexico, both of which may discourage households from participating in the transition. The data on the number of coupons available from the federal government to help with the costs that have been requested, and redeemed, is extremely low along the border. This is a strong indication of how many residents are not properly prepared. Without this important legislation, the lack of preparation could pose an unnecessary and avoidable public safety risk.

Even with Senate passage, it is critical the residents continue their preparations for the transition. There are many benefits to digital broadcasting and residents that can make preparations are encouraged to do so. The legislation must still pass the House and then the FCC must review applications for continued analog broadcasting authority.

This legislation was introduced on December 18, 2007 and reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on April 24, 2008.

With Senate passage, the DTV Border Bill will require passage by the House. Companion legislation, H.R. 5435, has been introduced by Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Los Ángeles. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, is the chief co-sponsor of the Senate-passed legislation.

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Congresswoman Hinojosa delivers Hispanic radio address on Higher Education Opportunity Act

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Saturday, August 2, delivered the Democratic Hispanic Radio Address, focusing on the approval of H.R. 4137, the Higher Education Opportunity Act. This legislation will make college more affordable and accessible for college students across the country.

The audio of the address was heard through local Univisión Radio, Latino Broadcasting Company, Radio Fórmula, Radiovisa, Radio Bilingüe, and CNN en Español Radio affiliates after 11:06 a.m. ET on Saturday, August 2.

The translated text of the address in English appears below:

Good morning this is Congressman Rubén Hinojosa from Texas. I am the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, and Chair of the Education Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Over the next month, students will fan out across the country to begin their first day of college. This is always an exciting time for our nation’s students – some of whom may be just beginning their college education, others who may be credits away from graduation.  But in the back of too many of students’ minds, whether they be freshman or senior, is the ever-growing financial burden that accompanies this otherwise exciting journey.

A college education continues to be the best path to the getting ahead in life. However, the high price of college tuition and a complex application process for federal student aid is overwhelming students and their families. This is particularly true of Hispanic students who are 49 percent more likely to be first generation college students and largely depend on financial aid to attend college.

Roughly half of Hispanic undergraduates receive federal financial aid each year. And given that Hispanics are more likely to have relatively low family incomes, it is important that we do everything we can to make college as affordable and accessible as possible for our community.

Why? Because Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority group in the U.S., and because Hispanic students received the lowest average financial aid reward of any other group in the United States.

That is why the Democratic-led Congress has approved legislation to make college more affordable and accessible for all students. It reforms our higher education system so that it works on behalf of students.

This legislation will increase the maximum Pell grant to $8,000 by the year 2014 and authorize year-round Pell grants. It also simplifies the student aid application process. However, often times Pell Grants are not enough, and because about 25 percent of Hispanic students take out need-based student loans; we’ve also established a loan forgiveness program—up to $10,000 for students majoring in areas of national need, such as bilingual educators, medical specialists, and others.

We have also made historic gains for Hispanic Serving Institutions. We have increased the funding levels for undergraduate programs to $175 million. For the first time ever Hispanics who graduate from college will also now be able to attend graduate school under the HSI program, which has a funding level of $100 million.

Finally, this legislation increases aid and support for our veterans and military families. We have created a scholarship program for active duty military personnel and their families. This includes their children and their spouses. To assure that our veterans succeed in college and graduate, we have also established on-campus support centers for our returning veterans that will help them successfully transition to academic life.

As a parent, I understand that a college degree opens the doors to greater career opportunities, and a better quality of life. As Democrats we know that making college more affordable and accessible for all Hispanic students is crucial to a growing and strengthening America’s middle class. We understand that Hispanics, like all Americans, are in search of a better life for themselves and for their children. Democrats believe that a key to achieving the American Dream is equal access to a quality education.  For education to be equal, it needs to be affordable for everyone. And that is what this legislation does.

••••••

Attorney General Abbott takes action to uphold religious "moment of silence" statute

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott defended the right of Texas schoolchildren to begin each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a minute of silence to “reflect, pray, [or] meditate” before class.

In a brief filed Friday, August 1, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Abbott argued that Texas’ moment of silence statute is entirely constitutional. In January, a federal district judge rejected a North Texas couple’s challenge to the law. Solicitor General James Ho will appear before the appealscourt on behalf of the state.

“The United States Constitution plainly protects young Texans’ right to observe a moment of silence before school each morning,” Abbott said. “In an age where children are bombarded with distractions, beginning each school day with a moment of silence offers a welcome moment of thoughtful contemplation. The state of Texas will work diligently to defend the law and uphold the district court’s decision, which ruled that Texas’ moment of silence statute is entirely constitutional.”

The case, David Wallace Croft and Shannon Kristine Croft v. Governor of the State of Texas, Rick Perry, was appealed by the plaintiffs after Judge Barbara Lynn ruled against the couple. The Crofts’ children are students in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District. On Friday, the court granted Attorney General Abbott’s motion to dismiss the school district from the appeal.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature revised the moment of silence law, providing for the recitation of the pledge before the minute of silence and making clear that students may “pray” during this time. Legislators also amended the law to allow “any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.”

Under Texas law, the minute of silence immediately follows the Pledge of Allegiance. As the state’s brief notes, “by providing a patriotic and contemplative context for the minute of silence, Senate Bill 83 plainly serves secular rather than religious purposes.” The state also asserts, “the purpose of these exercises is plain – to foster patriotism and provide an opportunity for students to engage in thoughtful contemplation.”

Ho added: “The plaintiffs’ argument turns the First Amendment on its head. Their reasoning would condemn any law that prevents discrimination against religion by expressly protecting the right of students to ‘pray’ – including numerous federal and state laws that protect students against religious hostility.”

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CitiFinancial awards South Texas College’s Students In Free Enterprise $5,000 for community education

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

CitiFinancial has awarded South Texas College’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) team a $5,000 grant to fund community financial and business education projects. This is the first grant the group has awarded in the Rio Grande Valley.

In addition, CifiFinancial will also donate several copies of its textbook "The Citi Commonsense Money Guide for Real People" for use in STC’s SIFE community outreach programs and STC’s business courses.

"We are very excited about this grant and the donation because it allows us to continue our work to help community members of all ages understand topics ranging from personal money management, to entrepreneurship challenges and opportunities, to business ethics, to national economic impacts," said Brad Altemeyer, STC business administration instructor and STC SIFE team sponsor. "Our projects are geared at making a difference in peoples’ lives and creating a better quality of life for our communities. We want to thank CitiFinancial for continuing to play a big part in our success."

During the 2008-2009 academic year STC’s SIFE hopes to network and collaborate more actively with community partners to reach an even wider cross section of the Valley’s community. The group plans to offer a variety of free trainings at community locations and at STC campuses including "Benefits of a Bank Account," "How to Fill out a Check," and "The Importance of Knowing your Balance," just to name a few. Funds from the CitiFinancial grant will be used to provide program materials to participants, as well as snacks.

"It was a pleasure to award these funds to STC because the work of its students it crucial to the communities it serves," said Noe Estrada of CitiFinancial McAllen. "We look forward to continuing to seeing the good work of this group and know that they will positively impact many lives through this grant."

Area residents who would like to work with STC’s SIFE to put together a free financial or business literacy event in your community may call 872-2723.

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Attorney General Abbott takes action against debt collection firm for harassing Texas consumers

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Wednesday, August 6, charged a Dallas-based debt collection firm with using deceptive practices to collect payments from Texas consumers. The attorney general’s enforcement action asked the court to permanently enjoin Anderson, Crenshaw & Associates, L.L.C. from harassing Texas debtors with deceptive letters and unlawful telephone calls.

Since 2006, the Office of the Attorney General has received more than 75 complaints alleging misconduct by Anderson, Crenshaw & Associates in Texas and around the country. The Better Business Bureau has received 72 complaints against the firm.

“This debt collection firm is charged with unlawfully harassing Texas debtors,” Abbott said. “At a time when too many Texans are struggling to protect their homes, the defendant’s unlawful letters are threatening debtors with legal action, homestead liens and wage garnishment in violation of the law. The Office of the Attorney General will vigorously enforce laws that prevent debt collectors from harassing or threatening Texas consumers.”

According to court documents, the defendant mailed deceptive letters to debtors that unlawfully engaged in debt collection efforts during the same 30-day period debtors were given to validate their debts. Federal courts have maintained that debt collection firms may not undermine debtors’ right to dispute the debt during this time period. The company’s letters also misrepresent that the firm has filed lawsuits against debtors who fail to make timely payments. In many cases, the debts did not meet the defendant’s internal criteria to initiate legal action.

The state’s enforcement action also accuses Anderson, Crenshaw & Associates of threatening to garnish consumers’ wages or file liens against homesteads in violation of the Texas Debt Collection Act. According to several complaints, the defendant’s representatives harassed, abused and threatened debtors during profanity-laden, repeated or continuous telephone calls.

The attorney general’s enforcement action seeks civil penalties of up to $20,000 for each violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Texans who receive harassing calls or mail from debt collectors may call the Office of the Attorney General’s toll-free complaint hotline at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov. For more information on Texas’ debt collection laws, access the Attorney General’s “Debt Collection” consumer brochure online.

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Speaker Craddick receives William J. Raggio Excellence in Leadership and Outstanding Service Award

By ALEXIS DELEE

Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Wednesday, July 30, received the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) William J. Raggio Excellence in Leadership and Outstanding Service Award. The award is given to a leader who demonstrates a long-term commitment to serving others, while showing strong, small-government, Jeffersonian principles.

"Through his work with the American Legislative Exchange Council, Speaker Craddick has been a leader and a driving force in solidifying policy solutions and promoting ALEC principals and ideas," Arkansas State Senator Steve Faris, ALEC’s 2008 National Chairman said. "He is a great example for all of us to emulate in our home states."

Craddick is a long-time member of ALEC and was recently elected national secretary of the executive board of directors. Since becoming a member of the executive board of directors in 2004, he has crafted model legislation, much of which has gone on to influence laws in Texas. ALEC has seen a dramatic rise in membership recruitment in Texas, due in large part to Craddick’s efforts, making it one of ALEC’s strongest states.

"It is an honor to receive this award," Craddick said. "My greatest privilege has been to serve the people of Texas, to ensure that their needs are met. Texas’ best days are ahead, and I am proud that it is a place where people can prosper. I would like to thank Senator Feris, the ALEC Executive Board of Directors, the Texas state leadership and my constituents for their continuing support."

Craddick has been a member of the Texas House of Representatives since 1969.

In 2003, he became the first republican speaker of the Texas House of Representatives in more than 130 years. Under his leadership, the Legislature has overcome a $10 billion budget shortfall, produced model ethics, insurance, tort and transportation reforms, made historic cuts in property taxes, restructured public school finance, and added urgent improvements to Texas’ public schools.

Craddick is a sales representative for Mustang Mud, an oilfield supply company, he owns Craddick Properties, a Midland investment business, and he is president of Craddick, Inc. He and his wife, Nadine, have two children and two grandchildren.

The award was presented to the speaker at ALEC’s 35th Annual Meeting in Chicago.

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