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For McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos (featured right), who is seeking the House District 41 state representative post on November 4, his life’s journey has seen him struggle his way out of the agricultural fields of Texas and Minnesota to achieve personal and professional successes that include raising a loving family, and becoming partner of a law firm which has offices in McAllen, San Antonio, and Houston. However, he firmly believes, good fortune has little meaning if a person doesn’t use his life’s blessings to help others succeed as well. “I want everyone who works hard to have the same opportunities I’ve had,” Villalobos says. “That means we need new leadership in Austin advocating for our values: quality education, support for small businesses, and lower taxes.” Villalobos is seen here with his wife, Annette, and Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick. See lead story in this posting.

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Jeff Corwin, wildlife conservationist and host of the popular Animal Planet shows The Jeff Corwin Experience and Corwin’s Quest, was the first speaker for the University of Texas-Pan American’s annual Distinguished Speakers Series that kicked off Tuesday, September 30 at the Fine Arts Auditorium. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and the general public packed the auditorium for an opportunity to hear from Corwin and meet some of his animal co-stars.  At the end of the event, Corwin took questions from the audience. Featured far right is Corwin with audience members who participated in the presentation by holding one of several reptiles he brought with him.  The next Distinguished Speakers Series will feature Dr. Jehan Sadat, the widow of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.  She is a lifelong advocated for women and children’s rights.  She will be in Edinburg at the Fine Arts Auditorium on Monday, November 17.  For more information on the series, call 956/316-7989.

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Students at The University of Texas-Pan American got a chance to display some rousing Bronc spirit during noontime on Thursday, September 17, at the inaugural Gladiator Day event organized by the Student Alumni Association (SAA). This new organization, an affiliate of the UTPA Alumni Association, seeks to bring old traditions back to the university while creating new traditions and increased school spirit that will hopefully be cemented within the student population, said SAA President John Taméz, a 2008 UTPA graduate in communications now pursuing a master’s in business administration at the university. “I feel students on campus are hungry for traditions right now. I want them to believe that when they leave this university that they have had the best college experience that they could have ever imagined. Through traditions and school pride I thing we can accomplish that,” he said. Featured left to right at Gladiator Day are Student Alumni Association members Erik Valdéz; Taméz; Félix Rodríguez; Melany Rodríguez; Krissy Martínez; Omar Estrella; and Manny Rivas.  See story later in this posting.

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The city of Edinburg is celebrating its 100-year anniversary with community wide events and celebrations planned for the week of Sunday, October 5 through Saturday, October 11. During the same time, the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department will be promoting National Fire Prevention Week, with attention focused on fire safety and preventing home fires. Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, recently acknowledged the contributions of the fire department to the city’s past, present and future by creating a special commemorative centennial poster featuring an image of an Edinburg fire truck taken at last year’s fire prevention week activities. Peña presented the framed poster to Chief Shawn Snider and other firefighters at the city’s downtown firehouse. Featured at the main fire station are, from left: Rolland Pursley, deputy fire chief; Snider; Peña; Antonio Salazar, deputy fire chief; and Richard Drewry, fire marshall. See story, along with schedule of other centennial activities, later in this posting.

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Shan Rankin, executive director for the Museum of South Texas History (MOST) in Edinburg, on Sunday, October 5, led the Edinburg Centennial kick-off ceremony with the lighting of the birthday cake by local leaders.  The celebration, which was free and open to the public, was part of a week-long series of events in the three-time All-America City.  It included activities, an historic exhibition including the history of Edinburg, free admission to the museum, and more. The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum was also open free to the public on Sunday, and was available for self-guided tours. From left are: Mayor Joe Ochoa; Melissa Tijerina with MOST; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; City Councilmember Alma Garza; and City Councilmember Noé Garza.

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For state representative candidate Javier Villalobos, life’s blessings measured by helping others succeed

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

For McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos, who is seeking the House District 41 state representative post on November 4, his life’s journey has seen him struggle his way out of the agricultural fields of Texas and Minnesota to achieve personal and professional successes that include raising a loving family, and becoming partner of a law firm which has offices in McAllen, San Antonio, and Houston.

However, he firmly believes, good fortune has little meaning if a person doesn’t use his life’s blessings to help others succeed as well.

“I want everyone who works hard to have the same opportunities I’ve had,” Villalobos says. “That means we need new leadership in Austin advocating for our values: quality education, support for small businesses, and lower taxes.”

Villalobos, who is making his first entry into politics as a candidate, knows what it is to face the fears that come when “life is not good,” as he describes the uncertainties of economic roadblocks, limited access to healthcare, and the demands of migrant work that he, his parents and siblings dealt with when he was younger.

But it was his parents, Jesús and Élida, despite limited formal schooling of their own, who would emphasize to their seven children that education was one of the best ways to overcome the many challenges that are part of everyone’s life.

“My parents only had a second and seventh grade education, but through their love and wisdom, they always instilled in us the value and need of an education, and in working for what you have,” Villalobos said. “These beliefs have not been forgotten, and are now shared with our families.”

For Villalobos, his desire to help others extends far beyond his own personal and professional interests.

His life story is a shared theme with thousands of constituents in House District 41, which includes southwest Edinburg, especially with the working families and small business owners who Villalobos credits for being his inspiration in seeking the honor of representing them at the State Capitol.

Details on his legislative priorities and campaign platform are available on his website, http://www.VoteVillalobos.com, and he may be reached at 956/687-4000.

“We should be on the brink of greatness”

“In the Texas House of Representatives, we should be on the brink of greatness, but we need that missing piece to get us there,” said Villalobos. “The way it works in the Legislature, you can have the best intentions for your constituents, but if the powers-that-be can’t work with you, then House District 41 suffers, which means the entire Valley suffers.”

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

In general, the fate of a legislator’s work in Austin is heavily controlled by three political icons – the governor, the lt. governor, and the speaker of the house.

Villalobos already has the confidence of the state’s top legislative leader, Gov. Rick Perry, who had appointed him to a statewide commission – a position Villalobos later left, in good standing, in order to concentrate on his bid for the Texas House of Representatives.

“The governor is a big ally to have for your constituents, especially when we are now talking about creating a medical school for the Valley, increasing funding for our major roads and highways, improving education and the delivery of health care, getting more resources to fight crime, and protecting the best interests of small businesses and the tens of thousands of jobs made possible by those employers in House District 41,” Villalobos said.

He noted he also has participated in meetings with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

District 41: Economic heart of the Valley

On the campaign trail, Villalobos has found that the majority of voters in House District 41 have a lot in common with his views.

“I am running as a conservative, but I don’t want people to think this is the old time, right-wing kind of individual – I am not.  But I definitely am not a liberal individual,” Villalobos explained.

He said House District 41 is a key economic engine for the Valley, and if elected, promised to help promote the continuing development of businesses, which in turn, will help keep and generate jobs

for the area.

“A lot of businesses in the Valley are located in House District 41,” he noted. “In the morning, you see the cars coming along Expressway 83; in the afternoon, you see them going out. The Valley needs a strong District 41.”

He said that business owners in House District 41 tell him that they “get help from no one.”

Villalobos said there are many programs available through a myriad of sources, including the government, designed to help start and expand businesses, which lead to more hiring and higher-paying jobs. But no one is getting that help to business owners, he contended.

“That’s one of the things that I want to do. Get those businesses some assistance,” Villalobos said. “There are a lot of government programs to help unemployed or low-income Texans to get jobs, and the businesses can get help through that. But it is not being pushed.

“If we have employers creating jobs, we don’t have to worry about unemployment,” he added. “If you have a strong business, you can help your employees. You can get them out of where I was back when I was a kid.”

The measure of a man

Villalobos was born and raised in Crystal City, one of the poorest communities in Texas, and the birthplace of La Raza Unida Party, a political movement that promoted the interests of poor Mexican Americans in Texas.

But Villalobos, like his family, worked themselves out of economic obstacles.

After graduating from high school in Crystal City, he attended junior college before he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration, with an emphasis in accounting, from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos.

He worked with the Texas Railroad Commission for about three years, auditing gas companies, before making the move to become an attorney.

In the mid-1990s, he earned his law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, working for an area law firm during his final year of legal studies.

“As soon as I took the (Texas State) Bar (Examination), I came ‘home’ to the Valley, opening up my own office in 1995, even though many people told me I wouldn’t succeed, that I had to work for someone else first,” Villalobos recalled. “But with the blessing of the Lord, we also have an office in Houston, and we just opened an office in San Antonio, which will focus on economic development.”

In 2006, Villalabos’ life story drew the attention of the governor.

Perry appointed Villalobos to the Texas Funeral Service Commission to serve for a term to expire February 1, 2011. The commission oversees the licensing of funeral directors and embalmers, and compliance with state statutes and regulations regarding funeral services, cemeteries and crematories.

He resigned from that post, in good standing, to campaign for the state House.

Villalobos is the founder and managing partner with Villalobos and Vaughan, a general practice firm.

He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the Hidalgo County Bar Association. Villalobos formerly served as chairman of Nuestra Clinica Del Valle and volunteers as a coach for the Boys and Girls Club.

His main practice has been in the municipal arena, where he has assisted municipalities in all aspects of operations, including budgets, personnel, courts, planning, and administration.

He and his wife, Annette, who is from Sharyland, have been married about eight years. They have four children.

Villalobos is a man of the people in more ways than one, say many of his supporters.

“Javier is a very humble person,” said Rogelio “Roy” Martínez, owner of an area business brokerage firm. “He became very well-educated, he grew up in the public school system, has become a successful attorney, and now he is ready to give back to the community by serving the community and representing our area.”

Othal Brand, Sr., the former longtime McAllen mayor, said Villalobos is a man of outstanding character who is ideally suited for what he says is a politically-conservative House District 41.

“I am ready to support a conservative view across this nation, a Congress and a Texas Legislature that can work together to solve problems that are our problems,” Brand said. “He has integrity, he is sound morally, he is a good man any way you measure it, and I believe he will perform well for us.”

Political Ad paid for by the candidate.

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Gov. Perry: Transnational gangs pose significant threat to Texas; seeks $110 million to fight them

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, September 30, accepted the Border Security Council’s report and asked the Legislature to support continued border security funding to protect our state. Texas has taken unprecedented steps to secure its border with Mexico and is facing a growing threat: transnational gangs. They are infiltrating our communities and threatening the safety of our citizens.

“One of the most significant threats to our state’s security is the rise of ruthless and powerful transnational gangs,” said Perry. “Working with local law enforcement, we will bring unprecedented pressure to bear on the leadership structures of these gangs and grind them down – one tip at a time, one conspiracy conviction at a time, one gang at a time.”

Gangs like the Mexican Mafia, the Texas Syndicate, Barrio Azteca and MS-13 are threatening Texas citizens, and these increasingly sophisticated organizations are expanding their influence across our state, recruiting members in our schools, communities and prisons.

Gov. Perry’s gang initiative builds on the proven border security strategy of working with local law enforcement and increasing resources for surge operations, as well as providing resources for investigations and prosecutions.

The initiative calls for a multi-jurisdictional gang strategy that includes:

  • Expanding the sharing of vital gang information at all levels of law enforcement across the state;
  • Centralizing gang intelligence;
  • Expanding effective local law enforcement gang operations in identified “hot spots”;
  • Increasing resources dedicated to multiagency criminal enterprise investigations targeting leadership of the most dangerous gangs;
  • Seeking enabling legislation to arm law enforcement with essential gang fighting tools; and
  • Expanding gang prevention efforts.

Perry’s proposal to the 2009 Legislature for continued funding for border security includes $110 million sustained border security funding as well as $24 million to combat transnational gang activity across the state.

“Securing our international border is a federal responsibility, one that Washington has yet to fulfill,” Perry said. “As a result, the Texas Legislature took decisive action last session by providing the necessary funding to secure our border. I ask that they continue to support this critical effort to protect our communities and combat the escalating threat of gangs in Texas.”

This request for funding follows the Border Security Council’s report, which supports the state’s successful border security strategy and recommends continued funding for border operations; performance measures such as deterrence and prevention of crime; reporting requirements for participating law enforcement agencies; and continued auditing of grant funds.

The council, created during 80th Legislative Session, was also charged with advising the governor regarding the allocation of discretionary state homeland security funds.

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Congressman Hinojosa explains on his vote for $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act

(Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, October 3, again voted in favor of HR 1424, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act.)

By CONGRESSMAN RUBEN HINOJOSA

After the failure Monday (September 29) of the House to pass this critical legislation, we saw the stock market plunge 777 points and more than $1 trillion of investment assets were lost.  These weren’t just the assets of big investment banks and large corporations, they were the pensions and retirement accounts of ordinary Americans.  I received calls from small business owners throughout my district concerned about how they were going to stay in business because they could not get the credit to operate and buyers could not get the credit to purchase their products.

The Senate version of the bill, which passed on Wednesday, October 1, made several improvements such as raising the FDIC insurance guarantee to $250,000 to protect bank deposits. In addition, it added several tax provisions that are critical to keep us competitive and to help American families.

These include:

  • Tax credits for a variety of renewable energy and green job activities;
  • Alternative Minimum Tax relief for 25 million middle-class families;
  • Extending the sales tax deduction for people in states like Texas which have no state income tax;
  • Allowing 3.4 million teachers to deduct their classroom expenses;
  • Expanding the child tax credit to those earning $8,500 a year;
  • Helping 4.5 million families better afford college with a tuition deduction; and
  • Helping businesses stay competitive by extending the research and development tax credit.

The Senate also added the Mental Health Parity act which will finally end discrimination against patients seeking treatment for mental illness. Additional hurricane and flood disaster relief was also included, which will benefit Texas.

While the bill included many things I did not like and did not include offsets for some of the spending, it was a bi-partisan compromise that could pass quickly and stop the downward spiral in our stock market, free up our credit system and get our economy back on track.  It will protect taxpayers, keep people in their homes and rein in the huge CEO salaries.  I firmly believe that a “yes” vote on HR 1424 was the right thing to do.”

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Edinburg’s retail economy through July 2008 up 3.17 percent over first seven months of 2007

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy between January and July 2008, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up more than three percent during the first seven months of 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

For the month of July 2008, Edinburg’s economy was up more than five percent in the amount of local sales taxes generated than during July 2007.

The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.

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 E. Martínez, Ph.D.; and Elias Longoria, Jr.

The local sales taxes are generated by the city’s 1 1/2 cent local sales tax, and the 1/2 cent economic development sales tax that is administered by the EEDC.

Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The state government then sends the local share of the sales taxes to the communities in which they originated.

The July 2008 figure represents local sales taxes collected during that month and reported to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in August. Then, in September, the state sent the July 2008 local sales tax revenue back to the city in the form of a rebate.

During the first seven months of 2008, Edinburg has generated $10,415,898.74 in local sales taxes, compared with $10,094,914.70 from January through July 2007 – an increase of 3.17 percent.

For the month of July 2008, Edinburg generated $1,150,770.26 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,092,484.06 in July 2007 – an increase of 5.33 percent.

McAllen – the largest economic engine in South Texas – along with all major cities in the Valley, showed an increase in local sales taxes generated for the month July.

McAllen’s economy generated more than $4.7 million in local sales taxes in July 2008, compared with more than $4.4 million during the same month in 2007, an increase of 7.03 percent.

According to the comptroller’s office, Hidalgo County reported an almost six percent increase in total local sales taxes collectively generated by the cities in the county.  The county itself does not collect a local sales tax.

For the month of July 2008, all cities in Hidalgo County generated more than $10.1 million in local sales taxes, up 5.84  percent compared with July 2007, which reached more than $9.5 million.

Year-to-date, all cities in Hidalgo County have generated almost $95 million in local sales taxes, up more than 3.5 percent over the same period in 2007.

For the month of July 2008, all cities in Cameron County generated more than $5.1 million in local sales taxes, compared with about $5 million during the same month in 2007, an increase of more than 2.5 percent.

Cameron County also does not collect a local sales tax.

Year-to-date, all cities in Cameron County collected almost $48 million in local sales taxes, compared with almost $45.8 million during the same period in 2007.

Other major cities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported the following monthly sales tax figures.

  • Brownsville’s retail economy generated more than $2.6 million in local sales taxes in July  2008 – almost three percent better than the July 2007 level of more than $2.5 million.
  • Harlingen’s retail economy showed the largest increase in local sales tax collections in July  among major Valley cities. That community generated slightly more than $1.5 million in local  sales taxes in July 2008, compared with slightly more than $1.4 million in July 2007 – a nine  percent improvement.
  • Mission’s retail economy showed showed a drop in monthly sales tax revenue among the   major Valley cities, generating more than $1 million in local sales taxes in July 2008,   compared with more than $1.1 million in July 2007, an decrease of almost four percent.
  • Pharr’s retail economy generated slightly more than $910,000 in local sales taxes in July 2008, compared with more than $874,000 during the same month in 2007, an increase of 4.1 percent.
  • Weslaco’s retail economy generated more than $692,000 in local sales taxes in July 2008, compared with almost $661,000 during July 2007, an increase of 4.75 percent.

According to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs:

Statewide, Texas collected $2 billion in sales tax in August, up 7.7 percent compared to a year ago.

“When the state’s 2008 fiscal year ended Aug. 31, sales tax collections totaled $21.5 billion, 6.6 percent higher than in fiscal 2007,” Combs said. “Although this was not the double-digit increases seen in 2006 and 2007, growth in state sales tax collections during fiscal 2008 continued at a steady pace.”

Combs distributed $491.9 million in September sales tax payments to local governments, a 10 percent increase compared to September 2007. So far this calendar year, local sales tax allocations are up 6.7 percent compared to the same period in 2007.

Combs sent September sales tax allocations of $330.4 million to Texas cities, up 9.1 percent compared to September 2007. Calendar year-to-date, city sales tax revenues are running 5.8 percent higher than last year. Texas counties received September sales tax allocations of $30.9 million, up 13.3 percent compared to a year ago. Calendar year-to-date, county sales tax allocations are 8 percent higher than last year.

The 138 special purpose taxing districts around the state received $18.5 million in sales tax revenue, an increase of 23 percent compared to a year ago. So far this calendar year, sales tax allocations to special purpose districts are up 18.2 percent compared to 2007. Ten Texas transit systems received $112 million in September sales tax payments, up 9.9 percent compared to a year ago. Year-to-date, transit sales tax revenues are up 7.4 percent.

September’s sales tax allocations include local sales taxes collected in July and reported to the Comptroller in August. For details of September sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales and Use Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the Comptroller’s Web site http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html.

The comptroller’s next local sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, October 10.

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Facing foreclosures, Hidalgo County to receive $2.8 million under neighborhood stabilization program

By CARI LAMBRECHT

Hidalgo County is set to receive $2.8 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the rising number of foreclosures.

According to HUD, Hidalgo County’s foreclosure start rate is 8.2 percent for the last 18 months — the highest in the state of Texas — and Hidalgo County faces a high risk of home abandonment. The statewide foreclosure rate is 3.7 percent.

The money, which was appropriated under Title III-Emergency Assistance for the Redevelopment of Abandoned and Foreclosed Homes in the “Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008” that became law on July 30, 2008, is part of the $4 billion CDBG Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Hidalgo County is the only jurisdiction south of San Antonio to receive a portion of these funds.

The largest allocations in the state are going to Harris County ($14.9 million) and Houston ($13.5 million). In addition to the allocations for specific governments, the state of Texas received $101.9 million to allocate to entitlement areas.

The money, which must be obligated within the next 18 months and expended within four years, can be used for the following eligible activities:

  • To create financing mechanisms to purchase and redevelop abandoned and foreclosed properties through soft-second loans, loan loss reserves, and shared-equity loans;
  • To purchase and rehabilitate abandoned and foreclosed homes to re-sell, rent or redevelop;
  • To establish land banks of foreclosed homes;
  • To demolish blighted structures;
  • To redevelop or demolish vacant properties;
  • To make public facility improvements;
  • To provide counseling for those benefitting from Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds;
  • To provide direct homeownership assistance; and
  • To construct and rehabilitate commercial and industrial buildings.

Money cannot be used to prevent foreclosure, demolish non-blighted structures or purchase homes that are not abandoned or foreclosed upon.

“The subprime mortgage lending crisis has led us to this point,” said Salinas. “Lending institutions financed our low- to moderate-income residents, who are the real victims in this crisis. Now that we’re seeing the housing bubble beginning to burst here as well, it is disturbing because Hidalgo County has always been so resilient to national economic fluctuations.”

The next step for Hidalgo County is to submit an amendment to the county’s Consolidated Plan to HUD no later than December 1. Hidalgo County’s Urban County Program, which administers federal Community Development Block Grant funding, to non-entitlement communities, will take the lead in identifying areas of greatest need to determine how the $2.8 million will be allocated across Hidalgo County.

“We will work with the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court in assisting areas of heavy foreclosure or blight. We hope that we can strengthen our neighborhoods by getting people back into homes or by getting rid of abandoned structures that attract the criminal element or are hazardous to our residents,” said Diana Serna, Hidalgo County Urban County Program Director. “We look forward to positively making an impact in the foreclosure rate in Hidalgo County.”

For more information, visit http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us

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Senate passes Comprehensive TB Elimination Act

By MATT MACKOWIAK

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, the state’s senior senator, on Monday, September 29, announced that on Saturday, September 27, the Senate passed H.R. 1532, the Comprehensive Tuberculosis Elimination Act of 2007.

The House bill mirrors S. 1551, the Comprehensive TB Elimination Act, which Sen. Hutchison introduced. The legislation, which has now passed in both chambers, expands tuberculosis (TB) research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Specifically, the bill authorizes $200 million for Fiscal Year 2009 and includes a five percent increase for each of the next four years. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, authored the House version of the bill.

“In 2006, there were more than nine million new cases of TB globally and 1.7 million people died from the disease,” said Hutchison. “Out of the TB cases reported nationally in 2006, Texas had the second highest number. Furthermore, the rate of TB in our state’s border communities is almost double compared to the state and national averages. The funding in this bill will help expand and intensify efforts at the CDC and NIH to prevent, detect, and treat TB, with an emphasis on groups with disproportionately high infection rates.”

Additionally, the bill enhances the CDC’s authority to respond to international outbreaks of multidrug-resistant TB and will increase funding for the Center’s National Program for the Elimination of Tuberculosis.

The legislation also requires the inclusion of a representative from the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission in the newly created Advisory Council for Elimination of Tuberculosis. Hutchison assisted in the creation of the Commission in El Paso.

The bill now proceeds to the White House for signature or veto.

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Edinburg Fire Department memorialized in Centennial Poster presented by Rep. Peña

By ORLANDO SALINAS

The city of Edinburg is celebrating its 100-year anniversary with community wide events and celebrations planned for the week of Sunday, October 5 through Saturday, October 11. During the same time, the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department will be promoting National Fire Prevention Week, with attention focused on fire safety and preventing home fires.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, recently acknowledged the contributions of the fire department to our city’s past, present and future by creating a special commemorative centennial poster featuring an image of an Edinburg fire truck taken at last year’s fire prevention week activities. Peña presented the framed poster to Chief Shawn Snyder and other firefighters at the city’s downtown firehouse.

“We have always been very proud of the men and women that protect our community by serving in one of the best volunteer fire departments in the state,” said Peña. “Our city has such a wonderful history and our fire department has stood tall in service and support but we must note the important work they continue to do.”

On Monday, October 6, the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department will be hosting its 2008 Fire Prevention Caravan and Open House at Edinburg Municipal Park. The fire department will lead a caravan at 5:45 p.m. from Jackson and University to the park. The open house begins at 7 p.m. At the park there will be free refreshments and hotdogs with special appearances by Smokey the Bear, Sparky the Dog, state and local law enforcement, and various Edinburg CISD bands providing entertainment.  There will also be educational activities for adults and children alike. Families are encouraged to attend.

“The fire department joins our museum, our library, our chamber of commerce and various other city and community groups in celebrating Edinburg’s history,” said Peña. “I encourage all our citizens to come out and participate in the week-long festivities.”

The Museum of South Texas History kicked off the city’s centennial salute on Sunday, October 5 with a day of food, fun, live music and a historical program about the city’s history.

The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum, located on McIntyre and 10th Street, was also open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on October 5, with free admission.

Other planned activities throughout the week include a reception at 5 p.m. at the new City Hall on Tuesday, October 7. The Sekula Memorial Library will host a poetry reading at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 9. The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will feature a special reenactment ribbon cutting at the Edinburg Depot with refreshments, speakers and other activities on Friday, October 10 beginning at 10 a.m.

According to the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the following activities are scheduled as part of the centennial celebration:

Sunday, October 5

Kickoff Party at the Museum of South Texas History from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. included activities, an historic exhibition including the history of Edinburg, free admission to the museum, and more. The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum was also open on October 5 and free to the public, and was available for self-guided tours on that day from 10 a.m. –  3 p.m.

Monday, October 6

The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department is hosting an event at Edinburg Municipal Park FREE to the public that will include live music, a karate show, fire prevention demos, free hotdogs, cokes, and free ice-cream, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, plus Edinburg’s biggest birthday cake, courtesy of the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library, and more. 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Tuesday, October 7

Edinburg will have a proclamation for the centennial with a reception beginning at 5 p.m. at the new city hall building, FREE.

Wednesday, October 8

ECISD Day, including an essay contest with contributions from ECISD 5th graders.

Thursday, October 9

The Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library will host poetry readings relating to Edinburg and its history at 6 p.m. FREE.

Friday, October 10

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation will host an open house at the depot, with a special ribbon cutting ceremony along the tracks to commemorate the grand occasion. Live music, and a special speaker plus a mayor’s welcome, food and drinks. FREE 10 a.m. Also new will be an art exhibit featuring local artists, and special guest speaker Richard Hyslin.

Saturday, October 11

Daughters of the American Revolution will host a genealogy session on tracing your family tree at the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. FREE.

Please call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974 for more information about planned festivities.

(Evana Vleck contributed to this article.)

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Edinburg’s Centennial presents art exhibition: A Story of A Town,through Friday, October 10

By EVANA VLECK

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, in lieu of The Edinburg Centennial, will host A Story of A Town, an art exhibit featuring local, national and international artists.

The exhibit went on display on Sunday, October 5 and will continue through Friday, October 10, for public viewing at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Depot, located on 602 W. University Drive.  Chamber hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The exhibit features art work of Antony Crisafulli, MC Farris, Phillip Fields, Claudia Garza, Richard Hyslin, Jerry Lyles, Chris Leonard, Thomas Murray, Julian Rodríguez, Marina Salinas, Efrain Salinas, Karen Sanders, Paul Valadez, Benjamin Varela, Ramón Barela, Carl Vestweber and Verónica Yaeger.

A reception will be held on Friday, October 10 at 10 a.m., in conjunction with a very special and historic Locomotive Ribbon Cutting along the Depot tracks to commemorate Edinburg’s 100th birthday.  The art exhibit is organized by Evana Vleck with Leila Hernández, UTPA Professor as guest curator.

“We are thrilled to be hosting such a wonderful event for the community.  The Centennial Committee has a week-long celebration planned, with something to do on each day, during the week of October 5 -11,” noted Letty González, president of the local chamber of commerce.

She added the chamber will host a locomotive ribbon cutting along the tracks in concurrence with an art exhibit featuring artists who will be following a theme relating to the culture, art, economy and daily living in the Rio Grande Valley and Edinburg, titled A Story of A Town.

“We invite the community to come out, and observe this very historic happening” González added.

For more information please contact the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.

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New Student Alumni Association promotes school spirit and traditions at UT-Pan American

By GAIL FAGAN

Students at The University of Texas-Pan American got a chance to display some rousing Bronc spirit during noontime on Thursday, September 17, at the inaugural Gladiator Day event organized by the Student Alumni Association (SAA).

This new organization, an affiliate of the UTPA Alumni Association, seeks to bring old traditions back to the university while creating new traditions and increased school spirit that will hopefully be cemented within the student population, said SAA President John Taméz, a 2008 UTPA graduate in communications now pursuing a master’s in business administration at the University.

“I feel students on campus are hungry for traditions right now. I want them to believe that when they leave this University that they have had the best college experience that they could have ever imagined. Through traditions and school pride I thing we can accomplish that,” he said.

While Taméz cited bringing back long ago traditional events such as Bronc Rodeo and Cowboy Days, the SAA kicked off the fall semester with a newly conceived Gladiator Day where students were able to participate in such activities as an inflatable obstacle course, joust and bungee cord run. Students also enjoyed free hot dogs, lemonade and popcorn while visiting information booths representing seven campus organizations. Besides the SAA, sponsors of the day included the Student Union, Sodexho, H-E-B, Walmart and All Valley Screen Printing.

Taméz said the organization hopes to offer philanthropic activities and a series of monthly events. By joining, he said, students will have the opportunity to gain leadership skills, develop positive community relations, increase network contact, increase career opportunity awareness and enhance University loyalty and support.

Students interested in being part of SAA can do so for a low, yearly, membership fee of $10. Students must be in good standing with the University and registered for at least two credit hours.

Linda Ríos, assistant director for UTPA Office of Alumni Relations and SAA adviser, said the organization’s goal is to start cultivating students now for tomorrow.

“Alumni are the backbone of a university. We need alumni to come back and give back to us, to give the opportunity for more students to come to school. We need their support. They also serve as mentors for the Student Alumni Association. We have so many ideas for this organization and will be working closely with the UTPA Alumni Association,” she said.

For more information, contact the UTPA Alumni Relations Office at 956/381-2500.

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Sen. Zaffirini announces 2009 Legislative Scholars and Fellows Program; deadline to apply is October 17

By CELESTE VILLARREAL

Friday, October 17, is the deadline for submitting applications for the 2009 Senator Gregory Luna Legislative Scholars and Fellows Program, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, announced on Wednesday, October 1.  Sponsored by the Senate Hispanic Research Council, the program selects and assigns undergraduate and graduate students to a state senator or to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Program participants will receive a $2,000 monthly stipend to assist with living expenses.

“Working side-by-side with experienced professionals, Luna scholars and fellows will learn how the Texas Legislature operates and policies are created,” Zaffirini said. “They will perform a variety of legislative tasks, including writing legislative research summaries; tracking bills; and drafting constituent correspondence, legislative statements, articles and press releases.”

The program will begin on Wednesday, January 7 and end on the last day of the legislative session, June 1. Weekly leadership development sessions and presentations, professional training workshops, and meetings will enhance the intensive work experience of participants.

“Sen. Luna was a fierce advocate of education, particularly public education,” Zaffirini said. “His legacy was built on hard work and staunch advocacy. Students who share his motivation are encouraged to apply for the fellowships.

“The Luna program provides a unique and remarkable insight into government and policy for its scholars and fellows. Since 2001 51 Texas students have served as Luna Scholars, including three who were assigned to my Capitol office,” she added.

Applications can be downloaded from the Senate Hispanic Research Council website at http://www.tshrc.org. Additional information is available from Zaffirini’s office via Michael Dole, legislative aide, at 956/722-2293 or michael.dole@senate.state.tx.us.

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Joint state committees look at prison population growth in Texas

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

Juvenile incarceration rates are projected to increase while adult rates should remain flat, according to testimony offered on Wednesday, October 1, at a joint hearing of the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee and Joint Select Committee of Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

Juvenile incarceration plunged following legislation last session that removed misdemeanor offenders from TYC facilities, but the population is beginning to rise again. Adult prison population projections have reversed from projections offered last year, again the result of legislation passed during the 80th Legislative Session.

Legislative Budget Board (LBB) officials offered projections to the joint committee on Wednesday relating to the future of juvenile incarceration in Texas. Despite the decrease in average incarceration time for youths, from 18 months to 14, the population is projected to grow at a slow to moderate rate for the next five years. This contrasts with projected growth for the juvenile probation population to remain flat in the future. This contradicts common sense, said committee co-chair Senator John Whitmire, who believes that if incarceration rates are up, then there should be a concurrent increase in probation population.

LBB official Michelle Connelly said her agency is looking at its projection model, and will travel around the state to talk with stakeholders in juvenile criminal justice to try and get a handle on the actual day-to-day working of the process. Whitmire wants the model to include data on how keeping kids in TYC facilities close to their homes would affect recidivism rates. Committee member Harold Dutton asked for the model to look at how extending mental health care to offenders after their release would reduce recidivism.

Legislation passed during the last session has reversed trends in the adult prison population growth, according to further LBB testimony. In January 2007, projections showed growth in the prison population, and flat growth for the parole and probation populations. June 2008 projections show just the opposite: flat prison population growth and slow growth in parole and parole populations. This was attributed to changing standards in parole approval, as well as an increase in diversionary treatment programs for offenders.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages.

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Carrizo Springs city councilman sentenced to lengthy prison term for drug trafficking

Herardo Ortiz, presently a Carrizo Springs City Councilman, has been sentenced to more than 16 years in federal prison, without parole, and fined $20,000 for marijuana trafficking, United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced on Friday, October 3.

Ortiz, 54, was convicted of three counts of a four-count indictment by a jury’s verdict in April 2008. On Wednesday, October 1, 2008, U.S. District Judge Michaela Álvarez sentenced Ortiz to 200 months in federal prison, without parole, on each count of conviction to be served concurrently and fined him $20,000.

The court denied Ortiz’s request of the court to reconsider the length of his sentence and reduce it to 10 years because the males in his family are genetically predisposed to death at an early age and anything above 10 years would be a “certain death sentence.”

Ortiz, who had been held in federal custody without bond following the return of the guilty verdict, was remanding into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service to begin serving his sentencing.

A federal jury convicted Ortiz in April 2008 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana between May 2001 and December 2007 and two substantive counts of possession with intent to distribute more than 50 kilograms of marijuana.

The jury acquitted Ortiz of a third drug count.

During the three-day trial, the United States proved through the testimony of special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration the discovery and seizure of more than 4,800 pounds of marijuana with which Ortiz was involved directly or indirectly through co-conspirators between 2004 and 2007.

In 2004, at the Border Patrol Checkpoint on IH-35 in Laredo, approximately 1,400 pounds of marijuana were seized from a tractor owned and driven by Ortiz. In January 2007, at the Border Patrol Checkpoint on Highway 83 in Laredo, approximately 3,300 pounds were seized from a tractor owned by Ortiz and driven by his stepson. In December 2007, at the Border Patrol Checkpoint on Highway 83 in Laredo, approximately 100 pounds of marijuana were seized from a pick-up truck owned and driven by Ortiz.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jimmy Ustynoski and Sam Sheldon.

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