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Dr. Roland Arriola, Ph.D., (featured at the podium), president of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation in Edinburg, praised the growing role of nonprofit organizations in the Valley for the key role they will continue to play in helping thousands of South Texas residents. Arriola made his remarks during the opening on Wednesday, October 15, of the South Texas Nonprofit Summit, held at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen. Texas Valley Communities Foundation, headquartered in Edinburg, is helping spearhead efforts, such as the summit, to help area nonprofit organizations improve their chances of landing millions of dollars for the region.  “We are going to be seeing a lot more activity in the non-profit sector. The crucial element in any community is what we call ‘civil society’ – that’s what differentiates us from totalitarian states and dictatorships,” he said. In the end, the power of human compassion will always rise to any challenge, he suggested. “We have people who get involved, whether it is in their church or clubs or other organizations, and they do it as volunteers.  That’s what gives us our democratic values,” Arriola said. “We take that for granted, but actually it is so important to our structure as a people.” Featured with Arriola, from left, are Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Will Ripley, news anchor for KRGV-TV Channel 5, and César Maldonado, the new president of TSTC in Harlingen. See story later in this posting.

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In commemoration and recognition of the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of Hidalgo County’s court records and subsequent founding of the county seat in present-day Edinburg, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Saturday, October 18, dedicated and planted a seedling from “Treaty Oak,” one of the country’s most historic trees, in the Hidalgo County Courthouse Square. The tree is a southern live oak grown from an acorn hand-selected from the historic Treaty Oak in Austin. Treaty Oak is believed to be more than 500 years old and is the lone survivor of the “Council Oaks” a grove of 14 trees that served as a revered meeting place for Apache and Comanche tribes of Central Texas. Featured during the dedication, from left, are: Ed Kuprel; Charlene Kuprel; Mark Peña; Michelle Peña; Esteban Peña; Sofía Montero-Aguilar; Anna Peña; Juliette Peña; Harlan Bentzinger; and Aaron Peña. See story later in this posting.

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Rey Anzaldúa, featured standing, a South Texas College business computer systems instructor, ain’t no dummy, but he writes for them. His bestselling new book (#1 in the Forensic Category on Amazon.com), Computer Forensics for Dummies, hit the shelves in October 2008 and is helping consumers sleuth their own digital trails. “People underestimate the amount of digital information they leave behind on digital devices and throughout the Internet during the course of their lives,” said Anzaldúa. “Computer forensics gives people the ability to retrieve data and literally piece together their lives and, sometimes, highlight their mistakes. The book will help you understand your digital footprints and how you can take steps to protect your privacy.” Anzaldúa, who has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Texas-Pan American, is shown here at STC assisting student Sergio Rodríguez.  See story later in this posting.

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was awarded the “2008 National Medium Hispanic Chamber of the Year Award” at this year’s annual United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Convention in Sacramento, California in September. The MHCC also won the Regional III award in August. “We are fortunate to have hard working directors, staff and committees who are abreast on the issues that concern our chamber members. The workshops and events that the MHCC promotes focus on key issues that concern business, education, legislation, health, women’s issues, etc.” said Cynthia Moya Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO.  “Our partnership with the Small Business Administration, the University of Texas Pan American HUB Program, the UTPA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Women’s Business Center makes it easier for us to accomplish our Program of Work that focuses on business and women’s issues. We owe a lot of our success to our partnerships.” For more information on how to join or become active in the MHCC, call 928-0060. Featured with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce National and Regional Awards are, from left: Diana González, Vice Chair of Education; Hari Namboodiri, Chair Elect; Sakulenzki; and Rose Ramírez, Vice Chair of Health Issues.

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South Texas Nonprofit Summit continues mission to help bring resources to Valley

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

For too long, many nonprofit groups in deep South Texas have struggled to compete on an even playing field with similar organizations upstate for access to tens of millions of dollars in public and private grants that could help scores of the region’s residents.

But with the advent of the first-ever South Texas Nonprofit Summit, organized by the Texas Valley Communities Foundation (http://www.tvcof.org) – and with crucial help from 11 other sponsors – dozens of area leaders on Wednesday, October 15, learned more about how to help their organizations improve the quality of life for thousands of deserving Valley residents.

Held in the Cultural Arts Center at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, the day-long South Texas Nonprofit Summit – the first of its kind – drew a packed house of political, community, educational, and business champions, who heard from leading experts on how to identify sources of grants to help pay for a wide array of programs which often are best delivered by nonprofits.

A nonprofit is defined as an organization, as designated by the IRS, whose income is used solely for its operations and state purpose, not for the benefit or private gain of stockholders, directors, or any other persons with an interest in the company, according to TexasnonProfits.org

Growing movement in South Texas

The mid-October session, held in conjunction with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, broke new ground in a growing movement to bring nonprofits in the Valley to the forefront of public service.

“The Summit offers a significant opportunity for nonprofits and community-based organizations to identify funding sources and opportunities,” explained Hinojosa, who along with Cuellar, served as co-chairs of the major gathering in Harlingen. “The purpose of the Summit is to draw attention to the nonprofit sector of South Texas, bring personal investment into our communities, and utilize human capital to its fullest ability.”

With governments at all levels experiencing unprecedented strains on their budgets, the role of nonprofits, particularly in the Valley, in securing funds for important programs is taking on a greater importance.

Although a schedule conflict prevented Cuellar from making a scheduled appearance during the Summit, he was still able to deliver that message to the attendees.

“This region is experiencing unparalleled growth, and as the population of this area exceeds one

million, it has also become an ideal place for the programs and the collaboration of nonprofit organizations and grant writers,” Cuellar stated in a letter, which was co-signed by Hinojosa, to summit participants. “By attending this summit, (participants) will make the connection to extraordinary organizations and funders that will help you achieve your goals.”

Dr. Roland Arriola, Ph.D., President of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, which is headquartered in the Wells Fargo Bank building in Edinburg, said the support for area nonprofits from Hinojosa and Cuellar reflects the importance of these groups.

“Both touched on the same thing – the role of non-profit organizations are so vital to the community,” said Arriola. “Many times, we are not aware of everything these organizations are doing because they are not always in the forefront – they are always helping folks out, and they do it quietly, unless it is during a big disaster or something, then we hear more about them. Both congressmen talked about the nonprofits’ critical roles and how those legislators are going to try to facilitate more support for non-profit groups.”

Mastering the process

Kelli Rod, Vice President of Community Relations with TXU Energy, which was one of the Summit sponsors, said that understanding how to approach funders such as TXU Energy is crucial for area nonprofits.

“This makes this kind of event extremely  important, because when the process is understood, everybody benefits. In fact, at TXU Energy, we have a lot of programs that allow us to help the electric customer pay their electric bill. We do that through agency partners here in the Valley. But we also have other things we do – for example, the food pantry, most recently. The better way for non-profits to know how to access resources, the better way for us to partner and collaborate.”

Like Rod, Courtney P. Suhr, Senior Strategic Communications Specialist with the OneStar Foundation, also was a guest speaker during the summit. She shared Rodd’s assessments of the importance of nonprofits in the Valley, and the role being played by the Texas Valley Communities Foundation.

“The Foundation is providing a great, great service to the region,” Suhr observed. “A lot of time, non-profits may operate individually, when they should be collaborating. The information that is being provided by the Texas Valley Communities Foundation is invaluable.”

For 31 years, the OneStar Foundation: Texas Center for Social Impact, under the leadership of Texas governors, has supported nonprofit organizations and volunteers on the front lines on the fight against poverty, abuse, neglect, homelessness, and addiction, according to organization leaders.

One of those leaders is Dr. Beverly Ashley-Fridie, Ph.D., of Edinburg, who was appointed on July 31, 2007 to the OneStar National Service Commission Board of Directors. The commission and the OneStar Foundation work together to further national service initiatives in Texas and to administer the AmeriCorps Texas program.

The measure of society

Ashley-Fridie also was one of the founding members of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation.

She said the South Texas Nonprofit Summit is crucial to helping area nonprofits meet a tremendous unmet demand in southern part of Texas.

“OneStar Foundation did a survey across Texas, and what we found in the Rio Grande Valley is there are a lot of small nonprofits here which deal with housing, the Boys and Girls Club, readiness for college-age students – just a large number of service-oriented nonprofits down here,” she noted. “We have quite a few, but not as many as one would find in other cities across Texas with the same population. We have a lot of small nonprofits in the Valley, but the needs are so great that they can’t match the demand.”

In addition to her role with the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, Ashley-Fridie is championing the cause for South Texas nonprofits by bringing awareness at the state level to the needs of the Valley, and the existence of dedicated organizations in the area that are willing to provide crucial services.

“Often, in the Valley, we are the forgotten group,” she said. “In serving on the OneStar Foundation board, I have brought that awareness to Austin and to the state that the needs are great here. The needs are greater here, but moneys are often sent back because we don’t apply.”

Arriola said that a recent study by the University of Texas-Pan American found there were 1,600 nonprofits in the Valley.

“They go from very large entities such as the American Red Cross, down to faith-based groups who are working for the churches, or health organizations, such as colonia groups which are trying to disseminate information. It is a wide gamut of folks,” he reported. “At one time, when I was with the University of Texas-Pan American, we found that there were 1,600 non-profit groups in the Rio Grande Valley, and of that, 600 were actually 501(c)(3)s, but a lot of them were not.”

According to About.Com:

A 501(c)(3) is the most common type of nonprofit organization. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit is exempt from federal income tax if it has these purposes: charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fosters amateur sports competition, prevents cruelty to children or animals.

Examples of qualifying organizations include old-age homes, parent-teacher associations, charitable hospitals, alumni associations, schools, chapters of the Red Cross or Salvation Army, Boys’ or Girl’s clubs, and churches. 501(c)(3) organizations may receive grants from foundations; and donations to them are tax-deductible for the donors.

IRS publication 557 contains information on qualifying for and applying for 501(c)(3) status.)

Arriola reflected that nonprofits in the Valley will continue to take on a more public and vital role in the development of South Texas society.

“We are going to be seeing a lot more activity in the non-profit sector. The crucial element in any community is what we call ‘civil society’ – that’s what differentiates us from totalitarian states and dictatorships,” he said.

In the end, the power of human compassion will always rise to any challenge, he suggested.

“We have people who get involved, whether it is in their church or clubs or other organizations, and they do it as volunteers.  That’s what gives us our democratic values,” Arriola said. “We take that for granted, but actually it is so important to our structure as a people.”

In addition to the Texas Valley Communities Foundation and  TXU Energy, the other sponsors for the summit included, in alphabetical order:

Texas Valley Communities Foundation Board of Directors

In addition to Arriola, the other members of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation board of directors are:

  • Eduardo E. Caso, Senior Vice President and Manager for International Banking at Wells Fargo Bank, Rio Grande Valley, who has extensive experiences in international trade and foreign affairs;
  • Joseph F. Phillips of Sharyland, an area business leader and investor who, along with his brother, Tommy, built their family’s McAllen-area petroleum distribution business into one of the largest fuel and convenience store chains in South Texas;
  • Celeste Cantú-Roach, a philanthropist who serves on the Sharyland Education Foundation, and whose many generous charitable contributions have helped numerous organizations, including shelters for battered women and children, and hospice efforts for the terminally-ill;
  • Leo Olivares, a former top legislative policy analyist to Sens. Mickey Leland, D-Houston, Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi. He also a former city manger for Rio Grande City who is currently a student at the University of Texas Law School;
  • Sofía Hernández of Rio Grande City, the Director of Economic Development for the Office of Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III. Her extensive credentials also include having served as a legislative advisor to Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; former Sen. Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo;
  • Dale Winter, the secretary/treasurer for the foundation, and CEO of Office Furniture USA in McAllen. He is active in numerous civic and service organizations, ranging from the McAllen Business Alliance to the University of Texas-Pan American Foundation Board;
  • Rosa Elia González, who family operate a number of Subway franchises in Starr County and own and operate R.E. Supplies in Rio Grande City. She represents Starr County on several boards with a goal to improve the quality of life in the Upper Valley; and
  • Diane Willis, the principal at Hargill Elementary in Hargill, and an educator with the Edinburg school district for the past 18 years. She also serves as secretary on the board of the UTPA Alumni Association, and has earned several degrees from UT-Pan American.

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Seedling from Texas’ historic “Treaty Oak” planted in the Hidalgo County Courthouse Square in Edinburg

By ORLANDO SALINAS

In commemoration and recognition of the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of Hidalgo County’s court records and subsequent founding of the county seat in present-day Edinburg, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Saturday, October 18, dedicated and planted a seedling from “Treaty Oak,” one of the country’s most historic trees, in the Hidalgo County Courthouse Square.

“Each day is a history lesson,” said Peña. “This tree, this centennial, and this historic place all come together to commemorate this land and the strength of the people that occupy it.”

The tree is a southern live oak grown from an acorn hand-selected from the historic Treaty Oak in Austin, Texas. Treaty Oak is believed to be more than 500 years old and is the lone survivor of the “Council Oaks” a grove of 14 trees that served as a revered meeting place for Apache and Comanche tribes of Central Texas.

The tree is said to have shaded Stephen F. Austin, the Father of Texas, as he signed the first boundary treaty with local Native American tribes in the 1830’s. Folklore also holds that Sam Houston rested beneath the Treaty Oak after his expulsion from the governor’s office at the start of Texas’ involvement in the American Civil War.

In 1989, the tree was deliberately poisoned with a powerful herbicide strong enough to kill 100 trees. The tree survived and the American Forestry Association inducted the Treaty Oak into its Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.

“The Treaty Oak has long been a symbol of strength and permanence,” said Peña. “Over this last week we have seen those same characteristics expressed in the people of our community. In celebrating Edinburg’s centennial we have retold a city’s rich and vibrant history. As we commemorate the founding of the county seat in Edinburg these 100 years ago it is appropriate to reflect upon our past and with a clear vision begin our plans for the future. These grounds and this tree will witness our next courthouse and the many generations that follow.”

On October 14, 1908 an armed wagon train arrived on undeveloped open land in present day Edinburg filled with court records taken from Hidalgo County ‘s first courthouse. Hidalgo County’s second courthouse consisted of a few tents erected to protect the newly arrived official county documents. The third, built later in 1908, was a two story wooden building that served as a temporary courthouse. The fourth courthouse stood in the center of Edinburg’s main plaza from 1910 to 1954, when the present day fifth courthouse was constructed.

Peña was assisted in the weekend planting by Hidalgo County, the City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board, the Sierra Club, and other various community and school organizations.

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Dr. Ted C. Jones to headline 5th Annual State of Real Estate Forum; will focus on area real estate trends

By ELVA JACKSON GARZA

Edwards Abstract and Title Company, headquartered in Edinburg, has announced that the 5th Annual State of Real Estate Forum will be held on Friday, November 14, at the McAllen County Club.

Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m., and the forum will be conducted from 9 a.m. to noon.  .

The 5th Annual State of Real Estate Forum will be headlined by keynote speaker Dr. Ted C. Jones, Ph.D.,  a former chief economist of Texas A&M University’s Real Estate Center. Jones currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for Stewart Title Guaranty Company, located in Houston.

Jones will target his presentation on national, state and housing market issues.

As the real estate market continues to fluctuate, Jones will also offer his insight on mortgage and lending issues, interest rates, inflation, energy costs, the declining value of the dollar, and much more.

A panel of local economic development specialists also will participate in the forum.

Keith Patridge, President and CEO, McAllen Economic Development Corporation; Ramiro Garza, Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Pat Townsend, Jr, President and CEO, Mission Economic Development Association; and Hernán González, Executive Director of the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation, have accepted the invitation to speak on the areas of projected job growth, employment and other information.

The economic development segment will also focus on plans and projects anticipated during 2009.

The 5th Annual State of Real Estate Forum is provided as a continued service of Edwards Abstract and Title Company, said Byron Jay Lewis, president of the firm.

“We are committed to the continued growth and success of real estate industry professionals in the Rio Grande Valley.  One of the priorities of the Edwards team is to be proactive and differentiate our company as the leader in the title insurance industry in the Valley,” he said. “During these critical times and uncertainty in the market, we take great pride in offering the information and various resources realtors, lenders and others in the industry need to make informed decisions based on market conditions.”

Early registration is strongly encouraged and limited to the first 250 who register. Reservations can be made by contacting Elva Jackson Garza, vice president/marketing manager at 383-4951 or elva.garza@edwards-titleco.com.

There is no cost to attend.

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. was founded in 1880 and offers four convenient locations in Edinburg, McAllen, Mission /Sharyland and Weslaco. For more information log on to:

http://www.edwards-titleco.com.

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Attorney General Abbott calls for mortgage deferment legislation to help struggling Texas homeowners

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Thursday, October 23, proposed a legislative initiative aimed at improving the state’s foreclosure process and helping Texas homeowners stay in their homes.

Abbott recommended state legislators consider enacting the Texas Foreclosure Deferment Act. Under the proposed Act, a mortgage loan servicer would be required to provide a homeowner with a certified letter stating that the debtor has 45 days to cure a loan default before a notice of sale. Current state law only provides homeowners a 20-day window to cure a default.

“Stabilizing and strengthening the Texas housing market is important to our state’s continued economic growth and expansion,” Abbott said. “Today’s proposal ensures that struggling homeowners have more time to cure mortgage loan defaults and save their homes.”

If the attorney general’s proposal were approved, lenders also would be required to contact the borrower by telephone or in person – or prove they made a legitimate attempt to do so – before filing for foreclosure. Additionally, homeowners would have 30 days after the foreclosure date to vacate the property.

To help Texas homeowners understand the foreclosure process, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) would be authorized to create a model “Notice of Foreclosure” form for mortgage companies to use. The form would include a plain language definition of mortgage foreclosure; a reminder that homeowners have 45 days to cure defaulted loans; all rights and options available to homeowners seeking to save their homes; a warning about foreclosure rescue scams; and a listing of resources available to homeowners.

The OAG is actively pursuing numerous efforts to protect Texas homeowners. Under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the OAG has prosecuted a variety of deceptive loan practices, including title-related scams, fraudulent refinancing ploys and other mortgage-related fraud.

In August, Abbott secured a $2 million judgment against Southern Residential, LLC, a Texas-based foreclosure rescue outfit that targeted Texans who fell behind on their mortgage payments. The OAG also shut down Foreclosure Assistance Solutions, a Florida-based foreclosure rescue scheme engaged in similar illegal practices.

Abbott currently chairs the Texas Residential Mortgage Fraud Task Force, a legislatively-created entity composed of key regulatory agencies as well as state and federal law enforcement authorities. The task force facilitates communication and cooperation among the authorities responsible for investigating and prosecuting mortgage fraud.

Abbott also met with three of Texas’ largest residential mortgage lenders and servicing companies. At that meeting, the attorney general asked the state’s largest lenders to help at-risk borrowers by implementing five homeowner-friendly measures, including: increased efforts to convert adjustable rate mortgages to fixed-interest loans; submitting additional delinquent loans to mitigation before immediately forcing them into an antagonistic collections process; improving communication and outreach; waiving penalties and fees while companies work with troubled homeowners; and promptly addressing homeowner complaints filed with the OAG.

Texas homeowners who believe they have been targeted by a mortgage-related scam should contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Rey Anzaldúa, South Texas College instructor, writes best-selling Computer Forensics for Dummies

By HELEN ESCOBAR

Rey Anzaldúa, South Texas College business computer systems instructor, ain’t no dummy, but he writes for them. His bestselling new book (#1 in the Forensic Category on Amazon.com), Computer Forensics for Dummies, hit the shelves in October 2008 and is helping consumers sleuth their own digital trails.

“People underestimate the amount of digital information they leave behind on digital devices and throughout the Internet during the course of their lives,” said Anzaldúa. “Computer forensics gives people the ability to retrieve data and literally piece together their lives and, sometimes, highlight their mistakes. The book will help you understand your digital footprints and how you can take steps to protect your privacy.”

In the book he co-authored with Dr. Linda Volonino, Anzaldúa takes consumers through step by step processes for digging out and documenting electronic evidence, examining “E-evidence,” performing basic computer forensics investigations and using the information in court cases and other scenarios. The book also provides information about computer forensics tools and programs to enhance success.

Written for those with limited technical knowledge, attorneys, business managers and others who are not technically oriented, but need a good grasp of computer forensics, are the target audience for Computer Forensics for Dummies.

“We leave digital ‘evidence’ everywhere from our computer hard drives, to PDAs, cell phones, E-mail, GPS devices, Web browsers, Myspace and other social networking sites, chat rooms, and basically any devices or site that has a memory,” said Anzaldúa. “This book is not only aimed at helping consumers find information and use it when necessary, but to educate folks about how little privacy they really have in the digital world. Noting is sacred and nothing is ever really deleted.”

Anzaldúa would know. He has been working in the computer forensics field since 1987. He is frequently called on to help law enforcement agencies across the Rio Grande Valley, state, nation and world extract digital data for use in criminal and civil investigations. His work also extends to the consumer realm, assisting companies and small business owners with a wide array of needs. So his students can be sure they are learning from one of the best in the field.

“The skills used in computer forensics are the same ones needed to rescue files that have been accidentally deleted, extract files from a corrupt hard drive or retrieve password information that was once cached,” said Anzaldúa. “So the skills are needed every day in the business and computer repair worlds. My students are well prepared to address the computer support and forensics needs of any institution.

“Also, those who read my book get a quick take on what is possible with computer forensics,” he added. “I know it will be a great resource for anyone, especially fathers like me who want to keep their kids safe in this new digital world.”

Those interested in learning more about Anzaldúa’s take on computer forensics and technology can catch his talk show segment on News Talk 710 a.m. KURV on Wednesday’s from 5:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

For more information about Anzaldúa’s new book, his courses at South Texas College or his radio program call 956-872-2730 or e-mail him at: rey@southtexascollege.edu or r.anzaldua@csi-worldwide.com.

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Gov. Perry urges continued fiscal restraint, low taxes in state government in upcoming legislative session

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, October 22, reiterated the need for continued fiscal restraint, budget transparency and maintaining low taxes in the upcoming legislative session to sustain Texas’ economic strength at the annual meeting of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.

“We have years of empirical evidence to show that keeping taxes low not only creates prosperity, jobs and investment, but it strengthens our state for the tough times,” Perry said. “Every dollar the government takes means less money for employers and families, and I hope the legislature will allow Texans to keep their hard earned money so they can continue fueling our state’s economic engine.”

Texas’ policies of limited growth in spending, low taxes and a reasonable regulatory environment have strengthened the state’s economy, and prepared it to handle the national economy’s current instability. The governor cited a study released in August by economist Arthur Laffer comparing Texas and California across six broad categories in which the states compete, and determined that Texas’ economic environment is far more competitive than California’s in five of the categories, and equal to California’s in the sixth.

Texas continues to be a leader in job creation, generating nearly half of all jobs created in the nation from August 2007 to August 2008. The state’s unemployment rate is a full percentage point below the national average. Texas also remains home to more Fortune 500 headquarters than any other state in the nation.

The Financial Times recently ranked Texas as the state best prepared to weather the national economic and financial slowdown. States’ positions were based on a ranking of four separate economic indicators: employment growth rate, state product growth rate, personal income growth rate and home foreclosure rate.

TTARA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that supports fiscally responsible and efficient revenue and expenditure programs for the state of Texas. TTARA and the TTARA Research Foundation provide access to the most current information available on fiscal and other public policies in Texas.

For more information about TTARA, please visit http://www.ttara.org/.

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Attorney General Abbott urges Texans to protect their personal identifying information

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, October 20, urged Texans to learn more about identity theft prevention – and use that knowledge to avoid becoming victims of identity theft.

Identity theft occurs when a criminal illegally uses another person’s personally identifying information, including names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or other financial information to commit fraud or other crimes. Victims may miss job opportunities, or be denied loans for housing, education or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. Texas ranks second in the nation for incidences of the crime, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“Identity theft continues to be one of the most pervasive and costly white-collar crimes in the country,” Abbott said. “The Office of the Attorney General is committed to aggressively enforcing identity theft prevention laws. Texans should shred unwanted documents that contain their personal information and take other steps to prevent sensitive account numbers from falling into the hands of identity thieves.”

To help prevent identity theft, the OAG established a Web site, http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov, devoted to providing Texans information they need to protect themselves from this crime. This Web site has video testimonials of actual victims depicting their struggles to restore their good names.

This recently launched Web site also has an Identity Theft Victim’s Kit which offers a step-by-step checklist for victims to use to prevent further damage. Confirmed identity theft victims should immediately close all bank, credit, utility and service accounts. Victims should contact one of the major credit bureaus and place fraud alerts or security freezes on their credit reports. This will prevent new accounts from being fraudulently opened under the victims’ name.

For more information about steps Texans can take to protect their personal information, visit http://www.protectyouridnow.org. For more information about the OAG’s efforts to fight identity theft, visit http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov.

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Gov. Perry directs Texas Board of Criminal Justice to take immediate action on prison security

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, October 20, ordered the board of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice to take immediate action to increase prison security after the governor’s office learned of a death row inmate’s threatening cell phone calls to the public. A guard allegedly accepted a bribe to deliver a cell phone to the convicted murderer.

“Let there be no doubt about how seriously we take this security breach,” Perry said.  “Anyone who delivers or attempts to deliver cell phones or any other contraband to prisoners will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The vast majority of Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees are upstanding, hardworking citizens. It is a shame that the criminal acts of some overshadow the good name of others.”

The governor directed the board to immediately lock down the entire prison system, search all inmates, staff and visitors and seize any contraband while issuing a statement of zero tolerance for anyone caught moving contraband within the prison. Any violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The governor’s directive resulted from revelations of a TDCJ investigation into reports of a death row inmate’s procurement of a cell phone and placement of more than 2,800 phone calls over the past 30 days.

There are two state prisons located in north Edinburg, near the Hidalgo County Detention Center.

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Select Committee on Public School Accountability lays out reform plan at final meeting

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

The Select Committee on Public School Accountability held its final formal meeting on Tuesday, October 21, laying out a plan for legislation aimed at changing how Texas measures achievement in education. The committee, comprised of lawmakers, teachers and private citizens from the business community, held hearings across the state to get recommendations from educators, administrators and parents on problems with the current accountability system, and ways to fix it. While members will continue to work on a proposal for Legislature next session, a basic framework for that legislation was described at the October 21meeting.

Testimony from across the state revealed a number of problems with the current accountability system. The committee decided that the current system places too much emphasis on a single test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. This over-reliance leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and instruction, commonly known as “teaching to the test”, emphasizing minimum standards of achievement. Students are put under immense pressure to pass the test, as they can be held back a grade if they fail to meet minimum standards. The committee also found the current system has no mechanism to reward higher levels of achievement at both the district and campus level, lacks a clear and concise method to report results, and doesn’t link long-term goals with future state workforce needs.

“If the efforts of this committee fail, this is what we’re going back to,” warned committee co-Chair Rep. Rob Eissler, R–The Woodlands.

The committee report lays out a number of goals that any new accountability system must meet. The report says a new system should focus on individual student achievement, and preparing students for post-secondary education. It must have a way to recognize excellent performance, and must deliver robust and easy to understand results. Additionally, it must promote the efficient use of resources at the district and campus level.

“We’re at a point at which we can change the direction of public education and higher education in this state, if we put our resources in the right place at the right time with the right goals.” said committee co-Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro, R–Plano.

The new framework would create a two-tier system. The basic, or accreditation tier, would be based on student achievement at the post-high school level, or achievement growth of students based on a three-year rolling average. It would look at fiscal efficiency at the district level. The system would also get away from emphasizing minimum standards, and would seek to increase standards over the next ten years to a point when Texas would rate among the top ten states nationwide in college preparedness.

The second tier, called the distinction tier, would reward campuses and districts that rank in the top quarter in certain areas. Schools could earn this tier through individual student growth or excellence in a number of categories, including second language instruction, fine arts, and performance on standardized tests. District criteria would include financial efficiency and resource allocation.

The committee also laid out a framework for a new assessment test to replace the current TAKS test. Any new test must measure a broad range of skills, above minimum requirements, and passing standards should be geared toward post-secondary success rates. Students who fail to pass the test in grades 3, 5 and 8 would be offered supplemental instruction, and a student wouldn’t be necessarily held back for failing a test.

The committee will continue to meet in work and discussion groups, in order to come up with specific legislation to change the state’s accountability system. Both co-Chairs Eissler and Shapiro chair their respective chamber’s education committees, the committees from which any such legislation would originate.

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

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Hispanics account for half of U.S. population growth since 2000, new report finds

By MARY SEABORN

Hispanics accounted for just over half of the overall population growth in the United States since 2000 – a significant new demographic milestone for the nation’s largest minority group, a new Pew Hispanic Center report released on Thursday, October 23.

The report, Latino Settlement in the New Century, includes a series of web-based interactive maps that illustrate the size and spread of Hispanic population growth since 1980, including easy access to detailed state and county-level data. It also presents a list of the counties with the largest Hispanic populations, as well as a list of those counties with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations.

In the 1990s the Hispanic population also expanded rapidly, but its growth accounted for less than 40 percent of the nation’s total population increase in that decade. From 2000 to 2007, Latinos accounted for 50.5 percent of the total U.S. population growth, even though, as of mid-2007, they made up just 15.1 percent of the total population.

In another change from the 1990s, Latino population growth in this new century has been more a product of the natural increase (births minus deaths) of the existing population than it has been of new international migration, according to Pew Hispanic Center analysis.

The report identifies 676 fast-growing Hispanic counties among the nation’s total of 3,141 counties. These counties all share two characteristics: a 2007 Latino population of at least 1,000; and an above-average Hispanic growth of at least 4 percent from 2000 to 2007. The list includes 148 counties that did not experience rapid growth in the 1990s.

There are both continuities and differences in the Hispanic settlement patterns of this decade, compared with the patterns of the 1990s. The dispersion of Latinos in the current decade has tilted more to counties in the West and the Northeast than it had in the 1990s.  Despite the new tilt, however, the South still accounted for a greater share of overall Latino population growth than any other region did from 2000 to 2007.

Much of the Latino population growth in this decade has taken place in small and mid-sized cities and in suburbs – many of which had relatively few Latino residents until the past decade or two.  A handful of big cities have also played a sizable role in Latino population growth in this decade. For example, the Latino population grew by more than 400,000 from 2000 to 2007 in just three counties: Los Angeles, Maricopa (Phoenix) and Harris (Houston). But because these counties already had a large base of Hispanic residents at the start of the decade, the growth of their Latino population since then has been less dramatic in percentage terms.

Percentage growth in the Hispanic population from 2000 to 2007 exceeded 300 percent in three counties: Frederick and Culpeper counties in Virginia and Paulding County in Georgia. These two states are home to eight of the 10 counties with the greatest percentage growth in the Hispanic population since 2000. The other two counties are Kendall County in Illinois and Luzerne County in Pennsylvania.

Other major findings include:

  • Hispanic population growth since 2000 has been widespread. The Hispanic population has grown in almost 3,000 of the nation’s 3,141 counties.
  • At the same time, Hispanic population growth in the new century has been fairly concentrated. Hispanic population growth in just 178 counties accounts for 79 percent of the nation’s entire 10.2 million Hispanic population increase.
  • In spite of dispersal to new settlements, the Hispanic population continues to be geographically concentrated. In 2007, the 100 largest Hispanic counties were home to 73 percent of the Latino population.
  • By this measure, Hispanics are more geographically concentrated than the nation’s black population. Nearly six-in-ten (59 percent) of the non-Hispanic black population live in the nation’s 100 largest non-Hispanic black counties.

The report, Latino Settlement in the New Century, is available on the Center’s website, http://www.pewhispanic.org.

Founded in 2001, the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, is a nonpartisan research organization that seeks to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos’ growing impact on the nation. The Center does not take positions on policy issues. It is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a public charity based in Philadelphia.

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Reynosa man sentenced to six months in federal prison for sending, through Internet, a false bomb threat at McAllen airport

A 20-year-old U.S. citizen living in Reynosa on Wednesday, October 22, was sentenced to six months in federal prison for sending false bomb threats via the internet to the McAllen Miller International Airport in 2007, United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, who pronounced the sentence, departed downward from the applicable sentencing guideline range requested by the government, but after finding there had to be consequences for the harm caused by the hoax bomb threats, denied the request of Juan Rodrigo Rodríguez for a probationary sentence.

During the October 22 sentencing hearing, the judge considered arguments from the government urging the court impose a sentence within the applicable guideline range of 18 to 24 months based on the criminal actions of Rodríguez, the disruption his actions caused at McAllen Miller International Airport and the fact no evidence was presented definitively proving Rodríguez suffered Asperger syndrome nor diminished capacity.

Attorneys for Rodríguez sought a downward departure and a sentence of probation based upon testimony at a previous hearing from a doctor he may have diminished capacity or may have Asperger syndrome. The court, relying on medical reports and testimony at previous hearings, ultimately decided the defendant did appear to have Asperger syndrome but declined to grant probation stating there had to be consequences for his actions. In addition to the prison term, the court ordered Rodríguez to serve a two-year-term of supervised release during which he is not to use computers.

Between August 22 and September 10, 2007, the McAllen Miller International Airport received four separate bomb threats via the message board on the airport’s website. Two threats were sent August 22, and the other two were sent September 7 and September 10. All were written in Spanish and sent via e-mail with false return e-mail addresses.

The threats claimed C-4 explosives were located inside the airport or in a vehicle parked in a lot by the airport or that bombs were aboard in-bound Continental Airlines flights. In the threat sent September 7, Rodríguez demanded airport personnel deliver $20,000 to the reception desk area of Holiday Inn hotels, but no one approached the hotel’s reception desk on either date to claim the money.

On September 10, the last of the four threats was received by the airport and claimed explosives were inside the airport and aboard an outbound Continental Airlines flight to Houston from McAllen.

Each of the bomb threats prompted immediate action by the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and local law enforcement agencies to secure the airport and ensure the safety of the flying public. No bombs or explosives were found.

An investigation to identify the computer from which the messages originated and the location of that computer was immediately initiated by the FBI. On September 15, 2007, a computer using the same Internet Protocol address and web browser as the one from which the threats had originated was located in Reynosa.

On September 22, the computer from which the threats originated was secured at the residence of Rodríguez’ parents in Reynosa, Mexico. A forensic examination of that computer confirmed the computer was used to access the airport and Continental Airlines websites.

Originally charged in a two-count indictment with knowingly and intentionally conveying false and misleading information on at least two occasions to the management of McAllen Miller International Airport, Rodríguez pleaded guilty December 26, 2007, to the second count of the indictment.

Rodríguez, who has been on bond since his arrest, has been ordered to turn himself in to the U.S. Marshals Service in McAllen on December 1, 2008, at 2 p.m. to begin serving his sentence.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Juan F. Alanís.

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