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Former Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Alfredo "Fred" Longoria, a native son, successful businessman, and longtime community leader who helped transform what many considered to be a sleepy border town in the early 1990s into a major economic force for South Texas in 2009, on Sunday, March 22, passed away as a result of complications from a stroke. He was 80. For Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Longoria’s passing literally hit home. His son, Aron Leonel Peña, is married to one of Longoria’s daughters, Clarissa Longoria-Peña. "I am very sad to hear that Fred Longoria has passed away. My condolences to his family and friends," the veteran state representative reflected. "Fred was not only a long time supporter but a good man who wanted to do right by his City of Edinburg. Sometime after our initial work together, Fred became a member of the family when my eldest son married his daughter," Peña said. "The City of Edinburg has lost a loyal son who will be dearly missed. May God speed."  See story later in this posting. 

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The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, March 17, unanimously approved a resolution in support of a “universal freight shuttle”, featured in this diagram, along U.S. Highway 281. The diagram illustrates what the freight shuttle could look like: an elevated, unmanned track with single load transporters going in both directions. At destination, the transporters would enter cargo bays terminals at which point the trailers would simply hook up with a traditional big rig to get a short distance to a particular store. The freight shuttle is a linear motion, automated track with single container transporters that could get goods quickly and safely from Point A to Point B using only renewable energy sources and with zero-emissions. This concept, developed over the past eight years by the Texas Transportation Institute, could be used within the footprint of existing highways, including U.S. Highway 281. “Hidalgo County is working with the communities along U.S. Highway 281 to make sure we are ready to be the first to make the most of this new technology,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III. See story later in this posting. 

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Lack’s Furniture has created a $10,000 scholarship fund through South Texas College to provide opportunities for the dependants of Lack’s employees to attend college. The company was originally founded in 1935 by Sam Lack, a Russian immigrant. The operations focused on selling automotive parts, but World War II pushed the boundaries of Lack’s into the home furnishings arena.  Today, the business is still family-operated under the leadership of Lee Aaronson. A tradition of giving runs in the Aaronson family, which still owns the chain of 11 Lack’s stores serving the Rio Grande Valley from Laredo to Port Isabel. Featured, from left; Michelle Moffitt, buyer’s assistant for Lack’s; John Price, director of human resources for Lack’s; Al Moffitt, general manager for Lack’s; Kris Karr, advertising manager for Lack’s; and Anabel Hudson, buyer’s assistant for Lack’s. See story later in this posting. 

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House Calls, one of South Texas’ largest home-based health care agencies, along with their employees and various community donors, have donated $20,000 to The University of Texas-Pan American to establish the Veronica Noble-Daley, R.N. Scholarship endowment. Noble-Daley graduated from UT Pan American in 1991 and became a registered nurse. She was only 25 years old when she decided to open House Calls and fulfill her desire to care for the sick and promote education, something she considered very important. Many times she assisted her employees in completing or furthering their education by providing them with flexible hours and tuition reimbursement. In addition, she helped support organizations and events that promoted education, such as the Florence Nightingale Gala, an event aimed at raising money for the university’s Department of Nursing. The endowment will benefit students pursuing a registered nursing degree and who are classified as entering freshmen, continuing freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. Other requirements for the scholarship include maintaining a 3.2 grade point average, and residency in one of four Rio Grande Valley counties. Surrounded by House Calls employees, holding the check, from left, are: Armando Garza, House Calls marketing director; Erika Nobel, sister of Veronica Daley; Michael Daley, husband of Veronica Daley; Ruth Nobel, mother of Veronica Daley; and Lydia P. Alemán, associate vice president for University Advancement. For information on supporting the advancement of UTPA, call the Division of University Advancement at 956/318-5301. 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a "Spring Luncheon and Style Show" at the Embassy Suites in McAllen on Saturday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Casual, business, western and formal wear will be modeled by local community leaders and professional models. "The luncheon and style show allows our members, future members and the community to enjoy viewing the latest fashions as well as helping to stimulate our economy in McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley," said Verónica Vela, MHCC Vice Chair of Women’s Issues. A Spring Mercado consisting of individuals and/or stores will also be selling their wares and services in the hallway.  Spring jewelry, crafts, purses, dietary supplements, etc. are just some of the items.  The Mercado is free to the public. There are still some Mercado booths for sale. For more information on the Spring Mercado and/or the Spring Luncheon & Style Show call the MHCC at 928-0060. Featured are representatives of the stores that will be participating in the Style Show: Maclyn Flynn and Becky Cuellar of Warehouse 503; Becky Malcik of Beck’s Fashions; Alicia Suárez and Jessica Rangel of JCPenny’s Hair salon; Raúl Traigo of GUESS; Ana Delgado of GUESS by Mariano; Alejandro J. Garza of Kalifa’s Western Wear; Gloria Muñoz of Cute Cotton Co.; Carmen Esparaza of Joyce’s International Boutique; Mónica de Coss of Room Clothing; and Tony Lucio of Banana Republic. Committee members shown are: Verónica Vela, Vice Chair of Women’s Issues; Zaira García; Elizabeth Martínez, Vice Chair of Public Relations; and Orie Salinas, Vice Chair of Events. Participating stores not shown are: Spa La Posada, Our Secret, Dillards, Boot Jack, Nicole’s Boutique and Renée’s. 

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Interim President Sorber updates UTPA Alumni Association on plan for $70 million fine arts facility

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Charles A. Sorber, Ph.D., the interim president of the University of Texas-Pan American, on Thursday, March 19, told several dozen members of the UTPA Alumni Association that he is not interested in applying for the permanent leadership spot of one of the 10 largest public universities in the state. 

But, if he can pull it off – with the critical help of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation – Sorber could leave a legacy in South Texas for decades to come if he can come up with a plan to finance a proposed $70 million, 1,500-seat world-class Performing Arts Center that could feature everything from local talent to Broadway shows. 

Sorber unveiled the opportunities and challenges facing both the university and Hidalgo County communities during a reception held in honor of him and his wife, Linda, at the Nuevo Santander Gallery in McAllen. 

UTPA’s interim president, 69, succeeded former UTPA President Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas following her retirement at the end of January. 

He is scheduled to serve as the university’s president until a permanent leader is selected by the UT System Board of Regents. 

According to Sorber, based on his experiences of serving as a president at UT-Permian Basin and Interim President of UT-Arlington, he estimates the search for the next UTPA president could be in place by January 2010. 

Sorber was the featured guest at the March 19 event, which attracted numerous area dignitaries, including Roland Arriola, Ph.D., the president of the UTPA Alumni Association, Mayor Joe Ochoa, Edinburg School Board Trustee Robert Peña, Jr., former Edinburg City Manager Wendy Smith, who is now an assistant city manager in McAllen, and members of the UTPA Alumni Association Board of Trustees. 

After being introduced by Arriola, Sorber opened up the gathering to questions from alumni, including whether he planned to submit his name for the permanent position – he said no – and a request for the status of the fine arts facility, which he said is currently being referred to as the Performing Arts Center. 

In 2007, under an amendment secured by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, UT-Pan American was given bonding authority to raise $40 million to go towards the construction of a fine arts facility. 

But, Sorber acknowledged, in order to build a complex worthy of the university and South Texas, the ticket price would approach $70 million, and the local university is trying to come up with most of that funding – through a funding mechanism known as a tuition revenue bond – from state lawmakers during the ongoing state legislative session in Austin. 

In general, tuition revenue bonds are issued by institutions which are used to improve the facilities on campuses. These bonds are guaranteed by tuition and funded from the state general revenue. 

"At the last session (in 2007), there was a tuition revenue bond package for $40 million for what I am calling the Performing Arts Center (PAC). The preliminary design, based on the program, not the final design, on what the faculty and the community wanted, brought a price tag in of $70 million," he said. "So, there is a gap of $30 million. We have asked for a TRB to make up that gap. But the prospect of that happening – that whole gap – is remote." 

But Sorber isn’t willing to give up on that lofty goal, and although he is developing a back-up plan in case the additional state funding is not obtained, he is not willing to show that hand too soon, either. 

"There may be other options, but we are not willing to go there until we figure out what the Legislature is going to do," Sorber said. "However, let me make it clear, I am supportive of the notion. We just have to figure out how to do it, we have to come up with a plan where we can take what we have – whatever it is – and we can’t go out and raise $30 million in the community. Maybe we can raise $10 to $15 million, but we can’t raise $30 million. We know that, we (UTPA) don’t have any history of doing that." 

The cost for the Performing Arts Center is based on a similar structure scheduled to be built by a fellow, but much smaller UT System campus – UT-Permian Basin, located in Odessa – which has a student enrollment of about 3,000 students. 

By comparison, UT-Pan American’s student enrollment approaches 18,000. 

The Wagner-Noel Performing Arts Center at UT-Permian Basin is scheduled to have a performing arts and recital hall totaling 97,700 square-feet, according to that university. It will also have 10,500 square-feet in an academic wing with classrooms and faculty offices. The building, which will seat 1,800 people, is expected to open in the spring of 2012. 

Funding from the UT-Permian Basin, located in Odessa, plus private gift donations from both Odessa and Midland and state money made the $81 million project possible. 

"A (similar) facility under construction right now at the Permian Basin has a price tag of $81 million, just to put it in perspective," Sorber said. "The prices may be a little lower rightnow because the oil is not as expensive as it was, and oil drives everything. But the prospect of coming much under $70 million is just unrealistic for a 1,500 seat facility." 

He suggested that The Wagner-Noel Performing Arts Center provides a good benchmark on what it will take to bring a similar project to fruition in Edinburg. 

"A free-standing facility that would house the kind of activities that were envisioned for the community and for the university requires 1,500 seats to bring in the kind of shows that people would like to have," Sorber said. "Under this program, you can’t do it for $40 million. We are talking about high-level acoustics, high-level backstage, the ability to bring in the Broadway shows and the things of that nature, you can’t do that for $40 million." 

The interim UTPA president expressed guarded confidence that the Valley legislation delegation will help come up with strategies to help bring the gap in funding for the proposed UTPA Performing Arts Center. 

Hinojosa and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, who serve on the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee – the two legislative panels that draw up the respective state budgets for the Senate and House – are in positions of legislative influence when it comes to doling out state funds. 

In addition, the rest of the Valley House legislative delegation has the experience – including two House committee chairmanships – to push for the some, if not all, of the needed state funding. 

"Sen. Hinojosa is also handling that, and all of our state representatives are aware of it," Sorber said. "They are going to do what they can, but they can’t allocate a whole bunch of money if they don’t have it. Now, I am not hopeful for that. We have to wait until we go through the session to see what the next step is." 

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has already begun to campaign to raise the needed state funding. 

On Friday, March 13 – the last day lawmakers could file bills for the current regular session – the local Democrat introduced House Bill 4236, which seeks authority for the UT System to raise almost $30 million for the Performing Arts Center, referred to in the legislation as the "fine arts academic and performance complex." 

Sorber said the efforts to raise substantial sums of money for construction of major state facilities may be tough, given the economic and political uncertainties that always face the drafting of the Texas budget. 

But he remained determined to help come up with a plan that works. 

"I am an engineer by profession," Sorber said. "It’s my job to come up with solutions." 

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Former Mayor Pro Tem Fred Longoria, 80, helped oversee transformation of Edinburg since 1992

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Former Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Alfredo "Fred" Longoria, a native son, successful businessman, and longtime community leader who helped transform what many considered to be a sleepy border town in the early 1990s into a major economic force for South Texas in 2009, on Sunday, March 22, passed away as a result of complications from a stroke. 

He was 80. 

Longoria, who also served as the president of the board of directors for Amigos del Valle, suffered the stroke on Wednesday, March 18, according to a daughter, Priscilla Longoria-Olivarez, before passing away on Sunday evening at McAllen Heart Hospital. 

Longoria served on the Edinburg City Council from May 5, 1992 to May 7, 2002, according to the Edinburg City Secretary’s Office. 

He first entered the political arena in his successful race for the Edinburg City Council – then known as the Edinburg City Commission – with his campaign pledge to work on solutions to the decades-old problem of flooding in the downtown region when heavy rains inundated the area. 

As a result of his inaugural campaign – and through the efforts of the city councils since then – more effective drainage infrastructure was eventually installed in that region of the city, reducing the time it takes to reduce major flooding from days to hours.  

But he also was part of a series of city councils which forever changed the image and economic vitality of Edinburg.  

He served on city councils which created the Edinburg Cable Network and the World Birding Center, upgraded the Edinburg International Airport (now the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg), built the Edinburg Professional Baseball Stadium, secured tens of millions of dollars in state funding for local and state roadway system improvements for the city, and helped champion for the creation of the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg. 

During his tenure, the economic growth of the city improved significantly, including attracting thousands of new jobs and several billion dollars in new construction to the community. 

As determined as Longoria was to champion improvements for Edinburg, he was always quick to share the credit for successes with his fellow councilmembers and with the community in general, said former City Councilmember René A. Ramírez, who serves as chief of staff for Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. 

"I knew him long before he served on the council," recalled Ramírez. "He was a very successful businessman for many years, and during his distinguished service on the council, he was very tenacious. I remember his strong drive for spurring economic development. He will be missed." 

For his part, Hinojosa said Longoria and the Edinburg City Council were years ahead of most Texas communities when it came to lobbying the Texas Legislature and state government for policies and funding to benefit their constituents. 

"It was almost unheard of, having a small community like Edinburg in the early 1990s, develop a legislative agenda and then come to Austin to help its legislative delegation secure hundreds of millions of dollars in state money for their constituents," said Hinojosa. "Now, the leadership of Texas government knows exactly where Edinburg is located, and how determined they are to be major players in the legislative process." 

For Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Longoria’s passing literally hit home. 

His son, Aron Leonel Peña, is married to one of Longoria’s daughters, Clarissa Longoria-Peña. 

"I am very sad to hear that Fred Longoria has passed away. My condolences to his family and friends," the veteran state representative reflected. "Fred was not only a long time supporter but a good man who wanted to do right by his City of Edinburg. Sometime after our initial work together, Fred became a member of the family when my eldest son married his daughter," Peña said. "The City of Edinburg has lost a loyal son who will be dearly missed. May God speed." 

Peña said Longoria’s service on behalf of Amigos del Valle, Inc. "was a prime example" of his commitment to improving the lives of thousands of people. 

According to its web site: 

Amigos Del Valle, Inc. is recognized as the largest and most enduring Non-profit resource senior service, multi-family and single-family housing service and home meal delivery service providers of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. 

José E. Garza, executive director for Amigos del Valley, said he and his organization had lost a great friend and ally, who first came on board on May 16, 1995, representing the city, and continued as an at-large board member until last October 2008. 

"When he served as one of our board members, including several terms as president of the board, he had a major contribution to the successes of this organization," Garza said. "His heart was always in the right place." 

OBITUARY 

According to Memorial Funeral Home of Edinburg: 

Alfredo “Fred” Longoria, 80, died Sunday, March 22, 2009, at McAllen Heart Hospital. 

Longoria was born in Edinburg and had lived there all of his life. He served on the Edinburg City Council for ten years as city commissioner, mayor pro-tem and a member of the Edinburg Planning and Zoning Department. Longoria was also a board member of Amigos Del Valle and Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. He was an entrepreneur and owner of Fred’s Food Store, Clean Rite Janitorial Supplies, and Sweet Scent. He also served in the National Guard and was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Edinburg. 

He is preceded in death by his parents; a son, Michael Longoria; a brother, Rubén Longoria; a sister, Viola Silva; and a granddaughter, Miranda Hunter. 

Longoria is survived by his wife, Sylvia Longoria of Edinburg; seven children, Clarissa (Aron III) Longoria-Peña, Priscilla (Rick) Olivarez, Michelle (Manuel) Guerrero, all of Edinburg, Derek (Sandy) Ruiz of San Antonio, Gina Longoria of Dallas, Lolly (Jesús) Peña of Edinburg, Fred (Allison) Longoria, Jr. of McAllen; 14 grandchildren; two brothers, Miguel (Angie) Longoria of Edinburg and Charlie (Kay) Longoria of California; a sister, Olga (Henri) Deroaul of California; and a sister-in-law, Leonor Longoria of Edinburg.   

Visitation was scheduled to take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a 7 p.m. rosary on Tuesday, March 24, 2009, at Memorial Funeral Home, 208 E. Canton, in Edinburg. Funeral service were scheduled for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25, at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Edinburg. 

Interment was scheduled at Valley Memorial Gardens in McAllen.   

Military honors were scheduled to be conducted by VFW Post 8788 of McAllen. Pallbearers are Rick Olivarez, Manuel Guerrero, Aron Peña III, Jesús Peña, Ricky Longoria and Leonel Silva. 

In lieu of flowers the family requested that memorial contributions be made to St. Joseph Catholic Church Building Fund, 122 W. Fay, Edinburg, Texas, 78539. 

Funeral services were under the direction of Memorial Funeral Home in Edinburg. 

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Dr. Pani, scientist at Edinburg RAHC, may have uncovered new way to strengthen only TB vaccine

By SHEILA HOTCHKIN 

New research may have uncovered a strategy for strengthening the only vaccine available today for protection against tuberculosis. 

The current vaccine is prepared from a strain of the weakened bovine tuberculosis bacterium. Both the human and bovine pathogens have evasive mechanisms that prevent a stronger immune response. The new research found ways to overcome these mechanisms and strengthen the immune response in mice. 

The finding appeared in the March issue of the journal Nature Medicine. Subramanian Dhandayuthapani, Ph.D., a microbiologist with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, widely known as Dr. Pani, collaborated on the study with researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Baylor College of Medicine. 

Pani works in the Medical Research Division of the UT Health Science Center’s Regional Academic Health Science Center (RAHC) in Edinburg. 

Tuberculosis (TB) is a global scourge. An estimated one in three people worldwide carries the TB pathogen, according to the World Health Organization. Eight million people develop active TB disease each year and 1.6 million die from it. The airborne disease is highly contagious and usually attacks the lungs, although it can affect other organs. 

Texas-Mexico border region affected more by TB than other parts of U.S. 

Poverty, limited access to health care and a mobile population have led to higher levels of TB along the Texas-Mexico border than in most other parts of the United States. 

“This research, I believe, makes significant contributions to the prevention of TB worldwide,” said Leonel Vela, M.D., M.P.H., regional dean of the RAHC. “And it really points to the level and quality of research occurring at the Edinburg RAHC that has implications for the population here in the Rio Grande Valley, where rates of TB are disproportionately high compared with the rest of the country.” 

The TB vaccine, called bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), was first tested in humans in 1921 and remains the only vaccine in use for TB today. But its effectiveness is highly variable. It is generally shown to be more effective in children; however, studies of pulmonary TB, which is more common in adolescents and adults, have shown the vaccine to be effective in anywhere from 80 percent of cases to none at all. 

The World Health Organization describes BCG as the most controversial vaccine in widespread use today. It is generally not recommended for use in the United States. 

The science behind the discovery 

Tuberculosis, including the weakened bovine strain used in the BCG vaccine, hides in cells so its antigens – the substances that cause an immune system to produce antibodies to fight a disease – are concealed. 

The researchers used rapamycin, a drug often used to prevent the rejection of organ and bone marrow transplants by the body, to induce a process called autophagy, in which a cell consumes its own components. This process prompted a particular TB antigen to move into pathways where it could be recognized by the immune system. As a result, the immune response was strengthened. 

The group also discovered that antigen presentation can be further enhanced by introducing a genetically modified form of BCG that overproduces a TB antigen called Antigen85. Injecting this recombinant BCG into mice led to better protection against TB than was seen when mice were injected with the standard BCG vaccine. 

Researchers speculate that their findings might have implications not just for BCG but also for other vaccines. “Now we have the mechanism,” Pani said. “We know exactly how we can enhance the antigen presentation.” 

Discovery verifies outstanding research program at RAHC 

Thomas J. Slaga, Ph.D., interim director of the Edinburg RAHC, called Pani’s collaboration with the Houston Health Science Center and Baylor “very significant for the Valley.” “It shows the development of the research program at the Edinburg RAHC – that we have the caliber of people to turn it into an outstanding research institute,” Slaga said. 

Pani collaborated on the research with Chinnaswamy Jagannath, Ph.D.; Robert L. Hunter, M.D., Ph.D.; and Devin Lindsey, M.S., from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; and with N. Tony Eissa, M.D., and Yi Xu, Ph.D., from the Baylor College of Medicine. 

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy.  

The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 25,600 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas.  

Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields.  

For more information, visit http://www.uthscsa.edu

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Bills filed by Rep. Gonzáles, Sen. Uresti would address physician shortages through residency programs

By RICARDO LÓPEZ -GUERRA 

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has filed House Bill 4423 to create physician residency programs in medically-underserved areas, aimed at alleviating physician shortages in certain communities and in particular medical specialties. 

"Texas suffers from a shortage of doctors throughout the state, particularly in areas along the border. We need to address this problem now, and steering physicians to do their residencies in underserved areas is an effective and efficient solution," Gonzáles said. "We also need to think of long-term solutions, like building more medical schools, which will complement residency programs in underserved areas. This is a step toward achieving a medial school in the Rio Grande Valley." 

HB 4423 and the companion Senate Bill 2077, filed by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, would allow the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board to contract with a medical school, licensed hospital, or non-profit corporation to establish physician residency programs in medically-underserved areas.  

Medically-underserved communities include areas with high elderly populations, poverty rates, infant mortality rates and with a low ratio of physicians per 1,000 population. The Texas Department of State Health Services considers 179 Texas counties medically underserved, including Hidalgo County and most counties along the border. 

The bill would also expand opportunities for physicians seeking residencies in specialties that are in short supply in Texas. Money would also go to fund programs that encourage innovative approaches, utilize ambulatory facilities or create medical homes for patients. 

An Association of American Medical Colleges study shows that physicians are likely to remain in the state in which they complete their residency training. Studies also show that physicians that leave Texas for training would have preferred to stay in Texas if programs had been available.  

The bill also creates a nine-member Physician Residency Advisory Committee made up of appointed physicians that will review data to determine the physician shortages in Texas,  review applications for training programs and make recommendations to the Higher Education Coordinating Board regarding funding of the residency programs.   

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Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court unanimously endorses "universal freight shuttle" concept

By CARI LAMBRECHT  

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, March 17, unanimously approved a resolution in support of a “universal freight shuttle” along U.S. Highway 281. 

The freight shuttle concept would complement recently-announced improvements to U.S. Highway 281 that will help bring it up to interstate standards.  

The freight shuttle is a linear motion, automated track with single container transporters that could get goods quickly and safely from Point A to Point B using only renewable energy sources and with zero-emissions. This concept, developed over the past eight years by the Texas Transportation Institute, could be used within the footprint of existing highways, including U.S. Highway 281. 

“Hidalgo County is working with the communities along U.S. Highway 281 to make sure we are ready to be the first to make the most of this new technology,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III. 

“We know for a fact that the freight shuttle would be a good fit here since there are already nine international bridges in place or under construction that feed more than 1,300 heavy trucks daily into the U.S. Highway 281 NAFTA corridor. Even without being an interstate, U.S. Highway 281 is the third busiest road in the state for truck traffic and it is expected to double by 2030. Hidalgo County is also home to more than 250 maquiladoras and U.S. manufacturing clusters centered around Reynosa, Mexico. If Texas wants to see maximum results from a freight shuttle, they need to locate it here.” 

The universal freight shuttle meets many modern-day trucking challenges head-on. A freight shuttle could: 

  • Reduce congestion on roads;
  • Increase productivity — this system is independent of weather conditions, human conditions and trucking industry restrictions;
  • Make up for driver shortages in the trucking industry, ensuring that goods get where they need to go on time;
  • Reduce energy and fuel consumption;
  • Improve air quality; and
  • Make highways safer and reduce road maintenance costs 

“We’ve also considered the possibilities that the freight shuttle could serve us in case of an evacuation or could bring in much-needed products after a disaster,” Salinas said. 

Would there be security on the freight shuttle? Yes. The concept being developed includes a high tech security terminal facility that would allow for goods to be inspected while the freight is in motion.  

“This concept is environmentally responsible and it would increase employment opportunities in South Texas. This would make Hidalgo County, the Rio South Texas region and the U.S. Highway 281 corridor a more desirable place for business, namely manufacturing and distribution facilities,” Salinas said. “We would welcome an innovative project like this and plan to work hard to make sure U.S. Highway 281 is considered as a route for the project.” 

More information, including the resolution passed on March 17, 2009, and a power point presentation on the Universal Freight Shuttle is located online at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us

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Sen. Cornyn says Mexico drug cartel violence is a national security risk; invites Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano to visit Texas border region

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, on Thursday, March 19,  sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.  

In the letter, he asked her to visit the Texas-Mexico border and meet directly with local Border Patrol, FBI, ATF, law enforcement officials and city leaders to address the escalating levels of drug-related violence along the border.  

This follows Cornyn’s recent letter to President Barack Obama, also urging him to visit the border and give high priority to the issue of rising border violence.  

Cornyn was in Laredo last month where he met with U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials and received a briefing on issues concerning security along Texas’ southern border with Mexico, including the rising drug cartel and gang violence in the region. 

The full text of  Cornyn’s letter is as follows: 

Dear Secretary Napolitano: 

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me on February 6 regarding the escalating levels of drug-related violence in Mexico. I write today to keep you informed of developments since our conversation and invite you to come to Texas and witness the situation firsthand. 

As you know, more than 7,000 lives have been lost from drug-related violence in Mexico since January 2008. This includes the brutal killing of many courageous Mexican law enforcement officers and public officials. Drug cartels are intent on undermining the Mexican state, threatening to spread this violence across our nation’s southern border and jeopardize our own national security. Recent reports from Department of Defense officials estimate that the Sinaloa and Gulf drug cartels that are responsible for this violence may have as many as 100,000 foot soldiers in their ranks. Just across the border from El Paso, Texas, in Ciudad Juarez, more than 1,800 people have been killed since January 2008, according to the U.S. State Department and Mexican authorities. 

Since our conversation, I visited Laredo to receive a security briefing from Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, ATF and other federal agencies on U.S. efforts to reduce the flow of weapons and cash fueling the cartels’ ability to carry out narcoterrorism. Mexican law enforcement officials were also present. It is important we address this situation not only to safeguard families living along the border, but also to ensure that legitimate trade and travel essential to the South Texas economy is preserved. We must do everything we can to help President Calderon and the Mexican government confront the criminal gangs causing terror along our border, and we must coordinate efforts across our government and with our Mexican partners to stem the tide of money and guns flowing south and bolster Mexican government institutions. 

Recently I wrote to President Obama and urged him to make reducing drug-related violence along the Mexican border a top priority and to visit the Texas border. I encourage you to do the same to witness firsthand the urgency of this situation and the compelling need to devote Homeland Security resources to this crucial issue. 

As a former border state governor, you are aware of the severity of this problem and I am encouraged by the priority you have placed on addressing it. It is my hope you will join me in the near future in visiting the region, so we can meet with local officials, communities and law enforcement on the ground to discuss additional steps the U.S. can take to help President Calderon and the Mexican government confront this tremendous problem. 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical national security issue, and I look forward to hearing your response on visiting the region. 

Sincerely, 

JOHN CORNYN

United States Senator  

•••••• 

Sen. Hinojosa, Rep. Gonzáles file companion bills regulating predatory towing companies in region

By RICARDO LÓPEZ -GUERRA 

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, recently filed legislation to tighten controls and increase fines for towing companies that engage in malicious and predatory towing practices.  The identical measures address well-documented cases of towing companies using tactics to lure drivers into tow-away zones and overcharging for impounds. 

House Bill 2571 and Senate Bill 1431 would boost fees and create criminal penalties for rogue towing companies operating outside the law. Tow-truck operators could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. The bills would also temporarily suspend a towing company’s license for failing to adhere to court orders requiring towing companies to reimburse vehicle owners for expenses associated with unlawful tows. 

Hinojosa commented on the motivating factors behind these two bills. 

"During the investigation of towing company practices, we discovered that some of these towing companies work completely outside the law. Some do not have the proper licenses to operate, others do not pay their taxes to the state, and others simply extort people. These rogue towing companies will put up signs where they see cars parked, tow the cars, and then charge astronomical recovery fees," Hinojosa said. 

"These kind of deceptive business practices are unacceptable and the legislation that Sen. Hinojosa and I filed will provide some much needed relief to vehicle owners held hostage by towing companies," Gonzáles said. "We have worked hard to come up with legislation that will protect vehicle owners and penalize towers who disobey the law, while not punishing respectable towing companies." 

The legislation addresses numerous complaints filed against McAllen-area towing companies investigated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, which regulates towing companies, and the McAllen Police. The investigation found companies operating without proper licenses and with unregistered tow trucks, wrongfully charging customers for tows that did not occur, towing where vehicles were permitted to park, refusing to release vehicles, towing vehicles away from areas that did not have required signs and other allegations that companies did not follow required procedures. 

Towing companies are often called to remove vehicles unauthorized to park on private property, but current state law only loosely regulates the fees towing companies can charge for non-consent fees. The bill requires towing companies to submit a fee schedule for non-consent tows to the state, and prohibits the company from adding additional fees to approved charges.   

The legislation changes current law to give jurisdiction to the justice of peace precinct where the vehicle was towed, rather than the precinct where the towing company’s storage facility is located, which is often inconvenient for vehicle owners. It also requires towing companies to provide vehicle owners information so that vehicle owners that want to protest the tow have enough time to request a hearing. 

In addition, vehicle owners would have an easier time paying to recover their vehicle under the proposed legislation. Towing companies may not withhold a vehicle from a person who attempts to pay with an electronic check, credit or debit card if the towing company is not equipped to process the form of payment. 

•••••• 

Going “Green”: Hidalgo County gets grant to study feasibility of a waste-to-energy plant, installs another set of solar lighting, harnesses wind energy

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

Hidalgo County’s commitment to “go green” in 2009 is starting off strong with the announcement of three projects: 

  • Conducting a waste-to-energy feasibility study;
  • Installing a second set of solar-powered lights; and
  • Hosting an experimental electricity-creating wind turbine. 

Hidalgo County has received $118,938 in the federal omnibus spending bill to conduct a feasibility study on a waste-to-energy plant. A waste-to-energy facility can convert trash into electricity, lessening the burden on existing landfills and halting expansion or the building of new landfills. 

“We must start looking for ways to convert waste into a clean alternative energy source given the rapid growth of the county,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, whose office applied for the funds.  

Hidalgo County Pct. 2 Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios has also just finished installing solar lighting at the Alamo Community Resource Center, which is located at 1429 S. Tower Road in Alamo. Additionally, he said, plans are underway to install an axial flow wind turbine built by students at the Science Academy of South Texas at the Alamo Community Resource Center. 

The wind turbine, a hands-on student engineering project, is scheduled to be installed the first week of April and will power the lighting of the resource center’s outdoor pavilion. The hope is that these prototype wind turbines could eventually be used in colonias to provide nighttime controllable lighting for dwellings not connected to the electric grid, according to the Texas Engineering Experiment Station’s (TEES) Texas Center for Applied Technology, which is a partner in this program. 

Pct. 2’s Alamo Community Resource Center will house several county departments under one roof and provide indoor space for community meetings. Outside the 11,840 – sq. foot building, there will also be a walking trail, soccer fields, a playground, basketball courts and outdoor barbecue areas for families. This complex will officially open to the public in May. 

“Bringing services to the people, instead of having them go all the way to Edinburg is not only convenient and good county government, but it saves people money on gas and reduces pollution from cars. The parks we are building here are serving low-income residents and fostering a friendly attitude toward the outdoors,” Palacios said. “We are proud to host this experimental wind turbine, too.” 

Palacios has been at the forefront of this movement to “go green” in Hidalgo County, already having won recognition for the North San Juan Park as a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Texas Backyard Habitat. Commissioner Palacios notes that the solar lighting project in Pct. 2 is the second major project in the county to utilize solar lighting. The new administration building on Canton and Closner also uses solar lighting in the parking lot. 

Hidalgo County will be making announcements all year long on the small steps it is taking to “go green.” 

“The way we’ve done business for forty years isn’t going to change in forty days,” Salinas said. “But we have to start somewhere and take steps, no matter how small, to become more sustainable. We are committed to turning Hidalgo County into a more environmentally-responsible region. Residents can look forward to more green announcements from us in the future.” 

For more information, visit http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us or the county judge on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/hcpio, his blog at http://www.judgejd.com and the Hidalgo County Judge’s Office Facebook group. 

•••••• 

Sen. Lucio’s bill would increase clean energy production and green jobs for Texas

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ 

Sporting a shamrock at a Saint Patrick’s week press conference involving a group of bi-partisan environmental, business and legislative leaders, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. on Wednesday, March 18, expressed his support for renewable energy and presented his legislation. 

Senate Bill 1419 would require electric utilities to increase the electricity amount they generate with renewable resources other than "high capacity wind" to reach the goal of 4,000 megawatts, or about five percent, of total electricity capacity for the state by 2020 using solar, geothermal, biomass and smaller scale wind.  

In 1999, Texas produced its first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) as part of the state’s electricity industry restructuring legislation. The RPS mandated that electricity providers (competitive retailers, municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives) collectively generate 2,000 megawatts (MW) of additional renewable energy by 2009. In 2005, the Legislature and Governor increased the state’s total renewable energy mandate to 5,880 MW by 2015 and a target of 10,000 MW in 2025. 

"We have already met the 2015 target through the capacity generated by wind energy," said Lucio. "In fact, once we build transmission lines in West Texas, the Public Utility Commission is projecting that Texas will have more than 18,000 MWs of wind energy. Wind has been good to Texas, but it cannot meet all our needs, and it tends to blow mostly at night when we need energy the least." 

Texas has more renewable energy resources than just wind. This legislative session legislators from both Chambers, both parties, and both rural and urban districts, have proposed a total of 92 bills on clean energy. 

The “Texas Renewable Energy Resource Assessment” report recently issued by the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) found that Texas leads the nation in total wind, solar, biomass and geothermal resources, yet we have tapped only some wind in Texas. Despite being first or second in solar resources, Texas has not developed any large-scale solar projects, nor utilized thousands of potential megawatts of the earth’s geothermal resources. 

"In my own district, farmers routinely burn crop waste, leading to pollution and haze, but if we create a market, these crops could instead be turned into energy to fuel our homes through renewable biomass," said Lucio. "We also have South Texas sun and geothermal energy, hot steam and air trapped below the Gulf Coast, that could either power electricity plants or heat and cool buildings directly." 

Other legislators’ proposals differ in their ultimate goal, their timeline and some of their provisions for reaching that goal. But the idea, according to Lucio, is the same: "grow renewable resources right here in Texas to provide our energy in a clean and affordable manner and make Texas the leader in these new technologies. In the process, these bills would produce not only energy, but jobs we desperately need. And they would do so without air pollution, massive water use or global warming emissions." 

Another measure by Lucio, SB 1420, would facilitate the sale of surplus electricity produced through green energy, like solar panels, by public school districts to the electric transmission grid and distribution center, and then credited to the school district. 

"The time is now to tap the powerful, clean energy resources we have and to create green jobs for Texans," he added. 

•••••• 

Edinburg to receive $158,455 in stimulus money for anti-crime programs, says Congressman Hinojosa

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI 

Economic stimulus money to fund anti-crime programs is on its way to Edinburg, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, announced on Friday, March 13.

The City of Edinburg is set to receive $158,455 under Department of Justice’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. This vital anti-crime program provides support for a diverse range of law enforcement, prosecutorial and other initiatives to prevent and control crime. 

“Providing law enforcement agencies with the necessary resources to keep our communities safe is incredibly important,” Hinojosa said.  “Unfortunately, due to current economic conditions, too many of our cities are stretched to the limit. This stimulus money comes not a moment too soon. It will make sure Edinburg’s neighborhoods remain secure while preventing harmful cutbacks that could take police officers off our streets.” 

JAG money can be used by local governments to fund drug and gang task forces, cold case units, identity theft investigations, school violence prevention programs, witness protection programs, victims’ rights and hate crime programs. The money can go toward providing technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and information systems for criminal justice. 

The JAG funds for Edinburg are provided thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the Economic Stimulus Bill. On February 17, President Obama signed the final version of this historic bill into law.   

This legislation will create or save 3.5 million jobs, immediately cut taxes for 95 percent of workers, and begin a historic economic transformation that will make the nation more globally competitive and energy independent. The money is to be invested quickly in the economy – with an estimated 74 percent spent in the first 18 months, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. 

••••••  

Senate Committee tackles funding issues for Texas transportation needs, including local funding options

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES 

With Texas expected to nearly double its population in the next 25 years, transportation needs and funding have taken prominent positions in the last few legislative sessions. This session is no different, and members of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee considered several bills on Wednesday, March 18, dealing with transportation funding.  

Committee member Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said at the meeting that the Legislature must act to fix the transportation funding system in Texas.  

"We have got an incredible transportation problem, particularly in the urban areas," he said. "I know that many of us, for years, have tried to figure out when the Legislature is actually going to step up and try and come up with something to come up with the revenue to help resolve that." The bills considered at Wednesday’s meeting look to accomplish that goal. 

Committee Chairman Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, laid out a plan to give counties the authority to raise funds for various transportation projects, subject to voter approval.  

SB 855 would permit large metropolitan county commissioners courts to hold local option elections to create special fees dedicated to funding a variety of transportation projects, including highway projects, bridges and mass transit. The ballots in these elections would have to list each project under consideration, its cost and projected completion date. Money earned from fees could only go toward transportation projects, and county courts would have discretion to waive or lower fees for economically-disadvantaged citizens.  

Carona said that given the contentious nature of transportation funding, his bill has appeal because of its transparency.  

"There are very few things that we can do that we can garner political support for in sufficient amounts to make a meaningful difference," he said. "This, I believe, is one responsible way to get there, because it is voluntary and it does allow voter involvement."  

As considered before the committee, the bill would relate only to the 12 county North Texas area in and around the Metroplex, as well as Bexar and Travis counties, but Carona did say that Houston and El Paso officials have expressed interest in joining in. 

The Senate passed several bills Wednesday, March 18, and one of these would increase penalties for illegally parking in a handicapped spot.  

SB 52, by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would raise the fine for first time offenders from a maximum of $500 to a maximum of $750. The fines would increase for subsequent offenses, and would add community service for multiple offenders, up to $1,100 fine and 50 hours of community service for a fourth offense. 

The Senate also granted tentative approval to a bill that would create a needle-exchange program for syringes used for illegal drugs.  

Bill author Senator Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, argued on the floor that Texas is the only state that prohibits such programs.  

His bill, SB 188, would permit certain organizations to operate needle-exchange programs, as well as provide education on prevention of communicable diseases and substance-abuse treatment. Deuell, who is a practicing family physician, said these programs have been proven to reduce transmission of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. The bill will likely see a final vote Thursday. 

The controversial Voter ID bill received final passage on Wednesday, March 18.

This bill will now head to the House for consideration. 

•••••• 

Congressman Hinojosa, Hispanic Caucus meet with President Obama on proposed immigration reform

By TENO VILLARREAL 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes and the 24 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday, March 18, met with President Barack Obama to discuss the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. 

Hinojosa commented that the meeting was very productive and went far beyond the group’s expectations. He conveyed to the President that “the impact of the broken immigration system is seen strongly in Texas where families are torn apart and our young children forced to live without one or both of their parents.  We believe in the strength of the family and the raids by ICE need to stop.” 

The hour-long meeting was opened by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, D-NY, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who described the group’s belief that comprehensive immigration reform is the civil rights issue of our time and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is committed to work with the President to address it.  

Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, D-IL, provided the President with clear examples of how the current immigration system is broken and why the time for action is now.  There are more than five million children in the U.S. living without one or both parents and millions of people live in the shadows. He also personally presented the petitions of some Texas residents affected by the issue that he received as part of the 17-city tour on immigration, including the event in Mission on Sunday, March 15.  

Obama responded that he has been a champion for comprehensive immigration reform since he ran for election to the U.S. Senate in 2004. His voting record and campaign message continued that support and now, as President, his commitment to the Hispanic community remains unchanged. He indicated that he would like to address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform in the coming months. While his focus is currently on fixing the economic crisis afflicting our country, he looks forward to working with the members of the Hispanic caucus to address the issue. 

Hinojosa, who serves as the Second Vice-Chair of the Hispanic Caucus, was pleased with the meeting and looks forward to the work ahead.   

“I’d like to thank Congresswoman Nydia Velásquez and Congressman Luis Gutiérrez for their leadership on this issue. Together with Senator Bob Menéndez, D-NJ, the congressional leaders will continue to fight for the rights and freedoms of our community.” 

•••••• 

Legislation by Rep. Peña would extend "privileged matters" protections to bloggers, citizen journalists

Citizen journalists and bloggers in Texas would have the same protection to write about politics and other matters of public concern as do members of the “mainstream” press under a bill filed on Friday, March 13, by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.   

In general, a blogger is a person who maintains, on the Internet, a blog, which is a frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links. 

In general, a citizen journalist is a non-professional journalist who does pretty much the same work as a paid journalist, including collecting information, attending meetings, analyzing the events, producing the news coverage, and distributing the news coverage. 

House Bill 4237 would allow bloggers and citizen journalists to be protected by what is known as the “Privileged Matters Clause” in the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code. Under the Privileged Matters Clause, newspapers and other periodicals are protected from being sued for libel when reporting on things that happen in a court of law, the proceedings of a government body, or meetings dealing with public issues. 

If Peña’s bill passes, citizen journalists and bloggers would be placed on level footing with the mainstream press when it comes to being able to cover matters of public concern. In addition to protecting bloggers and citizen journalists, the bill also adds “Privileged Matters” protections to bloggers who use technology such as Webcasting and Podcasting. 

“We are very pleased to see this bill be filed,” said Vince Leibowitz, chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance, the nation’s largest coalition of state-level progressive netroots activists. “This has been a long time in coming. We tried to make it happen in 2007, but were not able to. I am particularly pleased to see that the bill is authored Rep. Peña, who was one of the first two legislators in the nation to become an early adopter of blogging.,” Leibowitz continued. 

According to http://www.Marketingterms.com

A blog is often a mixture of what is happening in a person’s life and what is happening on the Web, a kind of hybrid diary/guide site, although there are as many unique types of blogs as there are people. 

People maintained blogs long before the term was coined, but the trend gained momentum with the introduction of automated published systems, most notably Blogger at blogger.com. Thousands of people use services such as Blogger to simplify and accelerate the publishing process. 

Blogs are alternatively called web logs or weblogs. However, "blog" seems less likely to cause confusion, as "web log" can also mean a server’s log files. 

According to http://www.SearchNetworking.com

The term "Webcasting" is used to describe the ability to use the Web to deliver live or delayed versions of sound or video broadcasts. NetTalk Live! is an example of the former. They use an Internet site to deliver a RealAudio sound version of a live radio and television program at 11 pm (CST) each Sunday night. (They call this a triplecast.) 

CNet and some other Web sites use the term "Webcast" to describe delayed or preview versions of movies, music videos, or regular radio and television broadcasts as a way to promote the live broadcasts. Each sample is known as a Webisode. Viewing Webcasts requires having an appropriate video viewing application such as the NetShow, RealVideo, or VXtreme streaming video players; these can usually be downloaded from any site offering a Webcast.

According to http://www.About.com

Podcasting describes the process of using audio files to deliver syndicated website content to a digital audience. 

Basically, in podcasting, you create audio files that are available on your website, which people can then download to their iPods or MP3 players and listen to. “Podcasts” are delivered through RSS (Rich Site Summary) feeds; users subscribe to various podcasts which are then checked regularly for updates – just like blogs. 

So podcasting is essentially another medium for delivering syndicated web content to your users. About’s Linda Roeder calls podcasting “blogging with sound”. 

And like blogs, services are being developed to help podcast fans find and sort through the ever-growing number of available podcasts. iTunes now has a podcast feature; sites such as Odeo.com allow users to find and subscribe to podcasts and even create podcasts of their own. 

From the business point of view, the podcasting market may be well worth penetrating; with the widespread adoption of iPods and MP3 players, the potential podcasting market is growing all the time. Jupiter Research estimates that 18.2 million units will be shipped this year, reaching an installed base of 56.1 million units by 2010.        

••••••   

U.S. Attorney General Holder issues new FOIA guidelines to favor disclosure and transparency

Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday, March 19, issued comprehensive new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines that direct all executive branch departments and agencies to apply a presumption of openness when administering the FOIA.  

The new guidelines, announced in a memo to heads of executive departments and agencies, build on the principles announced by President Obama on his first full day in office when he issued a presidential memorandum on the FOIA that called on agencies to "usher in a new era of open government."  

At that time, Obama also instructed Holder to issue new FOIA guidelines that reaffirm the government’s commitment to accountability and transparency. The memo rescinds the guidelines issued by the previous administration. 

"By restoring the presumption of disclosure that is at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act, we are making a critical change that will restore the public’s ability to access information in a timely manner," said Holder. "The American people have the right to information about their government’s activities, and these new guidelines will ensure they are able to obtain that information under principles of openness and transparency." 

The new FOIA guidelines address both application of the presumption of disclosure and the effective administration of the FOIA across the government. As to the presumption of disclosure, the Attorney General directs agencies not to withhold records simply because they can technically do so. In his memo, the Attorney General encourages agencies to make discretionary disclosures of records and to release records in part whenever they cannot be released in full. 

The Attorney General also establishes a new standard for the defense of agency decisions to withhold records in response to a FOIA request. Now, the Department will defend a denial only if the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the statutory exemptions, or disclosure is prohibited by law. Under the previous defensibility standard of the rules rescinded today, the Department had said it would defend a denial if the agency had a "sound legal basis" for its decision to withhold. 

In addition to establishing criteria governing the presumption of disclosure, the Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines emphasize that agencies must be sure to have in place effective systems for responding to requests. In the memo, the Attorney General calls on each agency to be fully accountable for its administration of the FOIA. 

The Attorney General’s memo also emphasizes that FOIA is the responsibility of everyone in each agency, and that in order to improve FOIA performance, agencies must address the key roles played by a broad range of personnel who work with each agency’s FOIA professionals. The memo highlights the key role played by agency Chief FOIA Officers who will now be reporting each year to the Department of Justice on their progress in improving FOIA administration. And, the Attorney General also directs FOIA professionals to work cooperatively with FOIA requesters and to anticipate interest in records before requests are made and to make requested records available promptly. 

The Office of Information Policy will conduct training and provide guidance on the new FOIA guidelines to executive branch departments and agencies, as well as to interested groups, in order to maintain a comprehensive approach to greater government transparency. 

The March 19 memo rescinds the guidelines issued on October 12, 2001, by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. 

•••••• 

NAHJ Responds to Univision and Telemundo layoffs

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists urges media organizations that serve Latino communities to be extremely diligent when considering the impact that budget and staff cuts will have on their audiences. 

A recent reduction by Univision Communications of six percent of its workforce and Telemundo’s announcement today of cuts will invariably result in less coverage of issues important and necessary to the Latino community and those who depend on Spanish-language news and information. 

According to The Center for Spanish Language Media at the University of North Texas State of Spanish Language Media 2008 annual report, "Univision & Telemundo reach over 95% of U.S. Hispanic viewers and own and operate more than 35 television stations including full-power stations in Puerto Rico." 

NAHJ would encourage media organizations, especially those geared to a Spanish-language audience, to be transparent in their efforts to maintain the high-quality news coverage they have been dedicated to producing and communicate to their audiences the reasons for the cuts. 

Ultimately, the survival of Spanish-language media corporations will depend on their ability to serve these communities. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has. Hispanics represent the fastest-growing minority group in the nation and while the economy, election and war have dominated news coverage for the last couple of years, there is still much work to do in the areas of immigration, health and education, work that will be incomplete without the voices and work of the journalists whose jobs it is to cover these issues. 

When Spanish-language journalists lose their jobs, and their newscasts and/or publications close down, the communities they serve lose a lot more: fewer or no options to news and information in their language. 

•••••• 

Lack’s Furniture shows commitment to employees with scholarship funds to attend South Texas College

By HELEN ESCOBAR 

Lack’s Furniture has created a $10,000 scholarship fund through South Texas College to provide opportunities for the dependants of Lack’s employees to attend college.  

“At Lack’s we believe that our employees are our greatest assets and that is why we invest in the educations of our employees and their children,” said John Price, director of human resources for Lack’s Furniture. “We believe in putting money back into the community, especially in institutions like South Texas College that share our vision of making the Valley a better place to live and work for everyone.”  

The company was originally founded in 1935 by Sam Lack, a Russian immigrant. The operations focused on selling automotive parts, but World War II pushed the boundaries of Lack’s into the home furnishings arena.  

Today, the business is still family-operated under the leadership of Lee Aaronson. A tradition of giving runs in the Aaronson family, which still owns the chain of 11 Lack’s stores serving the Rio Grande Valley from Laredo to Port Isabel.  

“Mr. Aaronson has always been committed to education as a foundation of life and has been giving to scholarship funds at another college for years and so he felt it was time to expand that commitment to include South Texas College,” said Price. “We know that STC offers great programs that can help students build a solid foundation for future success. And I have to add that at Lack’s we expect nothing in return for the investment. It’s just what the Aaronson family, and the entire Lack’s family, believes in – helping out your fellow man for their own betterment. Sometimes all you need is a hand up and this fund is a hand up for all our employees and their children.” 

Lack’s is one of the top 100 retail furniture operations in the U.S. and employs more than 700 associates. 

For more information about making a corporate donation to South Texas College or setting up an employee scholarship fund through the college contact Diane Atkinson at 956-872-2665. 

•••••• 

Meeting the needs of Texans with developmental and intellectual disabilities addressed in state legislation

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR. 

This legislative session we are proposing bills that address the needs and precious rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Following a report issued in December by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) revealing that our state schools failed to protect residents, the Governor declared this matter a legislative emergency. Reports of widespread abuse and neglect beginning in 2005 culminated in the investigation.   

The DOJ found ongoing safety and civil rights violations, including 53 preventable deaths and thousands of abuse and neglect cases at our 13 residential care facilities, where 4,673 residents from throughout the state live and receive care. 

State schools provide residential services for chronic illnesses, developmental disabilities and serious mental illness to individuals from throughout the state. 

My colleagues and I are filing legislation to address the concerns of the DOJ report, but primarily to give people with intellectual disabilities the option of community living and offer them enhanced protections. 

I filed Senate Bill 639 that provides a comprehensive Bill of Rights specifically tailored for state school residents. 

This Bill of Rights sends a message that the lives of residents in state schools are every bit as valuable as those of the general population, and that crimes against them should be taken just as seriously as those against non-disabled persons. 

While SB 639 in no way limits civil rights guaranteed under the Constitution and laws of this country, it does strengthen and more clearly enumerates the protection of freedom from abuse, neglect and exploitation. 

It solidifies that residents of state care facilities can make decisions impacting their rights and freedoms. In situations involving minors, their parents or legal guardians can act in their stead. 

Most importantly, my bill will codify into statute that if there is abuse, neglect or exploitation, a state school resident has the explicit right to report the perpetrator and do so with confidentiality. When pertaining to minors, their parents or legal guardians must be notified within 24 hours of an incident. 

Through this bill, I want to ensure that our state’s residential care facilities protect basic human rights and promote optimum living conditions. 

In addition, I am also addressing the development of a long-term, strategic plan sorely needed in Texas for serving young people with disabilities. Issues complicating our piecemeal and ineffective mental health system are the rising rates of autism, the increasing number of children admitted into state schools and long waiting lists for home and community-based services. 

My proposal would create a Taskforce on Children and Youth with Special Needs for newborns to 21-year-olds. I am optimistic that this five-year plan would certainly improve the coordination and quality of services for this young population. 

Among many goals, this plan would eventually eliminate the presence of children and adolescents in large institutions, while increasing the number of community-based options for them. 

People with developmental and intellectual disabilities of any age and their families face enormous challenges. Texas too faces enormous challenges in trying to adequately serve them. I am committed to this effort, especially for South Texas, one of the most economically depressed and medically under-served areas in the nation.  

Whether in a state facility or community setting, these Texans deserve the highest level of services, rights and protections that we can offer. This session, I feel we will more closely meet these expectations. 

•••••• 

Sens. Hutchison, Cornyn invite qualified candidates to apply for U.S. Attorney positions in Texas

By JEFF SADOSKY 

U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both Republicans from Texas, on Thursday, March 19, announced that qualified candidates who are interested in serving as a United States Attorney in the state of Texas must submit application packets by Friday, March 27, 2009. 

Hidalgo and Cameron counties are included in the Southern District of Texas, which is based in Houston. 

The Southern District of Texas comprises seven U.S. District Court divisions with federal district courts in Houston, Galveston, Victoria, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen and Laredo. The United States Attorney’s office, headquartered in Houston, has five additional branch offices in Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, and Victoria to staff all seven divisions. 

“Texas has a strong record of accomplished legal minds who have answered the call to serve,” said Hutchison. “Serving the people of Texas is a noble profession and I look forward to working through the process with those interested in applying.” 

“I look forward to working with the President to help confirm well-qualified, consensus nominees to serve as United States Attorneys in the State of Texas. I am confident that we will work together in a constructive, bipartisan fashion that can be a model for other states,” said Sen. Cornyn. 

Hutchison and Cornyn invite attorneys to seek appointment to these critical positions by submitting their resumes and completed questionnaires to each Senator’s office. All applications will be carefully reviewed, and then Sens. Hutchison and Cornyn will make recommendations to the President so he may select a nominee. 

Completed application packets must be sent via email to the following addresses no later than March 27, 2009: FJEC@hutchison.senate.gov and FJEC@cornyn.senate.gov

The comprehensive questionnaire is available on our websites at http://www.hutchison.senate.gov and http://www.cornyn.senate.gov. Submitted questionnaires will be reviewed by the Federal Judiciary Evaluation Committee, and selected candidates will be interviewed. 

Under the U.S. Constitution, the executive and legislative branches of government share responsibility regarding the appointment of federal judges and U.S. attorneys. The President nominates individuals and the Senate provides its advice and consent on the appointments. 

The History of the District 

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the State of Texas is divided into four judicial districts, which shall be called the northern, the eastern, the southern and the western judicial districts of the State of Texas." 

With these words the 57th Congress of the United States of America created the Southern Judicial District of Texas in 1902. 

Texas was admitted to the United States in 1845 and was originally considered one judicial district under the leadership of Judge John C. Watrous. The court was also granted circuit court powers meaning appeals went straight to the U. S. Supreme Court. In 1857, congress created the Eastern and Western District of Texas and appointed Thomas Duval to be the judge of the Western District. Texas continued to grow, and in 1879, congress formed the Northern District. As the railroads continued to expand and fuel the Texas economy, congress created the Southern District on July 1, 1902 appointing Waller T. Burns to the bench as the district’s first judge. 

As per the act of congress that created the four districts in Texas, the U. S. Attorney for the former Eastern District, Marcus C. McLemore, was reassigned to the same position in the new Southern District. President Theodore Roosevelt then appointed a new U. S. Attorney for the altered Eastern District. In 1906, President Roosevelt named Lodowick "Lock" McDaniel of Grimes County, Texas to be the first man appointed as the United States Attorney for the Southern Judicial District of Texas. 

Originally, the Southern District covered 36 counties. The court and the U. S. Attorney rotated between Galveston, Laredo, Brownsville and Houston which was a new seat for the court. Over the years divisions were added, counties were transferred and divided, and more judges and U. S. Attorney’s offices were opened. Currently, the Southern District consists of six divisions covering 43 counties with 150 attorneys on staff.

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