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Al Ramírez, Edinburg’s first Mexican American mayor who served from 1963 to 1967, passed away on Wednesday, April 22. The groundbreaking mayor, shown here last August 21 during a campaign kick-off for Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González, was credited for helping desegregate public swimming pools, among many other achievements. "We lost one of the great men of the Valley," said former Rep. Alejandro Moreno, D-Edinburg. "He was a descendant of pioneer families. He was a former mayor of Edinburg who welcomed the striking Rio Grande City Farm workers from a hospital bed on their 1966 march to Austin. He was a life long educator who helped develop bilingual curricula in the 1970’s. He also published history and genealogy books and had a great sense of humor. May he Rest in Peace." See obituary later in this posting. 

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Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, a guest of Mayor Joe Ochoa during Kennedy’s visit to the University of Texas-Pan American in February 2008, accepted a replica of the community’s All-America City Award, a symbol of some of many achievements generated during the leadership of Ochoa, who is not seeking reelection. Ochoa, who a few days after Kennedy’s visit welcomed then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, to the three-time All-America City, will be making one of his final official appearances as mayor on Thursday, May 7, as part of the National Day of Prayer. The prayer breakfast, which will take place from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., will be held at The Social Steak House and Club, 205 Conquest Boulevard in Edinburg.  There is a $15 fee, which includes breakfast along with a special gift to the first 150 people, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  For more information or to RSVP call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.  

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United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison, featured second from left, a 1966 alumnus of the University of Texas-Pan American, came back to his alma mater recently to address military cadets in Edinburg.  Garrison became most famous for his role as the commanding officer of Operation Gothic Serpent, the military operation launched in 1993 to capture Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which ended with the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Actor Sam Shepherd later portrayed Garrison in the film Black Hawk Down, which chronicles the events of the Battle of Mogadishu, regarded at the time as as the biggest single firefight involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. Featured, from left, at at the Dining-In ceremony for UTPA and UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College ROTC cadets are: Colonel (USAR) Christopher B. Rivers, UTPA assistant director of military science; United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison; UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale; Cadet Bronc Battalion Commander Vanessa Randolph; and Lieutenant Colonel André Dean, professor of military science and commanding officer of the UTPA battalion.  See story later in this posting. 

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Saturday, April 25, was declared Texas Meningitis Awareness Day under a measure by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, which was approved by the Senate on Friday, April 24. Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cords. The disease strikes 2,000 to 3,000 Americans each year, and 10 to 12 percent of those infected die. There is also a viral type of meningitis. Lucio also named a bill by Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Fort Worth, requiring bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campus in this state, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, after the 20-year-old University of Texas student has been hospitalized for the past six months with the less common and more violent version of the bacteria Meningococcemia. Jamie Schanbaum’s mother, Patsy Silva Schanbaum, is originally from Brownsville. Featured on the Senate floor on April 24, from left: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Maureen Moore, of the Houston Area Immunization Partnership and Confederation of Meningitis Organization; Nancy Day, representing her son, Kyle Hendrix (Meningitis survivor); Patsy Silva Schanbaum, representing her daughter, Jamie Schanbaum (Meningitis survivor); Jamie’s brother, Nicholas Schanbaum; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Ft. Worth, and Sen. Lucio. See story later in this posting. 

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House approves plan by Rep. Flores to use state agencies, other resources to build Valley VA Hospital

By DAVID  A. DÍAZ 

For the first time, Texas government would be required to invest key resources, including financial support, to help bring a federal Veterans Administration Hospital to the Rio Grande Valley, thanks to a bill by Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday, April 23. 

Flores’ proposal, House Bill 2217, was passed unanimously by the full House, and now will go to the Senate for their review and action.   

According to the bill analysis of Flores’ measure, HB 2217 would amend the Government Code to require the Texas Veterans Commission and the Department of State Health Services to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and any other appropriate federal agency to propose that the federal government establish the VA Hospital. 

"By bringing the resources and expertise of these two state agencies into this partnership, we could wind up having the state government provide the land and build the VA Hospital, and have the federal government pay to operate and maintain the hospital," Flores envisioned. 

In a related measure, Paul Herrera, the State Commander for the American G.I. Forum of Texas, endorsed Flores’ effort to commit the power of the state on behalf of the long-sought federal medical health care complex. 

Herrera said the need for the VA Hospital is great because for too long, federal and state governments have  "historically under-served the veterans who have health issues and problems." 

"The Rio Grande Valley has been in dire need of a critical care, full-service VA Hospital for decades. For many years, veterans and the American G.I. Forum have advocated and put forth resources with tireless efforts for this message to be heard," Herrera said. "The American G.I. Forum finds it appropriate and important that the state of Texas join thousands of veterans in pursing this endeavor." 

Although there has been recent political progress on the VA Hospital issue, more needs to be done, Flores said. 

"In February, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finalized contracts with Valley Baptist Health System in Cameron County and with South Texas Health System in Hidalgo County to provide inpatient, surgical, emergency, and mental health services to veterans enrolled in the VA benefits program," Flores said. "While this is positive news for veterans in the Valley, there is still a vital need for a full-fledged veterans hospital.  The nearest hospital is approximately 300 miles away in San Antonio, which, given the rising cost of travel, may be prohibitive for some patients." 

Flores was making reference to the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital, which is a 268 bed facility providing primary, secondary and tertiary health care in medicine, surgery, psychiatry, and rehabilitation medicine. It also supports a 90 bed Extended Care Therapy Center, a 30-bed Spinal Cord Injury Center, an eight-bed Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, and a Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center.  

The Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital is affiliated with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 

According to the VA, almost 20,000 veterans from 30 South Texas counties, including the Rio Grande Valley, received some type of medical care from the VA as of September 30, 2008. That figure does not include the estimated total number of veterans living in that region. 

The VA estimated that the federal government spent more than $400 million in medical and health care for those patients during the one-year period that ended September 30, 2008. 

According to those latest estimates, more that 26,000 veterans from Hidalgo County received VA medical care, valued at more than $100 million, and more than 18,000 veterans from Cameron County received VA medical care, valued at more than $73 million. 

Veterans from Starr and Willacy counties who received VA medical care at of September 30, 2008, numbered more than 2,200, with the cost for their health care totaling more than $10 million combined. 

The Texas Veterans Commission provides services tailored to the needs of veterans and their families, including taking the lead in coordinating efforts of service providers, sharing of resources, providing innovative and effective training, and developing a partnership with other levels of government to achieve the highest quality of service in assisting the veterans, their families, and their survivors. 

The Department of State Health Services includes collaborative efforts of various local, state, and federal entities and programs to ensure the availability of a system of resources and referrals for members of our military service, veterans, and their families. 

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Al Ramírez, Edinburg’s first Mexican American mayor who served from 1963 to 1967, dies at 86

Former Edinburg Mayor Alfonso "Al" René Ramírez, Edinburg’s first Mexican American mayor who served from 1963 to 1967, passed away on Wednesday, April 22.

"We lost one of the great men of the Valley," said former Rep. Alejandro Moreno, D-Edinburg. "He was a descendant of pioneer families. He was a former mayor of Edinburg who welcomed the striking Rio Grande City Farm workers from a hospital bed on their 1966 march to Austin. He was a life long educator who helped develop bilingual curricula in the 1970’s. He also published history and genealogy books and had a great sense of humor. May he Rest in Peace."  

Some of his life’s story was featured in the obituary, prepared by his family, which follows: 

He was born in Edinburg and lived 86 years full of adventure and service above self. He was born into the wide web of the Vela family and strengthened it by mixing love with his talents as humorist, writer, publisher, historian and all around good guy. 

The four boys are fortunate to have a father who set a very high standard. Dad was blessed with a brilliant purposeful mother who set the bar for him. Dad said Mama Emilia never wasted thirty-eight seconds in her life, and noted one day finding her standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, with a book on the German language sitting propped up and open on the windowsill. She was studying in preparation for an upcoming summer trip to Europe. 

To gain an insight in the values of this family, Mama advised daughter Edna on what to study at university, profoundly counseling "choose a career where you can serve others, not where you will be served." Tía Edna chose to study nutrition at UT Austin and returned to the Valley where for a while she was the only registered dietician. 

Surely dad got some of the same advice from his mother, or perhaps he just watched and followed the example. He also got regular lessons in how to correctly speak English and Spanish. He said she had mastered both, and whichever language he chose, he was certain to make mistakes and be corrected. 

Dad attended schools in Edinburg, Rio Grande City and Hidalgo. He is an Aggie who earned a Masters in Education at UT Austin. His career in education included posts as a teacher, principal, Edinburg ISD Director of Instruction and Director of Curriculum at newly established Region One ESC back in the late 60’s through the late 70’s when he retired. 

He used the word "euphoria" to describe the years at Region One, because he supervised a team which created teaching materials which helped Spanish-only speaking children become literate in their native tongue. The program exceeded expectations and students, who would have been solid candidates to drop out, advanced rapidly and by fifth grade, could read English at or above grade level. 

During the war (after graduating A&M), he co-piloted a B-24 on bombing missions over Europe, earning the Air Medal and a Purple Heart. On one mission, the plane in front of him took a direct hit, and dad was bent over getting a camera out of his boot when debris came through the windshield, wounding both he and the pilot. He later estimated that he survived by 1/50th of a second, which was the time-distance gap between his B-24 and the plane in front of them. 

He led by example, and although an officer was not expected to help wash their plane, he willingly joined enlisted crew members on the flight line to finish that job. In the booklet he said "Jodey", their plane, was like another member of the crew. That gesture earned him the crew’s deep respect. Of the 10 men aboard "Jodey" only two remain, and both were crushed to learn their co-pilot was gone. 

In the early 60’s Dad decided to run for mayor of his hometown. At that time, very few Mexican-Americans served as elected officials. He could have been elected city commissioner in the late 50’s because the ruling elite in Edinburg asked him to run and guaranteed victory. Their representative told him not to worry about lack of money, or political savvy, his election was assured. Dad was nobody’s lackey and declined the disgusting offer, choosing instead a few years later to do it his way, winning the mayor’s race by 14 votes. He easily won re-election two years later. 

In late November 1963, mom and dad headed to Austin for a reception for President Kennedy. On the way, they heard the terrible news. He confirmed it at a radio station on the side of the highway, then sadly turned the car around and headed back for Edinburg. 

In recent months, as we cleaned up house and went through a less than perfect filing system, we gained a deeper appreciation for the depth and breadth of his thinking. 

He explained that he did not find peace or spiritual renewal in an empty church, "but now Sequoia, Acapulco, the Atlantic or La Migaja – that’s something else." He loved the earth and especially the native brush land of his little slice of heaven north of town. 

He wrote a letter to someone explaining these views, and pointed out that we are unwillingly forced to leave the womb and the world, and how we behave in between is the subject of all faiths, creeds and religions. To him it was simple: "we are here to make existence on this earth better for ourselves and better for others." He did. 

He believed "the only measure of a person’s worth is the extent to which he succeeded in the constant battle to improve." He measured XXXL on that scale, perfectly fit his own description of the "greatest among us" as those who "leave a trail of deeds that raised the level of happiness for everyone whose lives were touched." He did. So many will miss him dearly. 

He is preceded in death by his parents, Rafael and Emilia Ramírez; and a granddaughter, Melanie A. Ramírez. 

Ramírez is survived by his wife, Betty R. Ramírez of Edinburg; four sons, David (Gracie) Ramírez of Buda, Texas, Robert (Elvia) Ramírez of McAllen, Steven (Valerie) Ramírez and Dan (María) Ramírez, both of Edinburg; 11 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and two sisters, Edna Ramón of Rio Grande City and Delia Gleber of Dallas. 

Funeral service was held at 9 a.m. on Monday, April 27, 2009, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Edinburg. Burial followed at Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission. Pallbearers were his grandchildren, Alex, Cristina, Danny, Emilia, Gaby, Jorge, Marissa, Maryam and Neda.  

Military honors were conducted by VFW Post 8788 of McAllen. 

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

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Gov. Perry requests antiviral medicines from CDC as precautionary measure to address Swine Flu in Texas

As a precautionary measure, Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday, April 26, increased his request of antiviral medication to 25 percent (850,000 courses) of the Texas allotment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Strategic National Stockpile to be pre-positioned in the state.  

This request will augment the more than 840,000 courses of antiviral medication on hand in Texas following a purchase authorized by the 80th  Legislature and  Perry in 2007. 

“While the confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S. have been mild, it is prudent that we take the necessary precautions in Texas to protect our citizens, which is why today I have requested 850,000 courses of antiviral medication from the CDC to be prepositioned in the state,” said Perry. “We will continue to work with our local, state and federal health officials to ensure public safety is protected.” 

CDCs Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) has large quantities of medicine and medical supplies to protect the American public if there is a public health emergency (terrorist attack, flu outbreak, earthquake). For more information on the SNS, visit http://www.bt.cdc.gov/stockpile

All 14 schools and two district facilities in the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District will be closed effective immediately after several more flu-like illnesses have been discovered in the ongoing Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) swine flu investigation. All extracurricular activities are also cancelled.  

For more information visit: http://www.scuc.txed.net

The move follows the closing of the district’s Byron Steele High School, announced on Saturday, April 25. Swine flu has been lab-confirmed in two students from that school who have recovered.  Lab confirmation is pending on a third case who is recovering. 

“We don’t have lab confirmation for any of the additional flu-like illnesses yet, but we’ve found enough illnesses associated with some of the other schools that we believe it’s prudent to close all of them before classes resume on Monday,” said Sandra Guerra, M.D., a DSHS regional director and the public health authority for Guadalupe County. She urged students not to be around each other while the schools are closed, noting that would “defeat the purpose of the closings.” 

The governor and state health officials urge the schools’ staff, faculty, students and their household members to avoid contact with others, especially if they have symptoms of a respiratory illness. 

Symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to those of regular or seasonal flu and include fever, fatigue, lack of appetite and coughing.  Some with swine flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. 

Health officials say everyone should follow standard precautions to reduce the spread of any respiratory illness: 

•Stay home when you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others;

•Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or a tissue and properly dispose of used tissues; and

•Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  

Individuals with these flu-like symptoms should call the state’s swine flu call center at 888-777-5320.  For health care providers with questions about assessing, evaluating and treating swine flu, call 877-623-6274.  These lines are operational from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For additional information on the swine flu, please visit: 

http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/swineflu

http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/ 

To reach the Texas Department of State Health Services press office, contact Doug McBride, DSHS Press Officer, 512/458-7524 or 512-532-4950. 

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House approves bill by Rep. Gonzáles to allow counties to remove flood water in certain colonias

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA 

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Friday, April 24, received unanimous support from the Texas House of Representatives for a bill allowing counties to provide flood relief to colonias during a disaster. 

"I am pleased to have passed this bill to help some of our area’s poorest residents who suffered from the flooding of Hurricane Dolly for several weeks. This bill will help the county provide flooding relief and eliminate health and safety concerns for the entire community," Gonzáles said. 

The bill addresses concerns that arose during Hurricane Dolly in July 2008, when some colonias in Hidalgo County dealt with high levels of water for several weeks. The water damaged residents’ homes and property, blocked roadways and created unsafe and unsanitary conditions. County crews were not authorized to pump water from some of these colonias because the residents lived on roads not owned by the county. The stagnant water became a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes and collection pool of trash and hurricane debris, which heightened health concerns for residents living nearby. 

HB 1579 will give counties the authority – in the case of a natural disaster like Dolly – to provide flood relief to residents residing in colonia neighborhoods, if the removal of the water would protect the health and safety of some its residents. 

A number of individuals registered their support for the bill on March 16, when HB 1579 was heard before the House Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, of which Gonzales is chair. 

They were: Terri Drefke, representing the Food Bank RGV; Tony Peña, Jr. with the Hidalgo COunty Judge’s Office; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III; and Saul Villarreal, representing Proyecto Azteca. 

The bill now heads to the Texas Senate for consideration. 

HB 1579 defined colonias as a geographic area that consists of 11 or more dwellings located in close proximity to each other in an area that may be described as a community or neighborhood and that:

• Has a majority population composed of individuals and families of low income, as defined by Section 2306.004, Government Code, and based on the federal Office of Management and Budget poverty index, and meets the qualifications of an economically distressed area under Section 17.921, Water Code; or

• Has the physical and economic characteristics of a colonia, as determined by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The legislation states that a county may provide assistance for the removal from private property, including a road, of flood water resulting from a natural disaster in a colonia if the removal of the water is necessary to protect the health and safety of the colonia. 

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Sen. Hinojosa named by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to help hammer out state budget compromise with House

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES 

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was one of five senators named on Friday, April 24 by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to work on a compromise version of the state budget bill.   

Hinojosa and four other senators will meet with five counterparts from the House to hammer out differences between the budgets passed by the House and Senate.  In addition to Hinojosa, the other four senators are Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, D-Plano. After members of the conference committee reach agreement, the full bodies of both houses will vote on the final state budget. 

A flurry of other activity took place between Monday, April 20 and Friday, April 24 on the Senate floor, with the passage of more than 160 bills in regular session.  

On April 20, the Senate approved reforms to the Texas Department of Insurance, aimed at clarifying the way the insurance market works in Texas. Senate Bill 1007, by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, came as a result of the Sunset process, a periodic review that all state agencies must undergo to allow the Legislature to make necessary changes to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.  

Hegar’s bill doesn’t directly address the question of insurance premiums, but it does seek to clarify the process through which TDI regulates the industry.  

"There is no magic formula for lowering insurance rates, and no type of regulatory system can automatically lower rates or premiums in Texas, unfortunately," he said. "This bill better defines the file-and-use system, with stronger prior approval protections as a back drop, to bring greater stability and consistent regulation in Texas." 

The market in Texas operates under a file-and-use system: companies that write homeowners insurance may file a rate change with TDI, but then go ahead and charge that rate while the agency considers if it is appropriate. The commissioner may put companies under a prior approval system, where the Commissioner of Insurance must approve all rate changes before they go into effect.  

SB 1007 clarifies exactly when the commissioner may do this. It would also require the agency to approve or disapprove filed rate changes within 30 days. Amendments to the bill would shorten the agency’s sunset period from the usual 12 to six years, and would require a company to pay back with interest rate changes deemed unfair to customers. 

On April 21, the Senate approved a measure intended to bring Texas to the forefront of the developing solar energy market in the U.S.  

"Texas is recognized as the national leader in renewable energy, especially in wind generation," said Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. "Senate Bill 545 allows our state to become more energy independent and to meet our renewable energy goals through the installation of solar generation."  

His bill would create a $500 million fund intended to encourage the development of solar power in the state from small, residential rooftop panels to large utility grade solar power arrays. Money for this fund would come from monthly surcharges on electric bills; 20 cents for residential, $2 for commercial and $20 for industrial customers. The Public Utilities Commission would run the program, and would be responsible for managing a rebate program for homeowners that install solar panels. 

On April 24, the Senate passed an omnibus anti-gang bill, one that enhances penalties for a variety of gang-related crimes.  

"This bill represents a comprehensive approach to addressing increased gang crime in Texas," said Sen. Jon Carona, R-Dallas, author of SB 11. The bill would create gang-free zones, similar to existing drug-free zones, that enhance penalties for gang related activities in and around places frequented by children, like schools and playgrounds. It would make leading a gang a first degree felony, and would increase penalties for gang members that solicit youths to join a gang or commit a crime. The bill would also prohibit people on probation from contact with gang members, and would permit judges to suspend for one year the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a gang related crime. 

The Senate reconvened on Monday, April 27 at 11 a.m. 

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Texas House adopts two-year state budget, which trims $4 billion of Senate version, says Rep. Gonzáles

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA 

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, is praising the Saturday, April 18, unanimous passage of the Texas House of Representatives’ two-year state budget, which increases funding for education, border security and health care and uses stimulus funds to boost unemployment benefits for out-of-work Texans. 

"The fact that the entire House voted to adopt this budget is incredible and a dramatic transformation from two years ago, when there was much fighting and partisanship," Gonzáles said. "I congratulate Speaker  Joe Straus for his leadership, the House Appropriations Committee for their hard work on the budget and the leaders of both parties for reaching compromises on potentially hot button issues." 

The House passed a $178 billion budget, $4 billion less than the $182 billion budget passed by the Texas Senate. The budget, which allocates state funding for 2010 and 2011, increases state spending by five percent without tapping into the State’s Rainy Day Fund.  Funding was prioritized according to statewide needs, it did not include earmarks for members’ individual districts. The House version does not bar state dollars from funding embryonic stem-cell research, as prohibited by the Senate’s version.  

Some of the House budget’s key points include: 

• Adding a $114 million increase to the Children Health Insurance Program that will provide for an expected growth in children covered under the state’s insurance plan.

• Allocating $52 billion for public education, which includes a $25 million increase for pre-kindergarten expansion, adding 17,100 students and $758 million to purchase instructional materials.

• Appropriating $80 million for border security, including an additional $44 million specifically to combat drug, human and arms smuggling and other crimes along the border.

• Providing retired teachers a $1,000 one-time payment, and also to current and retired state workers.  

• Giving a 5 percent increase to correctional officers and an additional $44 million to improve the case load of Child Protective Service caseworkers.

• Increasing student financial aid by $1 billion, including $224 million for Texas Grants and $25 million for Texas Educational Opportunities Grants. 

Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped the House avoid an anticipated budget hole without slashing state services. Almost $11 billion in stimulus monies are going to education, healthcare, transportation and other expenses.  

The House’s version of the budget also addresses rising unemployment levels in Texas. In the month of March alone, 41,700 Texans became unemployed and statewide job losses have averaged 50,000 a month since January. The state unemployment fund is expected to drop below the $839 million balance required by law in October. 

The House’s version of the Budget will now head to a conference committee where selected members of the House and Senate will work out the differences between the two versions. 

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No Valley state representatives appointed to crucial House conference committee to shape state budget

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Monday, April 27, announced his appointees to the Conference Committee on Senate Bill 1, the state’s biennial budget for 2010-2011. 

None of the Valley’s eight House members made it to that powerful list. 

Straus’ appointees are: 

• Rep. Jim Pitts, R- Waxahachie, who serves as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee;

• Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, who serves as Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee;

• Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio;

• Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton; and

• Rep. John Zerwas, R- Simonton. 

"The House conferees represent a cross section of our state and will guarantee the final budget meets a majority of our members’ priorities by delivering essential services, preserving the Economic Stabilization Fund and controlling state expenditures", said Straus. "I know Conference Committee members will work together to craft a sound budget which is fiscally responsible and sensitive to the financial difficulties faced by all Texans in today’s challenging economy." 

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Sen. Lucio proclaims April 25 as Texas Meningitis Awareness Day to educate people about this illness

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ 

Texas joined the rest of the country and the world on Saturday, April 25, in observing World Meningitis Day through Senate Resolution 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, which was approved by the full Senate on Friday, April 24. 

SR 712 declared April 25 Texas Meningitis Awareness Day. 

Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cords. The disease strikes 2,000 to 3,000 Americans each year, and 10 to 12 percent of those infected die. There is also a viral type of meningitis. 

Lucio also named a bill by Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Fort Worth, requiring bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campus in this state, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, after the 20-year-old University of Texas student who has been hospitalized for the past six months with the less common and more violent version of the bacteria Meningococcemia.   

"Jamie is blessed to have survived, but not without consequence," said Lucio. "As a result of this severe infection, she has had both legs amputated below the knees, as well as most of her fingers. Had Jamie been immunized with a readily available vaccine, this heartbreaking situation could have been avoided." 

Lucio said that Jamie, daughter of Ms. Patsy Silva Schanbaum, who is originally from his own hometown of Brownsville, "will battle the effects of this disease the rest of her life, yet she proceeds with courage, perseverance and resolute determination to return to her life as a college student." 

Adolescent vaccinations would reduce direct costs of the disease by $18 million and decrease productivity losses by $50 million. The health problems and disabilities caused by the bacterium, such as brain damage, kidney failure and epilepsy, could be prevented with vaccinations.  The rate of the invasive disease among persons 17 to 20 years of age is twice that of the rate of the general U.S. population, which results in anywhere from five to 15 deaths among college students yearly. Twenty percent of those who survive meningococcal disease live with severe health problems. 

"Texas cannot show enough gratitude to the valiant and generous efforts by the Schanbaum’s, including Jamie’s siblings Nicholas, KC and Roni, who turned their heartache into action by championing vaccinations that can save lives and prevent what Jamie has had to endure," said Lucio. "My prayers are that Jamie can fulfill her goal of returning to UT-Austin and complete her studies when she is finished with her upcoming rehabilitation." 

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STC government instructor Jennifer Clark receives major award from South Texas Civil Rights Project

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR  

Jennifer Cark, a South Texas College government Instructor, has been awarded the 2009 Emma Tenayuca Award by the South Texas Civil Rights Project (STCRP). She received the award at STCRP’s annual Noche de Fiesta celebration on Wednesday April 22. The event celebrates and honored individuals working to protect civil rights in the Rio Grande Valley. 

“We selected Jenny because of her passionate work to bring light to the forms of trafficking and coercion that affect women,” said Noemi Martínez , events coordinator for STCRP. “Her work to bring important figures to the community through STC’s Distinguished Speakers Series and instilling the seeds of social justice in her students has gone a long way in changing the mindset of a generation.” 

The award is named in honor of Emma Tenayuca, who was a labor activist born in San Antonio.  

An outspoken advocate for Mexican-American workers in Depression-era Texas, Tenayuca is best known for leading the successful 1938 Pecan Shellers Strike in San Antonio. She helped organize and consolidate unions and led pioneering efforts to help unemployed workers. Frequently arrested and eventually blacklisted, Tenayuca was unable to find work and was forced to leave San Antonio for California. After obtaining a degree there, she returned to San Antonio to serve her community as a school teacher. 

“We are very proud of Jenny for her staunch advocacy of civil rights and we can see the tremendous impact she has on her students, in helping them realize that every life is valuable,” said Anahid Petrosian, assistant to the vice president for academic affairs at STC. “I have worked closely with her for many years and can attest to her passion and conviction to make the world a better place. Her efforts have shed new light on human trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley. We congratulate her on this honor and support her in her continued efforts.” 

In addition to organizing an annual conference focused on ending human and sex trafficking, Clark also chairs the college’s Women’s Studies Committee, Foreign Film Association and Distinguished Speakers Series. 

“I am humbled by the award and I am so focused on rights issues because I have seen how people, especially women, have been oppressed across the world and its heart breaking,” said Clark. “I hope that my efforts are truly changing the way people think in the Valley and that my students and peers will continue a legacy of fighting for others who may not have the means to do so for themselves.” 

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Senate approves bill to allow more parents with disabled children to access Medicaid coverage

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES 

A bill passed by the Senate on Thursday, April 23, would make it possible for more parents with disabled children to access Medicaid coverage.  

Senate Bill 921 would permit families with income up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level to buy Medicaid coverage, with premiums based on a sliding scale that increases as income nears the upper limit.  

"This bill will address the concerns we have for families who have a disabled child on Medicaid, and because of the eligibility requirements, they’re not able to take job promotions or increase their income to help their family without losing eligibility," said bill author Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville. 

The Senate also approved a bill that would allow Texans to buy firearms in other states.  

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls said that an outdated state law prevented Texans from buying guns, ammunition and other accessories in states that did were not contiguous to the state. His bill, SB 1188, would update state law to permit this practice. 

A number of other measures passed the Senate on Thursday, April 23, including: 

• SB 2225, by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas,which aims to address growing gang violence along the Texas-Mexico border by creating laws prohibiting gun smuggling, 

• SJR 25, by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, which looks to end the practice of diverting toll road proceeds to other purposes, requiring toll money to go toward transportation needs, and 

• SB 1200, by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, which would require legislators to report any contracts they have with the state through which business is conducted in their private lives. 

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Attorney General Abbott says "GoogleMoneyTree" website is a fraudulent work-at-home scheme

Attorney General Greg Abbott on Friday, April 24, charged two Utah-based defendants with operating a fraudulent work-at-home scheme. The state’s enforcement action names Infusion Media Inc. and Jonathan D. Eborn, whose “GoogleMoneyTree.com” promised six-figure earnings for conducting specialized Google and Yahoo Internet searches. 

According to investigators, the defendants promised big payouts in order to convince Web users to spend $3.88 on shipping and handling for a “free kit” that supposedly would show them how to make money from home. Those who purchased the kit were later surprised to discover they were being charged $72 a month by the defendants. 

Internet users encountered the defendants’ Google and Facebook advertisements, which linked to blogs that were created to promote their work-at-home offer. The blogs included “testimonials” that touted their products and led viewers to believe that previously unemployed users were earning high salaries conducting Internet searches. According to the blogs, interested parties need only acquire a “free kit,” which was available through GoogleMoneyTree’s “sign-up” page. 

Individuals who requested the kit were required to provide substantial personal information, including their name, address, telephone number, email address, and credit card payment information, which was supposed to be used to pay the $3.88 “shipping and handling” fee. Customers believed they were only obligated to pay the “refundable” processing fee and were not aware there would be additional charges to their credit cards. 

According to the state’s enforcement action, GoogleMoneyTree failed to clearly inform purchasers that they had been enrolled in monthly memberships and had only seven days to cancel their trial membership. Purchasers who failed to cancel within seven days were automatically charged $72 on their credit card statements each month. In addition to the unexpected credit card charges, customer complaints obtained by state investigators indicate that GoogleMoneyTree failed to actually send the “free kit” and refused to honor customer refunds. 

The state is seeking an injunction, civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as restitution for purchasers. Texans who believe they have been misled by similar business practices may file complaints with the Office of the Attorney General toll-free at (800) 252-8011 or file complaints online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov

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Gov. Perry renews call for at least $60 million investment in Skills Development Fund

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, April 22, renewed his call for the Legislature to invest at least $60 million in the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Skills Development Fund for the upcoming biennium. The governor spoke at TWC’s Community College Conference, where he reminded Texans of the importance of investing in an educated and skilled workforce to maintain a competitive economic climate. 

“I believe that community colleges and proprietary schools are a key part of making positive investments in our workforce,” Gov. Perry said. “Every year, these institutions turn out students who are prepared to succeed in the completion of a four-year degree or to work in trades that contribute to our quality of life. Besides being anchors to their local communities, these schools are ideally positioned to educate a growing population of workers that that have either been displaced by the current economic turmoil, or have job skills that have been outpaced by rapidly-evolving technology.” 

The Skills Development Fund, which is managed by TWC, operates in partnership with public community and technical colleges to provide customized job training in targeted industries and specialized occupations. The governor’s proposal would expand the program by $10 million over the next two years, benefiting both employers and employees through custom-training to better support industry demand. 

Since its creation in 1996, the fund has helped more than 3,000 employers train more than 200,000 workers in essential workplace skills. Last year, TWC awarded 41 grants totaling more than $22 million, which served more than 140 businesses, generated nearly 8,000 new jobs and upgraded the skills of more than 11,000 workers in existing jobs. 

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Senate panel looks at legislation that could allow college students in Texas to take guns to campus

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES 

Students at public universities in Texas could be armed in class under a bill considered by the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday, May 27.  

Under current law, it is illegal to carry a concealed handgun on a college campus even if a person has a concealed handgun license (CHL).  

Advocates of the bill argue that in light of past shootings at college campuses, students need to have access to firearms to protect themselves.  

"I don’t want Texas college students picked off like sitting ducks by some deranged madman who comes on campus with a weapon as has happened on other campuses throughout the country," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the author of the bill.  

His measure, Senate Bill 1164, would permit the carry of concealed handguns by licensed individuals on college campuses. In accordance with existing CHL laws, a person must be 21 years of age, have 10 hours of class or gun range training, and pass a handgun proficiency exam to obtain a license.  

The bill would permit individual institutions to make regulations related to keeping guns in dorms, meaning they could require that a gun be kept in a locked box or gun safe in residential halls. Unlike its House counterpart, SB 1164 contains a provision that would allow private institutions to opt out and continue to ban concealed handguns. 

Students on both sides of this controversial issue came out to testify before the committee.  

"Every time I hear of [a school shooting], I feel helpless…because I know there are laws and ways around this that lives could’ve been saved," said Kenneth Jacobs, a student at UT-Arlington. He believes that armed students could prevent tragedies like what happened at Virginia Tech or the University of Northern Illinois. 

Other students testified that more guns on campus would make them feel less safe.  

Keshav Rajagopalan, the student body president at UT-Austin testified that his student government has passed two resolutions against permitting concealed carry on campus. He believes that armed students are the not the best option when dealing with a school shooting situation.  

"It’s absurd to me to act like people that, even with just a CHL that have a few days of training, could disarm a situation like that," said Rajagopalan. 

The bill did not get a vote during Monday’s hearing.  

"Before we consider this bill and vote on it I want to explore it fully," said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the chairman of the committee. 

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Major Garrison, UTPA alumnus who was featured in movie Black Hawk Down, addresses local cadets

By GAIL FAGAN 

When United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison was a student-athlete at then Pan American University in 1966, he said he wasn’t the best basketball player but he would “kill anyone who tried to take his slot.” 

Garrison went on to show this tenacity and exemplary leadership qualities as the youngest U.S. Army officer ever to hold the ranks of colonel, brigadier general and major general. He returned to Edinburg April 9 to speak to the current cadets at The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) during their annual “dining-in” event held at the Museum of South Texas History. 

“I didn’t choose the military, it chose me. I was drafted,” said Garrison, a 1966 alumnus in business administration and accounting, who first served in Vietnam and spent most of his military career in special operations units including Army intelligence and Delta Force. 

Garrison became most famous for his role as the commanding officer of Operation Gothic Serpent, the military operation launched in 1993 to capture Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which ended with the Battle of Mogadishu on Oct. 3, 1993. Actor Sam Shepherd later portrayed Garrison in the film Black Hawk Down, which chronicles the events of the Battle of Mogadishu, regarded as the biggest single firefight involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. 

“I have been many places in the world. I have dealt with presidents, prime ministers, kings, and queens but I have never felt more honored than right now to be with you,” Garrison said to the cadets and special guests present. Garrison, who retired in 1996 and has been on an assignment in Africa since then, was unable to attend a 2007 ceremony to honor distinguished alumni chosen as UTPA Pillars of Success, a biennial exhibit still on display in the UTPA Visitors Center. 

Garrison told the cadets that they will find themselves in charge much quicker than they now realize and offered some key words of advice. 

“The first unit you walk into as a second lieutenant you will be the least experienced person there but you will be responsible,” Garrison said, adding they will need to demonstrate both physical and moral courage, competency at what they do and at the duties of the person above them, and candor. 

“Candor is much more important than integrity. Candor is telling the whole truth. Not only has our society gotten away from that but also sometimes our military,” he said. 

Lieutenant Colonel André Dean, professor of military science and commanding officer of the UTPA battalion, said when they learned that Garrison had never seen Black Hawk Down, they chose to incorporate snippets of the movie into their ceremony and allow Garrison to comment on its historical accuracy and also answer questions from cadets regarding decisions he made during the battle. 

In response to a question about the difficulty involved in coordinating all the numbers of units and people from different countries in the Battle of Mogadishu, Garrison said insurgencies similar to this will be frequently faced by the U.S. military in the future. 

“It is so critical that you understand cross-cultural communications. And because you are coming from this university, you will have a leg up on many of your contemporaries,” he said. 

Garrison said today’s soldier is more educated and “far superior” than in the past but many aspects of the military have not changed a whole lot. The basic fundamentals never change he told them. 

“The first gunfight I was in I was about your age and the last gunfight I was in was in a classified operation after Somalia … there was a 30-year gulf between them and the United States had spent trillions of dollars since my first gunfight to my last and the bottom line is when you get into combat it does not change,” he said. 

On making decisions as an officer in battle, he said it does not have to do with right and wrong as much as preparing one’s self to make a decision, which may or may not be a popular one. 

“We as human beings spend our lives going from hero to zero and as human beings we always want to be a hero. The problem with that is that that is your comfort level. If you are not careful you will talk yourself into mediocrity. The only way for you to grow is to be uncomfortable and to take risks,” Garrison said. 

UTPA ROTC Battalion Cadet Captain Othon E. Galindo, from Edinburg, was thrilled to have the opportunity to have Garrison speak to their battalion. 

“I wanted to know about the decision-making process as a general, as an officer in the military, that’s what I hoped to get out of this. To be able to pick the brain of a general such as Garrison is priceless,” said the Edinburg native who is majoring in kinesiology and hopes to one day go into health care administration or obtain a master’s in kinesiology leading to a position to teach and coach. 

When he is commissioned as a second lieutenant in December 2009, Galindo, a reserves member, will be deployed to Afghanistan as a medical service corps officer in 2010. His military goals include becoming a brigadier (one-star) general. 

Cadet Major Josue Muñoz, also from Edinburg, oversaw the planning of the dining-in ceremony, a formal dinner held annually to foster spirit and unit pride that incorporates many historically-based, written procedures including posting of the colors, toasts, a punch ceremony and even an empty place setting to honor soldiers who are Missing in Action or Prisoners of War. 

Muñoz, who is a general studies major and in a National Guard unit, said Garrison’s comments made him feel calmer about the decisions he will have to make one day as an officer and was impressed with his willingness to talk at length to the cadets. 

“It is rare to have a general do a question and answer session. In your career as a lieutenant you will probably see a general go in and out of his office but you will never get to sit down and talk to one, especially one with a Special Forces background,” he said. 

Dean said he hopes the cadets were inspired by Garrison who as an alumnus from UTPA went on to a leadership role. 

“I want them to believe that their degree at UT Pan Am is just as valid to set them up for general officer leadership in a world-driven, geopolitical multinational command environment and that they can handle those complexities of leadership at that level,” Dean said. “They will now know they can go as high as they would like to serve in the nation.” 

UTPA’s ROTC program, which was initiated in 1980, was awarded the General Douglas MacArthur Award in March 2007 as the Best Battalion in the United States in its category, the first time it achieved this award in the program’s history. In 2009, the UTPA ROTC will commission approximately 11 officers, exceeding its mission goal by 20 percent and for the second year in a row will have Lieutenant General (three stars) Ric Sánchez to commission its officers. 

“The exceptional student-leaders who choose to become Army ROTC cadets and commission as officers in the United States Army upon graduation from UTPA are becoming recognized as some of the nation’s best and finest,” Dean said. 

For more information on the UTPA Army ROTC program, contact Dean at 956/381-3600 or via e-mail at aedean@utpa.edu

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