Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, flanked by leaders of local veterans’ groups, on Thursday, June 11, explained why he took on powerful legislative enemies in order to get his bill passed that will provide up to a 100 percent home property tax break for thousands of disabled veterans. "We veterans, we don’t leave anyone behind, and I wasn’t about to leave these veterans behind," Flores said during a press conference organized by the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. The group chose the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission as the site for the news event, noting that Flores had also been the principal architect in bringing the state veterans cemetery to the Valley. Despite behind-the-scenes legislative opposition to his measure, Flores, a U.S. Army veteran, outmaneuvered his political rivals and passed the veterans’ home tax break. Flores praised Texas veterans groups for playing a key role in the measure’s hard-fought success. See lead story later in this posting.
Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured first on right, was rated as one of the best state lawmakers in Texas by Capitol Inside, a non-partisan web site news service has been a big hit with Republicans, Democrats and diehard independents as well since making its debut online in January 2003. At the conclusion of each legislative session, several political publications and websites name best and worst performers based on their service to their districts and the state. This year, Capitol Inside and political strategists Ted Delisi and Harold Cook compiled top ten lists, each naming Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as one of Texas’ top ten legislators. Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as a veteran legislator that "just keeps getting better." The Delisi/Cook list noted Hinojosa’s ability to secure funding for District 20 projects, including highway infrastructure, and millions of dollars for health care delivery services. From left, during a recent visit to the Capitol, are Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa (no relation to the senator), Hidalgo County County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr., and Hinojosa. See story on the Capitol Inside ranking later in this posting.
South Texas firefighters were among the dozens of area groups which visited state lawmakers at the Capitol during the recently-concluded five month regular session. On Wednesday, April 1, a Valley delegation brought their issues to Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. Featured with Lucio, in his office, are, from left: Manuel Vargas, McAllen; Raul R. Zúñiga, Jr., San Benito; Javier Gutiérrez, McAllen; Lucio; Ramón Martínez, San Benito; Jesús Tijerina, San Benito; and Ernest Abrego, Harlingen. Later in this posting, Lucio writes about several key measures approved by the Legislature that will benefit another key constituency – military veterans.
The Convention Committee of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is finalizing plans for the 34th annual Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) Convention, which this year will be held at the McAllen Convention Center from July 29 through August 1. The theme to the convention is “Growing Hispanic Business, for a Stronger Texas Economy”. Featured, front row, from left: Sam Guzmán, TAMACC president; Froy Garza with Congressman Henry Cuellar’s office; and Salomon Torres with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s office. Back row, from left: Rick Carrera, University of Texas-Pan American Small Business Development Center; Dr. John Thomas, MHCC board of directors; Mark Winchester, UTPA’s Director of the Rio South Texas Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO; Letty Flores with Gov. Rick Perry’s office; Margie Treviño, Southern Minority Supplier Development Council; and María Juárez, UTPA Director of the Small Business Development Center. See story later in this posting.
The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Punch @ Lunch on Wednesday, June 24 at the Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive, sponsored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR). The business community of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley are invited to attend the free networking luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Persons who attend are being asked to bring their business cards to distribute during the chamber’s most notable social-networking luncheon, which includes food, door prizes and fun. Area residents interested in attending should RSVP by calling 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Joanna Álvarez, DHR Assistant Director for Marketing; McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who serves as DHR’s legal counsel; Mario Lizcano, DHR Director for Marketing; Marissa Castañeda, DHR’s Chief Operations Officer; and Frank Lara, Membership Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.
Texas veterans denounce Texas Monthly’s attack on Rep. Flores for fighting for disabled war heroes
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Texas veterans’ leaders on Thursday, June 11, denounced Texas Monthly for naming Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, to that magazine’s Ten Worst list of state legislators, saying the magazine vindictively punished him for successfully championing major legislation that will help tens of thousands of military veterans.
They also said the criticism was a shot against veterans throughout Texas, who had worked with Flores to carry legislation that will give disabled veterans – depending on the extent of their physical disability – up to a 100 percent tax break on their home property taxes.
They held a press conference at the state veterans’ cemetery in Mission to set the record straight about the key role Flores played in securing legislative passage of his bill.
The disabled veterans’ tax break was approved by the Texas Legislature in the final days of its regular session, but not until after Flores openly challenged the power structure in the House of Representatives.
He said key House leaders were trying to kill the bill, then blame Flores for the loss.
But Flores was criticized by Paul Burka, an editor for Texas Monthly, in an upcoming magazine article, which drew strong reactions from area veterans’ leaders.
“He interrupted a debate over cockfighting to make a parliamentary inquiry about whether cockfighting was more important than veterans and why trivial bills were being scheduled ahead of his bill, and he had an in-your-face confrontation with the chairman of the committee that schedules bills for debate," Burka wrote, chastising Flores for pushing so hard for the veterans’ legislation.
“This is disgusting. Frankly, it is an insult to all veterans,” said Homer Gallegos, co-chair of the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley, told the Rio Grande Guardian, an Internet newspaper which focus on border legislative news.“Kino Flores deserved to be on the Ten Best category for all the work he did for the veterans’ community this session. He was our champion.”
Gallegos’ view was supported by other area veterans’ leaders, who had gathered at the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission – a state facility which Flores helped bring to deep South Texas.
"First and foremost, I want to express my appreciation for the efforts presented by Rep. Kino Flores.
As far as we are concerned, he is our champion" said Tony Cordova of McAllen, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, who was representing the McAllen chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. "Everybody has his opinions, and Mr. Burka must have his. After his expressions in that magazine, I don’t know how he could be a veteran. A veteran would not ever publish it in a document as well-read as that (Texas Monthly)."
Emilio De los Santos, the Veterans Services Director for Hidalgo County, expressed similar disappointment with the magazine’s article, which is already posted on Texas Monthly’s website.
"It is sad to read how one individual, Mr. Paul Burka, from Texas Monthly, demeaned our (Valley) legislators," said De los Santos. "Their issue dealt with who brings shame on the Legislature," De los Santos added. "I think it should have been about who brings honor and dignity to our great state and its people. That’s what Kino Flores did, by standing up for the 1.7 million veterans in Texas."
Flores, a U.S. Army veteran, said he would do everything in his power to make sure disabled veterans and their families were protected by the state legislature – including taking on powerful legislative enemies.
"We veterans, we don’t leave anyone behind," Flores declared, "And I wasn’t about to leave these veterans behind."
Background and purpose
Chapter 11, Tax Code, sets forth provisions relating to taxable property and exemptions. Section 1-b(i), Article VIII, of the Texas Constitution allows for a complete exemption of the value of a totally disabled veteran’s homestead from ad valorem property taxes.
Proposition 9, which passed on the November 2007 ballot, amended the Texas Constitution to authorize the legislature to establish an exemption on the residence homestead of a totally disabled veteran for purposes of property taxation, and aligned the state’s property tax exemptions with federal disability ratings. However, the enacting legislation accompanying the constitutional amendment failed to pass.
Flores’ legislation amended current law relating to an exemption from ad valorem taxation of the residence homesteads of certain totally disabled veterans and to the amount of the exemption from ad valorem taxation to which a disabled veteran is entitled based on disability rating by the U.S. Veterans Administration.
For eligible veterans who are not 100 percent disabled, the following home tax breaks would apply:
• A veteran who has a disability rating of at least 10 percent to 29 percent would qualify for a $5,000 tax break each year on the assessed value of their home;
• A veteran who has a disability rating of 30 percent to 49 percent would qualify for a $7,500 tax break each year on the assessed value of their home;
• A veteran who has a disability rating of 50 percent to 69 percent would qualify for a $10,000 tax break each year on the assessed value of their home; and
• A veteran who has a disability rating of 70 percent to 99 percent would qualify for a $12,000 tax break each year on the assessed value of their home.
Veterans’ causes fare well in 81st Legislature
By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.
One of our proudest accomplishments as legislators this 81st session was honoring our veterans through meaningful legislation that will improve their lives.
Mr. John House with the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) concurs by saying, "This legislative session saw many efforts come together to assist and support our veterans and their families. The key thing now is for us to go out into our communities and let our veteran friends, families, and coworkers know about the benefits and services available to them."
As a proud co-author of a bill sponsored by Rep. Kino Flores and Sen. John Carona that finally passed when amended onto another House Bill, I am thrilled that our disabled veterans will receive a well-deserved and much needed property tax break.
To qualify for an exemption from taxation of the total appraised value of a resident homestead, a veteran must either be classified 100 percent disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a service-connected disability or be certified unemployable by the agency.
We adopted a Constitutional Amendment last session that was later approved by voters to allow totally disabled veterans this property tax exemption. However, the accompanying enabling legislation to make it possible ran out of time, so this session we passed this bill needed to complete the process.
Given the tough economic times and the rising cost of every commodity and service, disabled veterans will get to keep a little change in their pockets. However, the importance of this bill isn’t just to save a veteran some money; it is to show these heroes that we honor their service and sacrifice.
Another piece of legislation of significant financial importance is one by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, chair of the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, which in addition to reorganizing the TVC to better streamline services, also directs the Texas Lottery Commission (TLC) to create and operate a new scratch-off lottery ticket just for veterans.
The proposed scratch-off ticket is expected to initially increase gross sales slightly more than the average new game because the TLC and veterans groups will be promoting the game to increase its visibility.
Last session the Fund for Veterans Assistance (FVA) was created to support a wide range of veterans programs in the state, from individual emergency assistance to peer-to-peer workgroups for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)-related issues. Proceeds from the scratch-off lottery game would be dedicated to the FVA.
Mr. House reminds us that "we can also let our communities know that they can help veterans and their families by donating to the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance, which will provide for some of the unmet needs of those who served."
This session we also approved a bill that will direct the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to create a military veterans peer-to-peer mental health program – scheduled to be up and running by January 1, 2010 – to provide counseling to military veterans who suffer from mental illnesses.
PTSD is a leading cause of suicides for veterans ages 20 to 24, which is twice the rate of the civilian population in the same age range. DSHS can train veterans to provide counseling services to fellow veterans. It is better to turn to someone who can relate to the emotional wounds servicemen and women are bringing home instead of someone who’s never seen combat or served in the armed forces. This method of counseling reduces the concerns about stigma or negative repercussions. Veterans will be able to share their experiences in a supportive environment without judgment, knowing that everyone participating has had similar experiences.
A bill that created a military voting pilot program last session for service members stationed overseas to receive their voting ballots by email was made permanent this session.
And to further honor the heroism and sacrifice of our military men and women, I proudly passed a bill that directs the Texas State Cemetery Committee to erect a flagpole and monument to honor military personnel from Texas who are killed while serving in a combat zone.
I am grateful to the Cemetery Committee for working with me in achieving this goal. The monument and flagpole will be placed in the military monument area of the cemetery, and the flag will be flown at half-staff to respect the memory of the deceased member of the armed forces.
It is now up to the governor to allow these bills to become law or to sign them.
For more information on new laws and existing services, veterans and family members can contact or find a Texas Veterans Commission office close to them by visiting http://www.tvc.state.tx.us or by calling 1/800-252-VETS.
Sen. Hinojosa honored as one of Top Ten legislators by Capitol Inside: He "just keeps getting better"
By ARTURO BALLESTEROS
At the conclusion of each legislative session, several political publications and websites name best and worst performers based on their service to their districts and the state. This year, Capitol Inside and political strategists Ted Delisi and Harold Cook compiled top ten lists, each naming Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as one of Texas’ top ten legislators.
Capitol Inside (http://www.capitolinside.com)has become known as the Fox News of the Austin insider world while quickly emerging as the most unique and entertaining source for news and information on state politics and government in Texas. The non-partisan web site news service has been a big hit with Republicans, Democrats and diehard independents as well since making its debut online in January 2003.
Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as a veteran legislator that "just keeps getting better." The Delisi/Cook list noted Hinojosa’s ability to secure funding for District 20 projects, including highway infrastructure, and millions of dollars for health care delivery services.
Hinojosa serves as vice chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Hinojosa is also in his second term on the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews state agencies and makes recommendations on operational efficiency.
Hinojosa commented on the successes of the 81st legislative session, which began in mid-January and end on June 1.
"This was an extremely productive session for South Texas. We have $8.5 million dedicated to health care projects in South Texas, $4 million secured for a new engineering program at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and $1 million to operate the Rio Grande Valley Border Security & Technology Training Center," said the McAllen area lawmaker. "I authored a series of bills to redevelop the retiring Naval Base along the Coastal Bend and locked down the funding necessary for a thorough revamping of Highway 281. As my roles changed this session, so did my responsibilities. I had more to achieve on behalf of my district."
Hinojosa’s impact will be felt on a statewide level, also.
He sponsored House Bill 2154, a bill restructures the state’s out-dated Physician Education Loan Repayment Program. In one bill, Hinojosa closed a tax loophole that cost Texans millions each budget cycle and restructured a physician loan program to lure 900 primary doctors to rural regions such as Brooks and Jim Wells Counties. The remaining funds from the loophole closure will fund a tax break for Texas’ small business owners.
Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as " the kind of guy you want on your side in a fight – and he has a way about him that helps get the peace process moving in the search for solutions as a problem-solving legislator who’s a quick study while commanding respect and trust from peers on both sides of the partisan aisle."
It was Republican consultant Ted Delisi that best summed up the praise Hinojosa has received lately, noting that Hinojosa "is an understated yet powerhouse force in the Legislature."
Health care, public safety measures among major victories for district and Valley by Rep. Gonzáles
By RICARDO LÓPEZ -GUERRA
Recruiting more physicians to medically underserved areas, curbing illegal towing practices and bringing millions of state dollars to the Rio Grande Valley are among Rep. Verónica Gonzáles’ legislative accomplishments passed during the 81st Legislative Session, which concluded June 1.
Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has southwest Edinburg in the District 41 House district.
"Despite a tough economic climate, this session produced positive result for the Rio Grande Valley and the state of Texas. We balanced our budget without touching the Rainy Day Fund, gave state employees and teachers a pay raise, provided retired teachers an additional check and gave small business owners some relief from the margins tax," Gonzáles said.
"We also funded long-awaited transportation projects in South Texas and a McAllen cancer clinic to serve indigent women," she added. "Our region will benefit from legislation I passed to bring more physicians to underserved areas, increase higher educational opportunities and curb illegal towing practices."
Legislation passed by Gonzáles includes:
• Increasing fines and penalties for towing companies who violate the law, giving the state more regulation over towing fees, making the recovery of a wrongfully-towed vehicle easier for vehicle owners and giving prompt judicial relief to vehicle owners when their vehicles are improperly towed;
• Permitting the Texas Supreme Court, in the event of a disaster, to put together an emergency preparedness plan for transaction of essential judicial functions;
• Creating two additional county courts at law in Hidalgo County, and an optional District Court Records Technology fund to aid district clerks in preserving and maintaining large amounts of court documents;
• Increasing the amount of loan forgiveness for physicians who practice in a Health Professional Shortage Area or medically underserved area. Gonzáles’ amendment allows the Texas Higher Education Board to provide physicians who practice in these areas loan repayments in incremental annual payments for up to four consecutive years for a total up to $165,000;
• Adding a "Hook Em’ Amendment" to the top 10 percent law (Senate Bill 175) to assure that the University of Texas’ commitment to diversity is preserved. Gonzáles’ amendment provides that if the courts or the Board of Regents prevent UT from considering race or ethnicity in their admission policy, the top 10 percent rule will be restored;
• Increasing opportunities for community college employees by allowing community colleges such as South Texas College to waive tuition for employees who enroll in classes at the community college;
• Allowing students who obtain an associate’s degree at a community college and then transfer to a four-year university to obtain a bachelor’s degree, as well as dual-enrollment students who want to complete a four year degree, to do so without violating the 30-hour rule and being penalized with out-of-state tuition;
• Passing legislation to allow Hidalgo County and other counties to provide flood relief to colonia residents during natural disasters;
• Saving the county money and burial space by allowing the cremation of remains of unidentified persons who died by natural causes;
• Giving the county authority to charge a minimal utility certificate fee throughout the entire county, instead of only in areas around municipalities;
• Addressing the healthcare shortage by providing short-term provisional licenses to some out-of-state doctors who wish to practice in a medically underserved area, and to nurses from Mexico who will practice along the border;
• Providing a trust exemption notification to patients of mental healthcare and residential care facilities so they can use these monies upon release. This is especially important to soldiers who return from war with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders;
• Passing a resolution urging Congress to provide emergency funding and resources to begin immediately addressing increased delays at United States ports of entry on the Texas-Mexico border;
Additional funding for the Rio Grande Valley included:
• Transportation: Funding for Anzalduas Bridge and Expressway 83 in Mission and funding for new overpasses along US Expressway 281;
• McAllen Cancer Clinic: $1 million for Cancer Stop/ Dysplasia Clinic at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance to provide cancer and cervical cancer prevention for low-income and indigent women. The clinic will be a partnership between Doctors Hospital and UTMB;
• Bio-security initiative: $1 million for the McAllen center to address complex public health issues, send warning of disease threats and provide training for healthcare providers and health departments;
• Hurricane Recovery: $102,258 for the University of Texas Pan-American to recover from Hurricane Dolly. Money will cover lost revenue, business interruption and general costs incurred during Hurricane Dolly;
• Regional Academic Health Center: $6.5 million for campuses in Brownsville, Edinburg and Harlingen; and
• McAllen Boys and Girls Club: $160,000 included as part of the $3 million rider for the Texas Academic Innovation and Mentoring Program.
Area legislators to be featured during June 17 luncheon hosted by McAllen Chamber of Commerce
The McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 17, will be hosting the State Legislative Wrap-Up Luncheon with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep, Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.
The event, which is also being sponsored by AEP Texas & Rio Grande Regional Hospital, will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, located at 1200 Ash Avenue in McAllen.
Lawmakers will provide an overview of the legislative challenges and accomplishments of the 81st regular session that will impact South Texas.
For additional information or to RSVP, please contact Michelle Rodríguez at 956/682-2871 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $20 per person, which covers the price for lunch.
U.S. Supreme Court denies appeal filed by El Paso County seeking to block construction of Border Wall
By ELHUI DOMÍNGUEZ
José R. Rodríguez, the county attorney for El Paso County, announced on Monday, June 15, that he was notified this morning that El Paso County’s appeal to the United States Supreme Court in its border fence case against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was denied.
“We are disappointed but not surprised by this outcome," said the county attorney, who serves as a member of the Texas Border Coalition. "While we feel that we had a strong case, competition for space on the Supreme Court’s crowded docket is high,” Rodríguez said.
“This decision now ends our pursuit of this case," Rodríguez added. "El Paso County would very much like to thank Mayer Brown LLP of Washington, D.C., for their defense and support in this case. Mayer Brown litigated this case without any cost to the county."
Although the appeal was rejected, Rodriguez expressed optimism that the Obama Administration has demonstrated a willingness to consult with local communities on the fence and other border security policies.
The lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security was filed on June 23, 2008 by El Paso County, the City of El Paso, the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, among others.
The lawsuit challenged Secretary Chertoff’s statutory authority to issue a waiver of more than 30 federal, state, and local laws to accelerate the construction of a border fence in El Paso County. The County contended that the Congressional waiver of authority, without the opportunity for judicial review, was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power and moreover, that it was insufficient to permit the Secretary to declare pre-empted every state and local law related to the waived federal statues.
On September 11, 2008 a Federal District Judge of the Western District of Texas granted the Department of Homeland Security’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the merits of the case.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo held that the waivers used by the Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to expedite the construction of the border fence were constitutional because “…Congress constitutionally delegated its authority in the Waiver Legislation."
Montalvo further ruled that the waiver legislation did not violate the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the waivers were issued with the intent to “preempt state and local laws, which would interfere with Congress’s objective to expeditiously construct the border fence.”
Congressman Hinojosa announces new, no-interest loans program to help struggling small businesses
By TENO VILLARREAL
Many local small businesses may soon be eligible for interest-free loans under a new program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, announced on Monday, June 15.
The newly launched “America’s Recovery Capital” (ARC) program allows small firms to take out loans of $35,000 to pay down existing business debts. Borrowers pay no interest on the ARC loans and repayment does not begin for one year. The loan program was established through the ARRA, which the President signed into law in February. Hinojosa said the new loans are part of Democrats’ ongoing work to help rebuild the economy.
“There are many businesses throughout deep South Texas that would be viable in the long term if they could just make it through this rough patch,” said Hinojosa. “That’s why we created this initiative. The ARC program gives entrepreneurs the breathing room they need, so they can pay their bills, retain employees and play their traditional role as job creators in our economic recovery.”
To qualify for the ARC loans, small firms must demonstrate they are experiencing immediate financial hardship due to the economic downturn, but are otherwise deemed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to be viable.
The loans will be made by commercial lenders and can be used for payments of principal and interest for existing, qualifying small business debts like credit card obligations, mortgages, lines of credit, and balances due to suppliers, vendors, and utilities.
Hinojosa said that in addition to the ARC loan program, the ARRA contained other measures aimed at helping small firms access credit. For instance, the new law increases the percentage of a loan that the SBA can guarantee, makes SBA-backed loans more affordable and provides tools to unfreeze the small business credit markets, helping small companies access capital at affordable rates.
“Small businesses are our nation’s most reliable job creators, generating seven out of 10 new jobs,” Hinojosa said. “If our nation is going to lift itself out of this recession, we need entrepreneurs to start growing again.
The ARC loan program is one element in a whole series of initiatives in the Recovery Act aimed at giving small firms the tools they need to lead our nation back to prosperity.”
To apply for ARC loans, businesses should visit their local SBA-approved small business lenders.
The loans will be available through September 30, 2010, or until appropriated funding runs out. Additional information about the ARC loan program is available at http://www.sba.gov/recovery/arcloanprogram/index.html
New county jail program will keep South Texas communities safer, says Congressman Cuellar
By ASHLEY PATTERSON
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, on Friday, June 12, applauded U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the launch of the Secure Communities Program, an initiative to enhance the abilities of five South Texas counties to check the criminal and immigration records of inmates in an effort to ensure criminal non-residents are not rereleased into the community.
In coordination with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Hidalgo, Bexar, Starr, Webb and Zapata county sheriffs’ departments will have access to the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric system to scan for immigration records when booking individuals into their jails. This modernized information system scans the biometric fingerprints of individuals who are being incarcerated and informs ICE when non-resident criminals enter the jail system. A system of prioritized enforcement actions follow thereafter, as ICE works to ensure the highest-threat level non-resident criminals are not rereleased into the community.
“I congratulate and applaud ICE and the sheriff departments in our district who’ve been working together so diligently in effort to stop non-resident criminals from being rereleased onto our streets once they serve their time,” said Cuellar. “This program is a major enhancement to the resources of our counties’ law enforcement organizations and will maximize the use of federal systems already set in place. I have no doubt this will help make our communities more secure.”
About two weeks ago, Hidalgo and Starr counties rolled out their new programs, and in the coming weeks Starr, Webb and Zapata counties will participate too.
The Secure Communities Program is a nationwide effort between 52 participating counties and ICE. It connects existing local law enforcement databases to both the DHS and FBI biometric systems. Last year, ICE identified more than 221,000 potentially removable persons in our nations’ jails and reports that over one-third of all illegal immigrants deported last year were convicted criminals. President Barack Obama publicly supports this program, and Congress has appropriated over $1 billion towards the initiative since last year along with the support of Congressman Henry Cuellar.
• According to ICE, over 300,000 inmates nationwide are non-resident criminals;
• ICE Reports that 25 percent of Hidalgo County Detention Facility Inmates are non-resident criminals, out of an inmate population of 1,232;
• By 2012, ICE hopes to expand this program nationwide. Currently, major cities such as Dallas, Houston, Boston and Miami are a part of this program; and
• Based on the pilot program, the agency estimates that if fingerprints from all 14 million bookings in local jails each year were screened, about 1.4 million "criminal aliens" would be found.
For additional information please visit http://www.ice.gov/secure_communities/ where you can access the U.S. Customs and Immigrations Enforcement fact sheet on the program.
Cuellar is a member of the U.S. House Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Government Oversight & Reform Committees in the 111th Congress. Accessibility to constituents, education, health care, economic development, and national security are his priorities.
Sen. Cornyn helping local leaders work with FEMA to prepare Texas for 2009 hurricane season
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Monday, June 8, sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate about efforts to strengthen and better prepare Texas for a potential hurricane or tropical storm this year while also ensuring that the state continues to receive the federal assistance required to make a full recovery from last year’s season.
Cornyn’s letter follows up on a conference call he hosted with Texas’ county judges from the Texas Gulf Coast, South Texas and the Valley to discuss hurricane preparedness in the region. Hurricane season began on June 1, and Cornyn is working to ensure each county is taking proper precautionary measures and is aware of federal resources that are available. The county judges provided an update to the Senator and offered suggestions on steps that can be taken to strengthen preparedness.
"With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting anywhere between 9 and 14 named storms, I wanted to reach out to FEMA and speak with county judges along our coast about preparations for the 2009 hurricane season," Cornyn said. "Many are still recovering from last year’s storms, and it’s critical they receive additional assistance to complete their recovery. It’s also important we look ahead to this season and take proactive measures to ensure residents, businesses and communities are properly prepared in the event a major storm hits Texas this season.
"County judges are on the front lines when devastating storms, like Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, hit our state. We need strong partnerships between federal, state, and local governments as well as the private sector and voluntary agencies, which are all critical to our ability to respond to and recover from hurricanes," Cornyn added. "I stand ready to work with coastal judges, local officials and other first responders closely if a major storm should hit Texas and will work with FEMA and other federal agencies to ensure everyone receives the necessary resources to recover."
Joining Cornyn for the call were: Judge Michael "Mike" Pheifer, Calhoun County; Judge Jimmy Sylvia, Chambers County; Judge Ron Walker, Jefferson County; Judge Carl Thibodeaux, Orange County; Judge Pete de la Garza, Kleberg County; Judge Carlos Cascos, Cameron County; Judge Rene Mascorro, Refugio County; Judge Burt Mills, Aransas County; Judge J.A. Garcia, Kenedy County; Judge Donald Pozzi, Victoria County; Judge Harrison Stafford II, Jackson County; Judge James Yarbrough, Galveston County.
Congressman Cuellar works to strengthen U.S. – Mexico relations, crack down on arms trafficking
By ASHLEY PATTERSON
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Wednesday, June 11, voted in support of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act which includes sweeping measures to crack down on small arms trafficking from the United States to Mexico by increasing existing penalties to unprecedented new standards.
The bill also establishes a “Merida Coordinator” to track all Merida Initiative-related efforts throughout the U.S. government and allows for new information sharing between U.S. federal agencies and Mexico.
“I’m pleased to see the President will be appointing a Merida Initiative coordinator to oversee how we carry out those important programs, and by allowing our countries’ law enforcement agencies to engage in information sharing we’re maximizing our efforts and resources on both sides of the border,” said Cuellar. “These new standards strengthen our working relationship with Mexico as both countries work to contain the violence along the border and stop the flow of illegal firearms headed south.”
The bill creates an interagency task force to coordinate U.S. government efforts to prevent illegal firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico and throughout the western hemisphere. The small arms trafficking measure increases existing fines from $1 million to the upwards of $3 million and increases potential prison time for such trafficking from 10 years to 20 years. In addition, it grants the Mexican Congress access to critical U.S. border related information to coordinate and improve drug-related oversight activities.
After participating in the 48th Mexico-U.S. Interparliamentary Group meeting a week earlier, Cuellar worked diligently with his colleagues, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Congressman Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to craft a provision to address numerous concerns expressed by Mexican officials. The provision, ultimately included in the manager’s amendment by Chairman Berman, seeks to enhance Mexico’s law enforcement agencies’ access to valuable information instrumental in addressing border-related issues.
“I’m very pleased that this provision will help the United States partner up with Mexico in a more effective way to solve our common problems. It gives these officials information we already have, information they can use,” said Cuellar. “This is a major enhancement to our existing partnership as we both continue working towards better securing our borders and protecting our communities.”
The Foreign Relations Authorization Act (HR 2410) passed the House late June 11 by a vote of 298-119 and supports a wide range of U.S. national security goals. It authorizes resources necessary to diplomacy efforts abroad and supports the President’s request to close a “diplomacy gap” in overseas posts. It also provides a significant number of resources for public diplomacy officers, arms control experts and counterterrorism specialists.
Cuellar is a member of the U.S. House Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Government Oversight & Reform Committees in the 111th Congress. Accessibility to constituents, education, health care, economic development, and national security are his priorities.
McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce finalizing plans for statewide convention to begin July 29
The Convention Committee of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is finalizing plans for the 34th annual Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) Convention, which this year will be held at the McAllen Convention Center from July 29 through August 1.
The theme to the convention is “Growing Hispanic Business, for a Stronger Texas Economy”.
TAMACC is the leading advocate for the Hispanic Business community in Texas. For 34 years TAMACC has promoted the growth , development and success of the local Hispanic chambers of commerce representing business members from a wide spectrum of the small business sector.
Designed to encourage professional and business growth, the TAMACC Convention is one of the top business conventions for Hispanic entrepreneurs and organizations that hope to engage the Texas Hispanic market.
At the convention, Hispanic entrepreneurs will have the opportunities to meet with buyers from national corporations and obtain valuable information regarding business development and procurement opportunities. The workshops being provided will concentrate on international business opportunities, women-related business issues, and state, federal and corporate procurement opportunities, etc.
The expo will be free and open to the public so the local business community can come and meet with the state, federal and corporate representatives as well as local vendors that offer supplies and/or services.
“I suggest that the Rio Grande Valley take this wonderful opportunity to promote their company by registering for the convention and/or displaying their goods and/or services at the Expo. Come and meet with business representatives from other parts of the state who are offering business opportunities as well.” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and chief executive officer for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
For more information on the TAMACC Convention, call the MHCC at 928-0060 or the TAMACC office at (512) 444-5727. More details on the TAMACC event and on the organization are available online at http://www.tamacc.org
Texas PTA applauds Sen. Zaffirini for passage of her law that requires booster seats for younger children
By STACY GLOVER
Texas PTA, the largest child advocacy organization in Texas, applauds Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who accomplished this session what she has worked toward for the last 6+ years. With her help Texas PTA accomplish a major legislative agenda – a law to make booster seats mandatory for children younger than 8 years of age or shorter than 4’9”.
Safety experts, including the Texas Department of Public Safety and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, recommend children use booster seats until they can fit safely into an adult seat belt. Texas is one of only five states that had not revised their child passenger safety law until Rep. Allen Vaught, D-Dallas, successfully did so. Nothing kills more children than car crashes. Safety seats, including booster seats, are very effective in reducing injury and preventing child death in crashes.
“Texas PTA applauds the commitment Sen. Zaffirini has made to the effort to revise Texas’ child transport laws. She refused to give up and was committed to passing comprehensive legislation that will ensure the safety of the children of Texas. Our primary goal in seeking this legislation is to protect children, and Sen. Zaffirini helped us to accomplish that goal,” said Texas PTA President Jan Wilkerson.
Booster seat laws raise booster seat use by 40 percent and their use reduces the risk by 59% of severe head, spinal cord and internal organ injuries sustained when children are restrained in an adult seat belt before they are physically big enough to safely use them.
“I am proud to have worked on this important piece of legislation and thankful for the lives that will be saved as a result of its implementation,” said Zaffirni.
Effort by federal government to close down GM dealerships endangers thousands of Texas jobs
By ATTORNEY GENERAL GREG ABBOTT
GM is putting dealerships across Texas – and thousands of their employees – at risk. The new federally controlled GM that emerges from bankruptcy wants to be freed from Texas laws that require it to deal fairly with local dealerships. Its plan will move the business toward a command economy model and away from a free market model.
In an unprecedented move, GM – which will be majority owned by the federal government – claims that states’ rights and states’ laws that protect dealerships can be ignored at GM’s choosing. In doing so, federally-owned GM guts Texas statutes that regulate car dealers – and flaunts U.S. Supreme Court precedent that upholds our state-based dealership structure.
Under its bankruptcy plan, GM seeks to sell itself to a new company – at this time called “New GM”. GM has insisted that current dealers sign a new dealership agreement if they want to be part of the New GM operation. The new agreements, however, amount to take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums that force current dealers to waive state laws that were enacted to protect businesses from those kinds of oppressive moves. If dealers don’t sign the contract, they will lose their business.
According to the Texas Automobile Dealers Association, there are 415 franchised GM auto dealers in Texas. These largely family-owned businesses generate billions of dollars in annual sales and employ almost 27,000 Texans.
Under the new dealership agreements GM is seeking to, among other things:
• Free itself from Texas law limiting GM’s ability to dictate that a franchise be modified or terminated;
• Skirt Texas laws regarding new vehicle inventory by forcing dealers to order new GM vehicles from the manufacturer – even if a dealer does not believe those cars will sell;
• Deny Texas dealers their legal right to market other brands;
• Alter Texas law (or skirt around existing law) regarding dealer locations; and
• Limit dealers’ warranty claims under Texas law.
States’ legal rights to establish a structure for auto dealerships has been long-standing and unquestioned. The United States Supreme Court recognized that States are “empowered to subordinate the franchise rights of automobile manufacturers to the conflicting rights of their franchisees where necessary to prevent unfair or oppressive trade practices.” (New Motor Vehicle Board of Cal. V. Orrin W. Fox Co. 439 U.S. 96 (1978)).
The Texas Occupations Code provides a comprehensive legal structure for dealerships. Now, under the threat of financial panic and the guise of emergency, GM is asking a bankruptcy court to hurriedly approve a plan that would let it – the only federally controlled auto manufacturer – be the sole exception to those well-established state laws. Perhaps more ominously, GM’s new mandates threaten free enterprise by allowing the federally controlled company to compel business judgment decisions that formerly were made by businessmen and women. GM is seeking to place short term profit above long held principles; short term accounting above long term accountability. America deserves better; Texas is demanding it.
Gov. Perry signs bill into law designed to protect disabled residents living in 13 special state schools
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, June 11, signed Senate Bill (SB) 643, which enacts emergency reforms for Texas’ state supported living centers (SSLC), formerly known as state schools, and provides more oversight and protection for the residents of the centers and those in community-based services. The governor declared reforms to the state school system an emergency legislative item in February.
“Whether these Texans live in a state facility or in therapeutic community settings, we are obligated by basic human decency to provide them with a safe setting in which to live, learn and grow,” Perry said. “SB 643 improves oversight of the state school population with everything from increased penalties for wrongdoing, to increased use of monitoring technology in our facilities.”
SB 643 enacts several protective measures for residents, including: establishing the Office of Independent Ombudsman and a new assistant commissioner who will oversee all state supported living center operations; enhancing abuse and neglect investigations by notifying and including the Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General in criminal investigations; creating a hotline number that is linked to the SSLC Ombudsman’s office to report allegations of misconduct; requiring video surveillance cameras in all common areas to prevent, deter and detect abuse and neglect; and requiring FBI fingerprint background checks and random drug testing on employees.
“I was sad and angry to learn of the abuse and neglect that has occurred in many of our 13 state schools. Texans with developmental disabilities should be treated with dignity and respect, and deserve our protection, oversight and compassion,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “I am grateful that the Legislature approved this bill, which I firmly believe will improve the lives of Texans with disabilities and ensure they receive proper care.”
Additionally, SB 643 increases penalties for employees who abuse or neglect residents, or fail to report abuse or neglect. It also requires the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) to contract with an independent patient safety organization to conduct mortality assessments to determine if deaths could have been prevented. The bill will help ensure that the facilities are in compliance with the recent U.S. Department of Justice settlement agreement.
“Texas is making much progress today to protect its most vulnerable citizens. With the signing of this legislation, allegations of neglect will be investigated thoroughly, promptly and proactively in both state supported living centers and community based settings,” Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Austin, said. “We are sending a clear message that abuse, neglect and exploitation of Texans with intellectual disabilities won’t be tolerated in our state.”
SB 643 renames the state schools to SSLCs to more accurately depict the residential care services provided to residents. The bill also designates the Mexia State School as the forensic SSLC to house high-risk, court committed individuals.
The governor was joined by Nelson, the bill’s author, and Rose, the bill’s sponsor, along with DADS Commissioner Addie Horn for the signing.