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Every year, Texas Monthly publishes much-anticipated reviews of some of the state’s best medical, legal, and community leaders, based on a strict and independent research process that identifies Texans who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Dr. Larry Balli, one of the area’s most influential dentists, has long enjoyed a stellar reputation in Edinburg. Late last year, he was bestowed the coveted honor of "Super Dentist" by Texas Monthly, a major statewide magazine with a national following. Now comes news that his professional and civic contributions to the region have earned him praise from Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature, which have approved a legislative resolution publicly recognizing him for his efforts in the Lone Star State. See lead story later in this posting. 

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As the veto period came to a close on Sunday, June 21, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured here during a McAllen Chamber of Commerce legislative update on Wednesday, June 17, announced final approval of 59 measures that he authored or sponsored. Hinojosa’s legislative package includes bills on transportation, natural resources, criminal justice, infrastructure, and health care issues, benefitting South Texas and the entire state.  See story later in this posting. 

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SOCIALIFE News Magazine, the five-year-old creation of South Texas entrepreneur Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, featured here with Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for its vital role of promoting a positive image of the Rio Grande Valley and by helping charitable organizations in the state and nation.  The honor, contained in House Resolution 2283 filed by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was unanimously approved by House of Representatives on May 25. See story later in this posting. 

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The laboratories at McAllen Heart Hospital and McAllen Medical Center were accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) after site inspections on April 1 and May 1. Both laboratories received complimentary remarks by CAP inspectors on the quality of patient testing, documentation and organization. The laboratories also received  exemplary marks on their standard of laboratory practices. Featured here are some of the employees of McAllen Medical Center and McAllen Heart Hospital who are instrumental to the quality of care and services the laboratories provide. From left, first row: Dr. Feliberto Cavazos, pathologist; Sobie Treviño, system assistant director; Grace Garza, system lab director; and Robert Tamez, hospital administrator. Second row, from left: Dr. José Luis Valencia, pathologist; Norma Rodríguez; and Lester Alvarado. Third row, from left:  Denisha Niño; Aida Galván; Diana Villarreal; Janice Milford; and Jennifer Ríos. Four row, from left: Elisa Díaz; Mylene Trasmonte; Becky Flores; and Sylvia Aguinaga. Fifth row, from left: Virgil Zuñiga; Robert Hockaday; Alejo Romero; Andy Romero; and Aydee García. See story later in this posting. 

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Hundreds of future South Texas College graduates, such as these featuring during this spring’s commencement exercise, will benefit from a major grant, to be dispersed over the next three years, for expanded development education programs. On Monday, June 22, STC leaders announced that the college has been named as one of 15 national recipients – and only four in Texas – of a new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MDC, Inc. Together the groups are giving $16.5 million to community colleges across the nation, $743,000 of which will come directly to South Texas College. “At STC we are so happy to receive the funds because it will help us institute a change to the respective course contents in our developmental programs to create learning connections for students among the three developmental education disciplines through contextualization of the curriculum,” said Dr. Ali Esmaeili, dean of developmental studies for STC. “We plan to implement a robust case management student support framework to ensure a consistent and reliable contact experience for all of our developmental students.” See story later in this posting. 

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Dr. Larry Balli, health care and economic leader, honored for life’s work by Gov. Perry, Legislature

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Every year, Texas Monthly publishes much-anticipated reviews of some of the state’s best medical, legal, and community leaders, based on a strict and independent research process that identifies Texans who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. 

Dr. Larry Balli, one of the area’s most influential dentists, has long enjoyed a stellar reputation in Edinburg. Late last year, he was bestowed the coveted honor of "Super Dentist" by Texas Monthly, a major statewide magazine with a national following. 

Now comes news that his professional and civic contributions to the region have earned him praise from Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature, which have approved a legislative resolution publicly recognizing him for his efforts in the Lone Star State. 

"Larry N. Balli, D.D.S., a native of Mission and a longtime resident of Edinburg, exemplifies the highest standards of his profession with his practice, located in Edinburg, and with his extensive public service to his community and to South Texas," Perry noted in the resolution which bears the governor’s signature.  

Balli, with his wife and business partner, Norma Garza Balli, along with their children, daughter Nicole Balli Little and Brandon Balli, "reflect positively on the thousands of Rio Grande Valley families who have helped shape Texas into the greatest state in the nation," Perry added. 

Balli, for his part, says he was humbled by the lofty recognition, and grateful to his colleagues who praised his professional skills. 

"Dental care is a vital part of protecting overall general health, and we are all part of the same team," said Balli. "I am honored by these unsolicited recognitions, but they are ones which I fully share with my fellow colleagues in the Valley, and especially with my outstanding staff and wonderful family." 

Balli noted that another Edinburg dental professional – Dr. David Adame – was also named a Super Dentist by Texas Monthly

"All of the dental professionals in our area are dedicated to their patients, and we all share our professional experiences, ideas, and insights on behalf of this wonderful community," Balli said.

Balli’s achievements were duly noted in the legislative resolution, which also bear the signatures of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Speaker of the House Joe Straus, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, the author of the resolution, and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, the Senate sponsor of the measure. 

This latest public recognition comes as Larry Balli and his wife, Norma, an Edinburg native, along with the rest of their family, many relatives and friends, in June marked the 24th anniversary of his dental practice, which is located at 1123 South 10th Avenue in the three-time All-America City. 

"Dr. Balli has demonstrated his leadership in many ways, not only in his profession, but also in considerable public service on behalf of his fellow Texans, including serving or having served as president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, president of the Rio Grande Valley Dental Society, chairman of the Board of Governors for Edinburg Regional Medical Center, member of the Board of Directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, member of the Board of Directors of Edinburg General Hospital, member of the Board of Directors for Dentists Who Care, which provides free dental services to children from low-income families, and as a Eucharistic Minister for 10 years for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Edinburg," Peña noted. 

Hinojosa noted that Balli’s involvement in providing expert health care to the region includes his prior professional service as a pharmacist for seven years, before deciding to expand his professional health and medical skills by enrolling at, and graduating from, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.). 

"Dr. Balli, as part of his life-long dedication to continuously remaining abreast of the latest advances in dental care, is also an alumni of the prestigious The Pankey Institute, a world-class organization where dentists can fully immerse themselves in hands-on courses and discussions that lead to mastering advanced technical skills, improving behavioral skills, and nurturing a positive philosophy towards life and practice," the state senator added. 

The legislative proclamation affirmed that Balli has met and surpassed the high standards required by the profession in which he excels. 

According to the American Dental Association, the dental profession holds a special position of trust within society. As a consequence, society affords the profession certain privileges that are not available to members of the public-at-large. In return, the profession makes a commitment to society that its members will adhere to high ethical standards of conduct. 

Texas Monthly accolades  

Texas Monthly, through its polling service, Key Professional Media, conducted extensive background checks of nominees, that included asking a simple, but profound question, of fellow dentists:

"If you needed dental care, which dentist would you choose?" 

According to Key Professional Media, that question, part of a general survey, is one of the most critical steps in the Super Dentists selection process. Key Professional Media mails ballots to dentists, asking them to nominate dentists who they hold in high regard. 

The designations, according to Key Professional Media: 

Feature a selective yet diverse listing of outstanding dentists, representing the consumer-oriented dental specialties. 

A Blue-Ribbon Panel Review is selected, and the nominees are grouped into eight dental specialites: 

  • Cosmetic
  • Endodontist
  • General practice
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Orthodontist
  • Pediatric
  • Periodontist
  • Posthodontist 

Those nominees with the highest point totals from each specialty are invited to serve on the blue ribbon panel. Each blue ribbon panelist reviews and scores a list of nominees for their specialty.

In the research process, Key Professional Media interviews and corresponds with dental professionals to identify the top dentists in each specialty. 

The Key Professional Media research team also actively searches for outstanding dentists to complement the statewide survey of dentists. The research team evaluates prospective candidates on indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement as a supplement to the balloting and blue ribbon panel review. 

Each candidate is contacted to verify the dentist’s professional information, including licensed specialty. Even if selected, a candidate’s name will not be published on the Super Dentists list unless all information is verified prior to publication. 

Key Professional Media reviews the discipline record of each candidate and verifies that the dentist is active and in good standing. 

Finally, the point totals from the ballot surveys, blue ribbon panels and the screening process are added to arrive at a final point score. Texas Super Dentists is published in a special advertising section in the November issue of Texas Monthly

Dentists’ key roles in society 

According to the National Institutes of Health, oral health is an essential component of health throughout life. Poor oral health and untreated oral diseases and conditions can have a significant impact on quality of life. They can affect the most basic human needs, including the ability to eat and drink, swallow, maintain proper nutrition, smile, and communicate. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor: 

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with teeth and tissues in the mouth, along with giving advice and administering care to help prevent future problems. They provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing, the use of fluorides, and other aspects of dental care. They remove tooth decay, fill cavities, examine x-rays, place protective plastic sealants on children’s teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth. They also perform corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum diseases. Dentists extract teeth and make models and measurements for dentures to replace missing teeth. They also administer anesthetics and write prescriptions for antibiotics and other medications.  

Dentists use a variety of equipment, including x-ray machines, drills, mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. They wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. 

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require dentists to be licensed. To qualify for a license in most States, candidates must graduate from an accredited dental school and pass written and practical examinations.  

Dental school usually lasts four academic years. Studies begin with classroom instruction and laboratory work in science, including anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Beginning courses in clinical sciences, including laboratory techniques, are also completed.  

During the last two years, students treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of licensed dentists. Most dental schools award the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS).  

Licensing is required to practice as a dentist. In most states, licensure requires passing written and practical examinations in addition to having a degree from an accredited dental school. Candidates may fulfill the written part of the state licensing requirements by passing the National Board Dental Examinations.  

Individual states or regional testing agencies administer the written or practical examinations. 

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Sen. Hinojosa announces final approval of 59 measures affecting major South Texas projects

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS                                              

As the veto period came to a close on Sunday, June 21, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen announced final approval of 59 measures that he authored or sponsored. Hinojosa’s legislative package includes bills on transportation, natural resources, criminal justice, infrastructure, and health care issues, benefitting South Texas and the entire state. 

As vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Hinojosa secured more than $50 million in additional funding for South Texas institutions and projects.  Those items include a $6.3 million increase in formula funding for the University of Texas-Pan American.   

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi received a $5.3 million increase, plus $4 million for a new engineering program. Funding ($500,000) was also obtained for the Coastal Bend Community College nursing program’s Mobile Simulation Lab. 

Hinojosa commented on South Texas’ continued opportunity for growth. 

"This legislative session produced significant tools for Senate District 20.  The Port of Corpus Christi now has the tools to develop the retiring naval base at Ingleside.  We restored funding to the UTMB Women’s Cancer Clinic in McAllen and obtained funds for the Boys & Girls Clubs to expand their at-risk youth outreach.  At our ports of entry, a new biosecurity program comes online to protect against communicable disease in livestock," Hinojosa said. 

At the statewide level, Hinojosa closed a tobacco tax loophole to fund a refashioned physician education loan repayment program.  The loan repayment program is expected to attract 900 new primary care doctors to underserved regions, including border and rural counties like Brooks and Jim Wells. 

Excess revenues generated by Hinojosa’s closure of the tax loophole will fund franchise tax relief for Texas’ small business owners.  The legislature passed a measure that increases the franchise tax exemption from $300,000 to $1 million for two years. 

Hinojosa made sure to note the enormous investments in infrastructure connectivity made during the spring.   

"Highway 281, the main artery for South Texas, will be expanded and brought up to Interstate capacity, linking the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend to the world.  Our ports – both inland and Gulf Coast – are bedrocks of commerce for Texas and the U.S.  The pieces are in place for us to make our many ideas into realities for our families, communities, and businesses." 

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SOCIALIFE News Magazine honored by House of Representatives for promoting South Texans

SOCIALIFE News Magazine, the five-year-old creation of South Texas entrepreneur Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for its vital role of promoting a positive image of the Rio Grande Valley and by helping charitable organizations in the state and nation.  

The honor, contained in House Resolution 2283 filed by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was unanimously approved by House of Representatives on May 25. 

The resolution follows: 

WHEREAS, The Texas House of Representatives is pleased to recognize SOCIALIFE News Magazine for its many contributions to the Rio Grande Valley community and to the charitable organizations of our state and country; and

WHEREAS, SOCIALIFE News Magazine was created in November 2004 by entrepreneur Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, whose goal was to publish a magazine that would showcase the work of South Texas nonprofit organizations and that would help those groups become better known throughout the area; Mr. Cabeza de Vaca’s mission also included lending support to such vital charities as the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association; and

WHEREAS, Members of the magazine’s staff and its supporters possess a love of art and music and an appreciation of the culture of the Rio Grande Valley; they are active in such organizations as the Rotary Club, local chambers of commerce, Kiwanis, VAMOS, the American Cancer Society, and the Palmer Drug Abuse Program; and

WHEREAS, The magazine has provided support for Easter Seals of the Rio Grande Valley, Su Casa de Esperanza, the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank, STARS, the McAllen Independent School District, South Texas College, Habitat for Humanity, The University of Texas –Pan American, CASA of Hildalgo County, the McAllen Arts and Cultural Movement, the Boys and Girls Club, the National Hispanic Professionals Organization, Young Executives for Success, the 22/40 Exchange, the Valley Symphony, Pro Cantus Lyric Opera, and a number of other institutions and organizations; and

WHEREAS, By supporting these organizations and promoting the events they sponsor, the magazine provides information to the community and highlights the outstanding work and accomplishments of the many Rio Grande Valley nonprofit groups; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 81st Texas Legislature hereby recognize SOCIALIFE News Magazine for the important role it plays in the Rio Grande Valley community and  commend all those associated with the publication on their exceptional work; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for the magazine as an expression of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives.

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Doctors Hospital at Renaissance gives $2 million for research by UT Health Science Center at San Antonio

By MARIO LIZCANO
and
SHEILA HOTCHKIN 

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR) has donated $2 million to fund a research endowment at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.  

DHR leaders formally presented the check to the Health Science Center’s urology department during a Friday, May 29 afternoon press conference at the hospital system’s front main lobby, located at 5501 S. McColl Road in Edinburg. 

The DHR Board of Managers were present, along with dignitaries from the Health Science Center.  

Dipen Parekh, M.D., director of robotic surgery at the Health Science Center’s urology department, received the presentation check. 

The endowment for the university is recognized under The Distinguished University Chair category. The Distinguished University Chair is the highest endowed position available and is bestowed to further cancer research. The endowment will help the Health Science Center’s urology department continue and increase its research efforts. 

“We are elated with the affiliation that has been established between DHR and the UT Health Science Center to continue research efforts that will directly affect the community of the Rio Grande Valley” said  Marissa Castañeda, DHR’s Chief Operations Officer. “Our affiliation has also allowed for UT Health Science Center physicians to provide procedures at DHR that were not available in the past.” 

Likewise, the relationship has been tremendously beneficial to the Health Science Center, which will be able to make good use of the gift from Doctors Hospital. 

“Endowed chairs enable us to attract and retain the best and brightest physician-scientists,” said Glenn A. Halff, M.D., acting dean of the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center. “Dr. Parekh came to us from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he received top-of-the-line training as a urologic oncology fellow. "We are fortunate to have him here serving patients in both San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, as well as training the next generation of physicians through his work at the School of Medicine.” 

Ian M. Thompson, M.D., professor and chairman of urology at the Health Science Center, called the partnership between Doctors Hospital and the Health Science Center’s Department of Urology “truly remarkable.” 

“Through Dr. Parekh’s pioneering work at Doctors Hospital, providing minimally invasive cancer procedures for patients in a location that is close to where they live and where their families are close by, the most advanced care can be provided,” Dr. Thompson said. “We’re looking forward to expanding this relationship and building on this truly novel approach to improving health care for our friends and neighbors in the Rio Grande Valley.” 

Parekh, who sees patients and performs robotic surgeries at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance twice a month, noted that “receiving this endowed chair is a great honor and will allow me to pursue meaningful research in the field of urologic oncology. It’s a great community, and I can see myself making a difference every time I’m there by offering the dual expertise of robotic surgery and urologic oncology in an area that lacks it. I applaud the urologists and the medical community from the Rio Grande Valley for having the long-term vision to wholeheartedly support and participate in this ‘academic-community’ relationship that is proving to be a win-win situation for everyone.” 

Doctors Hospital has the same da Vinci® Surgical System that Parekh uses in San Antonio. The system allows Parekh to view cancers in three dimensions and at 10 times the magnification of traditional surgery.  

During a procedure, Parekh uses handles and pedals to control robotic arms positioned above the patient. Gripping sterile instruments, the robot mirrors Parekh’s slightest movements with tremendous precision as they remove various cancers. The number of surgeries he has performed at Doctors Hospital since the partnership began is approaching 100. 

This precision frequently shortens recovery time. Most patients are moving around the hospital the day after surgery, and they return to their regular activities in a few days. 

“With this gift, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance is making a significant investment in the health of Rio Grande Valley residents,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of the Health Science Center. “This collaboration between the Health Science Center and local physicians will better lives, and in some cases will save lives. Local residents already can see the value of this partnership reflected in the improved health of their parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters and even themselves. We are grateful to Doctors Hospital for its generosity.” 

The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center has six campuses in San Antonio, Harlingen, Edinburg and Laredo. More than 26,000 graduates – physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals – serve in their fields, including many in Texas. 

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South Texas Health System laboratories receive accreditation by the College of American Pathologists

By DALINDA GUILLEN 

The laboratories at McAllen Heart Hospital and McAllen Medical Center were accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) after site inspections on April 1 and May 1.  

Both laboratories received complimentary remarks by CAP inspectors on the quality of patient testing, documentation and organization. The laboratories also received exemplary marks on their standard of laboratory practices.  

The Edinburg Regional Medical Center laboratory had previously received CAP accreditation with high marks on their standard of patient care. Blood gas laboratories at all three South Texas Health System hospitals have also received CAP accreditation with no deficiencies.  

The goal of the CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program is to improve patient safety by advancing the quality of pathology and laboratory services through education, standard setting, and ensuring laboratories meet or exceed regulatory requirements. Upon successful completion of the inspection process, the laboratory is awarded CAP accreditation and becomes part of an exclusive group of more than 6,000 laboratories worldwide that have met the highest standards of excellence. 

Accredited laboratories are reviewed by inspectors from the College of American Pathologists or by a voluntary peer group accredited by the CAP and approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program is also designed to improve the quality of clinical laboratory services through the volunteer participation, professional peer review, education and compliance with established performance standards.   

All laboratories awarded CAP accreditation become part of an exclusive group of more than 6,000 laboratories worldwide that have met the highest standards of excellence 

The CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program is an internationally recognized program and the only one of its kind that utilizes teams of practicing laboratory professionals as inspectors. Designed to go well beyond regulatory compliance, the program helps laboratories achieve the highest standards of excellence to positively impact patient care. 

The program is based on rigorous accreditation standards that are translated into detailed and focused checklist questions. The checklists, which provide a quality practice blueprint for laboratories to follow, are used by the inspection teams as a guide to assess the overall management and operation of the laboratory. 

The CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program meets the needs of a variety of laboratory settings from complex university medical centers to physician office laboratories. The program also covers a complete array of disciplines and testing procedures. Because of its comprehensive nature, CAP accreditation can help achieve a consistently high level of service throughout an institution or healthcare system. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has granted the CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program deeming authority. It is also recognized by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), and can be used to meet many state certification requirements. The CAP also provides laboratory accreditation to forensic urine drug testing and reproductive laboratories, co-sponsored with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). 

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South Texas College one of four national recipients in Texas to receive Gates, MDC grant monies

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR 

South Texas College has been named as one of 15 national recipients of a new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MDC, Inc. Together the groups are giving $16.5 million to community colleges across the nation, $743,000 of which will come directly to South Texas College. 

The funds will be dispersed over a three year period to recipient colleges to expand their developmental education programs. STC is joined by three Texas community colleges, Coastal Bend College, El Paso Community College and Houston Community College, in receiving the monies. 

“At STC we are so happy to receive the funds because it will help us institute a change to the respective course contents in our developmental programs to create learning connections for students among the three developmental education disciplines through contextualization of the curriculum,” said Dr. Ali Esmaeili, dean of developmental studies for STC. “We plan to implement a robust case management student support framework to ensure a consistent and reliable contact experience for all of our developmental students.” 

Every year, roughly 573,000 degree-seeking students in Texas attend a local community college, and nearly 40 percent of those must take developmental education classes to build basic academic skills and knowledge. National studies have shown that nearly two-thirds of students taking developmental education classes never graduate. However, successful programs at several colleges, including South Texas College, demonstrate that these numbers can be improved. 

Through the grant funding, the Gates Foundation is continuing its efforts to ensure every young person in the United States will graduate from high school ready for college and will earn a postsecondary degree preparing them to succeed in the global economy. 

The grants announced also support the Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count initiative aimed at dramatically boosting community college graduation rates. STC was one of the original member school selected to participate in the initiative. 

"The pressing need to shore up weak academic skills in first-year students is one of the most significant, but least discussed, problems confronting higher education,” said Carol Lincoln, director of the Developmental Education Initiative and national director of Achieving the Dream for MDC. “Colleges that can figure out how to quickly and efficiently boost basic skills will play a leading role in helping students earn the college degrees necessary for economic success in America today.” 

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District Clerk Laura Hinojosa selected as legislative chair for County & District Clerk Association

By RICARDO CONTRERAS 

The County & District Clerk Association announced at their state convention on Thursday, June 18, the appointment of Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County District Clerk, as Chair of the Legislative Committee for the State of Texas. 

Hinojosa is a daughter of Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. 

“I am honored to have been appointed to serve the association in this capacity and I look forward to diligently working with my peers in assessing and implementing sound legislation that represents the values of the association and the County of Hidalgo,” said Hinojosa. 

The purpose of the County and District Clerk Association is to promote professional standards, to provide the means for the education of its members regarding the statutory and constitutional duties of the offices of the county clerk and the district clerk, and to participate in the legislative, judicial and executive processes of state government beneficial in the performance of the members’ duties. 

“As a chair of this committee Ms. Hinojosa will promote and coordinate the adoption, amendment and maintenance of the constitution and statutes pertaining to the offices of the county clerks and the district clerks keeping in mind the best interest of the association and its members,” said Cathy Stuart, President of the Association. “With Ms. Hinojosa’s leadership, and with the assistance of her peers, the association’s legislative efforts are sure to be a success.” 

Hinojosa will chair the statewide committee along with The Honorable Joy Streater, Comal County Clerk, and The Honorable Bella Rubio, Real County & District Clerk. Hinojosa’s appointment expires in June 2011. 

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Congressman Cuellar votes to fund war against Al- Qaeda, battle border violence, prepare against flu

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Tuesday, June 16, voted in support of the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, major federal funding legislation worth $106 billion which supports U.S. troop efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, secures the Southwest border region against drugs and arms trafficking, protects Americans from pandemic flu outbreaks, and provides rebate funding for millions of Americans trading-in older vehicles for ones with better fuel efficiency. 

“Today we help the American people here at home while supporting our servicemen and women defending our freedoms overseas,” said Cuellar. “We secured the dollars necessary to outfit our troops with the equipment they need, and we ensured they’ll be rightly compensated for their tremendous service to country.” 

The legislation replenishes military pay accounts and provides compensation to 185,000 troops who experienced stop-loss orders and remained on active duty longer than planned. These service members and veterans will receive $500 for each month they served under stop-loss orders since 2001.  

In addition, the bill provides over $420 million to address growing drug-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, by assisting Mexico’s government in their fight against organized crime and bolstering support for U.S. federal agencies working to draw down drug trafficking. 

“This is an incredible boost to those law enforcement agencies who’ve been working hard in the fight to take on the cartels, and who are trying to stop the flow of drugs and weapons crossing our border,” said Cuellar. “These funds trickle down to our communities by ultimately making our streets more safe.” 

An additional $100 million will help U.S. federal agencies fight against narcotics and firearms trafficking along the Southwest border, and $158 million will support the Department of Homeland Security respond to security issues in the border region. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will also receive $11.8 million for the care and treatment of unaccompanied non-resident children.  

On Wednesday, June 18, H.R. 2346 – the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 – passed by a vote of 226-202, and will fully fund U.S. related military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of the fiscal year. In addition, it provides $1 billion towards the “Cash for Clunkers” program, providing consumers with vouchers worth a minimum of $3,500 to $4,500 to go towards the purchase of new, more fuel-efficient vehicles when they trade in older automobiles. 

“At a time when Americans struggle with rising gas prices, I’m pleased we can offer some relief to those people looking to trade in their older vehicles for ones that get more miles on the gallon,” Cuellar said. 

Pandemic flu preparedness is also a major component of the bill, calling for over $7 billion in contingent emergency appropriations which expand detection efforts, supplement federal vaccine stockpiles and develop preparedness plans. Texas will qualify for a portion of the $350 million allocated to state and local governments in preparing for and responding to a pandemic outbreak, as to be determined by Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control. 

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.  

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Congressman Hinojosa co-sponsors key advances to the federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

By TENO VILLARREAL 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, June 18, signed on as a co-sponsor to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative Improvement Act, H.R. 2812. The bill was introduced by Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, to address a significant issue impacting the issuance of U.S. passports to citizens.  

“This is an important piece of legislation that will help thousands of U.S. citizens in their passport application process” said Hinojosa. “With the new WHTI requirements that took place this month, we need to ensure that we do everything we can to facilitate the cross-border traffic that is vital to our South Texas communities.”  

On June 1, 2009 the Department of Homeland Security implemented the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) at all U.S. land ports of entry. WHTI requires U.S. citizens to present a U.S. passport or other acceptable government issued documentation to provide proof of citizenship upon reentry into the United States from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. Many U.S. citizens born outside hospitals via midwives or at other alternative health care facilities have been denied passports as the documentation issued as record of their births has been deemed unacceptable for use as evidence of citizenship by the U.S. Department of State. 

Additional co-sponsors are Congressmen Charlie González, D-San Antonio; Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, and Ciro Rodríguez, D-San Antonio. 

According at a release by the Border Trade Alliance, nearly 25,000 U.S. citizens are born outside hospitals each year.  Rural communities and border states along the U.S. shared border with Canada and Mexico have the highest rates of citizens born outside the traditional hospital setting.  At the same time, many of these U.S. citizens in border regions have livelihoods that are largely dependent on cross-border travel, but under WHTI are restricted from re-entering the U.S. without a passport or other WHTI compliant document. 

“This is an issue that is especially important to citizens in South Texas and I will work with my colleagues to make sure we do everything we can to provide them with a remedy," said Hinojosa. 

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Gov. Perry signs laws relating to hurricanes – UTMB funding, Texas Windstorm Insurance Association

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, June 17 signed House Bill (HB) 4586, the supplemental appropriations bill that includes $150 million in funding to help the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston recover from Hurricane Ike. The governor also signed HB 4409, which reforms the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA). 

“The past year was especially difficult for this community as Hurricane Ike destroyed homes, displaced our citizens and knocked out one of only three Level One trauma centers in this area,” Perry said. “I am pleased that the Legislature has funded a number of key initiatives that will help UTMB continue to serve this community by treating patients, training doctors and setting the standard for medical excellence in this area.” 

HB 4586 secures more than $425 million dollars for disaster-related costs and expenditures, including $62 million in first-time funding for the state’s disaster contingency fund, $150 million for UTMB to recovery from Ike, and additional funding to help the recovery of communities affected by Ike. Funding for UTMB includes repairing educational, research, hospital and clinic space, and permitting their Trauma Center to reopen this summer at Level Three status, and eventually back to Level One in early 2010. 

Additionally, on June 17, Perry signed HB 51 authorizing the issuance of $150 million in tuition revenue bonds for Hurricane Ike recovery at UTMB. The school will use these funds to build a new 200 bed hospital tower adjacent to the existing John Sealy Hospital, restoring bed capacity to 550, as it was prior to Hurricane Ike. These funds will be matched by a $200 million contribution from the Sealy Smith Foundation.  

The governor also signed HB 4409 on June 17 which enacts necessary reforms to TWIA that will ultimately reduce the burden of catastrophic storms on the state and eventually establish TWIA as an insurer of last resort. Provisions of the bill were declared emergency items by the governor in the recent legislative session. 

“This legislation addresses a number of essential issues that have been making it tough for insurance companies to remain engaged along the Texas coast,” said Perry. “This bill represents progress, incorporating sound business practices to improve the way we handle a critical issue that affects all Texans.” 

House Bill 4409 eases previous funding restrictions on TWIA by allowing coverage of up to $2.5 billion in losses through various funding methods. Damage payments can now be funded by premiums, reserves, public securities, commercial paper and other market source financial instruments. 

The bill also requires the Texas Department of Insurance to maintain a list of insurers who voluntarily write windstorm coverage, and develop incentives for insurers to voluntarily write coverage along the coast. This provision will assist consumers in searching for other providers with the goal of shifting the coverage burden away from TWIA, ultimately establishing it as an insurer of last resort as originally intended. 

For more information about the 81st Legislative Session, please visit  

http://www.governor.state.tx.us or http://www.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

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McAllen-Miller International Airport conducts on-line survey to determine demand for more flights

Now is the chance for Hidalgo County residents to have a say in the future of air service in the Rio Grande Valley.  A wide-ranging air service survey is now underway, collecting data on local travel patterns that will be shared with prospective airlines to support new flights on routes. 

The results of the survey will reveal the number of trips local travelers take each year, which airports they’re using now, where they’re traveling to, and what local travelers would support in terms of additional air service. 

The survey which was authorized by the City of McAllen City Commission and the McAllen-Miller International Airport (MFE),  is being conducted by Sixel Consulting Group (SCG), an airport consulting firm based in Eugene, Oregon. SCG works with dozens of small and mid-size airports throughout the country, specializing in recruiting new air service. 

The survey is open to anyone, and can be accessed via the McAllen-Miller International Airport’s webpage, at http://www.mcallenairport.com and is available in English and Spanish.  The survey will be open through July 31, 2009.  Results of the survey will be available by the end of the summer travel season. 

For more information, contact McAllen-Miller International Airport at (956) 681-1500

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