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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, featured front row, first on left, played key roles in major legislation that benefitted South Texas, including carrying measures to promote and protect the Valley’s $200 million citrus industry. On Tuesday, June 23, Martínez helped welcome the latest state prize to Weslaco and his legislative district with the groundbreaking of the $9.5 million, 25,000 square foot Citrus Center, a state-of-the-art Texas A&M System research facility. The mid-Valley lawmaker is seen here earlier this spring, when he helped welcome constituents to the House of Representatives. Front row, from left: Rep. Martinez; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Dr. Steven Tallant, president of Texas A&M – Kingsville; Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, and Rep. Yvonne Gutiérrez Toureilles, D-Alice. Back row, from left: Dr. Allen Rasmussen, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M–Kingsville;  Dr. John da Graca, Deputy Center Director, Texas A&M University- Kingsville Citrus Center; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Jimmie Steidinger, a member of the Texas A&M–Kingsville Citrus Center Advisory Committee; and Speaker of the House Joe Strauss. R-San Antonio. See lead story later in this posting. 

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Texas A&M University – Kingsville’s Citrus Center in Weslaco has served the Rio Grande Valley citrus industry for 60 years, providing new varieties of fruit, new ways to manage pests and disease and new students eager to learn. Now the faculty, staff and students at the Citrus Center are getting something new — a 25,000 square foot building. The new complex will have a total price tag of $9.5 million once furnishings and equipment are added. Texas political leaders along with officials with The Texas A&M University System and Texas A&M – Kingsville gathered Tuesday, June 23, to break ground on a $7.2 million building designed help researchers continue the work they have started and continue to serve the $200 million Valley citrus industry. See story later in this posting. 

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Gov. Rick Perry, sporting an arm sling from a biking accident earlier this month, on Friday, June 26, visited the Rio Grande Valley to tout Texas’ strong economic climate, which continues to attract companies and jobs to the state. The governor spoke at the opening of the Walmart Peñitas Supercenter, which brought 300 new jobs to a city with 3,500 residents in the Rio Grande Valley. Additionally the Supercenter will work with local suppliers, supporting even more jobs for Texans. Featured inside the retail giant’s latest crown jewel are, from left: Joe Montalvo, the store manager; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, whose legislative district includes Peñitas; Gov. Perry; and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, whose legislative district also includes Peñitas. See story later in this posting. 

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Dr. Charles A. Sorber (left), the interim president of The University of Texas–Pan American, and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the university and the city on Friday, June 26 to officially establish the UTPA McAllen Teaching Site, which will offer graduate level courses starting this fall. The UTPA McAllen Teaching Site, which is currently undergoing renovation, is located at 1800 South Main Street along the eastbound frontage of U.S. Expressway 83, in the Main Place Shopping Center adjacent to La Plaza Mall. Deputy City Secretary Perla Zamora (center) provided both South Texas leaders with copies of the contract for their respective signatures during the event, which was held at McAllen City Hall. See story later in this posting. 

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From medical school measure to public safety goals, Rep. Martínez playing key role in Valley’s successes

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Even before the Texas Legislature had finished its work on June 2, Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez’ influence on behalf of South Texas had already drawn praise from one of the major independent newspapers which specializes in state politics. 

Capitol Inside, an Internet-based, widely-read political news daily, says Martínez, D-Weslaco, who is already preparing legislation for the 2011 regular session, earned high marks for effectiveness and legislative influence. 

Martínez kicked off the regular session, which began in mid-January, with big news that a $40 million Texas Department of Safety Regional Headquarters, which will be built in his hometown of Weslaco, will begin construction early next year. 

On Tuesday, June 23, Martínez helped welcome the latest state prize to his district with the  groundbreaking of the $9.5 million, 25,000 square foot Citrus Center, a state-of-the-art Texas A&M System research facility designed to promote and protect the Valley’s $200 million citrus industry. 

As the regular session progressed, Martínez authored, co-authored, and sponsored dozens of major bills that wound up approved by state lawmakers, and signed by Gov. Rick Perry to become law.

It was Martínez’ mastery of the legislative process that put him on the legislative radar of independent, credible news sources such as Capitol Inside.  

Mike Hailey, a 20+ year veteran of covering state politics who publishes Capitol Inside, reported that Martínez – along with a handful of other state lawmakers – succeeded on their own merits, even though they do not hold coveted roles as committee chairs, or serve on the budget-writing House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees. 

"There are other ways to generate power beyond official leadership positions," Hailey noted, and named Martínez among Democrats "who are wielding more clout this year than they have in the past even though they didn’t technically qualify for the power chart because they don’t chair committees." 

Martínez falls "into that category," Hailey concluded. 

Other Democrats joining Martínez in the Capitol Inside’s select list of over-achievers were: Rep. David Leibowitz of San Antonio, who is a native of Mercedes; Rep. Roberto Alonzo of Dallas; Rep. Valinda Bolton, of Austin; Rep. Kirk England of Grand Prarie; Rep. Joe Farias of San Antonio; Rep. Marc Veasey of Ft. Worth; and Rep. Hubert Vo of Houston. 

"It was a complete surprise," said Martínez. "I feel very honored and humbled to have been mentioned in this group with my colleagues who I admire and respect." 

Martínez’ says that his expert knowledge of the complicated state legislative process has continued to allow him to champion crucial, but tough, issues to benefit his constituents in House District 39.

House District 39, whose boundaries are in eastern Hidalgo County, features Alamo, Donna, Mercedes, Progreso, Progreso Lakes, San Juan, and Weslaco.   

Martínez legislative victories 

In the Texas legislative process, every bill has an author and a sponsor. 

The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process. 

The sponsor is the legislator who guides the bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor must be a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed. 

A summary of Martínez’ work, in which he was an author or sponsor, during the five-month regular session featured numerous highlights: 

• Senate Bill 98 (Lucio, III, primary sponsor, Martínez, sponsor), a directive authorizing the University of Texas System to begin developing plans for a health science center/medical school for the four-county South Texas border region; 

• House Bill 2217/House Joint Resolution 7 (Flores, primary author, Martínez, author), which will require, upon passage by Texas voters in November of a constitutional amendment, that the state government begin negotiations with the U.S. Veterans Administration to bring a VA Hospital to deep South Texas and other regions of the state; 

• SB 956 (Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, author, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, sponsor) was amended by Martínez and Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, that requires lawmakers to begin an in-depth study of how to best bring a public law school to the Rio Grande Valley; 

• HB 4577 (Martínez, author), which will create a state program to detect and try to prevent agricultural diseases from destroying the Valley’s $159 million citrus industry; 

• SB 526 (Martínez, sponsor), which will continue a state grant program that will help non-profit health clinics in the Valley apply for federal money, which will be used  to provide medical care for thousands of uninsured and low-income families;   

HB 635 (Guillen, primary author, Martínez, author), which authorizes the commissioner of education to determine whether a Head Start program operated outside of a public school facility is eligible for certain federal grants. This bill also gives the Texas Education Agency the authority to seek, accept, and distribute public education grants awarded by the federal government or any other public or private institution.  

• HB 2571 (Gonzáles, primary author, Martínez, author), which will stop towing companies from charging outrageous fees before releasing a vehicle back to its owner;  

• HB 3 (Eissler, primary author, Martínez, coauthor), which will amend the public school mission to include  striving for student performance— disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and  socioeconomic status— to rank in the top 10 nationally in terms of college readiness by 2019-20; 

• SB 187 (Lucio, III, main sponsor, Martínez, sponsor), which will help families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid benefits to be able to buy, at an affordable rate, Medicaid insurance to provide crucial health care for a disabled child;   

• HB 51 (Branch, primary author/Martínez, coauthor), which will create additional nationally-ranked universities and help existing universities to provide dramatic gains in the education of all Texans; 

• HB 1579 (Gonzáles, primary author, Martínez, author), which authorizes Hidalgo County to provide assistance for the removal from private property, including a road, of flood water resulting from a natural disaster in a colonia if the removal of the water is necessary to protect the health and safety of the colonia; 

• HB 2275 (Raymond primary author/Martínez, author), which will create a task force to develop uniform standards for subdivisions in the unincorporated areas of counties near the international border and in colonias; 

• HB 2372 (Guillen primary author/Martínez joint author), which will authorize the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to help local governments pay certain costs related to water and wastewater connections and plumbing improvements in colonias; 

• SB 1685 (Gonzáles, primary sponsor, Martínez, sponsor), which will create  a district court records technology fund to help protect the integrity and permanent collection of vital court records; 

• HB 1789 (Maldonado, primary author, Martínez, author), which allows cities with populations of between 13,000 and 39,000 residents, including numerous communities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, to use revenue from a municipal hotel occupancy tax for the promotion of tourism by the enhancement and upgrading of existing sports facilities or fields if the municipality owns the facilities or fields; and 

• SB 915 (Martínez Fisher, sponsor, Martínez, cosponsor), already signed into law, which provides journalists the ability to protect their confidential sources. 

Work load continues during interim 

Even though the Legislature ended its regular session on June 2, Martínez said his workload will continue at the same high level. 

In all, about 150 bills were filed during the five-month regular legislative session that included Martínez’ name, with many of them eventually becoming state law.  

"Many people think that once state lawmakers come back home from Austin, their legislative work is done," he said. "For me, that’s not the case at all. We continue serving our constituents through our district and Capitol offices, and we focus on making sure that state government continues working for our people." 

He said he will be closely working with the top leadership of major state agencies, which deal with everything from highway construction to public education and health care, "to make sure we are getting our fair share of state resources, and that their policies are right and just." 

He says his legislative track record, his growing legislative seniority, and his ability to "think big for South Texas" provides his House District 39 constituents a powerful voice in the affairs of Texas government. 

"In my own line of work back home, I often have to face pressure-packed situations, from dangerous rescue missions to life-threatening medical emergencies," said Martínez, whose professional credentials include his service as a firefighter, licensed paramedic, critical care flight paramedic, and Texas Department of Health instructor and coordinator. 

"So when it comes to working with the top leadership of Texas, either at the State Capitol or at the huge state agencies, I am always prepared, armed with the truth and empowered by my legislative knowledge, to work on behalf – and need be, successfully fight for – the best interests of the people here at home," he added. 

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Work starts on $9.5 million Citrus Center in Weslaco to protect and promote $200 million citrus industry

By JULIE NAVEJAR 

Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s Citrus Center in Weslaco has served the Rio Grande Valley citrus industry for 60 years, providing new varieties of fruit, new ways to manage pests and disease and new students eager to learn. Now the faculty, staff and students at the Citrus Center are getting something new — a 25,000 square foot building. The new complex will have a total price tag of $9.5 million once furnishings and equipment are added. 

Texas political leaders along with officials with The Texas A&M University System and Texas A&M-Kingsville gathered Tuesday, June 23, to break ground on a $7.2 million building designed help researchers continue the work they have started and continue to serve the $200 million Valley citrus industry. 

Joining A&M System chancellor Dr. Michael D. McKinney and university president Dr. Steven Tallant at the ceremony were Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples; Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual; and Geof Edwards, architect for Kell Muñoz. 

“The Citrus Center has been an important institution for the Rio Grande Valley for 60 years and with this new building, they can continue to be a friend to citrus growers for many more years to come,” said Tallant. “This new state-of-the-art building will provide our researchers and students with the equipment and facilities they need to help the growers in the Rio Grande Valley create a better start.” 

“Faculty at the Citrus Center are the leaders in citrus research and they bring in the expertise needed to address modern agricultural problems from the molecular genetics research needed for new varieties to the entomology research needed to protect and maintain the orchards,” said Dr. Allen Rasmussen, dean of the Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences and interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. 

Dr. John da Graca, director of the Citrus Center, said the new building is designed specifically to allow the faculty to integrate their research programs even more than they currently can. “There also is room for future growth and flexibility for new technologies. The facility will be one which we hope will attract future faculty, visiting scientists and students.” 

The center has always moved with the times and now uses cutting edge technologies in our research, but always with the benefits of the Texas citrus industry in mind,” da Graca added. “The citrus industry will continue to face some of the same challenges it has always dealt with like established and new pests and diseases, weather events and market changes, but the staff at the Citrus Center will be ready to deal with whatever comes our way.” 

Da Graca said there are several research projects going on right now at the Citrus Center including: 

  • Development of new varieties by means of natural and induced mutations, embryo rescue and gene transfer. A patent application has been submitted for a new grapefruit variety; 
  • Studies on the genetics of stress factors like disease, cold and drought that may lead to reducing losses by producing trees with gene modifications designed to reduce losses and costs; 
  • Strategies for pest and disease management strategies to reduce losses growers experience; and 
  • The use of micro-budded trees as part of the strategy against greening disease, an insect-transmitted disease currently causing serious losses in Florida. 

About the new building 

The new Citrus Center will be built adjacent to the current facilities at 312 N. International Boulevard in Weslaco. The two-story building will be approximately 25,000 square feet. The construction cost is $7.2 million; however, it will have a total price tag of $9.5 million once furnishings and equipment are added. 

The first floor will have meeting rooms and classrooms, administrative offices and sample intake and diagnostic labs. On the second floor will be faculty and research technicians’ offices, graduate student space and labs. 

Architects from Kell Muñoz in San Antonio designed the building and Skanska of Houston and Harlingen are the contractors. 

Work on the building is scheduled to begin in August with completion in the fall of 2010. 

The History of the Citrus Center 

The Citrus Center originated in the mid-1940s when a group of local citizens and citrus growers approached then-Texas College of Arts and Industries in Kingsville with the idea of establishing a research and training facility specializing in citriculture for the Lower Rio Grande Valley. 

In 1947, the original campus site and research farm were purchased with funds contributed by the citrus industry and other community institutions. By 1948, buildings were acquired from the deactivated Harlingen Air Base and the center was in operation. 

In the 1960s, with the help of the Jones-Collier Foundation, the 200-acre South Research Farm was added. Two more properties were purchased in 1974 and 1977 in Hidalgo County. From 1984 through 2004, a 40-acre farm north of Mission was leased to the center by the Looney Family. This has been replaced by a 50-acre farm in Monte Alto leased from Rio Farms Inc. 

In 1990, when Texas A&I University joined The Texas A&M University System and became Texas A&M-Kingsville, ties with the nearby Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center were strengthened. 

Due to increased administrative demands caused by dramatic growth and the overwhelming success of the programs at what is now the Texas AgriLife Research Center and the Citrus Center, full-time leadership was re-established at both facilities. 

The Citrus Center currently employs four research scientists, 28 other state-funded employees and a number of grant-funded employees.

The Citrus Center is best known to the public for the two dark red grapefruit varieties developed there, the Star Ruby and the Rio Red. The Rio Red is the major grapefruit variety grown in the Valley, while the Star Ruby is grown in other parts of the world like South Africa, Australia and Turkey. Both are marketed under the Rio Star name. 

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UT-Pan American, City of McAllen announce Fall 2009 opening of UTPA graduate school facility

By GAIL FAGAN 

A new partnership signed June 26 between The University of Texas-Pan American and the City of McAllen to establish a UTPA McAllen Teaching Site will provide Rio Grande Valley residents more convenience and greater access to higher education. 

Starting in Fall 2009, UTPA will offer 12 graduate level courses in the Colleges of Education, Business Administration, Arts and Humanities and Science and Engineering at a 10,000 square foot leased facility located at 1800 South Main Street along Eastbound Frontage Expressway 83 in the Main Place Shopping Center adjacent to La Plaza Mall. 

UTPA Interim President Dr. Charles A. Sorber and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the city at a ceremony held at McAllen City Hall attended by city commissioners and officials as well as South Texas College (STC) President Dr. Shirley Reed and other UTPA and STC administrators. 

“The university is a regional entity and we serve that region in all ways we can. We have learned in some cases we have to take our product to the people because some people can’t get to us – we’ve done that in Starr County and now we are doing it in McAllen,” Sorber said. 

In 2003, UTPA opened a facility in Rio Grande City to alleviate the 50-mile commute by a number of Starr, Jim Hogg and Zapata County residents. More than 200 students have since graduated primarily in the University’s education programs from the Starr County Upper-Level Center and most have gone on to teach in Valley schools. 

“We see this new partnership (at the McAllen facility) as a starting point. We see a future where those courses will be expanded and we are particularly excited about the opportunities along the way to begin offering upper division courses so the graduates of South Texas College can take advantage of a site here in town to finish their bachelor’s degrees,” Sorber said. 

Other planned offerings at the McAllen Teaching Site are professional development courses, certification training classes, English language training and other continuing education courses demanded by the community or identified by local government and business partners as important to maintaining a marketable and competitive workforce. 

Both UTPA and city officials said there was a demand for a site in McAllen from those seeking advanced degrees but because of family and job responsibilities needed a more convenient location to attend classes. Four of the courses offered this fall are ones in the master’s degree program in educational administration. Other courses will meet the needs of business professionals interested in UTPA’s MBA program and health care workers seeking foundation courses to pursue master’s programs in the health sciences. 

The facility, with a projected capacity of 200 students on site, will have eight classrooms, one configured as a conference room setting for seminar type classes. All classrooms will be “smart” classrooms, which means they will be equipped with all the technology and interactive capabilities that are available in UTPA‘s campus classrooms, recognized as state-of-the-art in The University of Texas System. 

Cortéz said the new site will be a win-win proposition not only for McAllen but for the entire region. 

“This will not only affect our students but our economy. Residents who are interested in higher learning will have another choice with the McAllen Teaching Site,” he said. “This partnership means we are on the right track and doing the right things to help our citizens have access to higher education. As we all know household income is a great measurement of economic preparedness. The higher education you have generally, the higher household income that you have.” 

Cortéz said these types of partnerships are also important in promoting regional unity among Rio Grande Valley political jurisdictions which in the past have “wanted to protect their turf.” 

“UTPA is a regional asset. Economics really has no boundaries. Education has no boundaries. When we start sharing resources together and start sharing intellectual brainpower together, then we start solving our problems a lot better and a lot quicker,” he said. 

Dr. Paul Sale, the university’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said regionalization into McAllen is an outward sign of the university’s commitment to work to strengthen the region. 

“Today’s signing establishes a physical presence that illustrates that regionalization,” he said. 

Sale said while UTPA is leasing the current site, the university has committed to evaluate the feasibility of a permanent site that could be available by 2012. 

“We are just so grateful for our partnership with the City of McAllen and South Texas College. Together, the three of us, are going to be able to further strengthen a regional educational presence second to none in the state,” he said. 

For more information on the UTPA McAllen Teaching Site, contact the Office of Graduate Studies at 956/381-3661. 

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State lawmakers called back to Austin on July 1 to deal with TxDOT, four other major state agencies

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, June 25, announced that a special session of the Texas Legislature will begin on Wednesday, July 1, at 10 a.m. 

“The 81st Legislative Session was one of the most successful in recent memory, providing a tax cut to 40,000 small businesses and increasing financial aid for college students by more than 40 percent, all without touching our state’s Rainy Day Fund,” Perry said. “After speaking with legislators I am calling a special session to extend the operation of five critical agencies and help reduce gridlock by continuing to provide options for financing our state’s highways.” 

The special session will consider the following issues: 

  • Legislation extending the existence of five state agencies that were subject to sunset review by the 81st Legislature that would otherwise be abolished without legislative action, and to change the review schedule for certain state agencies to balance the Sunset Advisory Commission’s workload. These agencies include the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Insurance, Texas Racing Commission, Office of Public Insurance Counsel and Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation; 
  • Legislation allowing the Texas Department of Transportation to issue general obligation bonds, which have already been approved by voters, for highway improvement projects, and for the creation, administration, financing and use of a Texas Transportation Revolving Fund to provide financial assistance for transportation projects; and 
  • Legislation extending the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation and a regional mobility authority to use comprehensive development agreements to design, finance, build and maintain transportation infrastructure. 

Please visit http://governor.state.tx.us/news/proclamation/12758/ to view the governor’s proclamation announcing the special session. 

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Sen. Zaffirini wants Gov. Perry to add health benefit legislation for community colleges to special session

By CELESTE VILLARREAL 

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Friday, June 26, pre-filed Senate Bills (SB) 7, 8 and 9, which would provide health benefits for graduate students who receive prestigious fellowships and resolve the issue of “proportionality” for community colleges by defining the eligibility of personnel for state-funded health benefits. 

On June 19, Zaffirini wrote to Gov. Rick Perry, asking him to include or to add the issue of proportionality to the call for the special session that begins Wednesday, July 1. Her three bills are identical to SB 41, SB 42 and House Bill (HB) 2083, which she authored with Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, during the regular legislative session. 

SB 41 died in the Senate Finance Committee without a hearing, and HB 2083 died there without a vote. SB 42, however, was passed by the Senate and amended in the House to include proportionality. In spite of overwhelming support, it died when the legislature adjourned without concluding its business. 

“These three bills focus on the needs of higher education faculty, administrators, and graduate students,” Zaffirini said. “They would not only allow universities to recruit the most able graduate students, but also resolve the issue about which community college employees are eligible for state health benefits." 

"Proportionality," or the practice of paying health benefits only for employees whose salaries are funded by the state, became a major issue in 2007 after the governor vetoed $154 million in group health insurance benefits for community colleges. 

Differences were resolved in May by the governor, community college personnel, and legislators. Their compromise was reflected in HB 2083 and in the amended SB 42, but senators never had the opportunity to concur with amendments. 

Senate Bill 7 would define any instructional and administrative employee as eligible for state-funded health benefits and would allow universities to pay the health benefits of graduate students who receive a fellowship of at least $10,000. It is identical to Zaffirini’s SB 42, after it was amended during the regular session. 

Zaffirini also filed SB 8, which addresses only the issue of proportionality and is identical to House Bill 2083 (Solomons/Zaffirini) from the regular session. Her SB 9 addresses only the issue of graduate student health insurance and is identical to her SB 42 before it was amended. 

"During the 2009 regular legislative session, Rep. Solomons and I worked tirelessly with community college representatives and the governor’s staff to forge a compromise to resolve proportionality," Zaffirini said. “Although we prevailed in removing the negative impact of proportionality from the appropriations bill, we failed to secure a permanent solution by not passing the bill. Unless we do so during the special session, the controversy undoubtedly will be visited anew in 2011.” 

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Congressman Hinojosa votes for the American Clean Energy and Securities Act; awaits U.S. Senate action

BY TENO VILLARREAL 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, June 26, voted in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES).  The bill passed the House by a vote of 219-212. 

“I am pleased to support HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” said Hinojosa. "Passing this bill is in the best interest of our district and the United States of America.  The bill will create millions of new green jobs, create a clean energy economy, slow global warming and reduce our dependence upon foreign sources of energy.” 

The legislation will create millions of new clean energy jobs, enhance America’s energy independence, and protect the environment, he said. 

"Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office estimates nearly half of the households in the district will see a net savings in their energy bill of $40/year, Hinojosa added. “Our district has a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of the bill’s investments in technology, weatherization, and energy efficiency.”  

The bill will significantly reduce dangerous pollution by limiting emissions from electric utilities, oil refineries, and other major sources. It also promotes all forms of American clean energy, including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. It supports private investment in nuclear power, cleaner coal technology, and new efficient American vehicle technology. The legislation also creates an opportunity for farmers and ranchers, allowing them to earn carbon offsets in exchange for planting trees, preserving existing forests, practicing sustainable farming methods, and other stewardship activities. 

A key component to the bill is the protections for consumers outlined by the legislations.  5 programs are established to protect consumers from energy price increases: one for electricity price increases; one for natural gas price increases; one for heating oil price increases; one to protect low- and moderate-income families; and one to provide tax dividends to consumers.  In combination, these programs substantially reduce the impact of ACES on American consumers. 

“Ultimately, I believe this bill is a bold step in the right direction and that our community is poised to take the lead," Hinojosa said. "I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to improve the legislation and address the remaining concerns of my constituents, agriculture and small business.” 

This bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration. 

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Congressman Cuellar supports $44 billion Homeland Security legislation; files amendment to prohibit use of taxes to pay for first-class flights of bureaucrats

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Wednesday, Jun 25, helped pass late H.R. 2892, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act 2010, funding $44 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and the agencies it oversees.  

It includes more than $10 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and over $5 billion for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As part of the bill, the House overwhelmingly passed  Cuellar’s amendment preventing those government agencies funded by H.R. 2892 from booking first-class travel with taxpayer dollars, except for certain exemptions under law. 

“With this bill we’ve voted to secure this country, channeling dollars to the frontlines of our borders, our ports and to those organizations that protect the homeland everyday. Their hard work keeps us safe at home,” said Cuellar. “At the same time, there has never been a more important time to cut costs and reduce waste, and first-class travel on the taxpayer dime must take a backseat.” 

The House passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act 2010 by a vote of 389- 37, and appropriated $44 billion to the Department of Homeland Security which oversees seven major departments, such as CBP, ICE and FEMA. More than $11 billion will go towards combating border violence and drug trafficking along the Southern border, including over $3.5 billion to fund 20,219 Border Patrol agents, 17,000 of whom will be based on the Southern border. There will be $26.1 million for counterdrug initiatives, including $10 million for additional scanning systems for southbound lanes. 

“These dollars make it possible for our border patrol agents to do their jobs, and it expands the resources they have on the ground to protect our communities,” said Cuellar. “And by creating over 500 new jobs, this bill puts Americans to work as it works to secure our nation.” 

The bill also provides $4.9 million of increased funding for Customs and Border Protection to handle the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which as of June 1st,  requires all travelers to use passports or other approved travel documentation when reentering the United States by land and sea. And there is an additional $60 million for Operation Stonegarden, to assist border communities with additional law enforcement costs associated with border security. 

Other parts of the bill include funding for the following: 

Coast Guard: $9.97 billion of mandatory funding and money to improve port security, marine safety and efforts to stop the flow of illegal drugs into this country, $1.3 billion specifically to be used towards maritime narcotics enforcement. 

ICE: $97.8 million for ICE to combat international trade in illicit drugs, weapons smuggling and crimes associated with violence along the Southern border; $70 million will specifically go towards initiating more ICE investigations, intelligence activities and international programs. 

FEMA: $2 billion in disaster relief funding and $935 million for FEMA response and support. 

State Grants: $950 million for states, including Texas, to train and equip local first responders to respond to acts of terrorism and catastrophic events. 

Fire Grants: $810 million to help local fire departments staff and equip their departments (including SAFER grants) 

TSA: $7.7 billion to fund the Transportation and Security Administration, including $1 billion in funding to purchase and install explosive detection systems at airports nationwide. 

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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Gov. Perry visits Peñitas for grand opening of Walmart, touts state’s and Valley’s strong economies

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, June 26, touted Texas’ strong economic climate, which continues to attract companies and jobs to the state. The governor spoke at the opening of the Walmart Penitas Supercenter, which brought 300 new jobs to a city with 3,500 residents in the Rio Grande Valley. Additionally the Supercenter will work with local suppliers, supporting even more jobs for Texans. 

“Employers are looking at Texas and realizing that we’ve not only kept a lid on the problems that are troubling other states, but also worked to foster an environment that encourages people to pursue their dreams, build businesses and create jobs,” Perry said. “On behalf of more than 24 million Texans, I congratulate Walmart and the town of Penitas on this new magnet for jobs and investment.” 

The Penitas Supercenter will generate between $300,000 to $400,000 in sales tax revenue, with one-half percent going to support the Penitas Crime Control and Prevention District, which funds law enforcement training, crime prevention programs and new equipment.  

“There is no question that this area is on a growth trajectory, thanks to its dynamic workforce, proximity to our largest international trading partner, and the unbeatable work ethic here in the Valley,” Gov. Perry said. 

The Walmart Penitas Supercenter announcement follows on the heels of continuing positive news for Texas’ economy and business climate. The Lone Star State has been lauded as the top state for business by numerous publications and business executives and most recently was ranked The Best State for Business by Directorship Magazine (June/July 2009) and the Brookings Institution listed five Texas cities among the top 10 strongest metro areas in the nation earlier this month.  

As of August 2008, Walmart operated nearly 300 supercenters, 72 Sam’s Clubs and 16 distribution centers in Texas, employing nearly 160,000 Texans and supporting more than 200,000 supplier jobs in the state. Walmart’s stores collected more than $1.5 billion in state sales taxes in the 2009 fiscal year. 

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Legislation signed by governor to help Texans obtain windstorm insurance, reduce burden on state

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, June 23, in Corpus Christi ceremonially signed House Bill (HB) 4409 which enacts necessary reforms to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) that will ultimately reduce the burden of catastrophic storms on the state and eventually establish TWIA as an insurer of last resort. The governor declared provisions of the bill emergency items for the 81st Legislative Session. 

“This legislation addresses a number of issues that have made it tough for insurance companies to remain engaged along the Texas coast, making it difficult for citizens to get the windstorm coverage they need and exerting upward pressure on insurance premiums across the state,” said Perry. “To me, this bill represents progress, incorporating sound business practices to improve the way we handle a critical issue that affects all Texans.” 

HB 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 legislation also allows TWIA to set variable rates among different rating territories taking into consideration the diverse impact a storm may have on any given area based on factors like proximity to the coast and computer modeling of risk factors. Moving away from a one-size-fits-all pricing approach and allowing rates to reflect risk moves TWIA toward compliance with sound insurance principles. 

In addition, the bill 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 before TWIA, with the goal of shifting the coverage burden away from the association and ultimately establishing TWIA as an insurer of last resort, as originally intended. 

Provisions establish a legislative oversight board and require a review by the Sunset Commission in 2015. Increased public input is now required on TWIA’s board of directors, increasing the number of public members from two to four and decreasing the number of insurer representatives from five to four. 

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Manager of Harlingen adult day care center convicted in kickback scheme to McAllen doctor

The manager of the la Familia Adult Day Care Center in Harlingen has been convicted of receiving kickbacks and illegally referring Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to Fabian Aurignac, M.D., United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Friday, June 26.

Martha García Alaniz, 53, formally indicted on May 6, pleaded guilty on June 26 to Count 19 of a superseding indictment which accused her of receiving and cashing a $200 check from the Cardiology Care Center signed by Fabian Aurignac, M.D. to improperly refer La Familia’s Medicaid client to Aurignac and his staff for fraudulent and medically unnecessary cardiac services in connection with the client’s diagnosis and treatment.   

Alaniz has admitted to allowing Aurignac’s staff to take her clients from the La Familia Adult Care Center onto Recreational Vehicles, where false and fraudulent claims were submitted to Medicaid and Medicare for alleged cardiac services performed on the clients. Alaniz also permitted La Familia’s Medicaid and Medicare clients to be taken by drivers of the Cardiology Care Center to the center’s location on Ware Road in McAllen where further fraudulent billings occurred.  

Sentencing is scheduled for September 2 at 2 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. Alaniz faces a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine not to exceed $25,000. Alaniz is currently out on bond. 

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Carolyn Ferko prosecuted the case. 

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Tim Chávez, journalist who criticized U.S. press for lack of Hispanic reporters, mourned by NAHJ

By MARINA GIOVANNELLI 

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is mourning the loss of one of its members, Tim Chávez, who had been a columnist and blogger in Nashville, Tennessee. He passed away on Thursday, June 18, from leukemia at the age of 50. 

Chávez had been a columnist at The Tennessean from 1997 to 2006, with pieces that often centered on politics and Latinos. He had also written about the growth of Latinos in the south and the need for them to be treated fairly by the media and by government officials. 

Chávez also railed against the lack of Latinos in newsrooms, as well as the lack of Latino journalists as regular panelists on the Sunday network TV talk shows. Chávez was told that his position at The Tennessean had been eliminated after his doctors had given him approval to return to work following several months of chemotherapy to help him deal with his leukemia. 

He went on to establish the Political Salsa blog while also serving as a columnist at the Williamson County Herald in Franklin, Tenn. Chávez was also a contributing columnist to Hispanic Link News Service. 

Chávez used his Political Salsa blog to call for the rejection of an English-only initiative for the city of Nashville. Voters ultimately did vote against that proposal and it went down to defeat. 

In 2001, Chávez was named as the recipient of the Will Rogers Humanitarian of the Year Award by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. 

Services for Tim Chávez were held on Monday, June 22, at St. Edward Catholic Church in Nashville. 

To view Chávez work on his Political Salsa blog, please visit: 

http://politicalsalsa.blogspot.com

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