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Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, second from right, is congratulated by members of The North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI) leadership team, who recently honored her with their first Leadership Award. Featured, from left: Leticia Flores, Office of the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism; Carlos Margo of South Texas College; Dr. Miguel A. González, The University of Texas-Pan American College of Science and Engineering; Bonnie González of WorkFORCE Solutions; Blas Castañeda of Laredo Community College; President Cárdenas; Keith Patridge, McAllen Economic Development Corporation; and Wanda Garza, STC and NAAMREI. Other members of the NAAMREI leadership who were present for the Sunday, June 7 ceremony, but not included in this shot, were: Pat Townsend Jr., Mission Economic Development Authority and Greater McAllen Alliance; Dr. Charles Sorber of UTPA; Angie González of Texas State Technical College in Harlingen; Héctor Quintanilla, The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College; and Dr. John Lloyd of UTPA’s Rapid Response Manufacturing Center.  See story later in this posting. 

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Gov. Rick Perry, featured second from left during a June 26 swing through the Valley, on Friday, July 10 emphasized accomplishments made during the 81st legislative session that provide resources and assist law enforcement officials in protecting Texans. The governor is touting House Bill 2086, an omnibus gang bill that provides state and local law enforcement agencies with additional tools to combat the threat of transnational gangs. These resources include electronic monitoring of criminal gang members who have two or more convictions; penalties for engaging in organized crime activity in gang free zones; and enhanced surveillance capabilities, among others. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, are shown here, second and third from right, respectively, during Perry’s visit to Peñitas. Letty Garza, KRGV-TV anchorwoman, was leading the group with the Pledge of Allegiance.  See story on the governor’s anti-gang legislation later in this posting.  

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South Texas College and Texas A&M University Kingsville leaders on Friday, July 10, celebrated the signing of an agreement to ease student transfer between the institutions. Seated are TAMUK President Steven Tallant and STC President Shirley A. Reed. Standing from left are: Mike F. Desiderio, TAMUK Chair for Education; Margaretha Bischoff, STC Division Dean of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; Marilyn J Bartlett, TAMUK Dean of the College of Education; and Juan Mejia, STC Vice President for Academic Affairs. Not featured, but also present at the event, are Ali Esmaeili, STC Dean for Bachelor Programs and University Relations, and William Serrata, STC Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.  See story later in this posting. 

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STC President Reed endorses efforts by Rep. Martínez, Sen. Hinojosa to bring UT law school to South Texas

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

South Texas College President Shirley Reed, one of the top leaders in South Texas higher education, has endorsed an effort by Valley lawmakers, including Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to bring a top level law school to the region. 

In particular, she is applauding the roles played by Martínez and Hinojosa in successfully including – and keeping – language in Senate Bill 956 that requires, for the first time, a landmark feasibility study that should lead to the creation of a University of Texas law school in the Rio Grande Valley. 

The STC president said the push for a law school, like other postgraduate institutions, represents crucial economic, educational, and quality-of-life goals for deep South Texas.  

"Why can’t we have a medical school, a law school, all the other professional schools? Why can’t we have four times the number of doctoral programs we have at our regional university?" Reed raised the issue. "There is a need. I say bring them one and bring them all." 

Reed’s support for a law school in the Valley came following her participation in a Friday, June 26 press conference at McAllen City Hall that featured McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz and Dr. Charles Sorber, interim president of the University of Texas-Pan American.  

Cortéz and Sorber signed a memorandum of understanding that will lead to 12 graduate-level courses being offered by UTPA, beginning this fall, in a 10,000-square-foot facility located at 1800 S. Main Street in McAllen, near la Plaza Mall. 

The UTPA/McAllen agreement, like the push for a UT law school in the Valley, symbolizes the region’s continuing efforts to make higher education resources more accessible to South Texans, she noted. 

"If you look at 700,000 people in Hidalgo County, and consider the limited access to higher education, I think it is sad," Reed reflected. "Access to higher education is key to the economic growth and prosperity of our region. You can not have too much access to education at all levels. I firmly believe that the lack of access to higher education has really depressed this entire region of the state for much, much too long." 

Governor approves Valley law school study 

Reed’s credibility and stature in Texas higher education includes her unique role as the only president of STC in its 16-year history. During that period, she has helped transform what was formerly a branch campus of Texas State Technical Institute in McAllen into one of the premier community college systems in Texas. 

Her timely remarks also came a week after Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, June 19, signed SB 956 into law, which included the crucial amendment that was jointly authored by Martínez and Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso. 

Their amendment, which was approved by the House of Representatives on May 13, states that "The Coordinating Board shall conduct a study to examine the need for and feasibility of establishing a public law school in areas of the state where a law school is not located, including the Texas-Mexico border region. The study shall be conducted using the same criteria used for determining the need for and feasibility of establishing the University of North Texas College of Law. Not later than November 1, 2010, the board shall report the results of the study to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house of representatives, and presiding officer of each legislative standing committee with primary jurisdiction over higher education." 

The Coordinating Board is a state agency which is led by a commissioner and nine board members appointed by the governor. It works with the Legislature, governor, and all public colleges and universities to coordinate Texas higher education and expand access, improve equality and promote efficiency. 

But the Martínez/Chávez amendment was only half the legislative battle.  

Because their amendment represented a change from the version of SB 956 approved earlier by the Senate, a special panel, known as a conference committee, was formed in order to hammer out any differences between the Senate and House versions of that bill. 

A conference committee is a committee composed of five members from each house appointed by the respective presiding officers to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of a measure when the originating chamber refuses to concur in the changes made by the opposite chamber. Upon reaching an agreement, the conferees issue a report that then is considered for approval by both houses. 

Hinojosa served on the conference committee, and kept the Martínez/Chávez amendment in the final version. 

Solid plan now possible 

Martínez said the Coordinating Board study will provide the time and expertise needed to come up with a solid plan for building a law school in the Valley and El Paso. 

"A UT law school in the Valley would benefit our region significantly, not only in the advanced professional education it would provide, but in many other important ways," said Martínez. "It could offer academic coursework and major conferences in international law, public policy, health care, commerce, treaties and other legal issues which have a big impact on our economic development and qualify-of-life in deep South Texas." 

Martínez, who late last year filed legislation to bring a University of Texas law school to the Valley, added  that bringing a UT school "would represent both a center of justice for the region, but also symbolize equal opportunities for one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation. 

"There are so many talented young people in the Valley who are qualified to become attorneys, but they simply do not have the financial resources to live 260 miles away or more for the three years it takes to finish law school," Martínez added.  

Reed agreed with those assessments. 

"The law school is like any other professional opportunity for higher education. If you want to look at it in economic terms, just think of the salaries you are going to be paying law school faculty and staff," said Reed. "They are going to be spending those salaries in our communities, buying homes and cars and groceries. That money turns over in our community three to four times, so it is a good investment." 

UTPA keeping close watch 

Sorber, UTPA’s interim top leader, has also been monitoring the law school legislation. He suggested that the Coordinating Board study will play a significant role in area hopes for a Valley law school. 

"We haven’t studied it, and I don’t know that it would be an impediment," Sorber said. "I have no particular understanding of the statistics with regard to the need for a law school. I think that is what the study is all about, and I think that will show, one way or the other, whether there is a need."  

If the state study supports the legislative call for a law school for South Texas, the UTPA interim leader said his university could play a big role. 

"We could do almost anything, given the resources. You have to build capacity and you have to have the money. It that were there, we could do anything," he said. "But to snap your finger and say it is going to be done, it is just unrealistic." 

However, he added, "It is a function of the population served, the number of lawyers available, and the need. They will develop that, and then we will move forward." 

In previous sessions dating back to the mid 1990s, Valley lawmakers have filed measures to bring a law school to the region. 

In late 2008, Martínez filed House Bill 91 to bring a UT law school to deep South Texas, and his effort drew strong support from his Valley colleagues, with Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, signing on as joint authors of the bill. 

HB 91 was granted a public hearing before the House Committee on Higher Education, and some of the main points supporting the creation of the law school were laid out. 

The bill analysis of HB 91 included the following highlights: 

• According to the Economic Research Services of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Rio Grande Valley is one the fastest growing regions in Texas, as well as the United States, with a population approximating 1.2 million people and a growth rate since 2000 of approximately 21 percent, compared to a state growth rate of  approximately 15 percent.   

• Currently, the closest law schools to the Rio Grande Valley are in San Antonio (approximately 260 miles way), Austin (approximately 305 miles away), and Houston (approximately 340 miles away). 

• According to the Texas Borderlands 2009 Report, Keeping Hope Alive, the ratio of lawyers to population in Texas is above the national average, approximately 1:300 versus 1:350 for the rest of the nation. Along the Texas-Mexico border, however, that ratio is disproportionately low. This is a function of the fact that none of the major law schools in Texas are located in the border region of Texas. 

HB 91 made it out of that House committee on May 4, but along with hundreds of other pieces of legislation, that bill was never heard by the full House of Representatives before the Legislature wrapped up its five-month regular session on June 1. 

But the Martínez/Chávez amendment, with help from Hinojosa, kept the issue alive, and the state must now deal with a major issue that has refused to go away. 

"There are a lot of legislators, from former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez (D-McAllen) to Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III (D-San Benito), who have also championed efforts for a law school for our region," Martínez said. "We never get discouraged and we never quit. We only expect the best from ourselves and the best for our region." 

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Gov. Perry leads Sen. Hutchison by 12 percent in latest statewide poll taken by UT researchers

Gov. Rick Perry holds a 12-point lead over probable challenger Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in next March’s Republican primary, though more than one-third of likely voters are still undecided or would choose someone else, according to a poll conducted last month by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin. 

The statewide poll, announced on Thursday, July 9, was coordinated by members of the Department of Government and the Texas Politics Project. The survey also found that Perry and President Barack Obama have nearly identical statewide approval ratings — 42 and 43 percent, respectively. Obama’s disapproval ratings (46 percent), however, are much higher than Perry’s (32 percent). 

"The much anticipated match-up between Gov. Perry and Sen. Hutchison is proving to be a close one. While the governor has pulled ahead in this and other recent polls, the race is still apparently very close, and a lot of people have yet to make up their minds," said Texas Politics Project Director James Henson, who oversees the poll with Government Professor Daron Shaw. 

"Both President Obama and Gov. Perry have comparably favorable approval ratings, though for quite disparate reasons," said Shaw. "Obama appears to still be in something of a honeymoon phase, with little backlash for spending policies that don’t appeal to many Texans. In contrast, Perry is riding relatively high after a series of media events in which he took a hard-line stance against expansive federal government." 

The poll’s other findings include: 

• More than 70 percent of Democrats remain undecided in their party’s race for governor, with 12 percent backing songwriter and humorist Kinky Friedman and 2 percent behind former Ambassador Tom Schieffer, the only declared candidate. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who is no longer in the race, receives 7 percent support. 

• A race to replace Hutchison in the Senate would be wide open: 62 percent of voters are undecided. Among eight potential candidates, former Democratic Comptroller John Sharp has 10 percent support with Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at 9 percent. 

• Texans agree with Perry and the GOP on two hot-button, legislative issues. By a 43-36 percent margin, respondents oppose taking $500 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment benefits. By a 70-17 percent margin, they want to require voters to show a photo ID at the polls. 

• More than three quarters of those surveyed say the country is worse off economically than one year ago while 41 percent say they are personally worse off. 

In the GOP governor’s race, Perry has the support of  38 percent of voters who say they plan to vote in the primary with Hutchison drawing 26 percent support. Thirty-four percent are undecided or say they support someone else. Perry also leads Hutchison by 11 points among all registered voters. The results for the gubernatorial primaries have a margin of error of 5.14 percent for all primary voters and 5.24 percent for registered primary voters. The overall results have a margin of error of 3.22 percent. 

"Each side can find some solace in the fact that neither claims more than a third of the electorate at this moment," Shaw said. 

The poll surveyed 924 Texans online from June 11-22. 

For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-4945, James Henson, 512/471-0090; or Daron Shaw, 512/232-7275. 

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June 2009 UT-Austin poll also shows most Texans worried about economy

A mid-June statewide survey found Texans still focused on the nation’s economic downturn and its effect on their lives. More than three quarters of those surveyed rated the economic well being of the country as worse off than one year ago. Forty-one percent of those surveyed rated their own economic well being as somewhat or a lot worse off than a year ago. 

Interest in the March 2010 primary elections increased somewhat over the February-March survey, but many Texans remain undecided, suggesting that media and insider interest in the upcoming electoral season has not become more generalized. Of those who signaled an intent to vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary, incumbent Gov. Rick Perry led by 12 points overall and 11 among registered voters, with more than 30% still either undecided or saying that they would vote for "someone else."  

These primary results have a margin of error of 5.14% for all primary voters and 5.24% for registered primary voters.  

In the early stages of the Democratic contest for the nomination, over 70 percent are undecided or prefer "someone else," with Kinky Friedman leading with a meager 12%, Leticia Van de Putte (who has since dropped out of the race) registering 7%, and Tom Schieffer receiving just 2%.  

The poll surveyed 924 Texans and was conducted June 11-22, 2009. Texans were asked about several issues discussed in the recently concluded 81st Texas Legislature, about their views of the economy, and about their initial views of the candidates emerging in the early stages of the 2010 governor’s race and possible election for the U.S. Senate should Kay Bailey Hutchison resign her seat. 

Other highlights of the survey results include the following: 

• Texans were mild in their support of both national and state political leaders. Perry’s performance as governor was approved of by 42% of the respondents, with 32% disapproving and 28% choosing neither. At the extremes, 13% approved strongly and 17% disapproved strongly. President Barack Obama registered 43% approval, 46% disapproval, and 11 percent opting for neither. The president was a comparatively polarizing figure with 22% approving strongly and 35% disapproving strongly. 

• While political insiders have been watching the jockeying among potential candidates for the US Senate in the event that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns her seat, Texans remain non-committal, at least when asked to choose among the most oft-discussed candidates. Of a field of eight candidates, only one candidate made it into double figures among registered voters: Former Comptroller John Sharp received 10 percent, followed closely by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst with 9%. Bill White, the mayor of Houston, received 7% and Attorney General Greg Abbott received 6%. No one came close to those choosing undecided: 62%. 

• The poll asked about several issues that figured prominently in the just-concluded legislative session. As with the last UT Austin poll, there was evidence of significant support for requiring a photo ID in order to legally vote (70% in favor versus 17% against) and for the most permissive changes to state law regarding gambling (40% in favor allowing full casino gambling in Texas, with another 20% favoring more limited expansion of gambling). The proposed statewide ban on smoking in most restaurants and public places was supported by 63% of the sample and opposed by 31%. When asked about whether Texas should accept or reject over $500 million in federal stimulus money to extend unemployment benefits, 36 percent favored accepting the money, 43% favored rejecting it, and 21% didn’t know. 

• On other issues: June results included mixed support for some form of gay and lesbian union. When asked, "What is your opinion on gay marriage or civil unions?" 29% chose "Gays and lesbians should have the right to marriage," 32% chose the right to civil unions but not marriage, and 32% chose neither. 

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Retired UTPA president Cárdenas first to be honored for her role with advanced manufacturing initiative

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR 

The North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative recently honored Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas with its first Leadership Award. Cárdenas, former president of The University of Texas-Pan American, accepted the award at the NAAMREI Leadership Team regional meeting held recently in Laredo. 

NAAMREI is a consortium stretching across seven Mexican border counties from Laredo to Brownsville. All together, more than 60 private and public sector groups form the alliance. Included are economic development organizations, education institutions, manufacturers, workforce agencies, and city and county governments. 

“You will always be the legacy behind NAAMREI,” Wanda Garza of South Texas College said in presenting the award on Sunday, June 7. Garza, who serves as NAAMREI’s executive officer, told the audience that Cárdenas challenged the leadership team and “set the bar high.” 

“We will never let you down and you will always be our inspiration,” Garza told Cárdenas. 

The large crowd on hand for the reception for Cárdenas included Eagle Pass Mayor and Texas Border Coalition Chair Chad Foster, UTPA Interim President Dr. Charles A. Sorber, McAllen Economic Development Corp. CEO Keith Patridge, Mission Economic Development Authority President Pat Townsend, Blas Castañeda of Laredo Community College, Leticia Flores of Gov. Rick Perry’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism, along with elected officials and dignitaries from both sides of the Texas-Mexico border. 

Garza credits Cárdenas with providing the vision and drive the organization needed during its early days. 

“Today, when business, economic development and academic leaders from across the world look at our organization they are amazed by the partnerships that have already been built,” Garza said. “This is all part of the vision Dr. Cárdenas helped us create.” 

One example of that vision Garza cited is the formation of the Rio South Texas Economic Council, which, Garza said, was formed about five years ahead of schedule.  

Cárdenas has had a long and stellar career in education. The Del Rio native got her start as a teacher for migrant children. In 1977, she accepted a presidential appointment as commissioner for Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare where she headed the nation’s Head Start, Child Care, Child Welfare programs and the National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. 

Cárdenas was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1980, where she served for 13 years. She became the first woman to lead UTPA in 2004. She retired in January due to health problems.  

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Hidalgo County unveils "SAFEguard" initiatives aimed at promoting efficient and open government

By CARI LAMRECHT 

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, July 7, publicly presented 14 recommendations contained within the “SAFEguard” report during a press conference. The recommendations, aimed at improving accountability, transparency and efficiency in county government, are the culmination of two months of collecting and researching data related to specific programs that could positively impact the way county government conducts business. 

The SAFEguard committee, which represents a cross-section of county departments, was appointed by the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court and was given the duty of soliciting ideas from county employees, department heads and the public. More than 50 ideas were whittled down to the best 14 — those that will have the biggest impact and are the most feasible here and now. 

“We said, ‘How do we create a better government for the people we serve?’ When taxpayers trust us with their money, we must do all in our power to protect it,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III. “At the same time, we have to be a learning and evolving organization. We have to look at change where change is necessary and invoke it one step at a time. Our residents come to expect certain services of their government, and they trust us with their hard-earned tax dollars to provide those services as public servants.” 

The 14 identified priorities are: 

• Develop a central purchasing and receiving system to standardize the purchase of supplies and equipment and implement relevant policies and procedures. 

• Implement Global Positioning System (GPS) on all vehicles countywide, and implement relevant policies and procedures to conduct analysis on savings. 

• Commissioners’ Court should consider a “no take-home vehicles” policy. 

• Finalize the countywide Time and Attendance Policy to address payroll and timekeeping issues. 

• Develop and implement a contract approval process and include all relevant departments in major pre-construction or pre-project meetings. 

• Develop and implement procedures to more effectively track contract and project dates and timelines. 

• Centralize Human Resources. Identify those departments or offices that have HR positions that have HR positions and rename or reclassify. 

• Develop and implement a training division for HR for general training necessary for all staff. 

• Implement a system to run background checks on every new employee and implement relevant policies and procedures, including defining violations that would bar one from employment and identifying the types of background checks to be conducted. 

• Centralize the Information Technology Department. Identify those departments that have IT positions and rename or reclassify. 

• Centralize grants process (research, analysis and management) via the Budget Department to ensure all aspects of funding are taken into consideration (i.e. matching funds, sustainability beyond grant period, cost to county). 

• Further examine creating a County Engineering Department to handle road and bridge work in-house as opposed to hiring outside contractors. 

• Examine a county morgue facility to eliminate the need for separate contracts for autopsy facilities and transport of dead bodies. 

• Outsource 1-800 fraud hotline and have Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office receive the call information with issues routed to the appropriate agency or department. 

Valde Guerra, Hidalgo County’s Chief Executive Officer and overseer of the implementation of the SAFEguard initiatives said the committee reviewed carefully every proposed activity that was submitted before choosing the most feasible projects to tackle first, and the recommended prioritization of the SAFEguard projects will be presented to Commissioners’ Court for review within the next two weeks. Each activity has been assigned a project lead, department head or workgroup for oversight. 

“I believe the SAFEguard initiative will help communicate the county’s efforts to the taxpayers, our bosses,” Guerra said. “In these uncertain economic times, taxpayers need to trust that we are indeed safeguarding their investment in local government. In turn, we want to be as transparent and accountable as possible.” 

The entire SAFEguard report, plus project timelines, meeting dates and other related information is available online at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us.  

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Nominations being accepted by area congressmen for new federal judge post relocated to McAllen

By TENO VILLARREAL 

Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa, Henry Cuellar and Solomon P. Ortiz on Friday, July 11, jointly applauded the federal judges of the Southern District of Texas for their decision to move the vacant judge post in Galveston to McAllen in an effort to curtail the heavy caseload facing federal courts in South Texas. The McAllen court division serves Hidalgo and Starr Counties. 

“I am pleased that the federal court is being relocated to McAllen.  This represents a tremendous opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley to play a role in our judicial system” said Hinojosa.  “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress, and with President Obama’s administration, to ensure that we nominate the most qualified candidate for this critical post.” 

The U.S. Southern District is comprised of courts in Laredo, Houston, Corpus Christi, McAllen, Victoria and Brownsville. Over the past decade, McAllen has experienced a growing number of civil, immigration, and drug-related cases on its docket. 

“This decision comes at a time when McAllen is suffering from a backlog of cases,” said Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen. “I’m pleased to hear that our region will get this new judge, and I welcome their appointment as our court system works through thousands of cases that deserve fair and timely review under law.” 

Two judges currently preside over the U.S. District Court division in McAllen. The new judge will be appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 

“As dean of the Texas Democratic Delegation, I plan to review all applications we receive and offer my recommendation to the delegation,” said Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi. “The appointment of this federal judge will be a combined effort by the Texas Democratic Delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and President Barack Obama.” 

Applicants who are interested in submitting their resumes for review should contact the offices of their congressional representatives. As of July 10,  Hinojosa, Cuellar and Ortiz welcomed interested applicants to contact their offices.  

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Provision by Congressman Cuellar would create U.S.-Mexico Commission to fight border violence

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Friday, July 10, applauded the House passage of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2010,  which invests more than $48 billion to bolster U.S. foreign policy efforts and includes a provision authored by Congressman Cuellar that calls for the creation of a high level US-Mexico Commission dedicated to reducing border violence by sharing information and coordinating border security operations between both countries. 

“What happened this week in Chihuahua State is another glaring reminder that border violence is a critical problem for both Americans and Mexicans,” said Cuellar. “We must act quickly to create a US-Mexico Commission. This bi-national partnership will merge our resources, connect our communications and bridge important efforts already underway. This bilateral alliance will aid information sharing, prevent duplication and facilitate a more unified, more effective response to fighting the drug cartels and the violence they ensue.” 

The proposed commission would expand bi-national communications between U.S. and Mexico first responders and law enforcement positioned along the Southern Border, aiming to increase the interoperability of these organizations in order to curb the flow of illegal firearms, illicit drugs and bulk cash moving north and south. Cuellar proposed the provision in April, and it was added to the bill by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, chaired by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York.   

Cuellar worked with Congressman Eliot Engel, D-New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, to propose the provision. 

“Security assistance under the Merida Initiative is crucial. But, just as important, the Merida Initiative has allowed for renewed cooperation between the United States and Mexico,” said Congressman Engel. “This bilateral commission will further deepen our relations, and will especially help to curb the illegal flow of contraband across the United States-Mexico border.” 

“I appreciate the strong support of Chairwoman Lowey and Chairman Engel, both of whom were instrumental including this provision in the bill,” said Cuellar. “Their ceaseless dedication and commitment to reducing border violence is unmatched.” 

The State-Foreign Operations Bill also includes $318 million, which brings total 2009 Merida funding to $572.8 million, which is $168.8 million above last year’s level. The bill also directs $10 million towards bilateral implementation offices where Mexican and U.S. officials work together to fight drug traffickers. This funding is used towards counternarcotics programs in Mexico and Central America to fight narcotics and criminal gangs. 

Additionally, the bill also includes an amendment authored by Cuellar which prohibits agencies funded by the State-Foreign Appropriations Bill from booking first-class travel for their employees, unless certain exemptions apply under law. 

“This sets an important standard in these hard economic times,” said Cuellar. “While we applaud our agencies for the good work they do, we have to spend American taxpayer dollars responsibly.” 

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. He is also a Senior Whip and member of the Blue Dog Coalition. 

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Texas provides law enforcement with additional resources to protect Texans, says governor

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, July 10, emphasized accomplishments made during the 81st Legislative session that provide resources and assist law enforcement officials in protecting Texans. The governor spoke at the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) annual convention. 

“In today’s threat environment, Texas police officers are not just first responders but first preventers,” Perry said. “We are honored and blessed to have such a remarkable group of dedicated law enforcement professionals patrolling our streets, constantly training and putting public safety ahead of their own interests.” 

The governor touted HB 2086, an omnibus gang bill that provides state and local law enforcement agencies with additional tools to combat the threat of transnational gangs. These resources include electronic monitoring of criminal gang members who have two or more convictions; penalties for engaging in organized crime activity in gang free zones; and enhanced surveillance capabilities, among others. 

Perry also noted the importance of SB 926, which exempts police officers operating emergency vehicles from fines incurred through red light camera citations. Additionally, the governor highlighted the significance of HB 872, which allows family members of officers killed in the line of duty to purchase health insurance from the officer’s employer. 

Securing our state and protecting Texans from the threat of transnational gangs is a priority for the governor. In October, Perry allocated $4 million in grants through the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD) to law enforcement agencies in 13 cities across the state to assist officers who patrol hot spots of gang activity. This session, the Legislature allocated $113 million to continue the state’s border security operations, including funding to combat transnational gangs. 

“As we hammer gangs across the state, we are also keeping the pressure up along the border,” Perry said. “I am pleased that the legislature renewed funding for our ongoing border security efforts, making it possible to keep up our concentration of law enforcement personnel and equipment in the regions where they are most needed.” 

TMPA was formed in 1950 to promote professionalism in Texas law enforcement, improve job conditions, and enhance communication among Texas peace officers. 

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U.S. House passes funding for low-income food programs, glucose screening effort for South Texas

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, July 9,  voted to pass the Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations Bill, 2010, which provides over $24 billion to the Department of Agriculture to fund low-income food programs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), rural development programs, agricultural research and over $13 million in fever tick research dollars for South Texas. The bill also includes a glucose screening pilot program, authored by Congressman Cuellar, to fight diabetes and lower obesity rates. 

“In these hard economic times, we have to make sure our families can still put healthy food on the table, and ensure we don’t compromise the quality of food in their lives,” said Congressman Cuellar. “Everyone knows agriculture is a big slice of South Texas, and these fever tick funds will help our cattlemen fight a problem unique to our region, found nowhere else in the nation.” 

Working with the Appropriations Committee, Cuellar helped secure $13.1 million for fever tick research to develop new strategies to eradicate fever ticks from South Texas cattle farms. The bill also includes nearly $3 billion for rural development, including rural housing, water projects, community facilities and economic development efforts. 

Recognizing the challenging economic situation, the bill also expands the Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, helping an additional 700,000 women and children gain access to nutritious food. Congressman Cuellar also authored a provision in the bill which creates a WIC pilot program adding glucose testing to WIC enrollee screening. Currently, screening is limited to anemia testing. Glucose screenings will help detect juvenile diabetes, adult diabetes and help lower obesity rates. 

“This year we’ve put a premium on our nation’s health, ensuring healthy food and healthy lives. And we’re investing in our rural communities. Nearly three billion dollars will go towards rural development,” said Congressman Cuellar. “And as we fund these efforts we have to make sure we spend the money responsibly. Which is why I’m pleased my first-class travel amendment was included in the bill.” 

Cuellar included an amendment to the bill that prohibits agencies from booking first-class travel for their employees, unless certain exemptions apply under law. 

“This sets an important standard as millions of Americans have reprioritized their lives because of the economic crisis,” said Cuellar. 

The bill passed the House by a vote of 266 to 160. The bill focuses on protecting public health, bolstering food nutrition programs, agriculture research and strengthening animal health programs. Other notable provisions of the bill include the following: 

• Food and Drug Administration: $2.3 billion in discretionary funding for fiscal year 2010, an increase of almost $299 million above fiscal year 2009. 

• Commodity Supplemental Food Program: $180 million to provide nutritious food to over half a million low-income women, children and elderly citizens struggling with rising food costs. Texas is one of 32 states enrolled in the program and it will expand to six other states this year. 

• Agricultural Research: $1.2 billion for the Agriculture Research Program and $1.253 billion for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (formerly called CSREES) 

• Animal and Plant Health: $886 million to fund programs that protect American agriculture against animal and plant disease. 

For more information on the bill please visit: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_reports&docid=f:hr181.111.pdf 

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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Senate votes unanimously for amendment by Sen. Cornyn and others to protect the use of assisted-opening pocketknives from government regulation

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Friday, July 10, released the following statement after the Senate unanimously passed their amendment to protect the use of pocketknives.   

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had proposed amending and expanding the Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 to include spring-assisted or one-handed-opening knives. The senators’ amendment clarifies that assisted-opening pocketknives are exempt from regulation. 

"The Senate sent a strong message and made clear that the 35 million Americans who own pocketknives are free to continue using them without the threat of federal agency intrusion," said Cornyn.  "While U.S. Customs and Border Protection proposed changing that, my colleagues joined in a unanimous, bipartisan effort to ensure assisted-opening pocketknives are protected by the law. What’s more, the CBP reversal would have inflicted serious economic harm to sporting goods manufacturers and retailers." 

"Customs and Border Patrol went overboard in trying to interpret an outdated statute regulating certain pocketknives. In Arkansas, firemen, construction workers, farmers, policemen, electricians, hunters and fishermen all took notice. A pocketknife for many people can serve as an entire toolbox, and the government really has no business taking that away from them," said Pryor.  "I’m pleased to team up with Senators Cornyn and Hatch to prevent this proposed regulation from being implemented." 

"Without this amendment, there is a real danger that 80 percent of the pocketknives sold in the U.S. could be classified as illegal switchblades, which would hurt knife and tool manufacturers across the nation," Hatch said following the Senate’s vote late Thursday. "The unintended consequences of the CBP’s definition could be that state and federal criminal courts could construe Leatherman-type multi-tools equipped with one-hand opening features, as well as folding utility knives with studs on the blunt portions of the blade to assist with opening, to be illegal. That is absurd." 

This amendment is endorsed by American Knife and Tool Institute, Knife Rights, National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, Knifemakers’ Guild, Meyerco USA, Benchmade Knife Company, Gerber – Fiskars, and SOG Specialty Knives and Tools. 

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Texas A&M – Kingsville champions partnership with South Texas College through articulation agreement

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR 

South Texas College has extended its partnership with the region’s oldest university, Texas A&M University at Kingsville, to facilitate student transfer between the institutions. 

Under the terms of the agreement, which was signed on Friday, July 10, 2009, students will transfer seamlessly into TAMUK. In addition, students who began at STC and are now at TAMUK will have the option to reverse transfer credits from TAMUK to STC to fulfill requirements for the completion of associate degrees at the college. 

“The TAMUK leadership team is extremely visionary and shares STC’s commitment to student and community success,” said Juan Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs. “The signing ceremony marks another milestone towards a more prosperous south Texas.” 

Additionally, TAMUK will provide counselors to visit STC’s campuses to advise students on degree options and plans. 

“We expect to have more than 40,000 students at STC by 2020 and so it is key to form alliances with regional partners now to create a solid pipeline for our students to complete their higher educations at prestigious institutions like TAMUK,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president. “It’s a terrific option for our students to be able to continue on at TAMUK and receive a great education, at an affordable price, close to home.” 

The agreement also enables students graduating with an Associate of Art in Teaching (AAT) to transfer to TAMUK after spending almost three years, a total of 74 college credit hours, at STC and then only one year, or 54 college credit hours, at TAMUK. 

“TAMUK has a lot to offer your students and we are so pleased to work closely with STC to make these agreements a reality,” said Dr. Steven Tallant, TAMUK president. “We know this is the start of a wonderful relationship and we are very impressed with STC, its leadership and its student body. I guarantee we will extend our partnership further in the future.”  

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FBI makes arrests in northeast Texas as part of largest dog fighting operation in the nation

A year-long investigation by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies on Tuesday, July 7, resulted in the arrests of approximately 30 people across five states in what officials are calling the largest dog fighting operation ever seen in the U.S. 

A grand jury indictment is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

Thanks to a 2007 federal law championed by animal welfare organizations, dog fighting is banned throughout the country and is a felony in all 50 states. 

In addition to the arrests, about 350 dogs—mostly pit bull terriers—were seized during early-morning raids on Monday, July 6 in Missouri, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, and Oklahoma and will be cared for by local humane societies. Those arrested for their involvement face felony charges that carry maximum sentences of five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. 

In Tyler, located in northeast Texas, U.S. Attorney John M. Bales on Wednesday, July 8, that earlier that morning a combined task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies arrested eight individuals charged with involvement in an interstate dogfighting ring. 

During that raid, agents and officers executed a federal arrest warrant in Panola County, Texas and Gregg County, Texas. Nine dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, were seized during a search of property in rural Panola County. A licensed veterinarian was on-site to examine and provide any necessary care to the dogs. Also on-site were representatives of the Humane Society of the United States, who have been consulted during the investigation. 

Those named in the indictment, which was unsealed this morning, are Karl S. Courtney aka Shane, 34, of Beckville, Texas; Jerry S. Chism, aka Scotty, 34, of Longview, Texas; Jerry L. Beene, 69, of Hampton, Ark.; Jerry L. Matlock, 57, of Stilwell, Okla.; Chase M. Courtney, 26, of Carthage, Texas; Devin L. Pelzi, 29, of Beckville, Texas; Michael L. Beene, 36, of Hampton, Ark.; Harold D. Stewart, 41, of Beckville, Texas; and Chad A. Courtney, 30, of Carthage, Texas. 

On June 30, 2009, a federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging the nine defendants with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States; sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture; and buying, selling, delivering or transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture. If convicted, the defendants each face up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. 

Bales noted that the July 8 arrests represent a significant step in addressing what Bales described as completely reprehensible criminal activity. “I commend the agents and officers who have worked very hard on this investigation. In due time, we look forward to presenting all of the evidence that they have collected in federal court. I also appreciate the significant investigative assistance provided by the Humane Society.” 

The U.S. Attorney also filed motions seeking to take legal ownership of the dogs and place the animals in the care and custody of the Humane Society. Under federal law, the government can forfeit any animals engaged in any animal fighting venture. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to reimburse the Humane Society for all costs incurred for care of the animals while the animals are in the custody of the Humane Society. 

The indictment resulted from an investigation that began in October 2008, and was launched by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Moore is prosecuting the case in coordination with U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of Oklahoma and Western and Eastern Districts of Missouri. 

“Forcing a dog to fight to its death is not a sport,” said John Gillies, special agent in charge of our St. Louis office. The FBI played a significant role in the multi-agency investigation that in the Eastern District of Missouri resulted in the arrests of five men and the seizure of more than 150 dogs at a variety of dog fighting locations. “There is nothing respectable about encouraging two animals to torture and dismember each other,” Gillies said. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General headed the investigation, and the FBI’s St. Louis office was involved from start to finish.  

According to the indictments, the defendants acquired, bred, and trained pit bull dogs for the purpose of fighting. The defendants denied the dogs adequate medical treatment as a result of injuries suffered after the fights, and they “routinely” destroyed dogs—sometimes by electrocution—that became severely injured after fighting. 

In Kansas City, Missouri, defendants allegedly constructed fighting pits for the dog fights, were timekeepers and referees during the fights, and placed wagers on the outcomes. The fights were often so violent and bloody that some of the defendants were designated as “sponge men”—they provided sponges to the dogs’ handlers to wipe blood from their dogs or to cool them down during the fight. 

After a set of fights last April, the indictment says, one of the defendants used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot and kill two dogs who fought but didn’t perform up to his expectations. The dogs were shot in the head twice, then placed in plastic containers outside the garage where the fights had taken place.

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