U.S. Marine Sgt. Freddy González’ legacy, an American war hero from Edinburg whose patriotism, courage, and sacrifice has been documented in national proclamations and publications, in the press and in books, is also featured here in a work of art produced by Colonel Charles Waterhouse, one of the country’s most renowned illustrators, whose work is often compared with those of other giants such as Norman Rockwell. A World War II veteran, Waterhouse answered the nation’s call to duty more than 26 years later during the Vietnam War. Instead of picking up a rifle, he picked up paintbrush, and wound up creating more than 470 magnificent illustrations depicting the heroism of U.S. Marines in Vietnam. In this drawing, Waterhouse depicts the final actions of González as the wounded American defends troops under his command after they were pinned down by the enemy during the Tet Offensive in Hue City, Vietnam. González was killed in action, and was later posthumously bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallantry and sacrifice. A special print edition of this image was given to his mother, Dolia González of Edinburg, when she was the guest of honor on the U.S.S. Alfredo González during a change-of-command ceremony earlier this summer. More information on the accomplished artist is available at http://www.waterhousemuseum.com. The U.S.S. Alfredo González maintains a web site at http://www.fightingfreddy66.blogspot.com. See related story, which is the top story in this edition, on former Valley journalist John Flores, who will be honored by the Marines for his own creative masterpiece, When the River Dreams: The Life of Marine Sergeant Freddy González.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, shows off a carving board bearing the All-America City symbol of Edinburg given to him during his visit on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 to the University of Texas-Pan American. Kennedy, 77, part of an iconic American political family that included President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, passed away shortly before midnight on Tuesday, August 25, at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, following a 15-month long battle with brain cancer. In this portrait, Kennedy was in the three-time All-America City to rally advance support for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, who along with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, were seeking the March 4 primary nomination for president. During his campaign swing, city leaders presented him the gift, noting that the senator and the city both shared many traits, including the high standards required of communities which receive the coveted All-America City Award. Following news of his death, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, reflected on Kennedy’s strong support in the Valley. “He is, and will always be, held in the highest regard by Hispanics across the country. On his travels throughout the land, he always found a friendly audience within the Hispanic community, whose issues he championed,” Hinojosa said. “He visited our communities in deep South Texas on several occasions and he was our true friend.”
Edinburg residents listened intently to Sen. Edward Kennedy during his appearance on February 20, 2008 at the University of Texas-Pan American during his campaign swing to advance the appearance a few days later on campus of Barack Obama, who was seeking the March 2008 Democratic Party nomination for president. “Last night, we lost a great American whose legacy will likely outlive us all,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen. Senator Edward M. Kennedy is an irreplaceable part of American politics; he led an extraordinary life defending the core principles of this country, creating equal opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds.” Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, August 29, next to his fallen brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza of Edinburg, featured right, was recently recognized by South Texas Health System leaders for his leadership role in the advancement of health care in the Valley. The Hidalgo County Precinct 4 elected official is shown here accepting the Community Leader Appreciation Award from Joe Rodríguez, STHS chief executive officer, during a presentation on July 9 at McAllen Medical Center. As a lifelong resident of Edinburg, Espinoza has served his Hidalgo County constituency as JP since 1995. During this time, he has assisted the health care community by providing mandatory inquests, and helping those with mental health and drug addictions receive behavioral health care. Espinoza has been recognized by his community for his leadership, serving in numerous organizations. In addition, Espinoza was Edinburg mayor pro-tem and city commissioner between 1990 and 1994. He has been actively involved in the Edinburg Bobcat Booster Club, Edinburg Crime Stoppers, Edinburg Jaycees, Edinburg Census Committee and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. He has also helped organize and produce Fiesta Custom Car and Truck Shows.
Kohl’s Department Store, through the Kohl’s Cares for Kids program, has donated $53,685 to the Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation. The donations were collected from Kohl’s stores located in the Rio Grande Valley and a check was presented to the Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation on Saturday, August 29. Kohl’s has gifted nearly $75,000 to the Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation since 2008. Kohl’s latest donation to the Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation was for their joint flu fighting project. The special check presentation was made during the August 29 Back to School Family Health Fair at Edinburg Children’s Hospital. Featured, from left: Heriberto Montes, Kohl’s assistant store manager; Le’Char García, Kohl’s store manager; Dan Castro, Kohl’s store manager; Phyllis Griggs, Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation board member; Janie Salinas, Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation board secretary; Dolly Villarreal, Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation board member; and Rubén Garza. See story later in this posting.
UTPA’s Bucky the Bronc, STC President Shirley A. Reed, Interim UTPA President Charles A. Sorber, and STC’s Jerry the Jaguar celebrate another milestone in helping ease student transfers. On Tuesday, August 25, the University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College met in McAllen to celebrate the completion of another phase of their Start Here, Finish There Student Transfer Success Action Plan. STC and UTPA representatives signed 11 agreements to ease transfer for students from STC to UTPA. The agreements span a variety of subject are as including anthropology, biology, communications, education, kinesiology, language and cultural studies, mathematics, Mexican American studies, history, philosophy, political science, psychology and social work. The focus of the agreements and plan is to ensure students have an easier time completing their degrees through a partnership between both higher education institutions. See story later in this posting.
John Flores, former Valley journalist, author of book on U.S. war hero Freddy González of Edinburg, to receive award for decade-long work on fallen Marine
By PRICE DANIEL
The Marine Corps recently announced that former U.S. Coast Guardsman John Flores will receive the civilian Meritorious Service Award for his years of research and writing about the life of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Freddy González.
Flores was a correspondent for the McAllen Monitor in the 1990s, covering Edinburg as his main news beat. It was during his tenure as a South Texas journalist that he began his research that chronicled the naming of a U.S. guided missile destroyer in honor of the war hero from Texas.
He has also written extensively about the USS González, a guided missile destroyer attached to the Navy Base in Norfolk.
During Viet Nam’s Tet Offensive, González took over as platoon commander before his companyentered Hue City, and quickly found themselves surrounded by enemy forces trying to stop the Marines from entering the city, on January 31, 1968.
Over the course of the next three days he was wounded several times while saving fellow Marines and launching brave, deadly, solitaryattacks on enemy positions.
On the morning of February 4, 1968, at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, he fired a dozen rockets at North Vietnamese Army positions, saving the pinned-down platoon, giving his life for his men. He was the only man awarded the Medal of Honor for the month-long battle of Hue City — the most violent, intense fighting of the entire 10-year war.
Flores’s book, entitled When The River Dreams: The Life of Marine Sgt. Freddy González, took 10 years ofresearch. Flores served four years in the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1980s asa search-and-rescue crewman inNew Orleans.
Last month, Ruchar Webb, of the Marine Corps Headquarters Medals Incentives Board, contacted Flores by phone at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he said.
‘‘My wife finally admitted that she contacted the Navy Department in a letter about my work,” Flores said. ‘‘And the Navy Department sent her a letter last June stating they would pass her request on to the Marines.”
Flores’ wife, Rowena, received a reply to her request for “some type of recognition“ for her husband’s work, on June 5, from Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Patricia C. Adams.
‘‘… your husband’s achievements are commendable and merit consideration for a (Navy Department) orMarine Corps honorary award,” Adams wrote. ‘‘We have forwarded your letter and its contents to the staff at Headquarters (Marine) for review and consideration … (the Awards Board) will make the appropriate recommendation for the award level and approval authority.”
Webb told Flores he would be receiving the award for his work, but did not state a date for receiving it.
‘‘It does not matter when or how it’s received,” Flores said. ‘‘What an honor this is to me. I spent some time on board the warship USS González with the first crew at sea when the ship was en route from Norfolk to commissioning near Corpus Christi, Texas. That was 13 years ago this fall. The Navy flew me by helicopter from NAS Key West to the underway ship that was about 30 miles offshore. That gotme started on the book about Sgt. González, published finally in October 2006, exactly 10 years after my trip on board.”
[Serving in the Coast Guard] ‘‘was sometimes pretty tough duty,” Flores said. ‘‘All I got in the end was an honorable discharge, a Good Conduct Medal and a kick in the butt from my old chief. And now the Marine Corps gives me this.
‘‘A Marine Corps buddy of mine at the time, Wendel Hall, used to make fun of me for being a ‘shallow water sailor.’ Wait till I show him the medal… He won’t believe it.”
Transportation Commission funds more projects in the Valley, including effort to help Edinburg airport
By ARTURO BALLESTEROS
The Texas Transportation Commission approved several projects in Hidalgo County on Thursday, August 27, said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. These projects are part of an ongoing effort to improve mobility in South Texas.
The South Texas International Airport at Edinburg was one of the airports recommended for projects under the Aviation Capital Improvement Program, where the airport would receive funds to build and maintain Taxi Ways to alleviate congestion. The Routine Airport Maintenance Program now also includes the South Texas International Airport at Brownsville and the McAllen Miller International Airport, allowing the Texas Department of Transportation to match local funds for airport maintenance and improvements.
“The continued support of the Texas Transportation Commission for South Texas’ infrastructure is streamlining commerce and helping the Rio Grande Valley attract new investment,” said Hinojosa. “Earlier this year alone, the commission approved measures to bring Highway 281 up to interstate standards. By working closely with the leadership at the commission, we now have additional projects coming online to complement other developments.”
The commission approved two projects in Hidalgo County, including $11 million for roadway improvements at the intersection of Bryan Road and Trinity Street, as well as $10 million for an underpass/overpass at the US Highway 83 and Bryan Road intersection. These projects will greatly improve safety and provide improved access to the areas around Mission Hospital.
The Lower Rio Grande Development Council was also awarded $244,000 in federal stimulus funds to improve its Rural Transit System. In addition, the commission will also fund several contracts totaling $20.2 million for the counties in Senate District 20, including $1.6 million to resurface FM 491 in Hidalgo County from Business 83 to the International Floodway Levee.
President Obama issues proclamation honoring the life of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, August 29
DEATH OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Senator Edward M. Kennedy was not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy. Over the past half-century, nearly every major piece of legislation that has advanced the civil rights, health, and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. With his passing, an important chapter in our American story has come to an end.
As a mark of respect for the memory of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset on August 30, 2009. I also direct that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff until sunset on the day of his interment. I further direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same periods at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-sixth day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
“I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family as the youngest of nine children. By their words, their actions, and their love, our parents instilled in all of us the importance of the ties that bind us together – our faith, our family, and our love of this great country.”
Edward M. Kennedy was the third longest-serving member of the United States Senate in American history. Voters of Massachusetts elected him to the Senate nine times—a record matched by only one other senator.
The scholar Thomas Mann said his time in the Senate was “an amazing and endurable presence. You want to go back to the 19th century to find parallels, but you won’t find parallels.”
President Obama has described his breathtaking span of accomplishment: “For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health, and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.”
He fought for and won so many great battles—on voting rights, education, immigration reform, the minimum wage, national service, the nation’s first major legislation to combat AIDS, and equality for minorities, women, the disabled and gay Americans.
He called health care “the cause of my life,” and succeeded in bringing quality and affordable health care for countless Americans, including children, seniors and Americans with disabilities. Until the end he was working tirelessly to achieve historic national health reform. He was an opponent of the Vietnam War and an early champion of the war’s refugees. He was a powerful yet lonely voice from the beginning against the invasion of Iraq. He stood for human rights abroad — from Chile to the former Soviet Union – and was a leader in the cause of poverty relief for the poorest nations of Africa and the world. He believed in a strong national defense and he also unceasingly pursued and advanced the work of nuclear arms control.
He was the conscience of his party, and also the Senate’s greatest master of forging compromise with the other party. Known as the “Lion of the Senate,” Kennedy was widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his commitment to progress and his ability to legislate.
Kennedy was Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Previously he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and served on that committee for many years. He also served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. He was a leader of the Congressional Friends of Ireland and helped lead the way toward peace on that island.
He was a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Virginia Law School. He lived in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, with his wife Vicki. He is survived by her and their five children Kara, Edward Jr., and Patrick Kennedy, and Curran and Caroline Raclin, and his sister Jean Kennedy Smith.
University of Texas-Pan American opens McAllen graduate school, located west of La Plaza Mall
By GAIL FAGAN
With the opening of the new UTPA McAllen Teaching Site on Thursday, August 26, access to advanced education will now be a few miles closer for many Rio Grande Valley residents, saving them travel time and costs.
Initiated by The University of Texas-Pan American in partnership with the City of McAllen, the new 10,000-square-foot leased facility is located at 1800 South Main Street in the Main Place Shopping Center adjacent to the La Plaza Mall. A map showing the site’s location is available at http://www.utpa.edu/mcallen.
Starting this fall, 12 graduate-level courses in the Colleges of Education, Business Administration, Arts and Humanities and Science and Engineering will be offered at the site. Additionally, English Language Institute classes and some continuing education courses in educational leadership and the Certified Public Manager program will also be offered.
UTPA Interim President Dr. Charles A. Sorber, who greeted the crowd of more than 100 attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony, praised the partnership with the City of McAllen to bring the project to fruition and talked about UTPA’s commitment to serve and make life easier for Valley citizens.
“We are not just an Edinburg institution; we are a regional institution as we reach out to all those students who may find it difficult to get to us. So we bring us to them,” he said.
Since 2003, UTPA has maintained a Starr County Upper-Level Center, which will soon have a permanent home, and the University also has a Coastal Studies Lab located at South Padre Island.
James D. Dannenbaum, a member of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, said the UT System is committed to expanding educational opportunities throughout the state, including South Texas.
“Through this McAllen Teaching Site UTPA is working to honor that commitment of reaching out from one corner of the region to the other. From Starr County to South Padre Island, UTPA strengthens its presence and reinforces its tradition of access and success,” he said.
Dr. Cynthia Brown, UTPA vice provost for graduate studies, said there had been a demand for a McAllen location by working professionals juggling work and family responsibilities who wanted a more convenient location to pursue advanced degrees and professional development.
Approximately 200 students are already enrolled in the courses offered this fall. Both she and Sorber indicated the number of offerings will expand as demand arises.
For McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, having the new site in McAllen is a win-win proposition not only for the city but for the entire region.
“This will not only affect our students but our economy. 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,” he said.
Dannenbaum called the collaboration an important investment in human capital and a community.
“This investment in human capital will pay in dividends for decades and probably centuries to come,” he said.
For more information on the UTPA McAllen Teaching Site visit http://www.utpa.edu/mcallen or call 956/381-2071.
Former Starr County sheriff Reymundo Guerra sentenced to prison for protecting drug traffickers
Reymundo Guerra, 52, of Rio Grande City, Texas, has been sentenced to 64 months in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons without parole for using his position as Sheriff of Starr County, Texas, to facilitate a drug trafficking organization’s ability to conduct its illicit business in exchange for cash, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Thursday, August 27.
The former Starr County sheriff was sentenced Thursday afternoon by United States District Judge Randy Crane. In addition to the prison term, Crane ordered Guerra further serve a four-year-term of supervised release – a form of probation with stringent conditions – after his release from prison. Guerra has been permitted to remain on bond until September 28, 2009, when he must surrender to the United States Marshals Service to begin service of his sentence.
Guerra is one of a total of 27 individuals named and charged with various drug trafficking and/or money laundering offenses alleged in a superseding indictment returned on Oct. 8, 2008. Of those 27 defendants, a total of 20, including former Sheriff Guerra, have pleaded guilty to one or more counts of the indictment. Seven defendants are fugitives and the indictment remains sealed as to a 28th defendant.
On May 1, 2009, at a rearraignment hearing, Guerra admitted that since at least January 2007 he provided information he learned in his position as sheriff to enable José Carlos Hinojosa and his drug trafficking associates to avoid investigation and possible arrest and to hasten their release if they were arrested. If Guerra knew or anticipated there might be increased law enforcement activity in the area of Starr County, Guerra would warn Hinojosa.
Guerra also forced closure of a case associated with one of Hinojosa’s associates. On at least one occasion, Guerra knowingly gave a false document to investigators to deflect suspicion from one of Hinojosa’s associates. Guerra also assisted Hinojosa to learn of information leading to searches of stash locations and residences and/or seizures of controlled substances. Through his actions, Guerra helped Hinojosa and his associates to continue to engage in drug trafficking activities in Starr County. In return for his information and protection, Guerra was compensated through “gifts” from Hinojosa, typically $2,000 to $3,000 at a time.
José Carlos Hinojosa, 32, a resident alien from Mexico residing in Roma, and the alleged leader of the drug trafficking organization that paid Guerra for protection, has also pleaded guilty and is pending sentencing on October 26, 2009.
Ten co-defendants were also sentenced to prison terms on August 27 along with Guerra, including Raymundo Edgar González, 38, who received 235 months, and Jorge Alberto Ramos, 30, who was sentenced to serve 87 months. José De Jesús Hernández, 30, a resident alien from Mexico residing in Houston, was sentenced to 38 months. Mayra Treviño Flores, 28, and Sharletha Woodard, 30, both of Houston, will be serving 15 and 46 months, respectively, while Roberto Eden Moreno, 37, of Palmhurst and Jaime Herrera, 34, of Edinburg will serve 87 and 120 months, respectively.
The remaining individuals sentenced include John Louis Jordan, 38, of Missouri City, Texas, who will serve 188 months, Tarsila Villarreal Vidal, 38, of Salineno, Texas, who received 63 months and Javier Óscar Solis García, 48, a Mexican citizen from Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, who will serve a total of 45 months in federal prison. All sentences are to be served without the benefit of parole.
Sergio Iván Olivarez-Flores, 25, a Mexican citizen from Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, and Darrell Lamelle Wortham, 37, of Missouri City, Texas, were sentenced to 168 months in federal prison without parole on June 16, 2009. On that same date, Twandalyn Renique Jordan, 36, also of Missouri City, Texas, was sentenced to 41 months imprisonment.
The sentencings of Saúl Méndez, 32, of Rio Grande City, Mario Alberto Mascorro, 34, of McAllen, Jesús Fabiel Mendoza, 30, of Richmond, Texas, Yanira Barrera, 34, of Houston and San Juanita M. García, 56, of Garciasville, will take place on October 26, 2009, along with Hinojosa.
Warrants remain outstanding for the following seven defendants who remain fugitives: Eduardo Nicolás Barragan-Balderas, 33, Luis Fernando Garza Sáenz, 33, and Sergio Silva Treviño, 25, all Mexican citizens from Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas; José Alonso Barrera, 33, of McAllen; Aldo Reyes, 33, of Rio Grande City; Romel Neftali Huerta, 31, of Roma; and Ricardo Peña Cuellar, 50, of Mission. Anyone having information regarding the whereabouts of these fugitives are asked to contact the McAllen office of the FBI at (956) 984-6300 or the McAllen office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at (956) 992-8400. The indictment remains sealed as to one defendant.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by special agents of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, Houston Police Department and the Hidalgo County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force. This Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case dubbed Operation Carlito’s Weigh is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Toni Treviño.
Popular team mascots unite college systems during ceremony easing transfer of South Texas College students to the University of Texas-Pan American
By HELEN J. ESCOBAR
South Texas College’s Jerry the Jaguar and The University of Texas-Pan American’s Bucky the Bronc were on hand on Tuesday, August 25, to help college administrators celebrate the completion of another phase of their Start Here, Finish There Student Transfer Success Action Plan.
STC and UTPA representatives signed 11 agreements to ease transfer for students from STC to UTPA.
The agreements span a variety of subject are as including anthropology, biology, communications, education, kinesiology, language and cultural studies, mathematics, Mexican American studies, history, philosophy, political science, psychology and social work. The focus of the agreements and plan is to ensure students have an easier time completing their degrees through a partnership between both higher education institutions.
“It took more than 90 faculty members from both institutions working together to get these agreements done,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president. “We are so proud of the accomplishment and look forward to the great benefits our students will see from our efforts.”
STC and UTPA committed to completing 30, 2+2 articulation agreements by December 2009. Through the articulations, students will have a clear roadmap of what courses to complete at STC during their freshmen and sophomore years in college, as well as a list of the remaining courses required from UTPA during their junior and senior years, leading to the completion of a bachelor’s degree.
“Dr. Reed and I have started a new tradition of getting together for lunch every six weeks to talk about the issues impacting both our institutions and at the top of our discussion s has been providing seamless transitions for our students,” said Dr. Charles A. Sorber, interim UTPA president. “These agreements are going to help students by ensuring they are on the right track from the beginning. It will make the transition as nice and seamless as possible.”
Another key strategy in the plan is the adoption of the Texas Common Course Numbering System by UTPA, which is being implemented in fall 2009. The change ensures that STC and UTPA are using the exact same course numbers for all freshmen and sophomore courses in the system. The change will result in a simpler recording mechanism for portability of credits by graduates.
Additionally, STC and UTPA will establish an STC/UTPA Pre-Admittance Program, allowing qualifying STC graduates to gain pre-admittance to the university. The program will encompass special financial aid opportunities, locked-in tuition rates, scholarships, as well as special student life and academic programs for pre-admit students.
“Congrats to both institutions for their tremendous collaborations,” said Dr. Martha M. Ellis, Associate Vice Chancellor for Community College Partnerships from The University of Texas System. “This collaboration provides a model for all higher education institutions in Texas and across the nation. The beneficiaries are the students and their communities as they will realize a better quality of life. Also the state of Texas is getting a new workforce trained to help the state prosper and grow.”
Kohl’s grants $53,685 to Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation for health and wellness program
By DALINDA GUILLEN
Kohl’s Department Store, through the Kohl’s Cares for Kids program, has donated $53,685 to the Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation. The donations were collected from Kohl’s stores located in the Rio Grande Valley and a check was presented to the Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation on Saturday, August 29.
Kohl’s has gifted nearly $75,000 to the Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation since 2008.
This donation will support a limited supply of needle-free flu vaccines for Rio Grande Valley children at no cost and help to educate Valley families about the severity of the flu and the importance of yearly flu vaccinations and protection against the flu. Free flu vaccines were administered during the Back to School Family Health Fair at Edinburg Children’s Hospital on August 29. Educational information about the flu was distributed to all guests at the event. In addition, the Infection Control staff at Edinburg Children’s Hospital will bring flu education to the classroom with demonstrations in several Rio Grande Valley Schools beginning this Fall.
“The Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation is committed to helping improve the quality of life for the children of our community,” says Brenda Garza, Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation president. “This flu prevention program sponsored by Kohl’s will provide our children with the knowledge they need to make healthy decisions now and in the years to come.”
Kohl’s commitment to Edinburg Children’s Hospital is made possible through the Kohl’s Cares for Kids philanthropic initiative. Kohl’s Cares for Kids includes a merchandise program featuring $5 books and plush toys where 100% of net profits go toward supporting hospital partnerships like this one. Through 2008, Kohl’s has raised more than $126 million dollars through its merchandise program. Other components of Kohl’s Cares for Kids include Kohl’s A-Team associate volunteer program; the Kohl’s Kids Who Care® Scholarship Program, recognizing stand-out kids for volunteer efforts in their communities; and fundraising gift cards for local schools and nonprofit organizations.
Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation
The Edinburg Children’s Hospital Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to provide assistance to medically challenged children who require additional services to re-enter their homes. A significant portion of the money raised by the foundation goes to the purchase of medical equipment and programs to help pediatric patients cope with their illness and prevent healthy children from becoming ill.
Edinburg Children’s Hospital
Edinburg Children’s Hospital is the Rio Grande Valley’s only stand alone children’s hospital. It is also the first to open a Ronald McDonald Family Room together with the Ronald McDonald House Charity of the Rio Grande Valley. It is a facility of South Texas Health System. The hospital system is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc. (UHS), a King of Prussia, PA-based company that is one of the largest healthcare management companies in the nation. As the Valley’s leading hospital system, it offers specialized services in behavioral health, cardiovascular care, emergency medicine, neuroscience, oncology, pediatric care, women’s services, and rehabilitation. Its facilities include: Edinburg Children’s Hospital, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg Regional Rehab Center, McAllen Medical Center, McAllen Heart Hospital and South Texas Behavioral Health Center and Cornerstone Regional Hospital.
Kohl’s Department Stores
Based in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Kohl’s (NYSE: KSS) is a family-focused, value-oriented specialty department store offering moderately priced, exclusive and national brand apparel, shoes, accessories, beauty and home products in an exciting shopping environment. Kohl’s operates 1,022 stores in 49 states. A company committed to the communities it serves, Kohl’s has raised more than $126 million for children’s initiatives nationwide through its Kohl’s Cares for Kids® philanthropic program, which operates under Kohl’s Cares, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc. For a list of store locations and information, or for the added convenience of shopping online, visit http://www.kohls.com.
Attorney General Greg Abbott takes action to defend Texas Open Meetings Act from legal challenge
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, August 31, took legal action to defend the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) from a legal challenge to its constitutionality. Former Alpine city council members Avinash Rangra and Anna Monclova have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of penalties that TOMA imposes on government officials who violate open meetings laws. On September 24, Solicitor General James Ho will defend the law during an oral argument before the full 17-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
In February 2005, Rangra was indicted for violating TOMA.According to local prosecutors, Rangra sent e-mails to a quorum of the Alpine City Council. Because those e-mails discussed official government business, Rangra was charged with conducting an illegal, closed meeting. The charge were later dropped. However, Rangra and Monclova subsequently challenged TOMA in federal court, claiming the law violates the First Amendment. Their lawsuit sought an injunction preventing TOMA’s enforcement. The federal district court rejected the lawsuit, but a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit later sent the case back to the trial court to review TOMA under a stricter standard of review. In response, Attorney General Abbott asked the Fifth Circuit court to accept the case for rehearing before the entire court.
In a brief that was filed on August 31, the Attorney General argues that TOMA furthers, rather than frustrates, fundamental First Amendment values. “Elected officials work for the people. They do not have a First Amendment right against the very people they serve. They suffer no actionable First Amendment injury from being required to conduct public business in public, rather than in secret, to the exclusion of the voters who elected them to office in the first place,” the brief states. “In short, open meeting laws expand, not suppress, communication. Such laws do not limit public discourse—they broaden it. … Open government is precisely what the First Amendment envisions, not condemns.”
The Attorney General’s brief also argues: “Like virtually every open meeting law across the country, . . . the Texas Open Meetings Act is based on a simple premise: Because the decisions of governmental bodies are made not on behalf of the members themselves, but on behalf of the people they serve, the people have a right to view the decision-making process.”
In addition to defending TOMA’s constitutionality, the brief argues that the court should dismiss the case because it is moot. The brief argues that Rangra and Monclova lack standing in the case because they are no longer city council members and, as a result, are no longer subject to the act’s penalties.
To learn more about the Office of the Attorney General’s efforts to ensure openness in government, visit the agency’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
Key new laws that became effective September 1 involve efforts to protect motorists and public safety
By REP. VERÓNICA GONZÁLES
A number of new laws aimed at protecting motorists on the road and improving public safety went into effect on September 1. The measures, passed by the Texas House and Senate during the 81st legislative session that ended June 1, include requiring all passengers to wear seat belts, prohibiting drivers from using cell phones in school zones and increasing training for teen drivers.
Here is a brief overview of some of the new laws that will impact Texas’ motorists. For more information about these laws or other new legislation, please contact my Capitol office at 512/463-0578. I look forward to hearing from you and will continue to keep you updated on information relevant to you and your family.
- All vehicle occupants must wear a safety belt regardless of age or where they are seated in the vehicle. Drivers of a passenger van transporting 15 or fewer passengers can face charges if a child under the age of 17 is not wearing a seat belt. Motorcycle drivers are now prohibited from carrying a passenger under 5 years old, unless the child is seated in a sidecar attached to the motorcycle (HB 537).
- Booster seats for children younger than 8 years old unless they are at least 4 feet, 9 inches in height, raising the age limit for booster seats from 5 years old. Violators face fines of no more than $25 for a first offense and $250 for a second offense. The fines collected will be used to buy safety seats for low-income families. Although this law became effective on September 1, police officers cannot issue tickets until June 1, 2010. Law enforcement officers may issue a warning before that date (SB 61).
- No cell phones while driving in school zones unless the vehicle is stopped or making an emergency call. Hands-free devices are permitted and a sign must be posted at the beginning of each school zone to inform drivers that using a wireless communications device may result in a fine (HB 55).
- Increased penalties for driving while intoxicated with a child passenger will now include an automatic driver license suspension period for first-time offenders and an increased suspension period for repeat offenders. The driver license re-instatement fee for completing an education program will increase from $50 to $100 (HB 2730).
- Enhanced penalties for people who drive with a suspended license and without insurance. The offense is now a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and six months jail time. If the person driving without insurance or a valid driver license has an accident and someone is seriously injured or dies as a result of that accident, the punishment is now a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and a year in jail (HB 2012).
- Minors required to take driving exam. All driver license applicants under age 18 are required to take the driving skills exam to receive a license (HB 2730).
- More training time for teen drivers. Starting May 1, 2010, teens must receive 34 hours of behind-the-wheel driving instruction, up from 14 hours (HB 339).
- Drivers’ education courses required for adult applicants. Beginning May 1, 2010, driver license applicants older than 18 years old must take a six-hour driver education course. Applicants 25 years old or younger must submit to an approved driver education course (SB 1317).
- Minors failing breath or blood alcohol test while operating a watercraft may have driver license suspended (SB 328).
- Texas domicile required for license. A person can no longer be issued a driver license or identification card if they have not established a domicile in Texas. An applicant may receive a driver’s license at a post office box only if the applicant’s residence address has also been provided, with some exceptions (HB 2730).
- Lifetime license disqualification for commercial driver license holders transferring illegal immigrants. Drivers can now face a lifetime disqualification for using a motor vehicle to transport, conceal or harbor an illegal immigrant. If a minor is involved in trafficking persons, the juvenile’s driver license or permit may be suspended (HB 2730).
Minors may now be charged with public intoxication. Current law only allows minors to be prosecuted for purchasing, possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage, but not for public intoxication (HB 558).
- Sealing of juvenile records. Courts are permitted to immediately seal juvenile criminal records if the juvenile successfully completes a drug court program, or another special program ordered by the court (HB 2386).
- Stealing a driver license, commercial driver license or personal identification is now a Class B misdemeanor (HB 1282).
- Sex offenders are now required to provide e-mail addresses and online identification information when they register (SB 689).
New laws improving access, quality of health and human services among Sen. Zaffirini’s top measures
By VICTORIA FOREMAN
Twenty-seven new laws, including 13 Senate Bills (SB) authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and 14 House Bills (HB) that she sponsored during the 2009 legislative session, became effective on September 1.
Eight focus on improving access to and the quality of state health and human services, always among Zaffirini’s highest legislative priorities. With the passage of SB 39, for example, Texans with life-threatening illnesses will be able to enroll in medical clinical trials with the hope of finding a cure while having their routine care costs covered by their health insurance.
Because insurance companies will be required to cover routine medical care, patients can participate in clinical trials without fear that their insurance companies will refuse to reimburse routine medical expenses or drop them completely from coverage.
With Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, Zaffirini passed HB 806, the companion to her SB 26, to require group health insurance plans to provide coverage equal to Medicare benefit levels for prosthetic devices, thereby protecting medically insured Texans who lose a limb and otherwise could not afford their prosthetic devices.
Significant measures designed to enhance public safety also went into effective on September 1, including Zaffirini’s SB 61. The new law requires booster seats for children younger than eight, unless they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. It is expected to reduce by 59 percent children’s risk of serious head, spinal cord or internal organ injuries due to adult seat belts.
Driver’s license holders voluntarily can provide emergency contact information to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), as allowed by Zaffirini’s SB 652. Data will be used only to reach loved ones during emergencies, and it is expected that the database will reduce greatly time required to locate next-of-kin in an emergency and secure medical information needed for life-saving care.
The bill was suggested by Laredoan Sally Vásquez and sponsored by Rep. Stephen Frost, D-Atlanta.
“These new measures are the result of a successful legislative session,” Zaffirini said, “I am grateful to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and my colleagues in the Senate and in the House of Representatives for working to enact policies to benefit the families of SD 21 and our state.”
Of the 65 bills that Zaffirini passed in 2009, the 27 that will become are now law are summarized below:
- SB 28 prohibits and creates penalties for the unauthorized use of another’s computer for purposes such as collecting personally identifiable information without a person’s consent, blackmail and click fraud.
- SB 39 requires health benefit plans to cover the costs of routine patient care for insured participants in clinical medical trials.
- SB 52 increases penalties for illegally using parking places designated for persons with disabilities.
- SB 58 streamlines the administration of the Juvenile Justice Case Management System.
- SB 61 requires child passenger safety seats for children younger than eight years old who are shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches.
- SB 63 creates a career ladder for interveners who provide services through the deaf-blind with multiple disabilities waiver program.
- SB 652 allows driver’s license holders voluntarily to provide emergency contact information to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for use only to reach loved ones during emergencies.
- SB 1145 establishes a method for properly folding the state flag.
- SB 1795 clarifies political contribution and expenditure reports in connection with runoff elections.
- SB 1796 streamlines the process for approving certain construction projects at higher education institutions.
- SB 1803 simplifies the procedures for participating in the Glenda Dawson Donate Life-Texas Registry for organ donation.
- SB 1804 allows for medical assistance reimbursement for wheeled mobility systems for recipients of medical assistance.
- SB 1806 allows for liens for certain veterinary care charges for large animals.
- HB 19 requires new labeling requirements for drugs dispensed by pharmacists.
- HB 549 creates an affirmative defense to the prosecution of certain sex offenses.
- HB 802 creates the lifespan respite services program.
- HB 806 requires health benefit plans to cover certain prosthetic and orthotic devices.
- HB 1177 allows peace officers and firefighters involved in the legislative process to obtain leave from their jobs.
- HB 1178 authorizes the creation of the Starr County Drainage District.
- HB 1282 creates a penalty for the theft of a driver’s license or personal identification certificate.
- HB 1622 creates a grant program to provide for children at risk of hunger or obesity.
- HB 1793 requires instruction for judges who hear complaints alleging certain misdemeanor offenses by children.
- HB 2330 allows the expanded availability of laboratory tests measuring kidney function.
- HB 2804 authorizes salary increases for Duval County Juvenile Board members.
- HB 2813 authorizes salary increases for Starr County Juvenile Board members.
- HB 3303 improves the adult fatality review and investigation process.
Information about these and other new laws is available via http://www.zaffirini.senate.state.tx.us or the Texas Legislative Reference Library, 512/463-1252.
Carlos Rubinstein, a UT-Pan American graduate, to lead Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
By DORIS SÁNCHEZ
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, on Tuesday, August 25, announced that Carlos Rubinstein was appointed Commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) by the governor.
Rubinstein’s term is from August 31, 2009 to August 31, 2015.
“I congratulate this and all of Mr. Rubinstein’s accomplishments,” said Lucio. “I am thrilled that this Brownsville native will serve as one of TCEQ’s three commissioners.”
On June 17, 2008, Rubinstein was appointed deputy executive director of the agency, serving as the chief operating officer, assisting the executive director in the administration of the agency. Prior to this role, Rubinstein served as the director for the border and South-Central Texas area, which includes the Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Laredo and Harlingen regions.
“Commissioner Rubenstein has shown outstanding dedication in every position he has held. I am confident that this appointment will allow all of Texas to benefit from his exemplary leadership,” noted Lucio. “He is fully knowledgeable of this area’s concerns regarding water availability and quality, and I’m confident he will be instrumental as we develop our conservation of water resources that include desalination and other innovative programs.”
As the Rio Grande Watermaster, Commissioner Rubinstein was responsible for allocating, monitoring and controlling the use of surface water in the Rio Grande basin from Fort Quitman to the mouth of the Rio Grande River.
Rubinstein began his career at TCEQ as a waste program manager and moved up to serve as the regional director for the Harlingen and Laredo offices. He has also worked for the city of Brownsville as the health and EMS director, health and permitting director, operations manager and rose to the rank of city manager.
The UT-Pan American graduate received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry. He and his wife Judy have three daughters and one granddaughter.
“Commissioner Rubinstein’s role as conservator of our state’s valuable natural resources is particularly critical as the state focuses on increasing economic development while exploring new technological options to mitigate the impact on the environment,” concluded Lucio.
Reynosa resident sentenced for trying to smuggle two machine guns to Mexico through Pharr Port of Entry
Serjio Agustín Nieto-Vázquez, 31, a United States citizen residing in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, was sentenced to prison for attempting to export a Browning M1919 machine gun converted to a semi-automatic with a tripod and other weapons and ammunition to Mexico, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced.
At a hearing on Wednesday, August 26, United States District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Nieto-Vázquez to 46 months in federal prison to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. Nieto-Vázquez pleaded guilty in late May 2008 to attempting to export defense articles on the United States Munitions List without obtaining a license or without written authorization in violation of Title 22, U.S.C., Section 2778.
Nieto-Vázquez has been in custody since his April 27, 2009. arrest by special agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the outbound inspection station at the Pharr Port of Entry found the converted semi-automatic Browning M1919 machinegun and tripod, a Romanian AK-47 and 3,000 rounds of 5.7 X28 mm ammunition concealed in a blanket behind the passenger seat of Nieto-Vázquez’ pickup truck. Nieto admitted he was being paid $300 to smuggle the firearms into Mexico.
In general, the M1919 Browning is a .30 caliber medium machine gun that was widely used during the 20th century. It was used as a light infantry, coaxial, mounted, aircraft, and anti-aircraft machine gun by the U.S. and many other countries, especially during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Although it began to be superseded by newer designs in the later half of the century (such as by the M60 machine gun), it remained in use in many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries and elsewhere for much longer. It is very similar in design to the larger .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Machine Gun, which is also a Browning-designed weapon and is still in NATO service.
In general, The AK-47 was one of the first true assault rifles and, due to its durability, low production cost and ease of use, the weapon and its numerous variants remain the most widely used assault rifles in the world — so much so that more AK-type rifles have been produced than all other assault rifles combined. It was also used by the majority of the member states of the former Warsaw Pact. The AK-47 was also used as a basis for the development of many other types of individual and crew-served firearms.
ICE and CBP were assisted in this investigation by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Steven Schammel.
Texas Senate panel hears testimony on droughts, hurricane preparedness, and swine flu outbreaks
Issues from drought to disease to metropolitan traffic were addressed by the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security were recently addressed during a committee hearing in Arlington.
Jack Colley, Chief of the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management, led off with a report to the committee on Texas’ efforts to get federal assistance to fight the effects of the current drought in south and central Texas, as well as how fighting the brush fires that come along with such droughts are funded. He told the committee that Gov. Rick Perry has applied to the federal government for a disaster declaration for all 254 counties so that federal help and funding would be forthcoming.
He also described improvements in hurricane preparedness since Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast in 2008. He said that during Ike, cooperation between the state and private petrochemical companies prevented “a significant disaster, not just to the coast”, in potential damage to the state’s oil industry.
Colonel Steve McCraw told the senators that the much-criticized border camera program is an effort to take care of remote ranches that Border Patrol or sheriff’s offices cannot quickly reach. He said that the jury is still out on how effective the current system is, but that using technology to put “eyes on the border” helps in terms of the ranchers who have asked for it and in getting scarce resources to where they are needed.
General José S. Mayorga, Texas Adjutant General, reported that the Texas military forces have deployed approximately 20 thousand soldiers overseas, with a large part of those in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as responding to 11 hurricanes over the past four years. He thanked the committee for their support in the past as well as considering pay raises for the Texas Military who continue to serve. Colonel Connie McNabb with the Air National Guard told the members that through Operation Lone Star, an effort to get medical aid to under-served Texans, that more than 30 thousand treatments had been performed.
The swine flu made an appearance at the August 20 meeting.
Dr. David Lakey, Commissioner of the Texas Dept. of State Health Services, said there have been at least five thousand cases of the disease in Texas over the summer, with probably many more unreported. He told the committee that the current pandemic has been much milder than anticipated and that this has given the state time to learn more about the disease and be prepared for additional outbreaks in the fall.
Belinda Pustka, Superintendent of the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District, described how her district handled a closing when the first H1N1 cases were reported there in the spring, saying, “A pandemic is new for us, as institutions…we know that when children arrive on Monday morning, it will arrive with them.” She told the committee of what the district is doing to limit contact between students, helping to prevent the spread of the disease and urging parents to keep ill students home. “(Parents) need to think beyond their own family, they need to consider other families as well.”
The Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security is chaired by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. Members include Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Lake Jackson, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.
Demise of state agency reminds home buyers to take precautions before buying newly-constructed home
BY JOHN COBARRUVIAS
On Tuesday, September 1, the ill-fated Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) began it’s wind down process after the Texas Legislature refused to save it during the past legislation session.
The TRCC was nothing but a builder protection agency shielding builders from being held accountable for construction defects. It provided little, if any, protection for consumers. This is a great day for consumers in Texas.
In 2003 the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Residential Construction Commission Act, creating a commission to regulate the home building industry and provide consumer protection for new home buyers. Six years later the Texas Comptrollers Office and the Texas Sunset Commission called for the abolishment of the TRCC. As the reports stated, the TRCC is nothing more than a “builder protection agency” with “fundamental flaws that do more harm than good”.
New homebuyers should take precautions to protect their family and their new purchase. Consumers should follow some simple rules when purchasing a new home:
- Always consider purchasing a pre-owned home. Consumers have better protection for a used home and there are bargains in today’s market;
- Never give up your constitutional rights to a trial by jury by signing a mandatory binding arbitration clause in the home contract or the warranty;
- Always invest in a new home inspection by an independent inspector;
- Always demand a new home warranty;
- Always perform a background check using the Better Business Bureau and search the Internet for homeowners’ webpages and news stories about the builder; and
- Then enjoy your new home.
John Cobarruvias is founder of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings
Angela Hale, communications director for Speaker Straus, leaves government post for private practice
House Speaker Joe Straus’s communications director, Angela Hale, on Tuesday, August 25, announced her departure from the speaker’s office to join Red Media Group as managing partner. Red Media Group is a strategic communications company with offices in Austin and Dallas. Hale will begin providing consulting services in September, specializing in public relations, public affairs, crisis communications and multi-media production.
“Angela did an outstanding job communicating the priorities of the Texas Legislature during the 81st legislative session,” Straus said. “I was fortunate to have an experienced communications professional guiding me through my first session as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Her years of dedicated service have truly benefited the State of Texas, and I know she will have great success in this new phase of her career.”
“I want to thank Speaker Straus for the opportunity to serve him and the Texas Legislature,” Hale said. “It was a distinct honor to help Texas continue to move forward and serve as a beacon for the nation, even during these challenging economic times.”
Prior to her service in the Speaker’s office, Hale served for six years as senior advisor and communications director to Attorney General Greg Abbott. During her tenure, Hale and her team modernized the agency’s website and consequently were honored with the “Best Online Technology Award” by the Western Conference of Attorneys General.
“Angela is a hard-working and dedicated professional who served the State of Texas and the Office of the Attorney General with distinction. I have no doubt that she will bring that same commitment and leadership to her future endeavors,” Abbott said.
A graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, Hale was an award-winning reporter at KTVT in Dallas-Fort Worth prior to her public service.