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René  A. Ramírez of Edinburg on Tuesday, November 3, took the oath of office given to him by his former employer, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to become the newest addition to the Hidalgo County family. Ramírez, 40, assumes the role of chief administrator for the sixth largest county in the state after Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III resigned the judgeship, after nearly three years of dedicated service, for an appointment in the Obama Administration. A packed house in the Hidalgo County Commissioners Courtroom in Edinburg showed up to witness the event, including his wife,  Laura Guerra Ramírez, and their two daughters, Gabriela and Mía Carmen. See story later in this posting. 

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On Thursday, October 29, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, featured left, convened the first hearing of the Legislative Committee on Aging, which was established to study pertinent issues affecting the state’s aging population. "Our goal is to examine essential services, such as housing, transportation and health care specific to Texas’ aging population and determine how to better address those unmet needs," said Lucio, who was appointed chair of the committee by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. "We want to ensure the state is better prepared to accommodate a growing senior population." Shown with Lucio is Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, the House author of the bill that created the committee. The Senate sponsor was Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, November 18, will host a Power Punch @ Lunch sponsored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and the Children’s Center at Renaissance.  The free luncheon will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Depot, 602 W. University Drive. All area residents are welcome to join the social-networking luncheon that will include food, door prizes and fun. To RSVP for the free event, interested residents may call 956/383-4974. Promoting the upcoming lunch are, from left: Martín Rivas: chamber membership director; Johnny Rodríguez, chamber chair-elect; Letty González, chamber president; Dr. Carlos Cárdenas, DHR chairman of the board; Marissa Castañeda, DHR chief operations officer;Susan Turley, DHR chief financial officer; and Mario Lizcano, DHR marketing director. 

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The Leadership Edinburg Class XXI has announced plans to hold on fundraiser on Saturday, November 21, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., as part of its efforts to promote strong leadership skills that focus on politics, education, and quality of life issues. The event will be held at the Edinburg Municipal Park Pavilion, 714 South Raul Longoria Road.  The event, dubbed "El Marcadito Day en Edinburg", helps generate funds for Leadership Class programs through the sale of sponsorships for that gathering. For a fee of $25, area business owners will be assigned one table and two chairs from which to promote their products and services.  Leadership Edinburg Class XXI participants are currently seeking vendors from all cities. Items which may be sold by the participating vendors will feature, but not be limited to, arts/crafts, jewelry, accessories, clothing, appliances, and recreational items. Featured promoting the fundraiser are, standing, from left: Maris Aguirre, Juan Uribe, Myra L. Ayala Garza, Abel Vaquera, Agustín  Hernández, Sal Martínez, and Emilio Santos. Seated, from left: Lisa Chávez, María Medina, Rita Flores, and Jensid Álvarez. For more information please contact Maris Aguirre at 388-8202 or 562-6298 or Myra L. Ayala Garza at 388-1851 or 607-6079. 

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Texans overwhelmingly approve VA Hospital Proposition 8 that has deep Valley roots, impact

By DAVID A. DÍAZ  

Once again, Valley veterans and lawmakers have successfully championed a far-reaching measure that stands to have huge socioeconomic benefits statewide, but it especially improves the prospects for the construction of a U.S. Veterans Affairs Hospital in deep South Texas. 

By an overwhelming majority – more than 75 percent – Texas voters on Tuesday, November 3, approved passage of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that authorizes the state government to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in Texas. 

Proposition 8 was approved by a landslide margin of 785,775 to 264,250, according to unofficial totals from the Texas Secretary of State. 

Locally, Hidalgo County residents favored Proposition 8 by more than 80 percent of the cast ballots, 6,477 to 1,542, according to the secretary of state’s unofficial results on Wednesday, November 4. 

In Cameron County, the margin was about the same, with 5,452 favoring Proposition 8 to 1,339 opposing that measure, the secretary of state’s unofficial results also showed. 

According to House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved last spring by the Texas Legislature, there are more than 100,000 veterans living in the four-county Rio Grande Valley. 

"Brilliant strategy" 

Sergio Muñoz, Jr., a Democratic candidate for state representative, House District 36, said that Valley veterans groups and local state lawmakers used "a brilliant strategy" to get Proposition 8 approved by the Legislature and then voters at the statewide level. 

"The bill first passed by the House of Representatives specifically stated that the state government would be authorized to help build a VA Hospital in the Valley," Muñoz explained. "That measure was expanded in the Senate –  with the approval of the House – to authorize Texas government to help build and expand VA Hospitals statewide, which virtually guaranteed strong support from voters throughout Texas." 

Muñoz, an attorney and Palmview Municipal Court Judge, is seeking the March 2010 Democratic Party primary for state representative, House District 36.  

Muñoz had strongly supported the passage of Proposition 8.

House District 36 includes Granjeno, Hidalgo, southern McAllen, most of Mission, Palmview, Peñitas, and Pharr.  

The passage of Proposition 8 clears any legal hurdles that could have been used to delay or block the use of state resources to help bring a VA Hospital to the Valley, said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview. 

Flores was the House lead author of the legislation, approved by the Texas Legislature last spring, that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot. 

Texans send "loud and clear message" 

"Now we have a crucial piece of the financing equation in place to bring to the table to negotiate with the federal government, which builds, maintains, and operates VA Hospitals statewide," said Flores. "The people of Texas have sent a loud and clear message to Congress that we are willing and able to help take care of our wounded war heroes." 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates only nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with more than one million residents (Hidalgo County, 726,200; Cameron County, 392,746; Starr County, 62,249; and Willacy County, 20,600). 

Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, was also a House author of the legislation that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot. 

"In a matter of weeks, Gov. Rick Perry will be signing the final legal paperwork that makes the passage of Proposition 8 the law of the land, and that will have a tremendous political impact on pressuring everyone from the President to the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to get to work on improving VA Hospitals in Texas, and bringing a VA Hospital to the Valley," said Martínez. 

Martínez said he will be working closely with two state major agencies – the Texas Veterans Commission and the Department of State Health Services – which have been directed by the Texas Legislature to partner with the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department and other federal agencies to help bring a Valley VA Hospital. 

"No surrender, no retreat" 

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, served as Senate sponsor of the House measure that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.   

He praised the key roles of Valley veterans groups, who have kept alive the issue of the need for a Valley VA Hospital for years, despite repeated – and still ongoing claims – that South Texas simply could not justify the  need for a VA Hospital. 

"No surrender, no retreat – that saying just about best describes the courage, perseverance, and commitment of our Valley veterans, who never took ‘no’ for an answer," said Hinojosa, a U.S. Marine combat squad leader during the Vietnam War. "Sometime in the next few years, when the Valley VA Hospital is being designed, the architects would do themselves proud by including a prominent dedication marker in homage to the Valley veterans that reads, ‘We never leave a brother or a sister behind.’" 

In addition to Flores, Martínez, and Hinojosa, the entire Valley legislative delegation put together a united front to push for placing Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot. 

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, also were House authors of the Proposition 8 measure. 

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, was the Senate co-sponsor of the Proposition 8 measure.

Lucio noted the need for a Valley VA Hospital. 

"The VA finalized contracts with Valley Baptist Health System in Cameron County and with  South Texas Health System in Hidalgo County to provide inpatient, surgical, emergency, and mental health services to veterans enrolled in the VA benefits program," Lucio said. "However, there is still a need for a full-fledged veterans hospital. The nearest hospital is approximately 300 miles away in San Antonio, which is prohibitive for some patients." 

Legislature documented

need for Valley VA Hospital  

House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved by the Texas Legislature and the governor last last May, laid out some of the reasons the Valley deserves a VA Hospital. 

HCR 86 was authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and coauthored by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and sponsored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and cosponsored by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo,     

HCR 86 follows verbatim:  

WHEREAS, The men and women who have served in this nation’s armed forces are entitled to ready access to the best possible medical care; and 

WHEREAS, For the more than 100,000 veterans living in the Rio Grande Valley, the nearest U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital is in San Antonio, as much as 300 miles and a five-hour trip away, and the lack of a VA hospital in the Valley has long imposed great hardships on veterans in that region and on their families; and 

WHEREAS, Veterans requesting appointments at the facility in San Antonio typically wait months to be seen, even for serious conditions; for those who cannot drive themselves, or who cannot afford to drive, van transportation is provided by veterans service groups; the lengthy trip, however, adds to the patients’ physical distress; no ambulances are available to convey veterans to San Antonio, which makes the journey especially difficult for those who are bedridden; and 

WHEREAS, Once veterans arrive in San Antonio, they often wait hours for an appointment that may take only 15 minutes, or they may find that their appointment has been canceled; they may also discover that they need to stay overnight, which adds to the time-consuming nature of their trip and to its expense; and 

WHEREAS, For veterans who must go to San Antonio several times a month, the time lost to travel can make it difficult to hold a job; the demands of such a trip also place a great burden on family members who have to take time off from work, and possibly arrange for child care, to drive a veteran to San Antonio, and who may need to make such trips for many years; the cost of gas and meals, in addition to the expense of lodging, if that is required, substantially exceeds the prescribed travel allowance; and 

WHEREAS, The current facilities for veterans health care in the Valley are manifestly inadequate; the VA presently operates several outpatient clinics in the region, but these do not offer the full range of services, including testing and therapy, available in San Antonio; moreover, the VA has failed to pay the bills of many veterans who have had to seek emergency care at a local hospital; in addition, although there are plans to contract with area hospitals to provide some inpatient veterans care, the medical personnel in those facilities are unlikely to have the necessary expertise in treating the injuries and psychological trauma sustained by combat veterans; and 

WHEREAS, In recent years, local veterans organizations have formed the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley to help raise awareness of this issue; and 

WHEREAS, Veterans who live in the Valley, veterans from out of state who make their home in the Valley during the winter months, and U.S. veterans who reside in Mexico all sorely need and clearly deserve a fully staffed, full-service veterans hospital in far South Texas; now, therefore, be it 

RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas hereby affirm its support for the establishment of a veterans hospital in the Rio Grande Valley; and, be it further 

RESOLVED, That the Texas secretary of state forward official copies of this resolution to the president of the United States, to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to the speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate of the United States Congress, and to all the members of the Texas delegation to the Congress with the request that this resolution be officially entered in the Congressional Record as a memorial to the Congress of the United States of America. 

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New Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez of Edinburg is sworn in, succeeds J.D. Salinas, III

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

René A. Ramírez of Edinburg on Tuesday, November 3, took the oath of office given to him by his former employer, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to become the newest addition to the Hidalgo County family.  

Ramírez, 40, assumes the role of chief administrator for the sixth largest county in the state after Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III resigned the judgeship after nearly three years of dedicated service for an appointment in the Obama Administration.

Salinas leaves behind a legacy of cooperation, commitment to open government, and pressing forward even in times of hardship. Under Salinas’ leadership, Hidalgo County received the first and second-ever Texas Association of Counties Leadership Foundation Best Practices awards and brought in more federal money for infrastructure projects such as the levees and U.S. Highway 281 than anyone in Hidalgo County’s history.

Bishop Raymundo Peña of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville offered words of encouragement for both men, and he prayed for the county leadership.  

“I look forward to continued collaboration," Peña told Ramírez. 

Constituent Gilbert Ortiz spoke in open forum and listed qualities he admired in Ramírez: “true blue, hardworking, industrious and loyal.”

Ramírez, surrounded by family and taking turn holding his two young girls, was sworn in to become the 30th county judge in Hidalgo County’s 157-year history. He again reiterated to the commissioners court and all those present that he sees his new role as a managerial one, rather than a political one.

Ramírez then immediately took his seat on the dais to preside over the remaining Commissioners’ Court meeting. He wants to meet with each of the commissioners and will continue to make the rounds with county department heads and get to know the staff who worked with Salinas.  

Functions will remain in place at the Hidalgo County Judge’s Office, ensuring a smooth transition.

“Today has been an exciting day for my family and I. I am humbled and honored to serve in this new capacity and to get to know another family — the Hidalgo County Family. For the next 14 months and even after that, let us all put our best feet forward and strive to continue the positive momentum,” Ramírez said. “I have an open door policy, so I encourage anybody that wants to air an opinion or give a suggestion to take advantage of that. I promise the utmost dedication and loyalty to the taxpayers of this great county, not to mention I have some big shoes to fill. Our constituents, the taxpayers, deserve nothing less.”

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South Texas Health Systems, owner of Edinburg, McAllen hospitals, to pay U.S. $27.5 million to settle False Claims Act allegations

South Texas Health Systems, which operates major hospitals in Edinburg and McAllen, on Friday, October 30, agreed to pay the United States $27.5 million to settle claims that it violated the False Claims Act, the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Statute between 1999 and 2006, by paying illegal compensation to doctors in order to induce them to refer patients to hospitals within the group, the Justice Department announced.  

McAllen Hospitals L.P., d/b/a/ South Texas Health System, is a subsidiary of Universal Health Services Inc., a company based in Pennsylvania that owns hospitals and other health care centers around the country. 

South Texas Health Systems features Cornerstone Regional Hospital in Edinburg, South Texas Behavioral Health Center in Edinburg, Edinburg Children’s Hospital, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg Regional Rehab Center, McAllen Heart Hospital, and McAllen Medical Center, 

The settlement involved allegations that the defendants had entered into financial relationships with several doctors in McAllen in order to induce them to refer patients to the defendants’ hospitals. The government alleged that these payments were disguised through a series of sham contracts, including medical directorships and lease agreements. Under the Stark Statute, Medicare providers are prohibited from billing Medicare for referrals from doctors with whom the providers have a financial relationship, unless that relationship falls within certain exceptions. 

"Improper financial relationships between health care providers and their referral sources can corrupt a physician’s judgment about the patient’s true healthcare needs," said Tony West, the Assistant Attorney General for the Department’s Civil Division. "In addition to yielding a substantial recovery for taxpayers, this settlement should deter similar conduct in the future and help make health care more affordable for patients." 

The settlement resolves allegations raised against both the parent and the subsidiary in a qui tam or whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2005 by Bruce Moilan, a former employee of the defendants, United States ex rel. Moilan v. McAllen Hospitals, L.P., et al., Case No. M-05-CV-263 (S.D. Tex.). Under the False Claims Act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the government and share in any amounts that are obtained through that legal action. Mr. Moilan will receive $5.5 million from the proceeds of the settlement. 

"Payment by hospitals to doctors for patient referrals violates federal law and carries the inherent risk that the independent judgment of doctors regarding the best facility for the treatment and care for a particular patient may be adversely influenced; the patient and his medical needs should always be foremost," said Tim Johnson, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. "Our district will continue in its joint effort with our law enforcement partners to enforce these federal laws that protect the public." 

As part of the agreement, South Texas Health Systems will enter into a 5-year Corporate Integrity Agreement that requires it to establish procedures for tracking and evaluating financial arrangements between its health care facilities and their referral sources. The agreement also requires specific training for South Texas Health System representatives involved with financial arrangements, an independent third-party’s annual review of the health system’s compliance with certain Corporate Integrity Agreement obligations involving financial arrangements, and a report to the Office of Inspector General by the independent third-party reflecting the results of the review. 

"Improper financial arrangements like these can increase the cost of health care by shifting provider attention to the quantity of treatments, rather than keeping it focused on the quality of care," said Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson. "The CIA is important because it requires South Texas Health System to put systems in place to prevent this conduct from happening in the future." 

Of the $27.5 million to be paid by the defendants, the federal government will receive $25,208,333 and the state of Texas will receive $2,291,667 for claims submitted to the state Medicaid program. 

The case was handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

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Gustavo De la Viña of Edinburg, retired chief of Border Patrol, dies while on foreign mission

The U.S. Border Patrol is mourning the passing of one of the that major federal law enforcement agency’s most revered and recognized figures, Gustavo De la Viña, formerly of Edinburg. 

De la Viña, the retired Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, died unexpectedly of natural causes on Monday, October 26, 2009, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He had been serving as a private adviser in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the time of his death. 

De la Viña entered on duty with the Border Patrol in 1970 as a member of class 96. He held a variety of positions during his career, including Supervisory Border Patrol Agent at the Border Patrol Academy, Los Fresnos; Supervisory Border Patrol Agent in McAllen; Chief of the Border Patrol Academy in Glynco, Georgia; and Deputy Chief Patrol Agent in El Paso.  

De la Viña also served as Western Regional Director of the INS after four-year tenure as the Chief Patrol Agent of the San Diego Sector, then the busiest Border Patrol Sector in the nation. 

De la Viña was a leader in thinking about the borders strategically. He initiated Operation Gatekeeper in the early 1990’s, adding infrastructure, technology and more agents along the border to discourage immigrants from entering the country illegally. De la Viña’s strategic vision was the foundation of the current border enforcement strategy. 

He also created the Border Patrol’s Border Safety Initiative. This cooperative effort between the U.S. and Mexico reduced the potential for loss of life along the border by warning would-be crossers of the perils of crossing illegally, and rescuing those in danger. 

De la Viña was appointed Chief of the Border Patrol in December 1997 and served in that capacity until the time of his retirement from the Border Patrol in 2004. During his tenure as Chief, he was recognized by two presidential administrations for his superior management accomplishments.  

In 1999, President Clinton conferred the rank of Distinguished Executive in the Senior Executive Service on De la Viña for “extraordinary accomplishment in management of programs of the United States Government and for leadership exemplifying the highest standards of service to the public.”  

In 2002 President Bush conferred the rank of Meritorious Executive in the Senior Executive Service on De la Viña for “sustained superior accomplishment in management of programs of the United States Government and for noteworthy achievement of quality and efficiency in the public service”. 

De la Viña was at the helm, guiding the Border Patrol’s actions through the terrorist attacks of September 11th and through the transition of the Border Patrol from the Department of Justice to the Customs and Border Protection. Few leaders have faced and overcome challenges of the magnitude, complexity, and urgency as those faced and overcome by De la Viña. 

De la Viña was born and raised in Edinburg, and graduated from Pan American University with a Bachelor of Arts degree. 

Local residents in Chief De la Viña’s hometown of Edinburg conducted a memorial service at 7 p.m on Monday, November 2 at the El Buen Pastor Methodist Church, 705 E. University Drive in Edinburg. 

A private viewing was held from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., followed by a public viewing from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, November 3 at the Queen of Heaven Funeral Home, 1562 Baseline Road, Mesa, Ariz. 

A memorial service was conducted at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, November 4 at St. Anne’s Church, 440 East Elliot Road Gilbert, Arizona.  

Internment services at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Mesa, Arizona, followed the memorial service. 

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Sen. Hinojosa, Sen. Lucio endorse John Sharp, "son of South Texas," for U.S. Senate

Saying that Rio Grande Valley families need a ‘son of South Texas’ working for them in Washington, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Wednesday, November 4, announced their joint endorsement of John Sharp to be Texas’ next United States Senator. 

“John Sharp is uniting South Texas behind his call for positive change,” Lucio and Hinojosa said in a joint statement. “From health care to jobs, John’s mainstream agenda is a perfect match for our communities.” 

The joint endorsement immediately added to Sharp’s growing momentum across the region stretching from El Paso to Corpus Christi, including State senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. 

Sharp, a native of the South Texas farming town of Placedo, said he is deeply grateful for the strong show of support he has received from the two Rio Grande Valley senators and a growing list of community leaders from across the region. 

The yet-to-be-scheduled election is expected as soon as current U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison steps down. She is running for Texas governor in next year’s election. 

Lucio and Hinojosa praised Sharp’s record as State Comptroller, citing the Lone Star Card that eliminated waste and fraud in the federal food stamps program, and the Texas Tomorrow Fund, an innovative pre-paid college tuition program that made college affordable for thousands of middle-class Texas families. 

In addition, the senators noted that Sharp’s groundbreaking report, Bordering the Future, continues to help set the agenda for state efforts to provide more equitable and effective services for the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso. 

A former state representative, state senator, chairman of the state’s energy agency, and Comptroller of Public Accounts, Sharp’s Texas Performance Review helped avert a state income tax while saving taxpayers more than $8.5 billion and served as the model for Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review, which Sharp helped lead. 

Sharp earned his master’s in public administration from Texas State University in San Marcos while working full-time as a budget examiner for the Legislative Budget Board in Austin.  He was vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee as a state representative and named Outstanding Freshman by Texas Monthly magazine. He was elected to the Texas senate in 1982 and appointed to the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He later was elected statewide to the Texas Railroad Commission and served as the energy agency’s chairman. 

After leaving the Comptroller’s Office, Sharp created the Travis Fund the families of Texas-based soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and co-founded Texans to Cure Cancer, the largest anti-cancer initiative ever launched in the state. 

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Congressman Cuellar secures two major provisions in final House health reform bill

BY ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, announced that he has secured two major provisions in the final House version of health care reform. The measures were included in the Manager’s Amendment introduced Tuesday evening, November 3, which is a 42-page addendum to H.R. 3962, the “Affordable Health Care for America Act 2009”, which was introduced a week earlier. 

The provisions will protect current and future state medical malpractice laws from federal infringement and will impose proven government accountability, performance and customer service standards on any new federal agency created by the bill, in addition to requiring periodic assessments to eliminate unnecessary rules and regulations at these agencies.   

“As a supporter of the Texas malpractice reform, I wanted to be sure that these state medical liability laws would not be adversely impacted by this legislation,” said Cuellar. “This means no federal law can preempt, setback or alter a state’s tort reform laws. With this, they will stay in tact.” 

Since July, Cuellar advocated for tort reform to be included in the final health care reform plan. While serving in the Texas State Legislature, he strongly supported medical malpractice laws for Texas health care providers.  

“Texas Medical Liability Trust (TMLT) and its nearly 15,000 physician policy holders greatly appreciate the efforts of Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas to include language in the current health care reform bill that attempts to protect physicians against potential increased liability exposure in H.R. 3962,” said Bob Fields, President and CEO of the Texas Medical Liability Trust.  “Representative Cuellar continues to be a strong advocate for physicians and their patients.” 

Cuellar also authored a provision in the amendment that will impose several performance and accountability requirements on all new agencies created under H.R. 3962.  Among the provisions are requirements for agencies to produce a strategic plan every three years and conduct annual performance assessments. This is intended to help the public assess each new agency’s performance, productivity and accountability. 

“I believe in governing with our eyes open,” said Cuellar.  “If we are creating new agencies, we need to ensure from the outset that they are held accountable to the American people. If we’re asking Americans to be responsible for their health care we should ensure these agencies are held responsible for their actions.”  

Also included in the bill are two additional “good government” provisions that will increase high-quality government customer service and reduce bureaucratic red tape. 

Each new agency would be required to periodically review their customer service plans to develop improvement strategies and higher standards.  This reflects goals included in legislation which Cuellar successfully passed in the House in July 2007. 

Cuellar’s amendment also requires each agency to identify and eliminate any redundant rules and regulations.  

“With government it’s a given: there will be red tape. This is why it’s so important to give these agencies the authority to root out redundant rules and regulations to help Americans get the care they need,” said Cuellar. “These are common sense solutions to common practice problems.” 

A House vote on health care reform could come as early as Saturday morning, November 7. 

As a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, Cuellar supported allowing Americans to review the final bill for 72 hours before a vote is a made, a commitment that House leadership is carrying out. 

To read the Manager’s Amendment to H.R. 3962, please visit:  

http://docs.house.gov/rules/health/111_hr3962_dingell.pdf 

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Congressman Hinojosa announces $665,038 grant to help UTPA train farmers and ranchers

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO  

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, November 3, announced the award of $665,038 by the United States Department of Agriculture to the University of Texas-Pan American. 

The grant funds will provide local and regional training, education, outreach and technical assistance initiatives that address the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers. 

“The Rio Grande Valley has a long history of agricultural and farming success stories. But there is no doubt that with tough economic times, new ranchers and farmers are finding it hard to make a profit. This grant will help them with the information and support they will need”, said Hinojosa. 

The grants were awarded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.  The program is designed to help U.S. farmers and ranchers, specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or less. 

Hinojosa added, “We must be sure to keep our valley tradition of feeding local communities and the world by making certain we ensure the success of the next generation of farmers and ranchers”. 

The USDA awarded more than $17 million in grants to 29 institutions across the nation. For more information, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov 

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Federal agency awards contract for almost $7.5 million in improvements on Hidalgo levee

By SALLY SPENER 

The United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) on Tuesday, November 3, awarded a construction contract in the amount of $7,481,814 for rehabilitation of Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project levees funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.   

The Recovery Act includes $220 million for USIBWC levee projects. 

The contract was awarded to Sun Belt Builders of Sonoita, Arizona to construct one mile of levee improvements near the City of Hidalgo. The contractor was selected in accordance with a federal

program targeting qualified small businesses located in distressed areas. This levee segment will start at the north end of the levee-wall previously constructed by Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and will extend to the north and east to the bridge at 23rd Street.   

The contract also includes construction of a floodwall and flood gate at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.     

In accordance with the contract, Sun Belt Builders will furnish all labor, materials, and equipment.   

The USIBWC is rehabilitating the levee to bring it into compliance with standards established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the 100-year flood.  Construction is expected to be completed by September 2010. Recovery Act construction contracts were previously awarded for the Banker Floodway North Levee, Main Floodway, North Floodway, and the Arroyo Colorado

North Levee. 

"Construction is already underway on Recovery Act levee projects in the Lower Rio Grande Valley," said C.W. Bill Ruth, the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission.  "We are working to award these contracts quickly so we can put Americans back to work and make

needed infrastructure improvements to help protect the Valley from floods." 

The USIBWC has awarded Recovery Act contracts totaling $73 million. The Recovery Act funding enables the USIBWC to accelerate work on its aging Rio Grande flood control system in Texas and New Mexico. The purpose of the Recovery Act is to create and save jobs, jump-start the economy, and build the foundation for long-term economic growth.  

The USIBWC provides regular public updates on its planning and spending of Recovery Act funds at http://www.recovery.govand http://www.state.gov/recovery. An updated project schedule is available at

http://www.ibwc.gov/Files/LRG_Schedule.pdf

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The Edinburg Review, The Valley Town Crier honored as top in nation for distribution

By BRAD NIBERT 

The Edinburg Review and The Valley Town Crier of McAllen have been recognized for exceptional distribution and readership with the Circulation Verification Council’s (CVC) Gold Standard Award for 2008-2009. 

Last year, CVC issued audit data for more than 4,000 editions in North America.  

In 2009, 40 elite publications earned the CVC Gold Standard Award with top scores in receivership (delivery accuracy), readership (percentage of circulation read), distribution (demand distribution), and purchase scores (advertising purchase influence). 

“Your publication is truly the best of the best," said Tim A. Bingaman, president and CEO of CVC. 

The Edinburg Review and The Valley Town Crier of McAllen distribute 116,00 copies every week in the communities of western and central Hidalgo County and have a readership of more than 200,000. 

“We are excited and honored to receive The Gold Standard Award,” said Dennis C. Wade, regional director of American Consolidated Media’s South Texas Publications. “This puts The Valley Town Crier and The Edinburg Review in the top one percent of the 4,000 papers the CVC audits in the United States. I am very proud of my team for achieving this high level of quality performance and grateful to have such loyal readers and outstanding clients.” 

While many daily newspapers across the country struggle with declines in advertising and circulation, community newspapers are reporting circulation gains across the country, according to CVC audit data. Forty-five percent of community newspapers reported growth for the first half of 2009, the audit showed. 

“Obviously, this is good news and it’s great to see an appetite to cover it,” said Dan Holmes, president of the board of PaperChain, an newspaper industry group, referring to recent positive coverage of community newspapers. “Our peers at NNA (National Newspaper Association) started the cheers with their survey of 500 adults, and we’re excited to be able to back their local community findings with thousands – actually tens of thousands – of independent zip-level phone surveys. CVC’s work on that front has been critical and their longstanding partnership invaluable.” 

The good news from community newspaper is even better news for advertisers. 

According to the CVC audit, the number of readers indicating they frequently purchase products or services from advertisements seen in their community and niche publications is up over a point from last year, topping three out of four with a 75.6 percent score. 

“This increase is potentially significant, because purchase intention scores have been stable for years,” said Bingaman. “A blip in the national average of one to two percent requires substantial change in purchasing behaviors from existing readers. This shows that readers are increasingly looking to community and niche publications to research sales and buying opportunities before spending money.” 

The Edinburg Review and The Valley Town Crier of McAllen are part of American Consolidated Media’s South Texas Publications group, which also includes the Bargain Books, which cover Cameron County and eastern Hidalgo County and Laredo, the Rio Grande Herald in Starr County, and Ad Sack in Corpus Christi. 

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La Feria ISD celebrates groundbreaking ceremony for new Sam Houston Elementary

By BRIAN GODÍNEZ 

Construction of the new $7.5 million Sam Houston Elementary School in La Feria will represent a union of the latest education, learning and teaching environments for a new generation of young students while providing a neighborhood center point for community participation and parental involvement, school district leaders have announced.

On Wednesday, November 4, a special groundbreaking ceremony was held on the 19-acre construction site of the cutting-edge campus, which will be located at 500 Beddoes Road.  

La Feria ISD officials, teachers, students, and other residents participated in the 10 a.m. public event, including members of the ERO Architects design team, who designed the school and are managing the construction of the new school facility, as well as the contractor Texas Descon.

.

The La Feria ISD Board of Trustees earlier this year unanimously approved to select ERO Architects as the primary architect for programming, design and construction administration of its $12.5 million bond projects, including the new Sam Houston Elementary School, and additions and renovations to the School District’s C. E. Vail Elementary School, W. B. Green Jr. Middle School and the La Feria High School.

"We are pleased that the bond package was passed by the community and it has allowed the District to design and build a state-of-the-art elementary campus to accommodate the steady growth and future needs of our community," said Alan Moore, president of the La Feria ISD Board of Trustees. "The design and construction progress is moving at a good pace and the Board is pleased that the new elementary school should be ready by August of 2010."

Moore praised Dr. Nabor Cortéz, the La Feria ISD superintendent, and Cortéz’ staff for their commitment to oversee and deliver "a quality modern school for our community."  

“This new school will replace the aging Sam Houston Elementary and provide the school district the flexibility to add higher elementary grade levels as the community grows,"  Cortéz explained. "Creating modern teaching and learning environments with larger classrooms and computer labs is on target with the school board’s and staff’s long-term strategic planning. I am pleased with the outcome."

Highlights of the new elementary campus include:

• Serving up to 800 students from pre-kindergarten through the 5th grade;

• Approximately 70,000 square feet in size and will be completely fenced in;

• 29 classrooms, two computer labs, two life-skill rooms, gymnasium, cafetorium, full-working kitchen and library;

• Two separated drop-off areas for buses and parents with lighted parking; 

• Controlled entrance with isolated check-in area; and,

• Several energy-efficiency components and additional public safety features

Nora de los Santos, who will serve as principal of the new elementary school, expressed excitement with the opportunities to manage and provide a new learning center, particularly with its design.  

"The teachers and students will be in a modern school whose design and environment is developed for effective teaching and learning," said De los Santos. "The new Sam Houston Elementary will assist teachers to deliver quality lessons and good social skills. The building should quickly become an active and popular community facility for parents and others to utilize."

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Daniel Treviño Jr., who has played an active role in the project, added: "We have been pleased with how active the community has participated with the district throughout our planning process, including officials with the City of La Feria. This project has been a hugely successful public-private collaborative effort from the beginning."

Among the design and construction tactics used by ERO Architects of McAllen is the use of a right blend of construction materials with special attention to the orientation of the building. This attention to detail will improve energy efficiency of the building with the best utilization of the land, prevailing breezes, sun angles and shading, as well as the addition of native landscaping, modern MEP components, and some of the latest A/V technology features.

"We are very fortunate to work with such a distinguished School District that knows exactly what they want for their new elementary school," said Project Architect and CEO Eli Ochoa of ERO Architects. "They have carefully planned and articulated their needs and requirements. Dr. Cortéz, the board and the building committee have worked closely with our firm throughout every step of the process.” 

The new elementary school "will be a learnable, teachable and communal school facility that will benefit not only staff and students, but the many families of the community as well," Ochoa added.

ERO Architects has an extensive portfolio in the design and construction management of more than 150 education facilities in the South and Central Texas areas from elementary schools to major facilities at universities.

For more information, please visit the websites of the La Feria Independent School District at http://www.laferiaisd.net and ERO Architects at: 

http://www.eroarchitects.com.   

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Congressman Cuellar supports measure to help small businesses and create more jobs

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, October 29, voted for the Small Business Financing and Investment Act, a bill to make sweeping investments in the nation’s small businesses so they can expand hiring and save or create 1.3 million American jobs. 

“Small businesses are the backbone of our nation’s economy and they are the number one source of our country’s new jobs,” said Cuellar. “By making this $44 billion investment in America’s small businesses, we work to keep their doors open and help Americans get back to work.” 

Passing by a vote of 389 to 32, H.R. 3854 is the most comprehensive update to the nation’s Small Business Administration’s (SBA) lending program for the first time in ten years. The bill would allow small businesses that are “major employers” in an area to apply for loans as high as $25 million and conventional SBA loan sizes would increase by 30% to $3 million. 

By reducing paperwork and modernizing SBA’s lending procedures, the bill makes program participation easier and increases loan sizes for the nation’s small businesses so they have access to more capital. 

“At a time when many small businesses are feeling squeezed, these loans will deliver much needed relief,” said Cuellar. “Capital in the middle of a recession is an indisputable lifeline to our corner shops, local restaurants and other small businesses who are struggling right now.” 

The Small Business Financing and Investment Act, worth $44 billion, will help the SBA act as a matchmaker between lenders and businesses in a time of tight credit, and will allow the SBA to step in and provide more capital as many private lenders have cut back on lending. 

The bill also provides tools to help veterans start their own businesses and creates a Rural Lender Outreach Program to increase loans to rural entrepreneurs. 

If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, H.R. 3854 would become law.  

For more information please visit:  

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:h3854rh.txt.pdf 

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Donna man to serve almost 25 years in federal prison for drug trafficking, money laundering

By ANGELA DODGE 

René Gonzáles, 45, of Donna, has been sentenced to concurrent sentences of 292 months in prison for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and 240 months in prison for conspiring to money launder the proceeds of his narcotics trafficking, according to United States Attorney Tim Johnson.  

A concurrent sentence means the defendant will serve sentences at the same time. 

Money laundering is the process of creating the appearance that large amounts of money obtained from serious crimes, such as drug trafficking or terrorist activity, originated from a legitimate source. 

Chief District Judge Hayden Head handed down the sentences on Monday, October 26. 

On August 26, 2008, Gonzáles, Israel Sánchez, and 16 others were charged in a nine-count indictment returned by a McAllen grand jury for their alleged involvement in receiving thousands of kilograms of marijuana smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico, storing the contraband in Rio Grande Valley area stash houses and transporting and distributing the marijuana to others in Houston and elsewhere beginning in 1998.  

Sánchez and Gonzáles were also among 13 others charged with collecting and laundering millions of dollars generated by the sale of the marijuana. The proceeds were allegedly used to promote Sánchez’ illegal activity through the purchases of residences used to stash, store or package marijuana, as well as the purchase of various properties which assisted Sánchez in laundering the derived proceeds. 

Sánchez’ arrest on June 18, 2008, came after the conclusion of a three-year joint Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation conducted by Corpus Christi and McAllen area law enforcement agencies which included special agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), and officers of the Texas Department of Public Safety and Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. 

In 1998, Sánchez began transporting multi-ton quantities of marijuana from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston and Atlanta, Georgia, and elsewhere utilizing tractor-trailers. Gonzáles and others began assisting Sánchez’ organization in 2003. The resulting proceeds which totaled tens of millions of dollars were then transported back to Sánchez and those working with him by money couriers.  

These profits were then used to buy additional stash locations, as well as other properties to include hotels and restaurants. In addition, Sánchez utilized other money couriers to transport bulk currency from the United States into Mexico.    

Gonzáles was also ordered to serve a supervised release term of 10 years upon his release from prison. On May 7, 2009, Sánchez, 49, of Mission, received concurrent sentences of 28 years (336 months) in prison for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and 240 months prison for laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds.  

Sánchez was also fined $100,000 for each count and ordered to serve a five-year-term of supervised release upon his release from custody. In addition to the 28-year prison term, Sánchez, along with his wife, Gloria Sánchez, forfeited their interest in several pieces of real estate in the Rio Grande Valley and Houston, including a restaurant located in McAllen. 

Others who have been sentenced include: Benigno De La Cruz – 120 months for conspiracy to possess narcotics; Alberto Espinosa – 120 months for conspiracy to possess narcotics and money laundering; Gloria Espinosa – 60 months for conspiracy to money launder; Ismael Sáenz – 168 months for conspiracy to possess narcotics and money laundering; René González, Jr. – 168 months for conspiracy to possess marijuana; Raúl Medina – 196 months for conspiracy to possess marijuana; Zacarías Monsiváis – 235 months for conspiracy to possess marijuana; Cristina Cárdenas Guevara – 87 months for conspiracy to money launder; Gloria Sánchez – 72 months for conspiracy to money launder; and Ycemia Yáñez Gonzáles – 60 months for conspiracy to money launder. 

The case was being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James Sturgis of the McAllen office. 

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Sen. Lucio, chairman of Legislative Committee on Aging, holds first public hearing at Capitol

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ 

On Thursday, October 29, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, convened the first hearing of the Legislative Committee on Aging, which was established to study pertinent issues affecting the state’s aging population. 

"Our goal is to examine essential services, such as housing, transportation and health care specific to Texas’ aging population and determine how to better address those unmet needs," said Lucio, who was appointed chair of the committee by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. "We want to ensure the state is better prepared to accommodate a growing senior population." 

At the inaugural meeting, State Demographer Karl Eschbach, Ph.D., demonstrated the committee’s relevance when he reported Texans 60 years and over are projected to total 8.1 million by 2040, representing a 193 percent increase from 2000. He estimates seniors will comprise 23 percent of the total Texas population by then.  

The committee, modeled after the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, was created through passage of House Bill 610 authored by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte , D-San Antonio. In addition to Lucio and Naishtat, the committee’s members include Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, and two members of the public – Homer Lear and Betty Streckfuss. The committee is required to report its findings to the full Legislature every two years. 

"One of my priorities as a member of this body is to streamline the process for people 60-plus who are often placed on long waiting lists for services," said Naishtat. "As a state, we must not only address their specific needs but ensure more efficient systems are in place." 

Currently, services for the aging are provided through a number of agencies, so the committee’s duties will involve identifying improved coordination. For example, seniors applying for home and community-based services through the state must meet income eligibility standards determined through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, in addition to program participation eligibility that is determined through the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS).  

Because of their critical role providing services for the aging, DADS Interim Commissioner Jon Weizenbaum also provided testimony at the hearing. He noted, "As we face the challenges of a dramatically changing population, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services is committed to working closely with the Legislative Committee on Aging to address the unique needs of aging Texans." 

One issue that many of the committee members agreed must be improved is recognition and support for formal and informal caregivers. Family members and friends offering this care need more help obtaining respite (short-term breaks) and support services. Several committee members also pointed to a need for improved professional recognition and compensation for formal caregivers.   

Additionally, members discussed the importance of creating more professional development opportunities within the field to attract and retain new providers, since many of those in the current labor pool are themselves aging.   

The committee will work closely with the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, which selected the establishment of the committee as their number one priority for the 81st session. One of its members, Ms. Chris Kyker, said of the first hearing," Today, Texas takes a bold and creative step to plan for a ‘new age’ of boomers. We are grateful to the 81st Texas Legislature for creating the Legislative Committee on Aging to focus on this emerging population." 

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Congressman Hinojosa votes for House bill to help clean up water, protect natural resources

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, October 29, voted in favor of legislation that will help protect the air, clean up the waters, and restore  public lands.  

The Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations conference report emphasizes reducing pollution in our air and water, cleaning up dangerous toxic waste sites, encouraging energy efficiency, and promoting the development of renewable clean energy sources. The bill also reduces or eliminates 55 programs to maintain fiscal responsibility. 

“Our nation is one of the most beautiful places on earth,” said Hinojosa. “We must always protect our natural resources. With this bill, we can make real progress to clean up our water sources, encourage the development of clean, efficient energy sources, and help restore the splendor of our natural environment.” 

The bill includes $17 million for funding the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund (BEIF), a program of the North American Development Bank. The purpose of BEIF is to make environmental infrastructure projects affordable for communities throughout the U.S.-Mexico border region by combining grant funds with loans and other forms of financing. 

The bill takes significant steps to reduce pollution in our water and air, and provides aid to nearly 1,500 communities to improve their drinking water and wastewater systems. It also provides funding to clean up dangerous toxic waste sites, and gives the EPA the tools it needs to study the impact of toxins and pollution on children. 

“Our environment has a direct impact on the health and safety of our kids and our families,” said Hinojosa. “By passing this legislation, we can make sure our kids are drinking clean water and breathing clean air. There is no higher priority than protecting their health.” 

To support our national security objectives and economic recovery efforts, the legislation makes investments in key climate change research, including research in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging consumer energy efficiency, and encouraging the production of clean, renewable American energy. To help Americans save money and make wise environmental decisions, the bill allocates $51 million for the EPA’s successful Energy Star Program – which already saves consumers $14 billion a year in energy costs. The bill also dedicates funds toward the development of renewable clean energy sources on federal lands and water.  

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Gov. Perry urges federal government to stop transportation through Texas of undocumented workers arrested in other regions of the U.S.

Gov. Rick Perry on Saturday, October 31, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging the federal government to stop its plans to transport undocumented workers from other states into Texas solely for the purpose of deportation. The Alien Transfer and Exit Program (ATEP), which was scheduled to begin on Sunday, November 1, would transport more than 34,000 illegal aliens per year through Presidio. 

“Turning the Presidio area into a way station for the repatriation of illegal immigrants adds responsibility to local authorities and holds the potential of increasing the strain on local and state infrastructure and resources,” Perry said. “This plan will increase the likelihood that these individuals will immediately cross back into Texas, which is already bearing an uneven burden in dealing with immigration and border security issues along the Texas-Mexico border.” 

Perry noted this program is a result of the federal government’s continued lack of an effective strategy for dealing with border security. 

“Texas is proud of its working relationship with the United States Border Patrol, and we have invested significant state resources to assist them in their worthy efforts. We will continue to request that the federal government send the adequate resources necessary to effectively secure the southern border,” Perry said. 

Since January, Perry has repeatedly urged the federal government, through letters to President  Obama, Napolitano and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, to approve his request for 1,000 Title 32 National Guardsmen to support civilian law enforcement efforts to enhance border security in Texas. 

A porous border places Texas and the nation at risk from international terrorists, organized crime cartels and transnational gangs. Until the federal government fulfills its responsibility of securing our border, Texas will continue filling in the gaps by putting more boots on the ground, providing increased law enforcement resources and leveraging technology along the border, said the governor. 

In the absence of adequate federal resources to secure the state’s southern border, Perry recently announced the state’s latest border security enhancement using highly-skilled Ranger Reconnaissance (Ranger Recon) Teams to address the ever evolving threat along the Texas-Mexico border. Additionally, under the governor’s leadership and thanks to action taken by the Legislature, the state has dedicated more than $110 million to border security efforts in each of the last two legislative sessions. 

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Sen. Hutchison, Sen. Cornyn want to delay Swine Flu vaccinations to Gitmo detainees

By COURTNEY SANDERS  

U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both Republicans of Texas, on Wednesday, November 4, introduced a Sense of the Senate Resolution calling for the postponement of vaccinations for the H1N1 virus to detainees at Guantanamo Bay until Americans identified as being in priority for vaccination for the virus have the opportunity to receive it first. 

“H1N1 has caused over 1,000 American deaths so far this flu season, and our first priority must be to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Infants, pregnant women, and children, must be at the front of the line to receive the H1N1 flu vaccinations which are in short supply. Our resolution affirms that priority, and it condemns efforts by the Obama Administration to send scarce vaccines to prisoners and terrorists at Guantanamo while women and children wait in Texas,” said Hutchison. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified certain target portions of the population to receive the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, including pregnant women and children. Due to high demand and a limited supply, a significant portion of these segments has not yet been vaccinated against swine flu. 

“Swine flu is a very real concern for all of us across the country,” said Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana. “Currently, the H1N1 vaccine is only being provided to certain, high-risk segments of the population. The vaccine is in short supply, and, as such, there are millions of Americans in these high-risk groups still awaiting the vaccine. We should save the vaccine for those who need it most, and as of today, women, children and other at-risk individuals should fall squarely in line under that category. It should be made available to them before we hand it out to terrorists at Gitmo." 

The 2009 flu pandemic is a global outbreak of a new strain of influenza A virus subtype H1N1, termed Pandemic H1N1/09 virus by the World Health Organization (WHO), that was first identified in April 2009. The disease has also been termed novel influenza A (H1N1) and 2009 H1N1 Flu by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is more commonly called swine flu. 

“It is unfathomable that terrorists at Guantanamo Bay would be given priority for the H1N1 vaccine over American children and pregnant women. Thanks to this Administration’s lack of focus, millions of vulnerable Americans are still awaiting the swine flu vaccination. The fact that they would be passed over in favor of terrorists is the latest example of an Administration whose priorities are fundamentally wrong. Fortunately, it is not too late for the President to reverse course and make sure that all Americans, vulnerable or not, are given the opportunity to be treated before any inmates or terror suspects,” said Cornyn. 

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Attorney General Abbott takes action against developer of colonia in Nueces County

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday, November 3, filed an enforcement action against the developer of Sweet Water Estates for violating the state’s colonia prevention laws. Court documents charge developer Tracy L. Long with unlawfully selling residential lots in Nueces County and failing to install or bond water and wastewater facilities on the lots. 

According to state investigators, Long unlawfully has been selling residential lots since 2006 in the Sweet Water Estates, a residential subdivision with a total of 64 lots. Long has illegally sold 15 lots ranging in price from $10,000 to more than $20,000 each. Prior to selling the lots, Long failed to install water or wastewater facilities; to re-plat the lots to install such facilities; or to provide financial assurance for such installation as required by law. 

In Texas, residential subdivisions near the U.S. – Mexico border that lack adequate water or wastewater services required by state law are commonly referred to as colonias. In 2005, the Texas Legislature added Nueces County to the list of counties along the Texas-Mexico border that must abide by the state’s colonia prevention law. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county. 

The state’s enforcement action seeks an injunction compelling the defendant to comply with anti-colonia laws and provide water and wastewater services to lots already sold in violation of the law. The state also seeks an injunction against Long from additional Sweet Water Estates sales until lots are provided with the minimum required water and wastewater services or financial guarantees are provided for such installation. 

Additionally, the state seeks civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each lot conveyed in violation of the law. 

The case against Tracy L. Long is one of five colonias cases in Nueces County the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has filed this year. During the 2007 regular session, the Texas Legislature passed a measure that provides the OAG with additional resources to prevent unlawful colonia developments. 

Before purchasing residential property outside city limits, border and Nueces County area purchasers should check with county officials to confirm if the property was legally subdivided and that the developer has made necessary arrangements to supply required water and wastewater facilities. 

Texans along the Texas-México border and Nueces County can file complaints with the OAG against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services, or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the attorney general’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or by calling (800) 252-8011. 

The OAG also maintains the state’s Colonia Geographic Database, which offers geographic and descriptive data on more than 2000 colonias in 29 border area counties. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the “Texas-Mexico Border” page on the attorney general’s Web site. 

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