Select Page

Lucy Canales (featured left) and Lilia Ledesma, partners with the Edinburg law office of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, met with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, following a major presentation by Gov. Rick Perry in Edinburg on Tuesday, January 5. The three area leaders were part of a select group who met with the governor at the University of Texas-Pan American – a session which included discussions regarding the use of available state funds to help build a U.S. Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Valley. Both Perry, a Republican, and former Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who was visiting county leaders earlier that day at the Hidalgo County Courthouse, pledged support to push for the construction of a full-service VA Hospital for the four-county Rio Grande Valley. Hinojosa was the Senate sponsor of a constitutional amendment, overwhelmingly passed by Texas voters last November, which authorizes the use of state financial resources to pay for the construction and maintenance of VA Hospitals throughout the state. Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has proposed tapping into the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund in order to pay for the construction of a Valley VA Hospital.  Additional details about the leadership roles and community participation by the Edinburg law office of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, which is part of a nationally recognized law firm, are available online at http://www.publicans.com/press_room.htm.

•••••• 

Gov. Rick Perry was joined at the podium on Tuesday, January 5 at the University of Texas-Pan American by (from left) Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and  UTPA’s President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen as he announced the awarding of a $3.25 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF) Research Superiority Acquisition Award that will go toward helping the university hire top-notch researchers who will enhance the establishment of a world-class advanced manufacturing center. This monetary award is part of a larger pool of funding allocated by the state legislature this past year as part of the state’s efforts to invest in emerging technology and boost the economy with new jobs. The emerging technology funds will be matched by the university and private companies bringing the total UTPA investment to more than $9 million. The TETF awards, which were created to develop and diversify the Texas economy by expediting innovation and commercialization of research and bringing world-class researchers to the state, will go toward expanding the endeavors of UTPA’s Rapid Response Manufacturing Center (RRMC). The RRMC is a university center devoted to the research and talent development in rapid response manufacturing and has assisted more than 20 companies since April 2008. See stories later in this posting. 

•••••• 

Area businesses and their local employees will have the opportunity to network with other firms during the Corporate Super Bowl, sponsored by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber, which will be held on Wednesday, February 3 at the Flamingo Bowl, 3301 North 23rd in McAllen. Each team of five members will play two games, with the top six teams competing for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place team trophies. A Top Female and Male Bowler trophy will also be awarded. The $250 registration fee will get team members a company t-shirt, team picture, food, beverages and bowling shoes. “We encourage business owners to invest in a team or two and give your employees an opportunity to bond while representing your company," said Cynthia Moya Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer. Featured practicing for the Corporate Super Bowl are, from left: Ronnie Díaz; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki; Chuy Negrete; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Dr. John Thomas; and Rick Rivas. For more information call the MHCC at 928-0060. Teams are still available.   

•••••• 

Emphasizing the importance of public education, state representative candidate Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, featured right, on Friday, January 9, promised to file legislation to seek a $5,000 across-the-board annual state pay raise for the state’s public school classroom teachers. The average teacher salary in Texas continues to rank in the bottom half in the nation, more than $5,000 below the national average, according to state legislative findings. Muñoz, a Palmview Municipal Court Judge who credits his teachers for helping him earn his dream of a college education and law degree, also said he would fight hard in the Texas Legislature to protect the pensions and health insurance protections for retired educators and their spouses. He added he would work on making higher education more accessible and affordable and would assist and support more parental involvement with their children’s education. "One of the first bills I would file as a state lawmaker would be legislation that would boost teacher salaries by $2,500 per year beginning September 1, 2011, and then adding another $2,500 annual pay raise for teachers beginning September 1, 2012," said Muñoz. "Everything that is good for a person is made possible by the education they receive, and that means we must invest in keeping and attracting the best teachers." Muñoz said that the best interests of retired teachers also would be high on his priorities when the Texas Legislature returns to work in Austin in mid-January 2011. Muñoz is shown here being interviewed by Victor Castillo, an anchor and reporter for the local Univision Channel 48 television station. See lead story in this posting. 

•••••• 

Sergio Muñoz, Jr. pledges to file legislation to boost teacher pay, protect retired teachers

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Emphasizing the importance of public education, state representative candidate Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on Friday, January 9, promised to file legislation to seek a $5,000 across-the-board annual state pay raise for the state’s public school classroom teachers. 

The average teacher salary in Texas continues to rank in the bottom half in the nation, more than $5,000 below the national average, according to state legislative findings. 

Muñoz, a Palmview Municipal Court Judge who credits his teachers for helping him earn his dream of a college education and law degree, also said he would fight hard in the Texas Legislature to protect the pensions and health insurance protections for retired educators and their spouses. 

He added he would work on making higher education more accessible and affordable and would assist and support more parental involvement with their children’s education. 

"One of the first bills I would file as a state lawmaker would be legislation that would boost teacher salaries by $2,500 per year beginning September 1, 2011, and then adding another $2,500 annual pay raise for teachers beginning September 1, 2012," said Muñoz. "Everything that is good for a person is made possible by the education they receive, and that means we must invest in keeping and attracting the best teachers." 

Muñoz said that the best interests of retired teachers also would be high on his priorities when the Texas Legislature returns to work in Austin in mid-January 2011. 

"In order to keep experienced teachers from being taken by other professions, we also need to make sure they have know they will have a good pension awaiting them when they retire, and that the state continues to provide them and their spouses with affordable, quality health insurance," Muñoz added. 

The Mission High School graduate, who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin and received his law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, is seeking the March 2, 2010 Democratic Party nomination for state representative, House District 36. 

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

For regions such as the Valley, which has more than 300,000 students and growing – according to the Region One Education Service Center – keeping and attracting top-quality teachers is crucial for the continuing development of one of the most important areas of the state, he said. 

"South Texas is economic and transportation gateway between Mexico, Texas, and much of our nation, and a well-educated population down in the Valley is crucial to success for everyone," Muñoz added. "We cannot afford to lose our best and most-experienced educators to better pay in other professions." 

He said he would work closely with educators, school board leaders, support personnel, parents, taxpayers, and administrators on legislation that affects all aspects of public education. 

In addition to filing the teacher pay raise measure and protecting the pensions and health insurance coverage for retired teachers and their spouses, Muñoz said he would also work on legislation that: 

• Improves protection of worker’s rights for all school district teachers and support personnel;

• Increases state funding to cover costs of expanding 22 student maximum class size; and

• Restricts the use of standardized testing results as the determining factor in  closing down public schools or terminating classroom educators. 

"As with these and all other issues, I will always maintain an open-door policy and an open mind on these important concerns," he said. "There will literally be dozens of major bills considered by state lawmakers that will affect public education, and I want to hear from my constituents on every one of these measures." 

Political announcement paid for by Sergio Muñoz, Jr.,  – Óscar Elizondo, Jr., Treasurer – 1110 South Closner Boulevard, Edinburg, Texas 78539.   

•••••• 

Tejano Monument to be built on most viewed area of Capitol complex, says Sen. Hinojosa

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS 

The Texas State Preservation Board on Tuesday, January 5, gave final approval to Texas’ Tejano Monument, a sculpture that will be located on the grounds of the Capitol in Austin.   

Initially authorized in 2001 by the Texas Legislature, the Tejano Monument was given the green light for placement on the Capitol’s South Grounds, the area consider to be viewed by the largest number of tourists.  

The Tejano Monument recognizes the contributions made by Tejanos to the settlement and growth of Texas. Historians define Tejanos as explorers who first came north from Mexico to settle Texas as a province of New Spain. The definition also includes the direct descendents of these Mexican explorers.  

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, last spring placed a rider in the state budget which made January 5 announcement possible. 

He noted the significance of this monument.  

"Tejanos have played a substantial role in shaping Texas history. We established some of the first settlements in Texas, fought for independence from Mexico, and contribute today to Texan culture on all levels. This monument is a testament to the sacrifice and joy of Tejanos who made Texas the home it is for millions of people. Tejanos represent an integral part of Texas heritage," Hinojosa said.  

The monument will be sculpted in bronze and mounted on pink marble, matching the Capitol’s masonry. The exhibit will host a number of bronzed statutes placed across the marble base, including a vaquero on a horse, a conquistador, a Tejano couple holding a baby, and a Texas Longhorn bull and cow.  Several bronze plaques on the monument will provide historical background on Tejanos.  

The monument will be approximately 32 feet long, about 15 feet wide and approximately 23 feet off the ground at its highest point.   

There will also be a paved viewing area in front of the monument. 

•••••• 

$3.25 million state grant awarded for proposed manufacturing center at UT-Pan American

By MELISSA C. RODRÍGUEZ

and

MELISSA VÁSQUEZ 

Administrators, faculty and staff of The University of Texas-Pan American joined Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, January 5 as he announced the awarding of a $3.25 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF) Research Superiority Acquisition Award that will go toward helping the university hire top-notch researchers who will enhance the establishment of a world-class advanced manufacturing center. 

This monetary award is part of a larger pool of funding allocated by the state legislature this past year as part of the state’s efforts to invest in emerging technology and boost the economy with new jobs. The emerging technology funds will be matched by the university and private companies bringing the total UTPA investment to more than $9 million. 

The TETF awards, which were created to develop and diversify the Texas economy by expediting innovation and commercialization of research and bringing world-class researchers to the state, will go toward expanding the endeavors of UTPA’s Rapid Response Manufacturing Center (RRMC). The RRMC is a university center devoted to the research and talent development in rapid response manufacturing and has assisted more than 20 companies since April 2008. 

“The Rapid Response Manufacturing Center is the kind of facility where new ideas take place,” Perry said. “This investment is intended to create a culture of innovation in the Rio Grande Valley and the state.” 

UTPA President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen said the award establishes the university as a major player and contributor to the economic future of Texas. 

The university is committed to developing advanced technology in the state of Texas. Receiving this TETF award is a major achievement,” Nelsen said. 

Dr. Miguel González, principal investigator of the grant and associate dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, said the funds will be used to establish the foundation and infrastructure to establish a world-class hub for advanced manufacturing. 

“The execution of this project will basically provide the resources needed to achieve a superior level of research in an area that is of the utmost importance for the competitive edge that the United States has had for a long time but is, at best, not maintaining. Success of these endeavors will go a long way in establishing a competitive edge for advanced manufacturing for the region, the state and the nation,” González added. 

The TETF award will be used toward the recruitment of two world-class researchers who will oversee the RRMC and work closely with university faculty, upper-level students and representatives from ALPS Automotive, Inc. – a leading global manufacturer of electronic devices – among other companies, to come up with new technology that will help corporations improve operations and productivity. The corporation has already committed to the partnership and is relocating its North American operations to the Rio South Texas Region. 

“The students will also benefit as there will be increased opportunities for research and learning in areas that are of great importance to the region and the community-at-large will benefit as this will make the region that much more attractive to companies. In addition, an environment that will also create technology-based companies and entrepreneurial activities will be developed and expanded,” Gonzalez said. 

Edi Sanjoto, engineering manager for ALPS Automotive, said he is excited to be partnering with the University because of the students. 

“Twelve years ago we hired students from UTPA and they are still at our company. There are such great students here,” Sanjoto said. “The students have a tremendous drive, they want to learn and they want to grow professionally. They are very open-minded and we really like working with them.” 

Cathy Swain, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Commercial Development for the UT System, said the investment will build UTPA’s research capacity and stature. 

“Manufacturing in the Rio Grande Valley is one of Texas’ many great strengths. This investment is an opportunity for UT Pan American to build on its capacity in rapid response manufacturing and in engineering education to lead in developing economic and employment opportunities for Valley residents,” Swain said. 

Other individuals responsible for securing the TEFT award include Dr. John Lloyd, RRMC director and research professor of manufacturing engineering at UTPA; Dr. Douglas Timmer, manufacturing engineering associate professor; Dr. James Li, manufacturing engineering assistant professor; Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, vice provost for research and sponsored projects; and Jacquelyn Michel, director of innovation and intellectual property. 

The RRMC is one of several strategies, including workforce recruitment and training, of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research Initiative (NAAMREI), a network of 47 partners from K-12 and higher education, business, economic development, industry, finance and government focused on offering manufacturers across North America, and globally, access to proprietary, world-class advanced and rapid response manufacturing. 

To learn more about the RRMC and its services, visit http://www.utpa.edu/rrmc

•••••• 

Gov. Perry explains the importance of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, January 5, reiterated the importance of strengthening the state’s emerging technology sectors and promoting partnerships between the public and private sectors through investments from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF). The governor spoke at the University of Texas-Pan American where he announced TETF investments in the university and two area companies. 

“The investments we’re announcing today are an essential part of our ongoing strategy to establish Texas as the go-to place for innovation and sensible incentives,” Perry said. “These three essential investments will have a strong impact across our state and here in the Valley, and their benefits will be felt in the form of jobs for our citizens, increased private sector investment and a better quality of life.” 

UT-Pan American is receiving $3.4 million for the creation of its Rapid Response Manufacturing Center that will reduce the lead time in a product’s life cycle between inception and delivery to the customer. The center will provide greater commercialization opportunities in South Texas by centralizing all product development, design, testing and distribution in one location, thereby reducing development time and driving new products into the market more quickly. 

Photon8 Inc. is receiving $250,000 for the development of its commercially viable algae bio-fuel technology. The company will use the award to genetically enhance the performance of the algae and advance its extraction technology. 

ScanTech Sciences Inc. is receiving $2 million for the development and commercialization of food sterilization technology that uses electronic pasteurization to ensure the safety and freshness of food. The technology will allow for safer import of food by removing more insects, bacteria and toxins without using chemicals. 

In addition to the January 5 TETF announcements, National Instruments also announced the new NI Texas Emerging Technology Grant Program, which provides software and training services to companies that receive TETF investments. NIs LabView software will help young companies make the transition from the university lab to the marketplace. 

The TETF is a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 at the governor’s request, and reauthorized in 2007 and again in 2009 with $203.5 million for the 2010-2011 biennium. A 17-member advisory committee of high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and research experts reviews potential projects and recommends funding allocations to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. To date, the TETF has allocated more than $126 million in funds to 98 early stage companies, and $153 million in grant matching and research superiority funds to Texas universities. 

For more information on the TETF, please visit http://www.emergingtechfund.com

•••••• 

Former Sen. Hector Uribe, who carried Senate bill to merge Pan American University with the UT System, files for Texas Land Commissioner

Former state Sen. Hector Uribe of Brownsville on Monday, January 4, filed to be a Democratic candidate for Texas Land Commissioner. Uribe returns to state politics after a 14 year hiatus, when he was the Democratic nominee for Texas Railroad Commissioner. 

“The current Republican leadership is short-sighted. Texans want our state leaders to help address the real threats to our environment, but many of our current state leaders continue to minimize the importance of having clean water to drink and clean air to breathe,” Uribe said. 

“National and international environmental policies on global warming have serious impacts on long-term state education funding. The Republican leadership should be concerned about any negative impact on education funding. Instead, they deny the existence of global warming, deny the science that CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, and instead they fan the fires of secession. That’s not responsible leadership, that’s failed leadership. They claim that pro-environment policies will negatively impact our economy and education funding. That’s not an answer, that’s a cop out,” he added. 

“We don’t have to choose between a clean environment, and maximizing the return on state lands to fund our neighborhood schools. We can do both, and as Land Commissioner, I intend to do both,” Uribe said. “Our campaign will focus on how best to serve both objectives.” 

Uribe served as a state senator from Brownsville from 1981 until 1990, and represented the counties of Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo and Jim Wells. Prior to serving in the Senate, Uribe served in the Texas House of representatives for about three years. 

As a state senator he wrote the Texas Enterprise Zone Act, designed to create new businesses and jobs in economically distressed areas. He also wrote the Protective Services for the Elderly Act to guard against elder neglect and abuse as well as legislation establishing the University of Texas at Pan American in Edinburg and Brownsville. 

During his final session in the Texas Senate he served as Chair of the Natural Resources Standing Subcommittee on Water that wrote the first colonias legislation and created a bond package to assure clean water and sewer facilities for colonia residents. As a member of the Natural Resources Committee he voted to create a super fund to clean up contamination left by leaking underground gasoline storage tanks. As Vice-Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, he authored legislation to regulate and require indoor air quality in public buildings and to regulate asbestos removers. 

•••••• 

GOP debate with Gov. Perry, Sen. Hutchison, Debra Medina set for Thursday, January 14  

KERA has determined the candidates for The Texas Debates: Race for Governor will include U.S. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Debra Medina, a Republican candidate, and Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican. 

Each candidate meets the viewpoint-neutral standards found in KERA’s Criteria for Candidate Participation in KERA Broadcast Debates. Among the factors considered regarding Debra Medina’s inclusion were whether she was conducting an active campaign and generating media and public interest.  The criteria also allows for consideration of polling data.  However, because there is sparse recent polling information, polls played a minor role in the decision to include Medina.   

The Texas Debates: Race for Governor takes place Thursday, January 14 at 7 p.m. This is a ticketed event by invitation only.  

The Texas Debates is produced by KERA in partnership with CBS 11 (KTVT-TV) and TXA 21 (KTXA-TV), Star-Telegram, KUVN Univision 23, The Texas Association of Broadcasters (TAB), Texas State Networks and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. 

The Texas Debates will originate from the Murchison Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton. The program will be distributed at no charge to all commercial and public radio and television stations statewide as a public service, courtesy of the Texas Association of Broadcasters (TAB). Stations have the option of taking the broadcast live or delaying it. The broadcast will be available in English and Spanish and will be closed captioned. The broadcast can be heard in Spanish on the SAP channel of the debate feed. Real-time translation and closed captioning are also provided by TAB, a service it has contributed for broadcast debates of statewide candidates since 1998.  

The Texas Debates will be streamed live at http://www.TexasDebates.org. The Web site will also provide a list of stations carrying the debate as that information becomes available, profiles of the candidates and the pressroom arrangements. Site visitors will also be able to submit questions for the candidates by e-mail. Spanish language translation of the debate will be streamed online after broadcast at http://www.Univision.com.  

ABOUT KERA 

KERA is a not-for-profit public media organization that serves the people of North Texas. The station broadcasts to the fourth-largest population area in the United States. KERA produces original multimedia content, carries the best in national and international public television and radio programs, and provides online resources at http://www.kera.org. The station’s extensive coverage of the arts can be found at http://www.artandseek.org. KERA-TV broadcasts on Channel 13.1. KERA WORLD broadcasts on 13.2. KERA-FM broadcasts on 90.1 in Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton, 88.3 in Wichita Falls, 100.1 in Tyler and 99.3 in Sherman. KXT 91.7 FM, KERA’s new music station, is streamed online at http://www.kxt.org

•••••• 

Edinburg Medical Center sets enrollment fair for veterans seeking health care at its facility

By DALINDA GUILLEN 

Edinburg Regional Medical Center is hosting a Veterans Enrollment Fair on Friday, January 15, at Edinburg Regional Medical Center, located at 1102 W. Trenton Road.   

The event will be held in the Texas Room from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.   

All veterans enrolled in the VA Health Care System are eligible to receive healthcare at participating South Texas Health System facilities. Veterans already enrolled for VA benefits do not need to re-enroll.  

To assist Valley Veterans with enrollment, the Hidalgo County Veterans Services Department and VA Texas Valley Costal Bend Health Care System will be on hand to help you enroll for your VA benefits. Just bring your DD214 discharge papers and identification.*  

For more information, call 1-877-752-0650 or log on to http://www.southtexas.va.gov and click on Texas Valley Coastal Bend HCS.  To learn more about participating South Texas Health System facilities visit http://www.southtexashealthsystem.com.   

•••••• 

Deer breeding operations, which run through January 17, are huge economic boon to Texas

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.  

When speaking of economic engines for our state, we must include one booming industry with a total financial impact of more than $5 billion annually. 

Deer breeding or ranching (called deer farming in some states), and more scientifically correct the cervid industry, is reportedly the fastest growing industry in rural America and involves breeding deer in controlled environments. 

Currently Texas is the number one deer ranching state, followed by Pennsylvania. Today, there are over 1,198 active deer breeders in this state, most of whom represent small landowners and family-run operations. 

Not only is deer breeding becoming quite profitable, it is offering many struggling families a livelihood. 

"Unfortunately, the day is waning in which a family can make a living from the land! World markets, the economy, …..and loss of profitability of ‘traditional’ agriculture have made it difficult for folks to hold onto their land," explains James Kroll, Ph.D., Henry Rockwell Professor at the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, Stephen F. Austin State University. 

Dr. Kroll also reports that "the unfortunate result is an escalating loss of the rural lifestyle enjoyed by many of us over the life of the Lone Star State. Land is being fragmented at an unprecedented rate and Texas, unfortunately is in the top 10 states in loss of rural, undeveloped lands." 

Once thought of only as a hobby, today in an effort to hold onto family farms and ranches, many people are turning to alternative enterprises like deer ranching. 

Groups like the Texas Deer Association and the Deer Breeders Co-Op of Texas have been tremendous assets to the deer industry by assisting breeders’ marketing efforts and providing extensive education. 

In the past, breeding wildlife has involved only the exotic species (axis, fallow and red deer), since they enjoy a more favorable regulatory environment. More recently, significant opportunities have developed with a native species–white-tailed deer. Texas leads the nation in whitetail deer sales.

Experts like Dr. Kroll, also known as Dr. Deer, have played a significant role in developing whitetail breeding to provide small landowners what he calls a "piece of the pie!" 

That pie includes a $3 billion a year deer hunting industry, mostly from hunting revenues that once came only from large landholdings, leaving the small landowner out. Now small landholders can compete in an industry that was once reserved for the wealthy who owned thousands of acres.

When one considers that the average hunting expenditure per hunter has increased by 11 percent over the past 10 years and that an average big game hunter spends $1,360 annually, deer ranching makes a lot of sense. 

The many financial components of the deer breeding industry range from an annul total of $115 million in deer purchased to $24 million for handling facilities. In between are sales of feeders and watering equipment, feed, semen storage and artificial insemination costs, veterinary services and fencing. 

In the American Frontier of long ago the skin of a male deer was worth a dollar, which is how the term "buck" for a $1 bill originated. As the frontier changed, so has rural Texas and what a $1 bill will buy, encouraging a new science and way of doing business through deer breeding. 

I echo Dr. Deer’s insightful statement that "Texas has been a leader in deer management since the 1970s, and now enjoys a leadership role in deer breeding." 

As a state we should support all ongoing efforts to improve and expand deer breeding operations.   While deer hunting season in Texas overall runs from around November 7 to January 17, with dates varying depending on location and lease extensions, deer breeding is a year-round industry that promises rich economic rewards for all Texans.  

•••••• 

Sen. Zaffirini announces new law improving business incentive program

By WILL KRUEGER  

A new law authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, improves Texas’ incentive program to attract new businesses to the state. Senate Bill 2244, effective January 1, imposes a time limit on the Economic Development and Diversification Waiver, allowing the governor to offer in-state tuition to immediate family members of employees as an incentive for businesses to relocate or expand their operations in Texas.  

"The Economic Development and Diversification Waiver Program was established in 1989 to encourage economic development in Texas and to ease the difficulty of employee relocation," said  Zaffirini, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. "Establishing an enforceable time limit enables the governor to specify the time period for which it is intended."   

Sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chair of the House Higher Education Committee, Zaffirini’s SB 2244 specifies a five-year limit during which employees of qualified businesses may receive in-state tuition. It also directs the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to work with the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office to determine whether a business is eligible for the program and the period during which it is eligible.  

"The waiver program has great potential for helping families and businesses that relocate to Texas," Zaffirini said. "I am delighted that this new law will ensure the program remains an effective tool to promote higher education and economic development." 

All of the 65 bills passed by Zaffirini in 2009 are now effective.   

Information about SB 2244 and other new laws is available via http://www.zaffirini.senate.state.tx.us or the Texas Legislative Reference Library, 512/463-1252.  

•••••• 

Moving in: Robert Nelsen living on campus for first month as president of UT-Pan American

MELISSA VÁSQUEZ 

Students who live in The University of Texas-Pan American’s Bronc Village and residence halls have a new neighbor, UTPA’s President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, who is living on campus for the first month of his presidency as of January 1. 

“The first thing I am doing is moving into the dormitory,” Nelsen said. “I will live in the dormitory for the first month so that I get to meet the students.” 

Nelsen, along with his wife Jody, will make Bronc Village their temporary home as the new leader of UTPA familiarizes himself with the student body and campus environment. 

“I want a good feel for the undergraduate population here and I also want to figure out why we have a 73 percent occupancy rate in the dormitories. We need to get more students here,” he said. 

“I hope to send the message that if it is alright for me to live here, it is alright for you to live here too,” he added. 

Nelsen, who once served as a resident head for the University of Chicago dormitories while a student, said during his stay on the UTPA campus his evenings will be filled with various events and activities planned for him by the Student Government Association and other campus organizations. 

“I hope to get to know the students better and I hope that they get to know me better,” he said. 

Nelsen is also hoping to get to know South Texas community members, who he believes will be key in helping UTPA thrive financially and educationally. 

“We need the support of the community so that we can grow. We also need to make sure we are giving back to the community what they are giving to us. This is a community that has embraced the university so I want to make sure that we are giving back as much as we can,” he said. 

The UT System Board of Regents confirmed Nelsen as the next UTPA president on Nov. 11. Nelsen, formerly an associate vice president for academic affairs and professor of English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said he believes “a university is only as strong as its ties to the community are.” 

So far Nelsen said he has met with several South Texas legislators, city mayors, and economic development and chamber representatives to start introducing himself and his agenda for UTPA. 

“I got to see and I’ve got to be seen,” he said. “I need to meet with as many people as I can.” 

First on his agenda as president, Nelsen said he plans to start assembling a team to work on the university’s strategic plan and also focus on increasing the sophomore retention rate, which currently stands at 53 percent. 

“The university has been brilliant in what it has done already for student retention and persistence for the first year, but our sophomores are only at 53 percent. So what is happening? I think a lot of it has to do with our sophomores having to work and also how are we maximizing the opportunities for them on campus so they can work here. So those are going to be the starts,” he said. 

Overall, Nelsen plans to build areas of “targeted excellence,” which he said are going to be about the Rio Grande Valley and how UTPA can help the Valley grow and prosper through its manufacturing, health care and education programs. 

“We have got to decide what we are doing well here and then build upon those strengths. You don’t just try and build by bringing something from the outside, you build on what is important for the Valley and what is good at the University,” he said. 

Other “targeted excellence”  areas Nelsen is looking to create is making UTPA “a model for all other universities” by how it interacts not only with its students, faculty and staff, but the general public too. In addition, he is looking to define what areas of research the university needs to move into and identify and work with faculty on their research and what is needed to grow the research from the bottom up. 

“I said when I was here the Valley is a perfect laboratory for education and I still believe that. But we have got to take our lab and refine it and make it even stronger,” he said. 

Working with faculty is going to be essential in helping UTPA move ahead said Nelsen, who wants to be known for the partnerships and collaborations he plans to build on and off campus. 

“I hope that we can become a university, not that we aren’t yet, but a university where the faculty all feel a sense of family and a sense of collaboration,” he said. “My job is to inspire, but I am to inspire what the faculty aspire to and I am going to make certain we know what those aspirations are and that we help to get to that point.” 

Nelsen said he realizes the magnitude of the job he has ahead of him that became reality on January 1, but it is a challenge he is looking forward to taking on. 

“It really has sunk in for me. The enormity of it is there as we are coming into a budget cycle that scares me and we are getting word from the UT System that we could have possible cuts in the budget of 2.5 percent starting soon. We also know the sales tax is way down and that worries me tremendously because we are living off stimulus funds. So the enormity has really sunk in on what we have to do, but the enormity of what we can do has also sunk in because every time I come on campus I see something new that excites me,” Nelsen said. 

•••••• 

U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, whose jurisdiction includes Valley, announces his resignation

By ANGELA DODGE 

United States Attorney Tim Johnson, 57, has announced his resignation effective on Wednesday, February 13, and intention to enter private practice with a law firm in the Houston area. 

The Southern District of Texas is the sixth largest office in the nation, with an allocated staff of more than 180 attorneys, a like number of litigation support personnel, and an annual budget of over $25 million. With headquarters in Houston, the Southern District of Texas staffs an additional five (5) South Texas offices in Victoria, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen and Laredo. 

Johnson has served as the district’s United States Attorney since November 2008 following the resignation of former United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle. During his tenure, Johnson has ably managed and overseen the activities of the more than 180 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and a like number of staff  in the criminal, civil and appellate divisions in six offices representing the United States in the federal courts throughout a 43-county area. 

Working hand-in-hand with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, the office has worked diligently to investigate and prosecute corrupt public officials and law enforcement officers, online child predators, violent and repeat offenders, organized crime involving immigration and narcotics violators, firearms smugglers and white collar offenders involved in a myriad of fraudulent activity ranging from identity theft, Medicare and Medicaid fraud and FEMA fraud to mortgage fraud. On the civil litigation side, the office has secured the large settlements in a number of false claims act matters, represented the United States in the border fence litigation and sought to see justice done in matters involving the United States as a party. 

In announcing his pending resignation to his staff district-wide on Tuesday, January 5, Johnson said, “The past almost four years have been the most rewarding of my life. I have had the opportunity to rejoin old friends and to make many new ones. The work that you do on behalf of the Southern District of Texas and the citizens of the United States is as worthwhile an undertaking as you will ever experience. The dedication and devotion you bring to the office every day helps make the world we live in a better place. Few people have the impact on their community that you have on yours.  It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside each of you. I want to thank all of you for helping to make this the best United States Attorney’s Office in the country.  I will miss all of you.” 

Johnson graduated from the University of Texas in 1977 with a bachelor of business administration degree, majoring in accounting. Following graduation, he served as a special agent with the Intelligence Division and later the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) until 1984 when he graduated from the South Texas College of Law with his juris doctorate degree and began practicing law.   

Johnson joined the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas as an Assistant United States Attorney in 1986 serving in the criminal division prosecuting bank robbery, tax fraud and money laundering and fraud committed against the United States. In 1989, Johnson joined the Houston office of Weil, Gotshal and Manges where he practiced general litigation and white collar criminal defense until 1994. He thereafter opened his own law practice representing individuals and corporations in matters before the United States and its various agencies.  In April 2006, Johnson returned to the USAO as the First Assistant United States Attorney under former United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle.   

Johnson is a member of the American Bar Association in which he served as co-chair of the White Collar Crime Southwest Regional Tax Fraud Committee from 1985-2006, Houston Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, State Bar of Texas and is a Life Fellow of the Houston Bar Foundation.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!