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Media are evolving and the multimedia skills that students at The University of Texas-Pan American are learning will make them more competitive in the job market, said media professionals at the first annual Communication Showcase at UTPA held on Tuesday, April 20. Speakers shared their personal experiences during what is being called a transitional period in history for news. They also provided feedback on student work and gave advice about a student’s future in the business of media. The communication showcase also served as the launch of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) chapter at UTPA, the first and only student chapter in the Rio Grande Valley. NAHJ is the primary association for Hispanic journalists to encourage and support the study and practice of journalism by Hispanics. Its mission is to further the employment of Hispanics in the media and to improve coverage of the Latino community.  Three of the media professionals participating in the inaugural event included, from left: Will Ripley, reporter and anchor for KRGV Channel 5; Jeff Smith, copy editor/designer, The Monitor; and Ana Ley, reporter, The Monitor. See story later in this posting. 

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Area leaders are promoting the Valle Verde Landscape of the Month Project, a joint effort between the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board (EEAB), the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Edinburg’s Planning and Zoning Department and Urban Forestry Program. The program, originally launched by the city in the fall of 2006, seeks to encourage home and business owners to use native trees, shrubs and plants in their landscaping to promote the protection of the local environment. Featured, from left, reminding city residents of the program, are: Mark Peña and his wife Michelle Peña; Crystal Cavazos, Imelda Rodríguez, and Letty González with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Letty Reyes with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Dr. Andrew McDonald. See story later in this posting. 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will be holding its monthly mixer for current and prospective members on Thursday, May 13, at the Stilo Design Show Room, located at the corner of N. Main St. and Hackberry. Food and refreshments will be provided during the networking event, which will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Featured, from left: Leslie Garza with Stilo Design; Roxanna Godínez, MHCC vice chair of membership; Ismael García, owner of Stile Design; Lorenzo Olivarez, MHCC board treasurer; and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer. More information is available by contact the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 928-0060. 

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Johnny García, managing partner of Ceballos-Díaz Funeral Home in Edinburg, was recently named Funeral Director of the Year by the South Texas Regional Funeral Directors Association, an 80-member professional organization of funeral directors from across the South Texas region. The honor was presented to García during the South Texas Funeral Directors Association annual spring meeting on South  Padre Island. Jack Sawyer, owner of Sawyer-George Funeral Home in Corpus Christi and president of STFDA, presented the coveted award on Thursday, March 11. “This award, the only award which funeral directors are judged by their peers, has been one of my goals since I became a funeral director 12 years ago,” García said. “When other funeral directors believe you are one of the best in their profession, this is truly one of the highest honors.” García, 35, who graduated from Edinburg High School in 1993, said his first experience with the funeral profession came 20 years ago when the funeral home handling his grandmother’s funeral needed someone to drive a hearse to the cemetery and García volunteered for the job. See story later in this posting.  

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Byron Jay Lewis, President and Director of Edwards Abstract and Title Co., based in Edinburg,  on Wednesday, April 21, announced the merger of three title insurance companies. Edwards Abstract and Title Co., Security Land Title Co. and Southern Texas Title Company will unite and emerge as Edwards Abstract and Title Co. “As owner of all three companies, it makes business sense to form one company that is stronger, and that will unite the talent and experience of our personnel,” said Lewis. "The merger is a natural evolution of the opportunities and energy of the past 10 years, and an integral part of the company’s new business model," he added. After 130 years of service in the Rio Grande Valley, the firm has continued to grow and change with the times. An important key to the success of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has been the ability to set the pace for change in the title insurance industry in the Valley, and to adapt to market conditions during the past 13 decades. See story later in this posting. 

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In addition to being the first and only college in the entire state of Texas to earn the National Institute of Metalworking Skills Accreditation for its Precision Manufacturing Technology Program, now South Texas College can add a new accolade to its NIMS accomplishments. Mario Reyna, STC division dean of business and technology, was named to the organization’s board of directors for a three year term beginning on May 1, 2010. As a member of the 20 member board, Reyna will help establish and refine skill standards, vote on certification of individual skills and accreditation of training programs. 

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Hidalgo County saved from losing millions of dollars following successful presentation by Judge Ramírez, County Commissioner Palacios

By CARI LAMBRECHT  

Hidalgo County Judge René  A. Ramírez, along with Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios, on Thursday, April 22, testified in front of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) in Austin to announce that violations brought to his attention by the board have been addressed, saving Hidalgo County from losing millions of dollars in funding.   

About a month earlier –  on March 18 – the TWDB had informed Ramírez that Hidalgo County had only 90 days to fix numerous violations of Model Subdivision Rules (MSR) in several communities in northeast Weslaco and to strengthen its enforcement procedures.  

In addition to his testimony, Ramírez submitted all of the requested documentation that demonstrates to both the board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that compliance has been met.  This all came well before the 90-day deadline, ensuring that these disadvantaged areas of the county receive much needed financial assistance for critical infrastructure improvements.  

“There was a lot at stake,” said Ramírez. “If we had missed the deadline given by the TWDB, not only would we have lost millions of dollars in much needed assistance, we would have also put the funding of important future projects into jeopardy.”    

He added, “I’m glad that we were able to bring together key elected officials and state officials to resolve this serious issue in a timely manner.  It’s a testament to how quickly things can get done when we all work together to achieve a common goal.”  

To resolve the noncompliance problems before the 90-day deadline, Ramírez worked with the county’s legislative delegation and with the officials from the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office, the Department of State Health Services, and Hidalgo County departments and members of the commissioners court, to name but a few.   

Ramírez said that he was especially grateful to the county’s Health Department director, Eddie Olivares and the Planning Department director, Raul Sesin, for their relentless dedication to resolving this issue.  

At the April 22 meeting, the TWDB also approved two key projects in Hidalgo County, Agua Special Utility District and City of Alamo for $34.3 million and $460,000 respectively for first-time water services after the board took action to clear the county of the noncompliance violations.  

In the March 18 TWDB letter to Ramírez, the board cited a list of problems ranging from septic tanks that were not connected, to multiple housing units on one lot.  The subdivisions in question, Cielo Azul Units 3 and 5, and Los Alamos, are located in northeast Weslaco.  

Palacios expressed much gratitude to all of those that helped in the effort.  

“Our communities will be receiving funds that will help improve the quality of life for our residents,” Ramírez said. “That means our children can grow up in neighborhoods that they will be proud to call home.” 

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Rep. Gonzáles to host border security hearing on Thursday, April 29 at McAllen Convention Center

By BRITTNEY BOOTH 

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, chair of the House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs, on Tuesday, April 20, announced that a joint hearing with the House Public Safety Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 29 in Room 101 of the McAllen Convention Center.  

The public is invited to attend and testify. 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, also serve on the nine-member House panel led by Gonzáles. 

"Every day, we are hearing and reading more reports of the drug cartel wars in Mexico and the threats they pose to Americans on our side of the border," said Gonzáles. "At this hearing, the two committees will hear from local, state and federal authorities on what the various law enforcement agencies are seeing and what they are doing on our side of the border to combat any potential spill-over and how the state can assist in assuring that our citizens are kept safe. 

“A further concern on which the committees will take testimony is how we balance security and trade so that actions taken by the state will keep us safe but will not sacrifice our local economy, culture and quality of life,” she added. 

Gonzáles’ committee and the House Public Safety Committee, chaired by Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, were charged by Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to "evaluate the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and other violence along the Texas-Mexico border."  

The committees will offer the public an opportunity to testify and will hear invited testimony from several local, state and federal entities. The committees are then tasked with making recommendations to the Legislature when it meets again in January 2011. 

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Border congressional lawmakers seek almost $500 million in emergency funds to fight, prevent drug violence spill-over from Mexico

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Border members of Congress, including Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, are urging Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, to provide emergency funding to fight drug-related violence along the U.S. – Mexico border.  

In a letter signed by nine congressional members from Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico, lawmakers call the recent upswing in border violence a demonstrated need for immediate funds to secure the border.  

“We are at a tipping point,” said Cuellar, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism. “Either we immediately send additional resources to our border or we wait and watch the violence unfold across the Rio Grande. Our options are clear and we need Congress to move.” 

Two weeks earlier, an unknown attacker threw a bomb at the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo just across the river in neighboring Mexico. 

As a result of ongoing border violence, including the March double shootings of Americans in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, members of the Congressional Border Caucus, led by House Select Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, the previous week had sent a letter to Pelosi requesting that emergency funds to secure the southern border be included in the fiscal year 2010 emergency supplemental package.  

The bill is currently being drafted by the House Committee on Appropriations. 

“The violence facing Mexico is having a particular impact on our communities and our sister cities as the Mexican government clamps down on criminal organizations,” the members of Congress wrote in the letter signed April 16, 2010. “As members representing border districts, we have seen first hand the impact the violence has on communities on both sides of the border.” 

In addition to Cuellar, the letter was signed by: Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi; Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio; Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso; Congressman Bob Filner, California; Congressman Harry Teague, D-New Mexico; Congresswoman Susan Davis; and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona. 

Two weeks earlier, Reyes, Cuellar and Congressman Ed Pastor, D-Arizona, met with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón to discuss the future of the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative, a cooperative effort between the United States and Mexico to combat drug and weapons trafficking. Multiple reports indicate that of the $830 million allocated to Merida since 2007, just $128 million has been received in military equipment and training in Mexico. 

“The popular consensus from both sides of the border is the need for speed,” said Cuellar. “Our border communities have braced themselves for a spillover of violence and the burden is falling on local law enforcement at home. This is why we have laid out a framework with concrete numbers for Congress to move on.” 

Topping the list is a request for $200 million to support law enforcement’s communications capabilities in remote areas along the border where there are known critical needs, plus an additional $50 million for Operation Stonegarden which assists the collaborative efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement in fighting border related violence, weapons and drug trafficking. 

All border members agree the nation’s land ports of entry are critical to securing the border and vitally important to trade. They requested $100 million to help Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sustain border agent salaries in the face of budget deficits at the nation’s land ports. In addition, they requested a minimum of $70 million to hire an additional 500 CBP officers to immediately alleviate understaffed ports of entry. 

An additional $32.2 million was requested to help CBP hire 207 border patrol agents for the southern border to avoid straining existing human resources or deplete CBP assets from other areas. Members also asked for $39.6 million to help prevent attempted cartel-corruption in CBP by drug trafficking-associated applicants. These funds would be used specifically to help the agency conduct background investigations and polygraph tests. 

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Zeta drug cartel member gets life in federal prison for kidnapping scheme that was part of power struggle to take over Valley drug trade

By ANGELA DODGE 

Luis Alberto Ávila-Hernández, aka Cua Cua, 27, of Reynosa, has been sentenced for conspiracy to kidnap and kidnapping, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Tuesday, April 20.  

Convicted in January 2010 by a federal jury’s verdict of conspiracy to kidnap and kidnapping,  Ávila-Hernández was sentenced to life in federal prison that afternoon by United States District Court Judge Randy Crane. 

During the January 2010 trial, the jury heard testimony about a plan of the Zetas, who would run the Rio Grande Valley as they do in Mexico.  

In general, the Zetas drug cartel is described as a paramilitary criminal gang acting as a hired army of the Mexican Gulf Cartel. 

The Zetas organization would contact and demand of suspected drug traffickers in the Rio Grande Valley that they align themselves with the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. A refusal of which would result in the individual being kidnapped, threatened, violently assaulted or murdered. That plan was implemented and several persons were confronted and kidnapped between August 2008 to October 2008. 

Raúl Ángelo Hernández, aka Comandante Vaquero, allegedly ordered the kidnapping of a victim, Daniel Ramírez, from his place of business in Weslaco, after he rebuked Cartel demands. Ávila-Hernández, responsible for all kidnappings in the McAllen to Weslaco area, was ordered to kidnap him. Through testimony, the jury heard that he was taken at gun point by Ávila-Hernández and others and transported to three different locations beginning in Weslaco and concluding in the Mission, area before being transported to the hands of Raúl Ángelo Hernández in Reynosa.  

Daniel Cavazos-Reyes, 34, of Mission, assisted in the kidnapping by preventing the victim from escaping while being transported. After Raúl Ángelo Hernández contacted the victim’s father by telephone and demanded $100,000 for the victim’s release, his father agreed to deliver at least $40,000 to Raúl Ángelo Hernández. While in Mexico, the victim’s father was forced off the road and threatened by Raúl Ángelo Hernández. 

The jury also heard that after Raúl Ángelo Hernández became aware that law enforcement was involved, he ordered the murder of Daniel. A co-conspirator who testified at trial stated that Raúl Ángelo Hernández told him he was “cooking” Ramírez’ body. This witness testified that he saw a large drum on fire and understood the victim was in the drum. 

José Alberto Rodríguez, aka Gordo Maciso, 37, of Pharr; Gerardo Espinoza-Zamora, 39, of Reynosa, ; and Juan José Guerrero, 40, of Mission, all pleaded guilty to the kidnapping of a second victim as part of the Zetas’ kidnapping scheme.  

In court, Espinoza-Zamora admitted that he approached this victim and demanded that he align himself with the Zetas in order to continue his drug trafficking activities. When this victim refused, Espinoza-Zamora ordered Guerrero to lure the victim to Guerrero’s ranch in Mission in order to kidnap him. After the victim was taken hostage, Rodríguez used a rifle and struck the victim in the genital area as well as provided his motor vehicle to other co-conspirators knowing it would be used to transport the victim into Mexico. Guerrero admitted in court that he lured this victim to his ranch and allowed his ranch to be used to temporarily hold hostages prior to having them transported into Mexico. 

In October 2008, a search warrant was executed at Guerrero’s ranch located in Mission. Agents discovered numerous firearms, ammunition and paint ball equipment at the location. The firearms included one modified .223 semi-assault weapon, one pistol with numerous magazines and other semi-assault weapons. The paint ball equipment was used to practice simulated kidnapping schemes in order to prepare for the actual kidnapping that they intended to commit.  

Cavazos-Reyes and Rodríguez were scheduled to be sentenced on April 21, while Espinoza-Zamora and Guerrero are set for sentencing later in April. Each also face lengthy prison terms up to life imprisonment for their roles in the Zetas’ kidnapping scheme and millions of dollars in fines. 

A warrant remains outstanding for Raúl Ángelo Hernández, who remains a fugitive and is presumed innocent unless proven guilty through due process of law.  

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI. Assistant United States Attorney Robert Wells Jr. and Jesús Salazar are prosecuting the case. 

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Sen. Cornyn helps spearhead bipartisan effort to restore funding to prosecute drug dealers

Following the Obama Administration’s recent decision to decline support for the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative (SWBPI), which reimburses local government entities for costs related to prosecution and detention of drug traffickers and other violent offenders, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Friday, April 16, joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and a bipartisan group of senators to restore the funding. 

“The Administration’s decision not to renew vital SWBPI border funding puts our local law enforcement officials at a serious disadvantage in the war on drugs,” said Cornyn. “Now more than ever, as cartel and drug-related violence escalates, with the recent heinous murders of two U.S. citizens in Cuidad Juárez, we need to be arming our local law enforcement and border patrol agents with every resource they need to keep Americans safe. Texas families and children cannot and should not have to wait for another dangerous act of violence to receive federal assistance to combat drug-related violence along our border.” 

The senators sent a letter to Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, and Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science requesting they restore SWBPI funding for local law enforcement officials in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.  

The SWBPI programs reimburses state, county, parish, tribal and municipal governments for costs associated with the prosecution and pre-trial detention of federally-initiated criminal cases declined by local offices of the United States Attorneys.  

The program received $31 million in fiscal year 2010, but the Obama Administration did not request funding for the program in fiscal year 2011. Over the last seven years, Texas received $49.8 million in SWBPI funding to provide local law enforcement agencies with resources to prosecute drug trafficking and violent crime cases that were initiated federally, but referred to local jurisdictions. 

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UT System recalls students and personnel from northern Mexico due to security concerns

By SPENCER MILLER-PAYNE 

Due to security concerns in specific international regions, The University of Texas System on Friday, April 23, announced that its nine academic and six health institutions will immediately review and potentially suspend university-sponsored programs in foreign countries and territories consistent with current travel warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State, pending a careful and thorough risk assessment by individual campus review committees. 

The escalating violence in Mexico caused The University of Texas System to direct its institutions to recall students, faculty and staff participating in university-sponsored programs within seven Mexican states, effective immediately.  The recall applies to the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Baja California, and Durango.  The recall applies to these states because they include cities and regions that are specifically identified in the U.S. Department of State Travel Warning as areas that have had a recent increase in violence.  

“The University of Texas System and its institutions value their close association with Mexico.  That said, the safety of University of Texas System students, faculty and staff is of the utmost importance and we feel these actions with regard to study abroad programs and other university-sponsored international activities are prudent given the unfortunate escalation in violence in these regions,” UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., said. 

For students, faculty and staff involved in mission-critical programs, each University of Texas institution president may make an exception to the recall only after institutional review committees conduct a comprehensive review of the risks and the benefits of allowing personnel to remain in Mexico.  

UT System institutions will review and possibly suspend activity in other areas of Mexico and foreign countries and territories consistent with current travel warnings issued by the State Department, pending review of the potential risks and nature of the activity by the institutional review committees. The UT System administration and institutions will continue to closely monitor the security situation in these countries. 

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Texas Border Coalition to develop workforce development legislative policies during May 4 forum in Laredo

By JULIE HILLRICHS 

On Tuesday, May 4, the Texas Border Coalition will hold a forum on the Laredo Community College campus to develop a set of workforce development priorities to be presented during the 2011 Texas Legislature.  

The forum will take place from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Room 101 of the De La Garza Building on the Fort McIntosh Campus of Laredo Community College, West End Washington Street. 

TBC’s Workforce Development Committee will hear from border region experts on the most pressing regional education and workforce issues. From there, committee members will develop a package of legislative priorities designed to guarantee that border employers have access to a well-trained workforce and that residents receive the education and training they need to build better careers, lives and communities. 

In addition, TBC is soliciting written and oral testimony, which will form the basis of the 2011 TBC Education and Workforce Development legislative agenda. An e-mail copy of the testimony form and sample questions may be obtained – no later than Friday, April 30 – by contacting: 

yescobedo@laredo.edu 

To register, visit the TBC Web site at:   

http://www.texasbordercoalition.org/Texas 

Attendees may fax or email their registration forms to 956/721-5829, or by e-mail, also to: 

yescobedo@laredo.edu 

The Texas Border Coalition (TBC) is a collective voice of border mayors, county judges, economic development commissions focused on issues that affect more than 2.1 million people along the Texas-Mexico border region and economically disadvantaged counties from El Paso to Brownsville.  TBC is working closely with the state and federal government to educate, advocate, and secure funding for transportation, immigration and ports of entry, workforce and education and health care.  

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Volunteer medical professionals needed to help area crime victims to recover, says Hidalgo County District Attorney René Guerra

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

It wasn’t that long ago when victims of violent crimes were routinely excluded from courtrooms and sometimes even blamed for their victimization. Still today, victims number far too many and face increasing challenges of failed notification systems, denials of compensation, violent offenders released on bail and sharply curtailed victims’ services.  

Texas has strong victims’  services laws, and during the week of April 18-24, Hidalgo County recognized National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and promoted actions which can be done to further help victims of violent crime cope with life-altering events. In line with this year’s theme of Fairness, Dignity, and Respect, Hidalgo County District Criminal District Attorney René Guerra asks us to keep in mind those who have suffered at the hands of criminals — especially children — and he makes this call to action:  

“Hidalgo County residents benefit greatly from the state’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, but locally, the program is experiencing a shortage of medical providers in the specialty areas of orthodontics, oral surgery, MRI/Imaging, pharmacy and family practice, among others," Guerra explained. "During this week, we are asking medical providers of all kinds to consider joining the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, and by doing so, helping victims of violent crime get back on their feet.”  

The Crime Victims’  Compensation Program, which is administered by the Office of the Attorney General and supported locally by the Hidalgo County DA’s Office Crime Victims’ Coordinator and liaisons stationed at police departments and the Sheriff’s Office, ensures that victims of certain crimes — those in which the victim suffers substantial threat of physical or emotional harm or death — receive every possible form of financial assistance.  

The program is one of last resort; it kicks in after other means such as health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, auto insurance or worker’s compensation have been exhausted. Claims up to $50,000 may be approved for medical, hospital, physical therapy or nursing care, psychiatric care/counseling, relocation assistance, loss of earnings, child care, funeral and burial expenses and more. Money for this program comes from court costs paid by criminals. Each county contributes to the state fund.  

Statewide, the Crime Victims’  Compensation Program received 38,991 applications and awarded nearly $77 million in compensation on behalf of victims in FY 2009. It also distributed $40.2 million in grants to nonprofit and public organizations, such as CASA and Mujeres Unidas, to provide emergency sheltering, crisis counseling, court accompaniment, assistance with completing compensation applications and other services. Over the last 10 years, more than $15 million has been paid out to Hidalgo County victims.  

In Hidalgo County, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office helped 425 new victims during the first two quarters of FY 2010 (September through March). Of these new victims, 300 received help with compensation claims. Nearly a quarter of the new victims are children who had been sexually assaulted or abused. There are seven Crime Victims’ Compensation liaisons throughout Hidalgo County (McAllen PD, Mission PD, Pharr PD, San Juan PD, Weslaco PD, Edinburg PD, and Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office) who work cooperatively with the Hidalgo County DA’s Office by assisting victims in those communities through traumatic times.  

“Becoming part of this program is no different than deciding to take a certain type of insurance,” Guerra said. “Sometimes, our victims are referred out for specialty care and there is no medical provider locally that will help. It’s not acceptable for victims of crime to have no place to go to put their lives back in order. I ask the local medical community to support victims of crime and become a part of this program.”  

For more information on how to become a medical provider, or if you need crime victims’  assistance, please call the Hidalgo County Crime Victims’ Coordinator Emma González at the DA’s Office at (956) 318-2300.       

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Congressman Hinojosa, other Hispanic legislators, urge U.S. Census Bureau to make accurate count of colonias residents

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, is continuing his pledge to make certain the U.S. Census Bureau does a complete count of South Texas residents, particularly those who live in Colonias.  

Hinojosa, who is the 2nd Vice Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, joined CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velásquez, D-New York, and CHC 1st Vice Chair Charles A. González, D-San Antonio, in sending a letter to Robert Groves, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, urging him to make some changes in their 2010 Census Count plan.   

Hinojosa was alarmed when he was recently informed that the Census Bureau did not mail out Census forms to 95 percent of colonia residents in Hidalgo  County.  

“We are talking about more than 250,000 residents in the Rio Grande Valley who did not receive a census form," said Hinojosa. "I want to see the Census Bureau work closely with local community leaders and to launch an aggressive Spanish language advertising campaign, letting colonia residents know to expect a Census counter at their door”.  

The letter asks that the Census Bureau extend their update/enumerate period for colonia residents, from the end of May to July 10.  It also asks Groves keep their Be Counted sites open until July 10.  

“We feel that in the year 2000, our population was vastly under-counted” said Hinojosa. "The fewer people we claim to be residents in our area means less federal funding for new schools, roads and hospitals. Another factor, we must consider, is that the state of Texas could be eligible to gain three to four new congressional seats, which is also very important for our residents”.  

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Communication Showcase brings media professionals to University of Texas-Pan American

By AMANDA PÉREZ 

Media are evolving and the multimedia skills that students at The University of Texas-Pan American are learning will make them more competitive in the job market, said media professionals at the first annual Communication Showcase at UTPA held on Tuesday, April 20. 

Leaders for the three main student media outlets at the local university spearheaded the inaugural gathering. 

Lilli López, station manager of Bronc TV; Brian Silva, editor-and-chief of Pan American, the campus newspaper; and Daniel Flores, co-editor-and-chief of the Panorama, the campus magazine; had approached Dr. Timothy Mottet, professor and chair of the communication department, a month earlier with the idea of inviting key media professionals to give students the opportunity of interacting with those already successful in the communication business.

“There were three main goals for this event and they were to discuss the state of the industry, hold critique sessions and have career talk,” Mottet said. “Immediately I knew it was a success when I saw our students interacting and learning.” 

Bruce Collins, program director for KURV Radio; Will Ripley, reporter and anchor for KRGV Channel 5; Ana Ley, reporter for The Monitor; Jeff Smith, copy editor and designer for The Monitor; Rodrigo Rodríguez, owner and director for Rio Bravo Pictures; and Lynda López, director of Special Projects at UTPA, were those invited to the showcase. 

Speakers shared their personal experiences during what Smith calls a transitional period in history for news. They also provided feedback on student work and gave advice about a student’s future in the business of media. 

“When we invited our guests our intention was for them to emphasize the value and importance of gaining experience,” Lilli López said. “This event happened the way I envisioned it and all of it was possible with help and support from Dr. Mottet.” 

The communication showcase also served as the launch of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) chapter at UTPA, the first and only student chapter in the Rio Grande Valley. 

NAHJ is the primary association for Hispanic journalists to encourage and support the study and practice of journalism by Hispanics. Its mission is to further the employment of Hispanics in the media and to improve coverage of the Latino community. 

“An NAHJ chapter here in the Valley was so long overdue; we of all places should have one,” Mottet said. “I am excited because this is an incredible student organization, especially in terms of its networking power.” 

Lilli  López, a communication student who is also one of the founding members of NAHJ at UTPA, said creating this organization on campus was obtainable because of the many students interested in becoming official members of the association. 

Students were impressed with the outcome of the event and what each professional had to say.  

Jessica Wells, a broadcast journalism major, said she learned a lot from an experience she will never forget. 

“I would love to see an important experience like this be continued here on campus,” Wells said. “It was a privilege being critiqued by professionals and told how to make it better. This is something that everyone in the communication field should get the chance to do.” 

Mottet and Lilli López said there will be more of these events in the future. Mottet feels they not only serve to be educational for students, but help put the UTPA communication department on the map and assist in building partnerships with local media outlets. 

“We want local media to be aware of what is going on within our department and we want them to know who we are and what we do,” Mottet said. “Just from this event our best and brightest students were noticed and it was interesting to hear our guests say they had not realized the amount of talent here and that our students are already successful, they just don’t know it yet.” 

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Edwards Abstract and Title Co. announces merger with Security Land Title Co. and Southern Texas Title Company

By ELVA JACKSON GARZA 

After 130 years of service in the Rio Grande Valley, one title insurance company continues to grow and change with the times. An important key to the success of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has been the ability to set the pace for change in the title insurance industry in the Valley, and to adapt to market conditions during the past thirteen decades.  

Byron Jay Lewis, President and Director of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. on Wednesday, April 21,  announced the merger of three title insurance companies.   

Edwards Abstract and Title Co., Security Land Title Co. and Southern Texas Title Company will unite and emerge as Edwards Abstract and Title Co.   

“As owner of all three companies, it makes business sense to form one company that is stronger, and that will unite the talent and experience of our personnel,” said Lewis. "The merger is a natural evolution of the opportunities and energy of the past ten years, and an integral part of the company’s new business model," he added.  

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. will be licensed to operate in both Cameron and Hidalgo counties.   

“We are often asked if Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has branch offices in Cameron County, and now we will proudly say, ‘Yes!’” said Lewis.  

Southern Texas Title Company has three full service branch offices in Harlingen, Brownsville and South Padre Island. Security Land Title Co. operates two full service branches in McAllen and Mission. Edwards Abstract and Title Co. operates four full service branch offices in Edinburg, Weslaco, McAllen and Mission.   

The strategic leadership of the company will remain with Lewis as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. The Hidalgo County Division will be headed by N. Michael Overly who has been named President and the Cameron County Division will be led by Guy Huddleston, III who will serve as President of that region.  

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has taken great strides to be recognized as a leader in the title insurance industry. The company was the first in Hidalgo County to offer the convenience of multiple branch offices; the first company to offer customers a transaction management system with the ability to view the status of orders online 24/7 and the first to implement E-Recording in cooperation with the Hidalgo County Clerks Office.  

“I am very proud of the personnel that we have in place at all of the branch offices.  The strength and experience of the three teams are a perfect fit for continued success,” said Lewis.  

The primary goal of the three company merger is to provide title insurance services in two counties; to unite the resources and personnel under the umbrella of one company, and to preserve the long tradition of service for many decades to come. 

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. was established in 1880 by Judge J.H. Edwards.  The Edwards family operated the company until 1984 when it was sold to Jesse Hedrick.  Current President Byron Jay Lewis purchased the company in 2001 and continues to operate it as an independently owned title insurance provider.   

For more information, log on to the website at: 

http://www.edwards-title.com

•••••• 

Johnny García of Edinburg honored as Funeral Director of the Year by South Texas colleagues

By KAREN GRICE 

Johnny García, managing partner of Ceballos-Díaz Funeral Home in Edinburg, was recently named Funeral Director of the Year by the South Texas Regional Funeral Directors Association, an 80-member professional organization of funeral directors from across the South Texas region.  

The honor was presented to García during the South Texas Funeral Directors Association annual spring meeting on South Padre Island. Jack Sawyer, owner of Sawyer-George Funeral Home in Corpus Christi and president of STFDA, presented the coveted award on Thursday, March 11.  

“This award, the only award which funeral directors are judged by their peers, has been one of my goals since I became a funeral director 12 years ago,” García said. “When other funeral directors believe you are one of the best in their profession, this is truly one of the highest honors.”  

García, 35, who graduated from Edinburg High School in 1993, said his first experience with the funeral profession came 20 years ago when the funeral home handling his grandmother’s funeral needed someone to drive a hearse to the cemetery and García volunteered for the job.  

He was hired by the Gonzáles Funeral Home shortly thereafter and was employed there for seven years before making the decision to go to mortuary school at Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service in Houston, where he served his apprenticeship at Forest Park-Lawndale Funeral Home.  

“My grandparents, who were ministers in the Apostolic Assembly of God Church, raised us and because of their sincere caring for people, I always had the desire to help others and to give back to my community,” García said. “As a funeral director, I have the opportunity to help my neighbors during one of life’s most challenging times…and it is my privilege to provide each family I serve with the last memory of their loved one.”  

García said in the early years of his career, friends would ask why he wanted to spend time with the dead.  

"But, as a funeral service professional, my primary focus is with the living – family and friends who will have to go on with their lives after the loss of a loved one,” he explained.  

Ceballos-Díaz Funeral Home continues this focus on surviving family members and friends long after the service concludes.   

“We always send families a one-year anniversary letter, letting them know they remain in our prayers,” García continued, “Also, we usually host a memorial service during the Christmas holidays to honor the families we’ve served during the year.”  

“Johnny García is highly deserving of the honor as our 2010 Funeral Director of the Year, a tribute which takes into account the director’s professional ethics and service, his work in the community and the quality of person he is," said Sawyer. "Along with his professional and civic contributions, Johnny García has been an active member of South Texas Funeral Directors Association and has given unselfishly of himself as a member and an officer,” the Corpus Christi director added. 

“I am so humbled by this honor,” García said, “But above all, I think I have been blessed with a gift from God. Nothing can prepare you for this profession. So over the years, I know I have been blessed to be able to do this work and to make a difference in the lives of many families in this community.”   

He has been a member of Texas Funeral Directors Association since 1997, has held every elected office and board position for the South Texas Funeral Directors Association, is the association’s past-president, currently serves as a member of the STFDA board and has served in two capacities on TFDA’s board of directors.  

He also served as president of Edinburg Crime Stoppers, Inc., and has been a member of the Edinburg Chambers of Commerce board and is presently a member of the board of the National Recreation and Parks Association.  

García has been a coach and sponsor in the Edinburg Pony Girls Softball program since 2002 and a coach and sponsor of the Edinburg Parks & Recreation basketball program from 2002 to the present.  

The funeral director is also a volunteer with Valley School Career Day, a volunteer for Health Awareness Fairs with the Edinburg Housing Authority and a member of the RGV Law Dogs Motorcycle Club since 2002.  

García and his wife Zulema Olivia Hinojosa are the parents of Abraham, 15, and Lyssa Marie, 13.   

The family attends the Apostolic Assembly of God in Elsa.     

•••••• 

Lawmakers Lucios named dual Legislator of the Year by Texas Public Health Association

By RUBÉN O’BELL 

In recognition of his consistent work and support of public health issues, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, has been named Legislator of the Year for legislative excellence by the Texas Public Health Association — an honor he proudly shares with his father, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, who was also selected by the association’s executive board and governing council.  

The THPA presented the dual Legislator of the Year awards to the father-and-son honorees at a ceremony held Thursday, April 22, at the Sheraton on South Padre Island.  

The Texas Public Health Association (TPHA) is a non-profit, statewide association of public health professionals in Texas. TPHA was organized in 1923 and is an affiliate of the American Public Health Association. TPHA represents a broad array of health professionals and others who care about the health of their communities and works to improve the health and safety of Texas through leadership, education, training, collaboration, mentoring and advocacy. 

“The issues that are recognized and championed by the Texas Public Health Association are among the most urgent in our state, for our families and our businesses. Health and safety issues affect every aspect of our communities, from our dinner tables to our board room tables, and the responsibility to ensure that proper attention is paid rests upon every level of our government,” said  Rep. Lucio. 

His father heaped deserved praise on his son. 

"It humbles me to be honored in conjunction with my son and colleague, Rep. Eddie Lucio III. I admire him more than I can express," Sen. Lucio said. "I cannot thank you enough for this award. I have fought hard for health care, and this award only makes me want to work harder. I promise you I will strive to live up to its meaning." 

Rep. Lucio, who will begin his third two-year term in January 2011 as the House District 38 legislator, helped push through significant legislation in 2009 that will advance health and safety issues and education for Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.  

“A great deal of effort to improve health and safety conditions for our district and our state was made during the past legislative session, with successes that I am pleased to have helped deliver," he said. "A great deal more work remains ahead. With the support and recognition of the TPHA and my fellow honoree, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., I feel that the considerable load is shared with capable hands.”  

Nominees for the Legislator of the Year award must have demonstrated an interest in public health issues, shown a concern for the recruitment and retention of high quality health care workers, supported legislation which emphasized prevention and health promotion, and facilitated legislation supporting preventive health care, health care professionals, and options of health care. 

During the 81st legislative session in 2000, the Lucios were part of a team of lawmakers that authored a bill to establish a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.  

Senate Bill 98 (accompanying House Bill 65) was signed into law, allowing The University of Texas System Board of Regents to establish the University of Texas Health Science Center–South Texas. The health science center would consist of a medical school and provide other health-related degree programs throughout South Texas. The law lays the groundwork for addressing future academic and medical needs for the fast-growing South Texas border region.  

The two also collaborated to create a Medicaid Buy-In law (SB 187, HB 67) that creates a program making children with certain developmental disabilities that belong to families with income up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level eligible to participate in Medicaid services.  

They shepherded SB 395 (HB 4629), which creates the Early Childhood Health and Nutrition Interagency Council to address child health through a coordinated plan that improves early childhood nutrition and activity to combat childhood obesity. Senator and Representative Lucio were also appointed to serve on the Interagency Task Force for Children with Special Needs, a group created by Senate Bill 1824, authored by Sen. Lucio. The law increases government accountability and efficiency and improves the quality of services provided to children and young people with special needs.  

"Health care takes center stage every session," said Sen. Lucio. "There isn’t a single person who has not been touched by illness, and it is my goal to ensure that the people of Texas get quality care." 

Their body of work, combined with the Lucios’ demonstrated passion for advancing health care issues, helped secure their nomination, said TPHA First Vice President Bobby Schmidt. “Rep. Lucio speaks passionately of his interest in working to address childhood obesity and improve the quality of care in the Valley and Texas,” Schmidt said. “He and the senator have worked throughout the session, and their legislative careers, to be supportive of health care and quality issues and to improve health care in the Valley as in Texas.”  

The Lucios’ role in securing legislation to transition the Regional Academic Health Center to a medical school shows their commitment to sustained improvement, Schmidt said.  

"Because they have the same interests, they share this passion," Schmidt said. "They are from the same family and serve the same district, the board agreed with my nomination.” 

Doris Sánchez contributed to this article. 

•••••• 

Rogelio Ibañez of Mission, with ties to Edinburg title company, indicted for fraud and theft of employer benefit plan

By ANGELA DODGE 

A Mission attorney and former bank chairman has been indicted for allegedly defrauding clients of his law firm as well as customers and employees of a title company he owned, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Friday, April 16. 

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. 

A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. 

Rogelio “Roy”  Ibañez Jr., 44, was charged on Friday, April 16, with wire fraud and theft from an employee benefit plan in an 11-count indictment returned by a Houston grand jury on Wednesday, March 14, 2010. Ibañez surrendered himself to federal authorities in McAllen on April 16 and made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby in McAllen. 

The FBI’s two-year investigative effort was assisted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of Inspector General, the Texas Department of Insurance and the U.S. Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration. 

According to the indictment, Ibañez was a major owner of Bank of South Texas in McAllen as well as Southern Star Title Company L.L.C., in Edinburg. Ibañez also ran a law practice in McAllen where real estate closings took place.  

The indictment alleges Ibañez directed employees of his law firm to transfer approximately $550,000 out of Southern Star Title’s escrow accounts in 2008 without the knowledge or approval of title company employees and that Ibanez stole smaller sums of money from the title company’s 401(k) plan. The indictment also alleges that between 2001 and 2009, Ibañez took money from his own law firm’s bank accounts without informing the persons to whom the money belonged and used it for purposes other than for what the money was intended, including to benefit his own personal business interests. The indictment alleges that two such withdrawals occurred in 2009. 

The six counts of wire fraud each carry a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years and a fine of not more than $250,000. The five theft counts each carry a maximum statutory penalty of five years and a fine of not more than $250,000. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney John R. Lewis will be prosecuting the case. 

This law enforcement action is part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.  

The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. 

•••••• 

Albert “Andy” Anzaldúa of McAllen, president of InterContinental Commerce, Inc. indicted for securities fraud

By ANGELA DODGE 

A 14-count indictment charging Albert “Andy” Anzaldúa of McAllen with securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud for operating an allegedly fraudulent high-yield investment program was unsealed on Monday, April 19, following Anzaldúa’s arrest, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced, along with United States Secret Service (USSS) Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Pain and Texas State Securities Board (TSSB) Commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford.  

The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury on Sunday, April 7,.   

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. 

A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. 

Anzaldúa was arrested at his residence during the morning of April 19 by USSS special agents and made his initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos, at which time Anzaldú was granted bond on the condition that he not engage in any securities or investment activities or sell certain financial assets in his control.  

Anzaldúa appeared again in federal court on Thursday, April 22, at 11 a.m. for his arraignment. 

According to the indictment, Anzaldúa is the President of InterContinental Commerce Inc. (ICC), a purported investment firm with offices in McAllen and New York City. Beginning in May 2003, Anzaldúa solicited and induced a number of individuals to invest in the European Asset Management Program (EAMP), a purported high-yield investment program which he operated through ICC. In doing so, Anzaldua allegedly made numerous false representations and omitted material facts concerning the EAMP and ICC.  

Among other allegedly false representations, Anzaldúa is accused of telling prospective investors that the EAMP consisted of foreign currency trading, project development, money management and other investment activities involving international investment banks including Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Société Générale.  

The indictment further alleges that Anzaldúa represented to prospective investors that the EAMP would result in returns of between two and three U.S. dollars for every dollar invested over a 40-week period. In addition, Anzaldúa allegedly falsely represented that several well-known people were associated with the investment including a national political figure and a retired judge who, according to Anzaldúa was serving as a trustee for the investment.  

The indictment also alleges that Anzaldúa purposefully omitted a host of material facts in his dealings with the prospective investors including that both Anzaldúa and ICC were not registered with the TSSB to sell or provide advice regarding securities in violation of the Texas Securities Act. Similarly, Anzaldua is alleged to have omitted the fact that ICC had not been incorporated in any state for more than a decade or registered to transact business in the State of Texas. 

According to the indictment, as a result of Anzaldua’s allegedly false representations and material omissions, a number of investors entered into limited partnership agreements with Anzaldua and ICC memorializing their participation in the EAMP. Over time, in accordance with the agreements, Anzaldúa solicited and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars from these investors to be invested in the EAMP. Unbeknownst to the investors, however, the indictment alleges that the EAMP did not exist and Anzaldúa spent the vast majority of their money on personal expenses, benefitting both himself and his family, that did not have any relationship to the investment. 

As years passed, Anzaldúa is alleged to have calmed the investors’ concerns over not receiving investment returns by forwarding letters and e-mails that were written by an alleged Anzaldúa  associate in London, United Kingdom, who was purportedly assisting Anzaldúa with EAMP matters in Europe. The “UK Associate,” as this person is referred to in the indictment, allegedly promised investors that investment returns were forthcoming and that the delays stemmed from a variety of issues including restrictions under the U.S. Patriot Act.  

Anzaldúa also organized conference calls during which he and his UK Associate allegedly falsely reassured investors and offered excuses for the delays Anzaldúa and his UK Associate routinely provided these allegedly false assurances and representations, among others, to investors from 2005 through late 2009. 

Conspiracy to commit securities fraud carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Each of the 10 counts of alleged securities fraud carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, while each of the three counts of wire fraud carries maximum penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. There is no parole in the federal system. 

The ongoing investigation leading to the charges against Anzaldúa is being conducted by the United States Secret Service and Texas State Securities Board. Anyone having information about  the European Asset Management Program operated through ICC is encouraged to contact the United States Secret Service at (956) 994-0151. 

Assistant United States Attorney Gregory S. Saikin is prosecuting the case for the government. 

••••••

U.S. House approves bill to help caregivers of veterans, adds more benefits for women troops

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, April 21, helped pass a landmark bill to help millions of veterans and their caregivers. The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act enhances female veterans’ benefits, improves military mental health services and provides unprecedented new benefits to veteran caregivers including training, counseling, health care and financial assistance. 

“This landmark legislation stands by our troops and supports those caregivers who continue to stand with them,” said Cuellar. “Every day, millions of military families support men and women in uniform, making sacrifices for the sake of our country. These caregiver benefits are vitally needed and well-deserved.” 

On April 21, the House passed legislation that will provide support services to family and other caregivers of all veterans, including stipends for caregivers living with severely wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. If signed into law by the President, this legislation would be a landmark investment in veteran caregiver assistance and support. 

The measure creates two distinct caregiver programs within the Department of Veteran Affairs, one for all caregivers and one specifically designed for those supporting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Caregivers are defined as family members of veterans or non-family members who live with a veteran. Training, education, counseling, mental health services, lodging, financial assistance and subsistence payments for accompanying veterans on medical care visits will be provided to qualifying caregivers under this bill.  

In addition, caregivers would be provided health care services through the Civilian Health and

Medical Program (CHAMPVA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“We in Congress must always do what is right when it comes to our veterans and their families”, said Hinojosa. “The sacrifices our men and women in uniform make while defending our country should never be taken for granted. The sacrifices their families make, to support their loved ones while they perform their duties, is both humbling and admirable”. 

To address the unique needs of the growing number of returning women soldiers, the bill will improve health care services for the nation’s 1.8 million female veterans and for the first time provide up to seven days of post-delivery health care to a newborn of a female veteran. 

This legislation will also improve access to care for veterans in rural areas by improving VA transportation services to veterans living in remote regions. Servicemen and women will also have access to counseling and other mental health centers, including members of the National Guard and Reserves who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, but are no longer on active duty. 

The bill also supports the nation’s veterans by prohibiting the VA from collecting co-payments from veterans who are catastrophically disabled. A broad coalition of veterans groups including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Wounded Warriors Project and the National Military Family Association support the bill’s passage. 

Patricia Guillermo contributed to this article. 

••••••  

April serves as reminder of importance of giving gift of life through organ transplants 

By SEN. JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, PH.D. 

In 13 minutes another name will be added to the national waiting list for an organ or tissue transplant. Within the next 24 hours 77 persons in our country will receive a potentially life-saving transplant, but at least 17 others will die because they did not receive one. Sixty seconds, however, is all it takes to register as an organ, tissue, stem cell or blood donor via the Glenda Dawson Donate Life-Texas Registry web site.  

April is Donate Life Month, the perfect time and reason to renew our commitment to saving lives via organ and tissue donation. More than 690,000 Texans (myself included!) have added their names to the Texas registry, named after the late Rep. Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland.  

Rep. Dawson was a passionate advocate for organ donation because she had first-hand knowledge of its life-saving power. In 1987 a transplanted kidney lovingly given to her by her younger sister extended her life. Fifteen years later (2005) we collaborated to author and pass House Bill (HB) 120, establishing the official Texas organ and tissue donor registry, so that more Texans could donate life and more recipients could benefit from their generosity.   

As a result of our legislation, it takes only 60 seconds to enroll via: 

http://www.DonateLifeTexas.org.  

Sadly, Rep. Dawson died 12 days after the official launch of our registry in 2006. In 2007 it was my honor to author and pass Senate Bill (SB) 1500, renaming the registry in her memory.  

The need for donors is urgent and growing: The national waiting list for transplants includes more than 100,000 persons, more than half of whom are racial or ethnic minorities. Because successful transplants are enhanced if the donor and the recipient share a racial or ethnic background, having a diverse pool of donors is critical. Extensive and very interesting information is available via http://www.organdonor.gov.  

Awareness is crucial. In 2009 I authored and passed SB 1803 to increase donor registrations by Texans and hope for potential recipients. My bill requires Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) employees to ask customers one question: "Would you like to register as an organ donor?" This is amazingly simple, but it works — and saves lives. Since January, when DPS began asking every customer the question, registrations at DPS offices increased from 32,929 last December to 62,317 last March — nearly double! What a difference one question makes!  

My SB 1803 also requires the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to include information about organ and tissue donation with auto registration renewal mailings. What’s more, it eliminates the unwieldy two-signature requirement for persons who register via the department’s website, As a result, the number of online registrants increased substantially.  

Unfortunately, interest in donating life typically is limited to those who need or needed a transplant for themselves, family members or others; to living donors and loved ones of deceased donors who generously and courageously made donations possible; and to health care professionals, law enforcement personnel and advocates who understand the importance of its power and potential.  

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The greatest gift is a portion of thyself,” he could not have imagined how his words would apply so perfectly and profoundly to organ and tissue donors, whether living or deceased. My hope and prayer is that hundreds of Texans will celebrate April as Donate Life Month by registering as organ and tissue donors via http://www.DonateLifeTexas.org.  

No gift has a greater likelihood of turning someone’s generosity or tragedy into someone else’s joy.  

No gift is greater than the gift of life.  

Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and a member of the Finance and Health and Human Services Committees. She is a registered organ donor.  

•••••• 

South Texans urged by Sen. Lucio to help protect children from abuse, family violence

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ 

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Friday, April 16, was joined at his Brownsville district office by members of local advocacy groups to raise awareness of how to spot child abuse and how to report it local authorities. 

"The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter," said Lucio, who coordinated the event as part of his effort to publicize April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.  

Last year, 280 Texas children died because of abuse or neglect by their parents or guardians, and 68,326 children were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect. From 2000 to 2009, the Texas child population increased by 15 percent but confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect increased by 46 percent.  

In Cameron County for the same period, the child population increased by 18 percent and confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect rose by 51 percent.  

Lucio also reported that according to the Department of Justice, one in every three girls and one in every six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, and on any given day, there were more than 17,000 Texas children and teenagers in foster care.  

"The information is shocking. These are not just numbers, but reflect real children, real lives and something must be done," Lucio noted. "I stand here before you today to let you know that I will be working alongside the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), local governments and community groups across Texas in a call to action against child abuse."  

The senator then read from President Obama’s proclamation stating that Child Abuse Prevention Month is a time, "we renew our unwavering commitment to protecting children and responding to child abuse, promoting healthy families, and building a brighter future for all Americans." 

Other statistics offered by Lucio indicated that more than 3.3 million American children witness physical and verbal domestic abuse each year, and they are 15 times more likely to be maltreated than in homes without domestic violence. In 60 to 75 percent of the families in which a woman is battered or abused, children are also battered or abused. Domestic violence is the major precursor to children dying from abuse and neglect. 

During the 81st legislative session in 2009, Lucio worked with his Senate colleagues to support passage of Senate Bill 2080, authored by Sen. Carlos I. Uresti, D-San Antonio, which established a task force specifically geared toward the reduction of child abuse, neglect and improving child welfare in this great state.  

In 2005, Lucio authored and passed SB 316 to help prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome cases by educating parents and raising awareness about effects that SBS can have on children. 

"Child abuse is not an isolated problem. It affects everyone, and it is only through each of us that child abuse can be prevented," Lucio said. "Get involved and remember – the more you help, the less a child hurts." 

To report suspected child abuse, a person may call the Abuse Hotline toll-free, 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week at 1/800-252-5400. 

•••••• 

Rep. Gonzáles appointed to legislators’ task force on Homeland Security by Speaker Straus

By RICARDO LÓPEZ -GUERRA 

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Monday, April 19, was appointed by House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to the National Conference of State Legislators’ Task Force on Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. This leadership position will provide Gonzáles with valuable insight into the security and preparedness practices used around the country to implement the best ideas in Texas.  

"Living along the border has its own unique challenges," said Gonzáles, Chair of the House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs. "I am honored to serve on this task force as it has a direct correlation with the committee I chair and the interim charge from Speaker Joe Straus to determine the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug related crime and other violence along the Texas-Mexico border."   

The Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee oversees the state’s relations with Mexico and state and federal agencies.  

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is a bipartisan organization that provides research, assistance and policy exchanging opportunities for legislators in all 50 states. NCSL also advocates for the interests of state governments before Congress and federal agencies.  The task force is the center of NCSL’s activities on homeland security and emergency preparedness and is used to assist 12-standing committees in developing positions on highly complex and controversial issues such as immigration, education and welfare reform.  

In June, the task force will meet in Michigan to examine northern border security efforts with Canada.   

"I am pleased to appoint Rep. Verónica Gonzáles to the NCSL Task Force on Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness," Straus said. "As Chairwoman of the House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs, she will provide a valued Texas perspective." 

•••••• 

Martín Martínez, Edinburg student, receives $20,000 scholarship from Dell Foundation

By SANDRA QUINTANILLA 

Martín Martínez, a member of The University of Texas-Pan American’s Upward Bound program and a student at J. Economedes High School in Edinburg, has received a $20,000 scholarship from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. 

Martínez is one of 300 students in the country to receive the money through the foundation’s Dell Scholars program to help them continue their education for the next six years. The program also provides students with technology, resources and mentoring to ensure they have the support they need to obtain a college degree. 

“We are so proud of Martín for this exciting recognition from a national scholarship program designed for a special kind of student,” said Manuel Ochoa, UTPA Upward Bound director. “Martín is remarkable in his determination to succeed, complete a college readiness program, and pursue a college degree to realize his goals.” 

Upward Bound is a federally funded academic enhancement program designed to assist first-generation or low-income high school students in developing their potential for success in a post-secondary institution. The program includes classroom instruction throughout the school year and a six-week summer session on the UTPA campus. 

Dell Scholars – most of whom are the first in their families to go to college – participated in college readiness programs and maintain at least a 2.4 grade point average on a 4.0 scale while handling responsibilities at home or in their communities. 

Other requirements include graduating from an accredited high school, showing financial need and intending to enter a bachelor’s degree program at an accredited institution of higher learning in the fall. 

“We award low-income or financially underserved students who perform better than their GPAs or test scores may indicate, and who have overcome some significant obstacles to pursue their education,” said Óscar Sweeten-López, of the Dell Scholars Program at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “Our program and support constantly evolve based on our experiences with students and schools, but we continue to provide these students with unprecedented support for everything they need to obtain a college degree and graduate with far less debt than the average college student.” 

•••••• 

Edinburg leaders promote Valle Verde Landscape project to protect local environment 

By EVANA VLECK 

The Valle Verde Landscape of the Month Project is a joint effort between the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board (EEAB), the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Edinburg’s Planning and Zoning Dept. and Urban Forestry Program.   

The Edinburg Valle Verde Program was originally launched by the City of Edinburg in the fall of 2006 to encourage both home and business owners to use native trees, shrubs and plants in the landscape and also promote the use of mulch, compost, drip-irrigation, rain-water harvesting and other landscape conservation measures which conserve water and save money.  

A native landscape is sustainable and offers both economic and aesthetic benefits such as lower initial installation costs, more rapid plant maturity, lover watering and maintenance costs, more flowering plants and color foliage, and provides habitat for birds and butterflies.  

Partnering with the Chamber of Commerce, the EEAB hopes to encourage more businesses and home owners to participate in the program. 

The Valle Verde Landscape of the Month Project is a wonderful way to recognize those business and home owners in the city who have made a special effort to beatify their commercial or residential landscape in way that is environmentally sensitive and sustainable. Once certified, a Valle Verde Landscape of the Month sign will temporarily be placed on the landscape to publicly celebrate its certification.  

“I feel that this project is a huge step forward in promoting Edinburg’s flora and fauna, year round; it will give businesses and homes a nice incentive to nurture our native plants," said Letty Gonzalez, president of the local chamber. "Our landscaping at the Depot is filled with native plants, we invite anyone to come out and visit us.”   

Ed Kuprel, City of Edinburg Forester, inspects all of the new and newly remodeled commercial construction projects for their compliance with the landscape aspects of the City’s Unified Development Code.   

“The Valle Verde landscape of the Month Award will be a good reward for those businesses that go the extra mile to provide exemplary landscaping to our city," he explained. "I am looking forward to working with these businesses and even supplementing their plantings with my own home grown native plants." 

The trees and shrubs planted in well-planned out areas of businesses provide numerous benefits, including: 

• They add to the beauty of the city;

• They help protect against the effects of flooding rains by storing the rainwater through their leaves and roots;

• They filter out carbon dioxide and particulates while releasing oxygen making it easier and healthier to breathe;

• They reduce the costs of air conditioning and heating by as much as 25 percent; and

• They increase real estate values by up to 25 percent.

or more, increasing real estate values by that much and much more….  I am looking forward to working with these businesses and even supplementing their plantings with my own home grown native plants” noted Kuprel in a recent interview with Evana Vleck.  

Anyone interested in obtaining more information about the Valle Verde Landscape of the Month Project and having their home or business landscape recognized should contact Kuprel at 388-8202 or email at ekuprel@ci.edinburg.tx.us.   

The program is free, and all Edinburg business and home owners are encouraged to apply.  

••••••  

Texas small businesses can begin taking tax cuts for providing employee health insurance

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, says Texas small businesses will be getting a little bit of good news in their mailboxes.  Companies eligible for new Health Reform tax credits will be getting a postcard explaining the credits and encouraging them to take advantage of the tax cut.

“This is the biggest health care tax cut in history,” said Hinojosa. "Our economy will directly benefit from small businesses helping out their employees. It’s important for small business owners in my district to know help is out there so they can start taking advantage of it immediately.”

The tax credit is available to small businesses with 25 or fewer employees and an average wage of $50,000 or less that provide health insurance for their employees. Companies with 10 or fewer employees and an average wage of $25,000 or less get the maximum credit—35 percent of what the employer is paying for employee insurance coverage.  The maximum credit rises to 50 percent in 2014.  

The tax credit is also available to small non-profits. For non-profits, the tax credit is worth up to 25 percent of what the employer is paying for employee insurance coverage. The maximum credit for non-profits rises to 35 percent in 2014.

“There are 292,593 companies in Texas that meet the criteria for the tax credit,” said Hinojosa. "This is going to make it a little easier for companies already offering insurance to afford it and will allow more small businesses to start providing health care coverage for their workers.”

The tax credits are available now, beginning with this tax year.

Currently, the IRS is mailing more than four million postcards to small businesses around the country to help ensure that they realize they may qualify for the credit now. 

••••••  

Judiciary Committee approves legislation by Sen. Cornyn, Sen. Leahy to improve Freedom of Information Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, April 15, voted to advance bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, to make further improvements to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation’s premier open government law.   

Leahy and Cornyn introduced the legislation in March, during the sixth annual Sunshine Week, a national observance of the importance of an open and transparent government.   

Leahy chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Cornyn is a member of the panel. 

Leahy and Cornyn are longtime leaders on FOIA issues, and have authored legislation to make the federal government more open and transparent to the people it represents.  The Faster FOIA Act will establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests. 

“The commission created by the Faster FOIA Act will make key recommendations to Congress and the President for reducing impediments to the efficient processing of FOIA requests,” said Leahy.  “Senator Cornyn and I first introduced this bill in 2005, because of the growing problem of excessive FOIA delays within our federal agencies. During the five years since then, we have successfully worked together to reinvigorate FOIA through several legislative initiatives. I urge all senators to support these constructive improvements in our nation’s fundamental right-to-know law."  

“Today we are one step closer to making our government more transparent,” Cornyn said. “This commission will identify methods to reduce delays in the processing of FOIA requests and ensure the efficient and equitable administration of FOIA throughout the federal government. It would be a great benefit to the American people, who deserve to be treated as valued customers when they seek answers from their government. I hope that all of my colleagues in the Senate will support this bill when it comes to the floor.” 

Under the legislation, the panel, named the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays, will be required to provide to Congress recommendations for legislative and administrative action to enhance agency responses to FOIA requests.   

The panel will be required to identify methods to reduce delays in the processing of FOIA requests, and will be charged with examining whether the system for charging fees and granting fee waivers under FOIA should be reformed in order to reduce delays in processing fee requests.   

An amendment adopted Thursday, April 15, requires that the appointments to the commission be made expeditiously, and also requires a study of the reasons for the government’s increased use of FOIA exemptions.  

Leahy and Cornyn first introduced the Faster FOIA Act in 2005. In past years, they have authored successful legislation to make important reforms to FOIA, including the OPEN Government Act, which made the first major reforms to FOIA in more than a decade. The OPEN Government Act was signed into law in 2007.   

In 2009, Leahy and Cornyn authored the OPEN FOIA Act, which mandated greater transparency for legislative exemptions to FOIA. The legislation was signed into law in October. 

Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Agriculture and Budget Committees.  He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge. 

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