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The Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday, May 2, confirmed that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, featured center in McAllen on Monday, February 1, along with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured right, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, featured left, have invited U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki to come to South Texas and see for himself the need for a Veterans Affairs Hospital for the four-county region. In the correspondence dated April 21 and addressed to Shinseki on Dewhurst’s letterhead – and signed by Dewhurst, Hinojosa, and Lucio – the three state leaders requested a meeting, either in the Valley, at the Texas Capitol, or in Washington, D.C., to help persuade Shinseki to authorize the construction of a full-fledged VA Hospital in the Valley. "We are writing today to fulfill a promise to the veterans of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and also to follow up on recent efforts by Members of the Texas Delegation to secure Department of Veterans Affairs support for expanded health services in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. We must continue to improve access to health care to our veterans who served our country in defense of freedom and our way of life," the letter stated. Area veterans have been asking the Department of Veterans Affairs for a hospital for the last three decades. See story later in this posting. 

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The Rio Grande Valley is one of two areas of Texas with the lowest number of licensed pharmacists per 100,000 people. Alarming? Many South Texas leaders think so and that is why South Texas College and the Texas A&M University Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy are teaming up to prepare more pharmacists to meet a growing demand. The two institutions recently signed an agreement which would ensure that any South Texas College student who earns the college’s Associate of Science, Field of Study Pre-Pharmacy degree, will be guaranteed that all of their courses will transfer to the Rangel College following admission. On Friday, April 30, representatives from the two institutions of higher education celebrated the partnership in McAllen, including, seated, from left: Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College; Dr. Indra K. Reddy, dean of the Irma Rangel College of Pharmacy; and Dr. Charles Robertson, associate dean of student affairs for the Irma Rangel College of Pharmacy. Standing, from left: Dr. Max Abbassi, chair of STC’s Pre-Pharmacy Program; Dr. Theresa Garza, chair of STC’s Pharmacy Technician Program; Juan Mejia, STC vice president of academic affairs; and STC Pre-Pharmacy Program students Nelissa García and Yvette Cantú. See story later in this posting.  

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State and local leaders in Pharr on Friday, April 14, broke ground on a $4 million expansion of Sugar Road, which will help improve traffic flow between that city and Edinburg from Sioux Road to Owassa Road. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-June and last through the end of 2011. State funds will pay for 95 percent of the project, said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who helped secure that funding. Edinburg is currently working on its own expansion of Sugar Road, which will help improve traffic from Pharr to Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital. Some of the more than one dozen area officials featured for the groundbreaking ceremony included, from left: Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Héctor "Tito" Palacios; Pharr Mayor Leo "Polo" Palacios, Jr.; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Roy Martínez; Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez; Andrew Canon, executive director, Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization; and Eddie Sáenz, Pharr City Engineer. 

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More than 60 men, including officials with the FBI, area police departments, South Texas College, and political leaders, on Thursday, April 29, participated in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, an event hosted by STC to draw attention to ending violence against women. Participating men strapped on high heels or decorated sandals and pink shirts during the one-mile march as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is recognized nationally during April. More information on this movement is available at http://www.walkamileinhershoes.org or by contacting Priscilla Flores with Mujeres Unidas/Women Together at 956/630-4878 or by e-mail at pyflores@aol.com 

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After welcoming state lawmakers participating in a rare dual-legislative committee hearing in Hidalgo County on Thursday, April 29, McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz had choice words on how a growing number of the press – when reporting on Mexican military battles with criminal drug cartels in that country – are distorting what is really happening on the Texas side of the border. "We want the truth, and the truth is we have concerns about the violence in Mexico," Cortéz said, but cautioned, "There has to be a profit in sensationalizing information because everyone seems to pick that approach to disseminate information." Cortéz was addressing a packed house in one of the conference rooms at the McAllen Convention Center, which hosted the joint legislative hearing – led by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – to evaluate the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and other violence along the Texas Mexico border. See lead story in this posting.

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McAllen battles unfair images of Texas border promoted by media coverage of drug cartels

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

The Texas border region is not becoming a combat zone nor is it an overwhelmed haven for refugees fleeing well-publicized violent clashes in Mexico, where that nation’s military is fighting to destroy powerful and illegal drug cartels throughout their country, not just in northern Mexican border cities.

But those are some of the unfair images that are being sent to the rest of the state and nation, area officials testified in McAllen on Thursday, April 29, before a joint state legislative panel hearing – led by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – to evaluate the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and other violence along the Texas Mexico border. 

"We should stop the hysteria. The sky is not falling. We are not being overrun at the border," McAllen Police Chief Víctor Rodríguez told a full-house in one of the major conference rooms at the McAllen Convention Center. "The realities are that the border communities are safer than Texas’ inner-most and largest communities. We are not a lawless frontier." 

His comments were shared with state legislators, an even larger number of news media outlets, numerous area political and economic development leaders, and a cross-section of law enforcement professionals who participated in the day-long event before Gonzáles’ House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs and Merritt’s House Committee on Public Safety. 

Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, also participated with fellow state lawmakers during the legislative hearing. 

After welcoming lawmakers participating in the rare dual-legislative committee hearing in South Texas, McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz lamented how a growing number of the press – when reporting on Mexican military battles with criminal drug cartels in that country – are distorting what is really happening on the Texas side of the border. 

"We want the truth, and the truth is we have concerns about the violence in Mexico," Cortéz said, but cautioned, "There has to be a profit in sensationalizing information because everyone seems to pick that approach to disseminate information." 

Lucy Canales, a successful area attorney and partner with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP – a national law firm based in Austin which has offices in Edinburg and Brownsville – was part of the large audience that attended the public hearing. 

"The impression you get through the media is not actually what I saw today," she observed.

She noted the results of a recent survey of Mexican nationals, conducted by local officials, which

demonstrates that deep South Texas is viewed favorably by those foreign tourists. 

"When they come to McAllen, they are able to enjoy the American infrastructure, the American culture, the American food, and the American experience," Canales said. 

In addition, she pointed out, local residents give high-marks to the state of the city. 

"We are also seeing a migration of young, talented people who before were leaving this area looking for opportunity elsewhere, some of them are now staying –  and some of the ones we lost in the past are coming back," Canales said. "That tells me that the quality of life that is found in McAllen is a desirable one." 

Lilia Ledesma, also a partner in the Edinburg branch of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP who attended the session, said conducting the open hearing in McAllen was a great public service. 

"I was very pleased to see that we have numerous clients here – local elected officials – to listen and participate," Ledesma said. "I really commend Rep. Gonzáles for doing everything possible to make sure this hearing was held here, not only so area residents would understand and become aware of all of the protocols and measures that are in place, but also for the business community to be aware of the plans that are in place." 

Rodríguez and Cortéz emphasized that Texas border cities are among the best places in which to live, raise a family, work and own a business. 

"We are one of the safest cities in the entire United States, if you agree with statistical information," Cortéz said after addressing the legislators. "Empirical data shows that some of the border cities, including El Paso and Laredo, are among the safest cities in the U.S." 

According to the McAllen police chief, who cited data from the 2008 Uniform Crime Reporting Information: 

  • The highest murder rate in Texas occurs in Dallas, at 13.3 homicides per 100,000 population;
  • Dallas’ rate is equal to approximately 200 percent greater than the highest murder rate in the most violent border city. Houston and San Antonio follow in that category;
  • The highest rate of rape in Texas occurs in Forth Worth;
  • The highest robbery rate in Texas occurs in Dallas;
  • The highest aggravated assault rate in Texas occurs in Houston; and
  • Based upon crimes of violence, Houston suffers the highest and most violent crime rates. When compared to McAllen, this is a crime rate that is 400 percent greater than McAllen’s.

"All of this is not to say that we do not need resources to assist our daily battle against crime," said Rodríguez. "However, what we ask for is action that is responsive to the realities of the situation. What we ask for is action without the rhetoric, and action without the sound bites." 

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VA Secretary Shinseki invited by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, Sen. Hinojosa and Sen. Lucio

to visit Valley and support VA Hospital effort 

By TRETO GARZA 

The Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday, May 2, confirmed that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, have invited U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki to come to South Texas and see for himself the need for a Veterans Affairs Hospital for the four-county region. 

Area veterans have been asking the Department of Veterans Affairs for a hospital for the last three decades. 

In correspondence, dated on April 21 and addressed to Shinseki on Dewhurst’s letterhead – and signed by Dewhurst, Hinojosa, and Lucio – the three state leaders requested a meeting, either in the Valley, at the Texas Capitol, or in Washington, D.C., to help persuade Shinseki to authorize the construction of a full-fledged VA Hospital in the Valley.  

"We appreciate recent studies and efforts to reduce the number of Valley veterans’ trips to the San Antonio area to receive critical health care services. Enhancements such as the Mobile Medical Unit, the Ambulatory Surgery and Specialty Outpatient Care Center, and expansion plans for existing outpatient clinics are certainly steps in the right direction," the letter stated. "We must continue to improve access to health care to our veterans who served our country in defense of freedom and our way of life." 

Copies of the letter were also sent to Texas two U.S. senators – Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. 

Earlier this year, Valley veterans had met with Dewhurst, Hinojosa, Lucio and Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez in Edinburg to review veterans health issues and to strategize on opportunities to improve health care for veterans and a VA hospital for deep South Texas. Now, local veterans are hoping for the next major step in their goal – a meeting Shinseki. 

The text of the letter follows:  

April 21, 2010 

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki

Secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20420 

Dear Secretary Shinseki, 

We recently met with local officials and veterans’ leaders in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. After a productive session, we agreed to request a meeting with you to discuss opportunities to improve health care access for our veterans. We are writing today to fulfill a promise to the veterans of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and also to follow up on recent efforts by Members of the Texas Delegation to secure Department of Veterans Affairs support for expanded health services in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. We are available at your convenience, and invite you to visit either our State Capitol in Austin, or the Rio Grande Valley, where you can hear directly from our veterans. If necessary, we are also willing to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with you. 

We appreciate recent studies and efforts to reduce the number of Valley veterans’ trips to the San Antonio area to receive critical health care services. Enhancements such as the Mobile Medical Unit, the Ambulatory Surgery and Specialty Outpatient Care Center, and expansion plans for existing outpatient clinics are certainly steps in the right direction. We must continue to improve

access to health care to our veterans who served our country in defense of freedom and our way of life. 

We know that you are aware that Texas is large, but to illustrate our point, a roundtrip drive from the Lower Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio requires approximately 10 hours. This distance, and the time commitment it represents, far exceed the VA’s access criteria. Texas, as home to Ft. Bliss, Ft. Hood, and many other military bases that are currently serving to train troops for imminent deployment, will continue to have a growing veteran population, and current demographic trends show that the Valley is among the fastest growing regions of our state. 

Finally, in 2009, the Texas Legislature passed legislation permitting the State of Texas to provide resources to assist our veterans in gaining greater access to health care, which was overwhelmingly ratified by Texas voters last November. We stand ready to support your efforts to assist Texas veterans. 

Thank you for your leadership on behalf of our great men and women in uniform, and we look forward to working with you to honor their service to Texas and our nation. 

Sincerely, 

David Dewhurst

Lieutenant Governor 

Eddie Lucio, Jr.

State Senator, District 27 

Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa

State Senator, District 20 

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Helping warriors through veterans’ courts

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR

Transition into civilian life for a veteran coming home from the battlefield can sometimes be problematic, especially for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

PTSD, as the disorder is called, can cause an otherwise law-abiding citizen to commit crime and be plunged into an unfamiliar legal system. 

One soldier returned in 2007 to Harris County after an Iraqi combat tour suffering from PTSD with no prior criminal record. He was apprehended for evading arrest after a small auto accident in which he panicked upon seeing the police lights. 

A report by the RAND Corporation estimates that 300,000 American soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq (nearly 20 percent of the troops deployed in those operations) now suffer from PTSD, major depression, or problems associated with traumatic brain injury. However, only 53 percent of those affected have sought treatment. 

Getting veterans to seek mental health care has been challenging, and programs to offer legal representation to them were almost non-existent until recently. 

Texas now has a fledgling program created from a bill I supported last session authorizing counties to establish veterans’ courts that can provide our warriors with combat-related mental illness an avenue to make retribution. 

Through this program, they can also receive the mental health services they need rather than just be cast into the criminal justice system. 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reports that more than 4,500, or six percent of people who entered a state correctional facility in 2008, claimed military service. 

There are approximately 1.7 million veterans in Texas. Service members of the U.S. Armed Forces returning from serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom will increase the number of our veterans. 

Illinois, Nevada and Texas are among the states that have recently enacted legislation authorizing the creation of veterans’ courts. Texas’ Senate Bill 1940 authored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (San Antonio) may be useful as a model for other states because it authorizes counties to create such courts, provides guidelines that are flexible enough to allow for local innovation and was passed without a fiscal note.  

Grants are available through the Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veterans’ Assistance that was created during the 80th Texas Legislature in 2007 to provide aid to veterans and their families in need. The fund is supported by donations from individuals and organization. 

To provide a secure revenue stream for the fund, the Texas Legislature also established a veterans’ lottery scratch-off game during the 81st Legislative Session.

The Office of the Governor, Criminal Justice Division, and the Texas Veterans Commission have partnered together to support the development of veterans’ courts.

Executive Director of the Texas Veterans Commission, Mr. Jim Nier, says that "TVC supports veterans’ courts and the agency is currently discussing procedures to assist in funding veterans’ courts with the Office of the Governor and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice." 

The next open solicitation for these programs will be early 2011. Information on funding opportunities can be found on the home page of the online e-grants system under Calendar by logging onto:

https://cjdonline.governor.state.tx.us/default.aspx,

by calling 512-463-6564 or by emailing: grants@tvc.state.tx.us

Since the legislation became effective September 1 of last year, Bexar, Dallas, Denton El Paso, Fannin, Harris, Hidalgo, Orange, Tarrant and Travis counties have responded, and some have taken steps to establish veterans’ courts. 

Typically, only misdemeanors and, in some cases, non-violent felonies can be tried and not all veterans are eligible. These courts don’t clear offenders of wrongdoing simply because they’re veterans. They are held accountable through a strict schedule of court appearances and treatment appointments. If necessary, a judge can impose sanctions that may include jail time, and some courts utilize probation officers to monitor an offender. 

Between now and next session in 2011, a legislative committee in the House and another in the Senate will be monitoring the implementation of the veterans’ court legislation. 

One critical component of this program is ensuring that every victim obtains justice in the process.

Many jurisdictions would probably like to implement the legislation, but additional funding is needed to provide treatment and rehabilitative services to our veterans. 

As one American grateful to these courageous men and women, I will work alongside my colleagues next session to ensure we do everything possible to advance veterans’ courts. 

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Sen. Hinojosa helps secure more than $30 million to provide wastewater services to western Hidalgo County communities

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS 

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved $30,395,000 in grants and loans to the Agua Special Utility District (SUD) for construction of first-time wastewater service. These awards are the latest in a series of efforts by the Agua SUD to improve infrastructure and service delivery.  

The funds come from the Economically Distressed Areas Program, known as EDAP, the Colonia Wastewater Treatment Assistance Program, and the Texas Water Development Fund, or D-Fund. 

The majority of the award comes in the form of a grant, while $1,990,000 is a loan.  

"These funds, particularly the grant monies, allow the Agua SUD to move forward with their wastewater service project," said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "I am pleased to see Agua SUD officials making use of state resources, submitting their applications, and being ready to deploy these funds." 

This new funding comes as early voting is underway for the May 8 general election for six of the seven board of directors who lead the Agua Special Utility District. The current board was appointed in 2008 when the receivership of the La Joya Water Supply Corporation ended, transferring all assets and liabilities to the Agua Special Utility District.

The new board will be  seated on June 1, 2010. 

The project consists of the  construction of a new wastewater collection system of approximately 183,000 linear feet and 1.4 million gallons per day (MGD) capacity wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).

The project will provide first time wastewater services to the City of Sullivan City and the  unincorporated communities of Cuevitas and Los Ebanos (commonly known as the Western Area).

The project, when completed, is expected to provide wastewater services to 1,824 existing water connections, of which 1,757 are EDAP eligible 

Construction is scheduled to begin in July, with completion expected to take about 18 months, finishing in December 2011. 

Also according to the project summary by the Texas Water Development Board: 

The Agua Special Utility District, formerly, La Joya Water Supply Corporation, had requested financial assistance from the Texas Water Development Board in the amount of $34,478,000.

However, the board could only commit to $28,405,000 from the Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) due to availability of  funds and authority.

The WWTP will utilize a sequential batch reactor (SBR) treatment process and have an outfall for effluent discharge to the Rio Grande River. The treatment plant is designed to serve the 20-year  projected population. WWTP will have the capacity to serve additional areas with 308  connections; however, the collection system for these areas will not be constructed until another  future phase of the project. 

The Agua Special Utility District, created in 2007 during the 80th regular session of the Texas Legislature, was formed to provide for the conversion of the La Joya Water Supply Corporation. 

The Agua Special Utility District’s primary mission is to provide water and sewer  services to customers in rural areas of Hidalgo County and a portion of Starr County. It is located in Hidalgo County, approximately 15 miles west of the City of McAllen.    

With an estimated population of 42,560, the Agua Special Utility District provides water to approximately 14,408  connections.   

This project represents the District’s ninth financial assistance request to the Texas Water Development Board.   

Prior to this latest financial boost, the TWDB had approved eight commitments totaling $29,300,608; of which $12,918,608 were grants and $16,382,000 were loans.   

The District has four loans outstanding with USDA-Rural  Development.  

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Congressman Cuellar meets Secretary Napolitano on border security concerns

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Wednesday, May 5, joined southern border lawmakers and top security officials from the United States and Mexico to discuss the state of affairs between the two countries on Cinco de Mayo, a day which marks the historic triumph of the Mexican people over the French Army in the battle of Puebla in 1862.  

Congressmen Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, and Congressman Harry Teague, D-New Mexico, hosted the Capitol Hill meeting between the group of border lawmakers and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mexico Interior Secretary Fernández Gómez-Mont, Mexico Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton, and CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin. 

“Today, we celebrate the important contributions of Mexican Americans throughout this country and we recognize the mutual priorities shared between the United States and Mexico,” said Cuellar. “Cinco de Mayo has long been a symbol of unity and patriotism in Mexico’s history and we will continue to support Mexico in its endeavors to uphold safety and civility for its people.” 

The group of border lawmakers discussed with Napolitano, Gómez-Mont and other top border officials shared priorities between the U.S. and Mexico, including the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative, a cooperative partnership between the two countries to thwart drug-related violence.  

Officials from both countries agreed that a second Merida Initiative is necessary as funding for the current program expires later this year. Officials also recognized an increase in southern border violence, in particular that along Arizona’s southern border and the Texas-Mexico border along the Rio Grande. Texas members voiced specific concerns on how the recent violence is affecting cross-border trade. 

“The popular consensus is that the violence has continued along the border. While both governments are doing what they can to stem the tide, our communities have been affected,” said Cuellar, who also serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism. “Both CBP and ICE have made substantial progress over the past year in the number of interdictions, seizures and arrests. Still, we need to make specific investments that strengthen judicial systems and social programs in Mexico.” 

Gómez-Mont highlighted a new Federal Police Command Center (FPCC) that was established in Ciudad Juárez as a center for interagency coordination and intelligence gathering. Mont reiterated how the flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico is an ongoing problem, in addition to the level of drug consumption in the United States which continues to finance cartel operations. 

Earlier this week, Napolitano highlighted ongoing efforts on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the unparalleled level of collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico to combat cartel-related violence and illegal trafficking. According to DHS, illegal traffic across the Southwest border has decreased by 23 percent in the past year and the number of border patrol agents has doubled from 10,000 in 2004 to 20,000 in 2010. 

Since March 2009, DHS reports that it has doubled the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces and that DHS has expanded the Secure Communities Initiative—which uses biometric information to identify and remove criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails—from 14 to 118 locations. Since 2007, Congress has increased CBP funding from $8.2 billion to $10.1 billion, and provided an additional $1 billion for border security in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 

Last month, border lawmakers, led by House Select Intelligence Chairman Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, requested from Congress over $400 million in emergency funding to augment border patrol hires and communications capabilities among Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  

If approved by Congress, this funding would be included in the Iraq-Afghanistan war supplemental bill anticipated to move through Congress later this May. 

The May 5 meeting comes in advance of Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s address to a joint session of Congress later this month.  

To learn more about this and other border related issues, please visit:  http://www.cuellar.house.gov/Issues/Issue/?IssueID=3833 

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Sen. Cornyn introduces border security bill

On the heels of his recent visit and briefing on border violence in El Paso, U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Wednesday, April 28, introduced legislation to help keep border communities safe, strengthen the morale and effectiveness of state and local law enforcement officers, and send a message to cartels that Americans will not give in to violence. 

“For many in Washington, border violence is merely a talking point, but for those who live along our southern border it has become a fact of life. Talk is cheap, but talk means nothing until we follow through and deliver the tangible resources our law enforcement needs to keep border residents safe," said Cornyn. “Our government has abdicated its responsibility when it comes to border security for far too long, leaving state and local taxpayers no choice but to pick up the slack to protect communities from cartel, gang violence, and cross-border trafficking. This bill will require the federal government to do its job.” 

Fellow Texan and Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison signed up as a co-sponsor of the Cornyn legislation. 

“For communities along the border with Mexico, the threat of violence is becoming all too real, but the federal government has yet to fully step up and do what is necessary to take on these challenges,” said Hutchison. “This failure costs our state and local governments millions every year and puts lives in danger.” 

Based largely on input from local law enforcement officers near the Texas border, Cornyn introduced The Southern Border Security Assistance Act to create a $300 million border grant program for state and local law enforcement within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, which will help quickly provide resources to purchase equipment, upgrade critical information systems, and hire additional officers.  

The bill also requires additional federal judges to handle the caseload from increased criminal prosecutions along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The new border security bill creates an expedited grant review and award process to give state and local law enforcement entities an immediate infusion of resources to support border enforcement activities.  

Under the bill, state, county, city agencies and sheriff departments can apply for grant funding to purchase border monitoring equipment, communications technologies, night-viewing cameras, laptops, vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and helicopters. In addition to equipment, the bill also authorizes the use of grant funds to hire and train personnel in prosecuting drug trafficking, providing administrative support, dispatchers, jailers, and cover overtime expenses.  

The bill also authorizes funds to hire additional judges for southwest border districts  that handle significant criminal caseloads. 

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UTPA releases academic programs assessment, notes unmet demand for more key professions

By SANDRA QUINTANILLA 

The University of Texas-Pan American is meeting the Rio Grande Valley’s demand for more employees in some sectors, including computer and information sciences and counseling. But there remains a great need for more physicians, nurses, teachers, lawyers among other professionals, according to an assessment the university recently released. 

On Thursday, April 29, UTPA’s Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness announced that it released its first Academic Program Needs Assessment of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  

UTPA President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen asked for the report to determine what academic needs are being met and which ones are not so the university can identify what programs need to be expanded, developed or considered in the future. 

“This report will assist me and my executive team at The University of Texas-Pan American to make well-informed decisions for the course this institution needs to take in the near future,” Nelsen said. 

The 100-plus page report provides demographic information about the educational attainment and employment of Rio Grande Valley residents, as well as what occupational demands there are in the area. It also shows which jobs the university is training enough people for and which ones are still in need of more employees. 

To read the entire report, visit: http://oire.utpa.edu/publications/UTPA_ProgramNeedsAssessmentApril2010.pdf.  

UTPA has experienced a large increase in enrollment in the past decade, from 12,760 in Fall 2000 to 18,337 in Fall 2009 and has the greatest numeric increase in graduates from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2009 – from 1,780 to 3,468 – among the Valley’s five main institutions of higher learning. 

Professions in which the university is meeting demands include: computer and information sciences and support services; counseling related professions; education administration; engineering; social work; business management; marketing; finance; accounting; criminal justice and some health care professions, such as occupational therapy, physician assistants and medical and health service managers. 

But there remains a high demand for registered nurses, physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, physical therapists, teachers, lawyers and human resource managers and the future employees the University is producing are not enough to fill that need. 

For example, 1,640 new jobs become available in education each year, but the university only graduated 364 people in fiscal year 2009. The Valley needs about 440 more registered nurses each year, but last year UTPA only graduated 90. 

Recommendations in the report include expanding programs for education, nursing and civil engineering; developing new programs in medicine, business administration, law, pharmacy, physical therapy and library science. It also calls for the consideration of providing programs related to green jobs and information technology in health care. 

The University of Texas System granted UTPA’s request to offer a Bachelor of Science program for civil engineering. The institution is now awaiting approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Once the program is in place, the University plans to meet the demand for civil engineers and construction managers. 

Other recommendations include developing a pipeline for science, technology and math (STEM) fields by forming partnerships with local high schools and other post-secondary institutions and developing a separate teachers college to produce high-quality and well-trained educators for the Valley and the state. 

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South Texas College, Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy partner to prep more pharmacists

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR 

The lower Rio Grande Valley is one of two areas of Texas with the lowest number of licensed pharmacists per 100,000 people. Alarming? Many South Texas leaders think so and that is why South Texas College and the Texas A&M University Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy are teaming up to prepare more pharmacists to meet a growing demand.  

The two institutions signed an agreement at the end of April, which would ensure that any South Texas College student who earns the college’s Associate of Science, Field of Study Pre-Pharmacy degree, will be guaranteed that all of their courses will transfer to the Rangel College following admission.  

“We will be sending you our very best students and know that you will take great care of them,” said STC President Shirley A. Reed. “We also hope that they will return here to practice.”  

STC launched its Pre-Pharmacy Program in fall 2009 and currently 17 students are majors in the program. The college anticipates another 40 students to declare a pre-pharmacy major in fall 2010.  

“We currently have five students in our college that have taken classes at STC and they are doing well,” said Dr. Charles Robertson, associate dean of student affairs for the Irma Rangel College. “It’s a competitive process to get the best professional for you. Pharmacy is a life-long process and that’s what we are preparing the students for. It’s one of the most trusted professions for a reason.  

“South Texas has some very fine students and we are very proud of them,” he added. “We want the ones who truly perform and we have found them here and are proud to say that. We look forward to a very long association with South Texas College.”  

The Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy will celebrate the graduation of its first cohort of students on May 15, 2010. The college annually admits between 75 and 80 students. Among the young college’s accolades is a 98 percent retention rate. Additionally, the college is the only college, out of more than 100 in the nation, to receive an exemplary rating on three of the 30 national rating criteria for pharmacy schools.  

“We are very excited about this new opportunity for our students and our college,” said Dr. Ali Esmaeili, dean of bachelors programs and university relations for STC. “This agreement marks the 100th such agreement STC has in place with colleges across the world, further showing our commitment to access and opportunity for all our students.”  

For more information about STC’s Pre-Pharmacy Program contact Dr. Max Abbassi at 956-872-8312 or Dr. Theresa Garza at 956-872-3024.   

•••••• 

Former vice president at Lone Star National Bank sentenced for $1.1 million fraud

By ANGELA DODGE 

A former vice president and senior lending officer of Lone Star National Bank (LSNB) has been sentenced to federal prison for bank fraud, United States Attorney José  Ángel Moreno has announced. 

Emma Vigil, of McAllen, was sentenced on Friday, April 30, by United States District Judge Randy Crane to 51 months in federal prison, without parole, and ordered to pay a total of $589,494.74 in restitution to her victims. In addition, Crane ordered that Vigil serve a five-year-term of supervised release — a form of probation with stringent conditions — after her release from prison. Vigil has been permitted to remain on bond until May 17, 2010, when she must surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service to begin her prison sentence. 

Vigil, 47, pleaded guilty on December 15, 2009 to two counts of bank fraud, admitting she used her position as vice president and senior lending officer to conduct hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent debit transactions from her loan customers’ bank accounts. She also admitted to fraudulently inducing the approval of a commercial loan, the proceeds of which were used for her own benefit. 

Vigil conducted the fraudulent debit transactions in a variety of ways.  

In some instances, she would fill out a loan advance slip with her customer’s loan account information and request a teller to generate a cashier’s check made out to the customer. Vigil would later forge the customer’s name on the check’s endorsement line, wait for a period of time and then present the check to a teller for cash.  

In other cases, Vigil simply filled out a checking or savings account withdrawal slip with her customer’s account information and presented the slip to a teller for cash. Vigil often informed the tellers that the cash from these transactions would be hand-delivered to her customers under a “banking made easy” approach to customer service.  

Vigil also employed a number of other tactics to conceal her fraud including stealing from customers she knew did not closely monitor their accounts and conducting transactions for amounts that resembled monthly loan payments owed by her customers. 

Vigil also admitted to creating and submitting an application for a $179,500 commercial loan under the name of a person she knew did not exist. In addition to manufacturing the applicant’s name, Vigil induced the approval of the loan by using dates of birth, passport numbers and addresses belonging to her legitimate loan customers to fill out the application paperwork.   

Vigil also copied financial statements from a customer’s loan file and replaced the customer’s name across the top of the document with the fictitious person’s name to make it appear to LSNB as though the person was legitimate and creditworthy. When the loan was approved and funded, Vigil controlled the proceeds. 

The FBI’s investigation of Vigil revealed that her four-year bank fraud scheme, beginning in 2005, caused approximately $1,150,000 in financial loss to numerous victims. Vigil was an employee of LSNB for 14 years prior to her termination from the bank in 2008. 

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

•••••• 

Harlingen man convicted for stealing $3.8 million from Valley Baptist Hospital

By ANGELA DODGE 

A Houston federal jury has convicted Michael N. Swetnam Jr., 46, of Harlingen, of three counts of mail fraud for a scheme involving more than $3.8 million stolen from Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno has announced. The jury returned its verdicts Friday, April 30, before United States District Court Judge Keith P. Ellison. 

Swetnam was charged with selling the hospital two fake insurance policies and two altered insurance policies that covered policy years 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 that resulted in approximately $3.8 million in payments from September 2006-September 2007.  

The evidence at trial showed that Swetnam was a licensed insurance agent for and with Smith-Regan Insurance in the Brownsville area. Smith-Regan had a long-standing relationship with Valley Baptist – the largest provider of medical services in South Texas with a retirement community, fitness center, medical equipment distributor, managed care health plan provider and a network of health care facilities offering specialty service such as home health and hospice care, dialysis and rehabilitation. Swetnam had worked with Smith-Regan since 1985. 

The jury heard testimony that Swetnam traveled to Mexico with Valley Baptist representatives in August 2006 where the hospital was given a $936,000 in hurricane insurance cover notes in the name of companies Arial Re, Landsdow and Lloyd’s of London. The hospital never had insurance coverage on these cover notes. A representative from the British Virgin Islands testified that Arial and Landsdow were non-existent companies. Swetnam admitted to creating two of the fake cover notes and forging the signature of a British Virgin Islands representative. In September 2006, the hospital paid Swetnam the $936,000.  

Swetnam later decided to add a $1 million fee to a Zurich policy that was purchased for approximately $1.3 million. Swetnam and another individual flew to New York to negotiate this policy. Evidence at trial showed Zurich sent the original policy to Swetnam, but it was altered to include a $1 million fee before it was sent to the hospital. The document presented to the hospital was signed by the Zurich representative but the premium due on the policy was increased by approximately $1 million. This fee generated Swetnam and others a profit of 100% on the commission – in addition to the 10% customary fee agreed to by Zurich. This was repeated in 2007, which resulted in another $1 million.   

The jury also heard testimony that Swetnam sent a letter to the hospital in September 2006 advising the hospital that he was unable to procure insurance coverage, but would personally guarantee the hospital from loss above $100 million. The guarantee agreement had the premium for June 2007 instead of 2006 and the letter submitted with the agreement noted the company on the cover note was Ariel instead of Arial. The hospital had no record of receiving this agreement.  

In June 2007, the hospital was sold another hurricane policy in the name of a company, Rac Re, that did not exist which resulted in a $886,000 payment to Swetnam and others. No hurricane insurance was purchased with this money. Swetnam argued that the hospital was covered under a different policy issued by Landmark American for this hurricane coverage, but the Landmark representative testified that Landmark did not cover the hospital at the levels exceeding $100 million that was covered by the 2007 RAC Re cover note. In addition, Swetnam’s insurance expert testified that Texas law precluded the collection of two fees for the same policy. 

Swetnam argued that he had the ability to change the Zurich policies because he was a managing general agent, but Zurich had no record of this managing general agency. He argued that he tried to procure hurricane coverage for the Rac Re and Arial Re policy, but was unable to do so. 

The jury found Swetnam guilty of three mail fraud counts pertaining to the check the hospital sent for the fraudulent Zurich policy, an invoice for the RAC Re insurance policy and an invoice for a Zurich insurance policy. Swetnam was acquitted on a conspiracy charge and five additional counts. Swetnam faces a maximum term of imprisonment of up to 20 years and $250,000 fine for each count of mail fraud. Sentencing is set for Aug. 4, 2010. Swetnam’s co-defendant, Brent Carter, was acquitted on all charges by the same jury. 

This case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service with the assistance of the Texas Department of Insurance and was tried by Assistant United States Attorneys Ryan D. McConnell and Gregg Costa with the assistance of Assistant United States Attorney Kristine Rollinson in the Asset Forfeiture Section. 

••••••   

Mayors of Laredo, Nuevo Laredo oppose plan to controversial Arizona immigration policy

By XOCHITL MORA 

Laredo Mayor Raúl G. Salinas and Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramón Garza on Friday, April 30, held a press conference in the conference room balcony of the Gateway to the America’s Administration office to express their concerns and opposition to separate plans they believe would negatively impact Hispanics and the Rio Grande River. 

One of the issues involves a plan by Texas businessman Clayton Williams, Jr., who has submitted an application to withdraw 41 million gallons of water from the Rio Grande River, which the two mayors say poses a significant threat for residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural sustainability and growth in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.   

Also, the recent passing of Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona – which would give police in the state that authority to ask for proof of citizenship – has the potential for causing racial profiling, and worse, Salinas and Garza contend. The two mayors believe that Arizona law could have far-reaching and negative affects on Hispanics in Texas and throughout the nation. 

The text of the joint presentation by the two mayors follows: 

By MAYOR RAÚL G. SALINAS

and

MAYOR RAMÓN GARZA 

Today, we want the effort of the cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo to strengthen our binational region: the Region Laredo, where our shared history and the same bright future fill us with enthusiasm and hope for the benefit of our two cities. 

We do it, in representation of a community that shares the same goals and objectives.

For this reason, we join to declare ourselves, in adamant opposition to the implementation of law SB1070 in Arizona, which paves the way for hate and discrimination towards individuals, based only on his or her language, surname, skin color skin or supposed legal immigration status. 

We reject regulations such as this one because they stand against the very basic of human rights and hinder human dignity.  

It is our firm intention to come before the diverse and appropriate governments of The United States and of Mexico, to stop this law that will segregate the very individuals that have made this country prosperous. 

With that same commitment, we declare ourselves in opposition to the intention of extracting, for personal gain, water from the Rio Grande watershed, which not only risks the supply of potable water to our two nations, alters the environment and damages our planet. 

We will not allow it and we are united in our effort to defend our natural resources. 

There is no valid argument that can be raised when one person puts his personal interests above the greater good of the community, of two sister nations, with two shared histories. 

For this reason, here, in the Region Laredo, we continue building on agreements, continue strengthening our ties and continue unifying our future. 

We stand together joined to continue reinforcing what makes us strong: our shared culture and our shared destiny. 

With that in mind, we continue working at our shared infrastructure and the agreements that make our cities, one sole Region. 

We are creating the agreements that will serve as an example for the understanding between peoples throughout the world. 

•••••• 

Freedom Communications, Inc., owner of major Valley newspapers, absolved of $450 million in debt under federal bankruptcy settlement

By ROBERT EMMERS 

Freedom Communications, Inc., owner of numerous media outlets including the McAllen Monitor, the Valley Morning Star, the Brownsville Herald, and the Mid-Valley Town Crier in Weslaco, has officially emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, corporate leaders announced on Friday, April 30. 

Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a company is protected from creditors while it restructures its business, usually by downsizing and narrowing focus, according to http://www.lawyershop.com

As previously announced, the company’s Plan of Reorganization – which was supported by the steering committee of the company’s secured lenders and the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, and approved by an overwhelming majority of its voting creditors – eliminates approximately $450 million of debt from Freedom’s balance sheet. 

"The achievements of the past eight months are a testament to the diligence and hard work of all involved, on the part of the company as well as our major constituents,”  said Burl Osborne, Interim President & CEO. “I want to express my sincere appreciation to all of Freedom’s associates, who remained focused on their jobs during this process and whose dedication ensures the best service for our communities. I also want to thank our loyal readers, viewers, customers, advertisers and suppliers for standing by us. We look forward to continuing these relationships for many years to come.” 

The Chapter 11 petitions were filed on September 1, 2009 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, in Wilmington. The case number is 09-13046. Additional information regarding the filings, including the Company’s plan of reorganization and disclosure statement, can also be found at http://www.loganandco.com

“Today’s emergence from Chapter 11 marks a new beginning for Freedom Communications,” said James Dunning, Jr., Chairman of the Board, “With a deleveraged balance sheet and liquidity, this company is perfectly positioned to pursue strategic initiatives that will overcome the challenges of today’s media environment and allow Freedom to serve its communities with even greater innovation and intensity." 

Osborne will continue as Interim President and CEO while the board completes its search for a CEO.  At that time, Osborne will continue as a senior advisor and will remain on the Board.   

“I want especially to recognize Burl Osborne for his leadership, which was incredibly important in guiding Freedom through the challenging restructuring process.” 

Freedom Communications, a national privately owned media company operating print publications, broadcast television stations and interactive businesses, verified that its Plan of Reorganization, which was confirmed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on March 9, 2010, has become effective. 

Freedom also announced on April 30 that Mark McEachen, currently Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and who serves as the company’s Chief Restructuring Officer, has been promoted to the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.  As Chief Operating Officer, McEachen will be directly responsible for all of the Company’s newspaper, broadcast and interactive operations. He will also continue to serve as Chief Financial Officer.   

Freedom Communications, headquartered in Irvine, Calif., is a national privately owned media company operating print publications, broadcast television stations and interactive businesses. The company’s print portfolio includes approximately 100 daily and weekly publications, plus ancillary magazines and other specialty publications.  The broadcast company’s stations – five CBS, two ABC network affiliates and one CW affiliate – reach more than three million households across the country.  The company’s news, information and entertainment websites complement its print and broadcast properties. 

•••••• 

Boston Herald‘s front-page portrayal of Latino and other foreign immigrants condemned by National Association of Hispanic Journalists

By ROBYN-DENISE YOURSE 

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has condemned the depiction of people of color and immigrants in the Boston Herald’s cover package on Tuesday, April 27 unfortunately titled, “Mass. Cracks Down on Illegals”. 

We believe the cover image of three people of color with the words “No Welfare”, “No Tuition”, and “No Medicaid” stamped across their foreheads reinforces racial stereotypes that have long been a trademark of unfair coverage of our communities. Not only do such depictions unfairly single out minorities as recipients of such services, but it also gives the impression that only people of color are undocumented immigrants. 

The Boston Herald’s story is available at:  http://bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1250373

We disagree with the Herald’s assertion that the photo illustration and accompanying package has no racial or anti-immigration undertones. While a sidebar did focus on the struggles of a single undocumented immigrant, we find the overall racially-charged imagery and language tied to this package unacceptable. 

We further question the use of the motive behind this cover. Federally restricted from receiving Medicaid or welfare and not afforded in-state tuition in Massachusetts, undocumented immigrants are not receiving any of these government benefits as it is. We are concerned that such images and headlines send false messages to the public and contribute to the heated rhetoric that encourages people to use Latino and immigrant communities as scapegoats for the many economic challenges the country faces. 

Our objections with the depiction of immigrants did not stop with the Herald’s cover. To justify a headline on the inside pages touting “No habla ingles? No welfare” and the use of terms like “anchor babies” as simply reflecting the views of a columnist does not change the fact that it is racially derogatory language. 

We reiterate our opposition to the use of the word “illegals” in headlines and stories. Using “illegals” as a noun in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by dehumanizing and criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed. 

We understand that one staffer involved in the execution of this package has a Latin American background, but that does not change our position on this issue. The fact that others involved in the newspaper’s editorial process did not perceive how offensive and unfair the cover would be for many surely points to a lack of diversity of backgrounds and perspectives among the publication’s decision makers. 

We appreciate the Herald responding to our inquiry on this issue and invite Herald management to sit down with representatives from both our national board and our local NAHJ New England chapter to further discuss how to accurately depict Latinos and people of color in the media. We believe instances like this one highlight the importance of diversity within newsrooms. 

Founded in 1984, NAHJ’s mission is to increase the percentage of Latinos working in our nation’s newsrooms and to improve news coverage of the Latino community. NAHJ is the nation’s largest professional organization for Latino journalists with more than 1,400 members working in English and Spanish-language print, photo, broadcast and online media. NAHJ is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization. For more information, visit http://www.nahj.org. 

•••••• 

More than half of work-related fatalities in Texas involve Spanish-speaking workers

By EFRAÍN N. MARTÍNEZ 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 signed on December 29, 1970 by President Nixon assured safe and healthful working conditions for men and women. 

Businesses need to remember that personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden upon – and are a hindrance to –  interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments. 

Surprisingly, the Rio Grande Valley is a pre-designated place not being active in OSHA compliance.  

Illnesses, injuries, incidents, accidents and fatalities cause personal, family and business hardships, employer productive controls and lawsuits causes economic trends, clutter the court’s dockets, employer’s workmanship compensation rate increase and at times bankruptcy. 

Yet, research reflects that incidents resulting from illnesses, injuries and construction and traffic fatalities are likely to be preventable by employee safety and health training in the language and manner understandable by the employee.  

As the Valley experiences population, rural development and construction growth, the media is the main influence to safeguard the public’s occupational safety and health public awareness and how directly and indirectly affects them. 

Hispanic workers suffer four out of every five injuries, according to Texas Workers Compensation Commission, and more than half of work-related fatalities occur among Spanish-speaking workers. Where are the Chamber of Commerce’s, the Associated General Contractors of America and the Medical Officer Managers Association’s concerns in this epidemic?  

Go to your OSHA.gov home page, click on the Statistics, click region 6 icon, Corpus Christi Office, enter the search period you want and click submit and you will unveil businesses of OSHA cited citations and violations issued to the valley’s most prominent businesses and medical, health care professionals, retail stores, emergency responders and the construction industry. They were operating against the law. How else can you define it?  

The act states that employer shall furnish to each of his employees a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees and shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act and mandates that workers be made aware of their risk(s) involved in their work.  

Most employees do not have the OSHA compliance training. If found in violation the fee is $7,000. 

Sadly, the law is not being mandated and enforced hard enough in the Valley, when the people that are responsible for assisting start-up businesses are not even talking about it. 

The majority of the local governmental entities, county, municipalities, universities, school districts, hospitals do not mandate that an awarded bid contractor, employees and subcontractors provide proof of OSHA Compliance training, yet they offer tax abatements, fringe benefits, etc., but no mention of the OSHA compliance requirement.  

Taxpayers pay for new schools, municipal and county governmental projects through their tax rate or election bonds and should voice their concern for their elected leaders to award project contracts only to those that work within the law in order to avoid illness, injuries and fatality hardships within the schools, municipalities, county government, county precincts that may result in lawsuits that cause taxpayers additional money.  

Next time you visit a business, insist for their proof of their OSHA compliance instead of asking them if they are operating a business against the law, and maybe you can help someone get home after work safely instead of them going to the hospital.  

It is our social responsibility to make sure that businesses that we patronize are complying with safety laws, after all, it is someone’s son, daughter, relative or neighbor working there. Workers have the right to live another day. 

•••••• 

Texas border congressmen criticize Republican fundraising letter linking it to Census efforts

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Congressman Ciro Rodríguez, D-San Antonio, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Wednesday, April 28, released the following statement regarding the misuse of the word “Census” as part of a Republican Party fundraising mailer:  

“As members of Congress representing "hard to count" census tracts along the Texas-Mexico border region, we are deeply concerned by the continued efforts of the Republican National Committee (RNC) to solicit donations under the guise of an "official 2010 Congressional District Census."   

These efforts cause confusion among residents as the official Census is being conducted and interfere with the ongoing work of Census workers throughout the state and nation. 

“Currently, thousands of Census enumerators are working to ensure an accurate count for the 2010 Census. This Republican-sponsored mailer identified as a "2010 Congressional District Census" is misleading and is counterproductive to the efforts of the U.S. Census Bureau and all the individuals and organizations that have worked to provide residents with accurate information about the census process to protect them against potential cases of fraud. 

“Soliciting donations using census terminology should not be tolerated by the RNC as census workers continue their efforts to count every resident in the United States. We strongly urge the Republican National Committee to discontinue using census terminology in fundraising mailers during this critical period. These efforts may generate mistrust of Census enumerators in border communities, and may impact census participation rates, particularly in "hard to count" areas. 

“We remind all residents that Census workers will not ask for donations of any kind or personal information such as Social Security numbers or legal status. The U.S. Census will not ask for an individual’s political views or party affiliation. If residents have any questions about the census, we urge them to contact our offices directly.” 

•••••• 

Texas Attorney General’s Office defends use of "under God" in Texas Pledge Of Allegiance

Texas Solicitor General James Ho on Wednesday, April 28, appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where he defended the constitutionality of the Texas Pledge of Allegiance.  

In 2007, the Texas Legislature added the words “under God” to the Texas Pledge. That year, a Dallas couple filed a lawsuit arguing that the amended state pledge violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. During the trial, the Office of the Attorney General successfully argued that patriotic acknowledgments of the Almighty are completely consistent with the U.S. Constitution – and the federal district court found that the Texas Pledge is entirely constitutional. 

After the federal district judge issued its decision rejecting the plaintiffs’ challenge in 2009, the plaintiffs appealed the adverse ruling to the Fifth Circuit. Solicitor General Ho today urged the Fifth Circuit to deny the plaintiffs’  appeal and affirm the Texas Pledge’s constitutionality. 

In its brief defending the Texas Pledge, the Office of the Attorney General explains that “patriotic acknowledgments of religion are constitutional.” The state’s brief reiterates that the plaintiffs’ challenge is “based on a proposition that this Court has repeatedly rejected, and indeed condemned as ‘frivolous’ – namely, that the inclusion of the words ‘under God’ somehow violates the Establishment Clause.” 

The attorney general also rejects the plaintiffs’ argument that the Texas Pledge endorses a particular religious belief. On the contrary, the state explains, the Pledge “simply acknowledges, within a broader patriotic statement, a basic historic fact about our Nation: that religion was significant to our Founders and to their enduring political philosophy.” 

“As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged, reciting the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is an appropriate and constitutional way to begin each school day on the right note,” Solicitor General Ho said. “The Texas Pledge of Allegiance serves precisely the same function – to give students an opportunity to engage in a patriotic acknowledgment of the religious heritage of our state and our nation.” 

The Texas pledge, as amended in 2007, reads: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”

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