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Edinburg and South Texas picked up another high-quality sports team on Friday, February 18, with the announcement that the Rio Grande Valley Grandes Football Club, which will develop and showcase talent for the United Soccer Leagues (USL), will play its inaugural season at Edinburg Baseball Stadium. Mayor Richard H. García, featured second from right, led off the February 18 press conference before a standing-room only audience of area news media representatives, top city staff, and team supporters, praising the arrival of high-caliber soccer, the world’s most popular sport – and for which interest has grown rapidly since the 1990s in the United States – to the three-time All-America City. "South of here we have basketball and hockey," the mayor noted, referring to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, respectively, which call the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo their home. "In Edinburg, we have great baseball teams with the Edinburg Roadrunners and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs, of which we are very proud, and they are doing a great job for us. Now we have the RGV Grandes with their ties to the largest professional and amateur soccer network in the nation." Featured, from left: Carlos Sánchez, RGV Grandes operations manager; Robinson Laraga, RGV Grandes vice-president; Ramiro Garza, Jr., Edinburg city manager; Jose Ignacio Larraga, RGV Grandes president; Mayor Richard H. García; and Esequiel "Zeke" Morales, RGV Grandes general manager. See story later in this posting. 

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The Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (RGVHCC) on Tuesday, February 15, announced the 2011 Business Awards at their Annual Business Awards & Installation Dinner, which was held at the Embassy Suites in McAllen. In addition, U.S. Judge Randy Crane of McAllen swore in the RGVHCC’s new incoming Board of Directors for 2011-2012: Mario Garza, vice chair of Health; Marti Miller, vice chair of Membership; Rick Álvarez, vice chair of Government Affairs; Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, vice chair of International Affairs; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, the president of the University of Texas-Pan American, vice chair of Education; and Armando Garza, the incoming Chairman of the RGVHCC Board of Directors. Receiving the 2011 Business Awards were, featured from left: Jesús “Chuy” Negrete, Volunteer of the Year; Yoli González, owner of R&D Personnel, Business Woman of the Year; Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, owner of Socialife, Small Corporation of the Year; and Carter Huber, general manager of Glazer’s Distributing, Large Corporation of the Year.  

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Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, featured here at his Capitol office in Washington, D.C. on Friday, February 10, with Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, has announced that women-owned small businesses can begin taking steps to participate in a new federal contracting program under the U.S. Small Business Administration. The new Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program will be implemented over the next several months, with the first contracts expected to be awarded by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2011. “As our economy continues to recover, we must provide emerging small business with the tools they need to be successful and to take their business to the next level,” said Cuellar. “This program is a great boost for women-owned small businesses to equal access in contracting opportunities and increases chances of winning federal contracts. America’s women-owned businesses can lead to further job creation and flourish in this demanding time.” See story on the WOSB program later in this posting. 

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In honor of Black History Month, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV celebrates cultural diversity through the arts and spent some extra time learning about the extraordinary accomplishments of African-Americans. February began with a craft series, designed to show young residents a creative way for understanding about each other’s differences and how it can lead to intolerance, suspicion, and even violence. The activities culminate with an exhibition scheduled for Monday, February 21 through  February 25 at the Dustin Sekula Memorial Library of more than 10 artworks by several club members depicting their perspectives on Black America. All area residents are invited to view the Art Exhibit during the library’s working business hours.  "While we are highlighting the importance of  African-American contributions during Black History month, the Boys & Girls Clubs in Edinburg on a year-round basis offer programs that speak to diversity, culture and issues of belonging," said Sabrina Walker-Hernández, chief professional officer for the local Boys & Girls Club.  

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Johnny G. Economedes High School (JEHS) has been named an AVID (Achievement Via Individual Determination) National Demonstration School for the 2010-2011 school year. The prestigious National Demonstration School distinction recognizes JEHS’s AVID program as an exemplary model. AVID National and Regional staff recently visited JEHS to conduct a series of evaluations of the school’s AVID program prior to naming it a National Demonstration School. Featured displaying the banner recognizing JEHS as a National Demonstration School are, from left: Cynthia Walls, JEHS AVID coordinator/testing facilitator; Antonio Ballesteros, JEHS assistant principal; Santa Alvarado, ECISD AVID district director and ECISD area director; Gloria C. Rivera, JEHS principal; Liz Rusk, AVID Center; Vivian Shaw, AVID Center; Dr. Wendell Brown, AVID Texas state director; and Maria Luisa Guerra, assistant superintendent for Instruction and Support Services. See story later in this posting.  

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Located on FM 2812, immediately east of the interstate-level U.S. Highway 281, the Rio Grande Produce Park – featured here with an artist’s rendition of one of the planned  facilities – will eventually transform an 87-acre tract of land into a privately-owned, $100 million, state-of-the-art produce distribution complex that will be used to safely store and transfer agricultural imports coming from Mexico to the rest of the U.S. By the fall of 2011, city leaders say the Rio Grande Produce Park will create 200 jobs when the first of nine advanced refrigeration facilities for Mexican produce opens for business. Plans for Rio Grande Produce Park, unveiled by developer José Luis González – who also is the leader for his Chicago-based Don Hugo Produce, Inc. – call for 800 jobs to eventually anchor the major agricultural distribution center, which should boast about one million square feet of refrigerated-storage facilities. "We are the best at what we do when it comes to creating jobs, and it’s a fantastic achievement for the City of Edinburg, and one that I am very, very proud of," said Mayor Pro-Tem Agustin "Gus" García, Jr., focusing on the produce park, along with the Santana Textiles and Teleperformance USA, as the most recent examples of job-creating successes. The timetable for completion of the Rio Grande Produce Park is about five to seven years. The produce park is a direct result of the ongoing construction of the $1.2 billion Mazatlán-Durango Highway in western Mexico, set for completion in 2012, from where major produce imports to the United States through Edinburg will be made much safer upon completion of that superhighway. See story on the highway and the produce center in the lead story. 

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$1.2 billion Mazatlán-Durango Highway, considered an engineering marvel, driving economic harvest to Edinburg starting with $100 million Rio Grande Produce Park

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

There’s a treasure in the Sierra Madre mountain range in northwestern Mexico that is already beginning to pay off handsomely hundreds of miles to the northeast in Edinburg. 

But instead of unearthed gold or other precious metals, it’s cement and steel – the building blocks of a 45-mile stretch of the $1.2 billion Mazatlán-Durango Highway  – that are having a dramatic impact on the economic fortunes of the three-time All-America City. 

The Mazatlán-Durango Highway, which is a hallmark of Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s ambitious plans to modernize his nation’s transportation network, is being built to profoundly improve safety and significantly reduce the time it takes to travel from Mazatlán, one of Mexico’s largest commercial ports, to Durango, the capital of the state of Durango.

The Mazatlán-Durango Highway, renowned as an engineering marvel with its system of underground tunnels and what will be Latin America’s tallest cable-based bridge, will make driving – particularly the transportation of commerce such as produce – much safer through the hazardous western Sierra Madre range that separates Mazatlán, which is in the state of Sinoloa, from the city of Durango.

From the city of Durango, travel to Edinburg and the United States is much more accessible with the continuing expansion of Mexican Federal Highway 40, also known as the Carretera Interoceánica (Interoceanic Highway), a four-lane divided highway that links Durango with Reynosa, a major Mexican border city located about 25 miles south of Edinburg.

As a result, the Mazatlán-Durango Highway, slated for completion in 2012, will make it much more lucrative for Mexico growers from that region to send their produce directly to Edinburg for collection and storage at the Rio Grande Produce Park, followed by distribution of those goods by U.S. trucking firms to major cities in America’s Midwest and East Coast. 

Currently, many agricultural products from western Mexico are imported to the United States through Nogales, Arizona.

Produce imports an emerging industry 

However, area and state leaders in Texas are confident, the advent of the Mazatlán-Durango Highway will redirect huge amounts of produce from the states of Durango, Sinaloa and Nayarit through Edinburg. 

The Mazatlán-Durango Highway will save Mexican agricultural producers in those key Mexican states several hours of expensive transportation time – which makes for fresher produce and better profits – to millions of customers in major U.S. markets. 

For Edinburg, the Mazatlán-Durango Highway will help build on the city’s and region’s proud history of produce distributors and, equally important, bring thousands of more jobs in the coming years for local residents. 

The first sign of the significance of the Mazatlán-Durango Highway on Edinburg’s economic prosperity came on Thursday, January 20, with groundbreaking ceremonies for the Rio Grande Produce Park in north Edinburg. 

Located on FM 2812, immediately east of the interstate-level U.S. Highway 281, the Rio Grande Produce Park will eventually transform an 87-acre tract of land into a privately-owned, $100 million, state-of-the-art produce distribution complex that will be used to safely store and transfer agricultural imports coming from Mexico to the rest of the U.S. 

By the fall of 2011, city leaders say the Rio Grande Produce Park will create 200 jobs when the first of nine advanced refrigeration facilities for Mexican produce opens for business.

Plans for Rio Grande Produce Park, unveiled by developer José Luis González – who also is the leader for his Chicago-based Don Hugo Produce, Inc. – call for 800 jobs to eventually anchor the major agricultural distribution center, which should boast about one million square feet of refrigerated-storage facilities.

The timetable for completion of the Rio Grande Produce Park is about five to seven years. 

Mayor Pro Tem García: "We are the best at creating jobs" 

The groundbreaking drew scores of business, economic development and political leaders from throughout the region, including Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Gus García, Jr., Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., R-Edinburg, Pharr City Commissioner Aquiles "Jimmy" Garza (who is Peña’s son-in-law), and former McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo, along with Jorge Castillo and Enrique Mexía representing Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Humberto Garza representing Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios. 

García noted that in the past few months, two other local major employers remain on track to help power the Edinburg economy: the Santana Textiles denim manufacturing plant now under construction, which represents a $170 million investment that will employ about 800 people over the next five years, and the expansion of Teleperformance USA, a major call center which late last fall began hiring more than 500 new employees. 

"We are the best at what we do when it comes to creating jobs, and it’s a fantastic achievement for the City of Edinburg, and one that I am very, very proud of," said García, focusing on the produce park, along with the Santana Textiles and Teleperformance USA, as the most recent examples of job-creating successes.

"To put it into perspective, the Hidalgo County government, I believe, has about 3,500 employees," the mayor pro-tem illustrated. "These three projects (Santana Textiles, Teleperformance USA, and Rio Grande Produce Park) will represent about 2,100 new jobs. That helps the entire region." 

Peña picked up on García’s assessment of the city’s bright economic future.

"You know, the rest of the country, including this area, is involved in a recession – a very bad recession," the five-term state lawmaker observed. "But all the economic forecasters say that if there’s any area in the country that’s expected to come out of this recession first, it will be our area. 

"Why is that? That’s because, regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the country, we keep moving forward. We’ve had long-term, long-standing relationships with our neighbor Mexico," Peña continued. "This is a perfect example of how we, as a community, are going to continue to grow outside, away from this recession." 

Pedro Salazar, the executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) –  which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council – said the Rio Grande Produce Park is a symbol of things to come in more ways than one. 

"Sinoloa is the largest exporter of produce to the U.S," Salazar noted. "The Rio Grande Produce Park is the first project in Edinburg that is being built specifically to address the potential that comes with the Mazatlán-Durango Highway. I think we’re well-positioned to receive more benefits from that, and more projects like this catering to that produce community." 

He said agriculture and Edinburg have a deep, shared relationship. 

"Edinburg, as you can see along U.S. Expressway 281, has many produce distributors, and they have a history here,” Salazar said. “The Rio Grande Produce Park is adding to what is already here. It is a big industry." 

Area highway infrastructure assets 

In addition to the emergence of the Mazatlán-Durango Highway, Edinburg and Hidalgo County also have key infrastructure systems in place or planned to continue promoting the city, which is also the county seat, to Mexican businesses, he said. 

"We will be helping market Edinburg in Mexico as a place for regional distribution of produce," Salazar explained. 

Plans by the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority – which is charged with helping improve the major transportation systems, including roadways, in the county – feature FM 2812 as the eventual northern portion of the proposed Hidalgo County Loop.  The Hidalgo County Loop, which is currently in the design phase, will be built over the next decade to help shuttle heavy commercial trucks – which travel to and from Mexico – from the area’s international bridges to U.S. Expressway 281 north of Edinburg. 

Over the past decade, U.S. Expressway 281 has seen remarkable improvements – influenced in large parts by Edinburg’s city and state legislative leaders – including being upgraded to interstate-level standards that feature six lanes through Edinburg and along key segments of U.S. Expressway 281 leading to San Antonio, with that metropolis’s expanded network of interstate highways (IH 10, IH 35, IH 37) and other major roadways. 

"One of the things we have been selling is we have more than 13 miles of U.S. Expressway 281 frontage, and the importance of U.S. Expressway 281 as a transportation corridor. It is the gateway to the U.S. as we see it," Salazar said. "We are a player for distribution. One of the things we’re promoting is we are located in a place that makes us as a very logical place for distribution heading north or heading south." 

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Mark S. Peña. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com 

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Mayor García welcomes Rio Grande Valley Grandes, national soccer league to Edinburg

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Edinburg and South Texas picked up another high-quality sports team on Friday, February 18, with the announcement that the Rio Grande Valley Grandes Football Club, which will develop and showcase talent for the United Soccer Leagues (USL), will play its inaugural season at Edinburg Baseball Stadium. 

The USL is the parent organization of several men’s and women’s professional and amateur soccer leagues in the United States and Canada. 

At a late-morning press conference held at the historical Edinburg Depot, city and team leaders made the announcement, which was made possible by agreements involving the RGV Grandes with the city – which owns the baseball stadium – as well as the Edinburg Roadrunners and the University of Texas-Pan American, the two main tenants of the $5.3 million, 5,500-seat facility. 

The soccer field will be set up in the outfield portion of the Edinburg Baseball Stadium. 

The RGV Grandes will play at the Edinburg Baseball Stadium – beginning with an exhibition match set for Wednesday, April 27 at 8 p.m. – whenever the Edinburg Roadrunners or the UTPA Broncs NCAA Division 1 baseball teams are not hosting their own games. 

Two exhibition games will start the first season for the RGV Grandes, with the first game to be played on Saturday, April 9  at 8 p.m. at a site to be announced, and the second exhibition game scheduled for Wednesday, April 27 at 8 p.m. at Edinburg Baseball Stadium.

The team will begin its 16-game regular season schedule on Friday, May 6 on the road against the Laredo Heat at Texas A&M International University’s Soccer Complex, before opening their first home game at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on Friday, April 13, at 8 p.m. against the El Paso Patriots. 

Mayor Richard H. García led off the February 18 press conference before a standing-room only audience of area news media representatives, top city staff, and team supporters, praising the arrival of high-caliber soccer, the world’s most popular sport – and for which interest has grown rapidly since the 1990s in the United States – to the three-time All-America City. 

"South of here we have basketball and hockey," the mayor noted, referring to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, respectively, which call the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo their home. "In Edinburg, we have great baseball teams with the Edinburg Roadrunners and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs, of which we are very proud, and they are doing a great job for us. Now we have the RGV Grandes with their ties to the largest professional and amateur soccer network in the nation." 

In addition to the mayor, local officials participating or attending the news conference included Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Jr., Pedro Salazar, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and Letty González, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. 

The mayor also serves as president of the board of directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. 

Soccer team to feature elite college players 

The RGV Grandes is the latest addition to the USL’s Mid South Conference, which includes the Laredo Heat, the El Paso Patriots, the West Texas United Sockers of Midland, the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Capitals, and the New Orleans Jesters. 

The Mid South Conference is part of the USL’s Premier Development League, also known as the PDL, which is considered to provide the highest level of men’s amateur soccer in the U.S., Canada and Bermuda. 

Although the majority of PDL players aren’t paid, they are being groomed for excellence at the university and college levels, including being developed for future careers as professional soccer players in the U.S. and throughout the world.

The top U23 men’s league in North America, the USL Premier Development League will feature 64 teams within four conferences across the United States and Canada in 2011. 

According to the RGV Grandes media kit, "the PDL provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher-level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. The USL Premier Development League (PDL) has proven to be an important stepping stone for top professionals now playing around the world." 

Likewise, PDL clubs like the RGV Grandes are professional organizations in every aspect, from employing top-notch staff to actively engaging in community and business relations, as evidenced by their press conference announcement. 

“We are confident in the league and take great pride in bringing the franchise to the Rio Grande Valley. We see this as a great success for South Texas and north of Mexico,” said team owner José Ignacio Larraga. “The PDL is recognized for developing some of the best young talent in North America today and serves as a channel to professional soccer. Many of the players in the PDL will move on to fill the rosters of teams in USL PRO and Major League Soccer, as well as the top international leagues.” 

In addition to José  Ignacio Larraga, who serves as the team’s president and general manager, the RGV Grandes is also led by Robinson Larraga, who is vice president.

Mayor García: "The Valley is coming of age." 

The PDL season consists of 16 regular season matches for each team, eight home and eight away, and provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. In addition to league play, PDL teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions. The PDL has proven to be an important stepping-stone for top professionals now playing throughout the world. 

The Edinburg mayor said the addition of the soccer organization adds to the region’s traditional strong support for sports. 

"The Valley is coming of age," García continued. "You will see our city fully behind, not only the Roadrunners and the Broncs, but now the Grandes. This is good, wholesome family entertainment, and we are lucky to have them. The Premier Development League and the Rio Grande Valley Grandes are going to shine, along with our baseball teams. 

In a statement released from Tampa, Florida, Alex Papadakis, CEO for the United Soccer Leagues,  welcomed the RGV Grandes into the USL’s Premier Development League, reaffirming García’s optimism. 

“The Rio Grande Valley offers such a vibrant and dedicated soccer community that we feel it’s crucial for the PDL to be represented there, and the Larragas are the right people to lead the club,” said Papadakis. 

Jeff McCraney, PDL senior director, praised the efforts undertaken by the RGV Grandes top leadership to bring their goal to fruition. 

“José Larraga has worked very hard to put this organization together and we believe that his commitment will carry on into the season for 2011 and beyond," said McCraney. "With his marketing savvy and influence in the Rio Grande Valley, we have no doubt that he will maximize exposure for the team and we couldn’t be more pleased with the new partner we have found in South Texas.”

José Ignacio Larraga is business owner in the Rio Grande Valley who has spent the past 28 years involved in various media ventures. He is also the owner of a new television network set to launch in the Rio Grande Valley.

Robinson Larraga brings his experience and dedication in running the family business operations, and he is the President of Sueños Y Talentos, which was established in 2007 and has become known as “the biggest soccer event in Texas.” 

A biographical sketch of the principal leaders for the Rio Grande Valley Grandes follows: 

• José Ignacio Larraga, president

A successful businessman and entrepreneur with more than 25 years in the television production industry, his many credentials includes his achievements as a designer, digital effects artist and senior 3D animator with more than 60 awards and recognitions in his professional career. He also serves as president of JIL Production Group LLC; JIL Publishing Division LLC, JIL News Division LLC, Sueños y Talentos LLC, JIL Soccer Adventures LLC; Ideatown LLC, Televe Network LLC; and KNUC Televe 44. His e-mail address is Info@rgvgrandes.com

• Robinson Larrage, vice-president 

An international business student, he is a shareholder and also vice-president of Televe Network LLC, KNUC Televe 44, Ideatown LLC, and JIL Soccer Adventures LLC. He also is vice-president of JIL Production Group LLC and vice presidednt of Sueños y Talentos LLC. His e-mail address is Robinson@rgvgrandes.com

• Esequiel "Zeke" Morales, general manager 

Among his many sports and professional achievements, Morales serves as the coach for the Hidalgo High School Pirates soccer team, which was the Division 4A state champion in 2009 and earned a spot in the State Semifinalist Division 4A competition. His e-mail address is Zeke@rgvgrandes.com

• Carlos Sánchez, operations manager 

A radiological technologist, he is also a 1991 veteran of the Dessert Shield/Dessert Storm campaigns by the United States to protect the nation’s vital oil supplies in the Persian Gulf threatened by then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. His e-mail address is Carlos@rgvgrandes.com

• Gary James Hamilton, head coach 

He is the executive director of the McAllen Youth Soccer Association whose extensive professional experiences in the sport includes time spent as a professional soccer player in the English Premier League. He also has head coaching experience with the Houston Dynamo South Texas Academy, Dynamo Junior Affiliated Program and South Texas ODP. His e-mail address is Gary@rgvgrandes.com 

• Dan Balaguero, assistant head coac

He was named the first coach for the inaugural men’s soccer program at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College on March 2007. In four seasons, Balaguero has directed the Scorpions to four Red River Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships. During those four years between 2007 and 2010, Balaguero has been named RRAC Coach of the Year in all four seasons. His e-mail address is Dan@rgvgrandes.com.  

 

• Luis Albert Flores, goalkeeping coach 

His sports credentials include serving as the goalkeeper coach for Houston Dynamo Academy, state team coach for South Texas Youth Soccer, as well as being an instructor and scout. His e-mail address is Albert@rgvgrandes.com

• Celeste Cabrera, marketing director and public relations 

A prominent business owner with more than seven years experience in her profession, she was earned awards for her skills and leadership in her outreach to the community, including serving as a member of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and the Public Relations Society of America. Her e-mail address is Celeste@rgvgrandes.com 

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Mark S. Peña. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com 

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With Texas budget facing $27 billion shortfall, tapping into Rainy Day Fund a needed option

By SEN. JUAN "CHUY" HINOJOSA  

Texas is in the red.

A $27 billion shortfall is not a figure we can reduce by tightening our belts. There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding the budget. During campaign season, we heard cries to lower state spending, lower taxes and shrink the role of government. Now, the numbers are out, and there is a thunder of public outcry rolling across the state of Texas. 

We can’t cut our way out of this deficit without negatively affecting our economic recovery and thousands of Texans. We need a responsible, balanced approach to the budget. Reduce spending, demand efficiency, eliminate duplication. We need to tap the Rainy Day Fund, consider revenue sources, and revisit the structural deficit created when the legislature reduced property tax revenue for our schools. 

Cuts in spending don’t eliminate necessity; it increases local spending and taxation. Local governments, lacking the revenue raising tools of the state, are forced to raise property taxes to fund and support programs like schools and healthcare. State budget cuts simple pass the buck to already-strapped Texas families and local governments. 

Texas already provides the bare minimum – we rank, per capita, 46th in tax revenue, 47th in expenditures – leaving local governments to pick up the tab.

Our roads, schools and institutions of higher learning, hospitals, research centers –  all things necessary to global economic competitiveness – depend on state funding. 

Our population is growing, expanding at three times the rate of our state tax base. We are choosing not to raise revenues for future investments, even though investing in education, roads, and infrastructure yields great economic returns and social benefits – jobs, higher wages, and innovation. 

Texas will always be number one for me. Not because we execute more prisoners, insure fewer children, and emit more toxic chemicals than any other state. Certainly not because we have the least amount of people over 25 with a high school diploma, rank last in per capita spending on mental health, and have the largest population of  uninsured non-elderly women. This is not my vision of Texas. We can do better.  

Our financial situation is sobering – a $27 billion shortfall is dead serious. It’s time for action, not reaction. The time for defending the status quo has passed. Texas should create jobs, not lose 800,000. Texas should educate, not lay off teachers or weaken our Pre-K programs. We should protect the most vulnerable, not close hundreds of nursing homes.  

This is unacceptable. We need a working budget that is easy on Texas taxpayers and incorporates the services we need to be number one. Let’s work together this legislative session to find solutions to our economic afflictions, for a better future. For a better Texas. 

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a Vietnam veteran, has spent more than 20 years in the Legislature. He has participated in the budget writing process of the last ten biennia, growing his expertise and involvement through his appointment as Vice Chair to the Senate Committee on Finance for the second time in a row and his membership in the Legislative Budget Board. 

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Sen. Hutchison among dignitaries expected for Friday dedication of VA outpatient facility

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

A public ribbon cutting and dedication in Harlingen for an outpatient clinic expansion of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Center in Harlingen has been set for Friday, February 25 at 10:30 a.m. 

The new addition involves a 120,000-square-foot Ambulatory and Out Patient Specialty Surgical Health Care Center, which is the newest addition to the  fleet of health care facilities in Corpus Christi, Harlingen, Laredo and McAllen which are being administered by the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System. 

The VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health System is the newly created health care system that will be in charge of providing veterans health care services to veterans residing in the 20 southmost counties in south Texas. It was formally organized in October 2010. It will have its own budget and will be part of the Veterans Initiative Network 17 (VIN 17), which is under the direction of Lawrence Biro. 

As part of the outpatient facility to be dedicated on Friday, February 25, a full range of outpatient services will be offered, including six surgical suites, colonoscopy and cystocopy suites, medicine and surgery specialty outpatient clinics, prosthetics care, amputee clinic, and a substance abuse treatment clinic. The design includes a 750-vehicle parking garage adjacent to the Center. 

The medical complex is located at 2601 Veterans Drive, behind Su Clinica Familiar. Parking is available at the multi-level parking garage next to the VA Health Care Center. 

Among the national delegation scheduled to participate in the event are: U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; Congressman Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; Dr. Robert A. Petzel, Under Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Lawrence A. Biro, network director, VA Heart of Texas Health Care Network; and Jeff Milligan, director, VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System. 

During the past few weeks, the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health System (TVCBHS) has been finishing up final plans for this much anticipated ceremony, which has been championed by area veterans groups, according to Treto Garza, co-chairman of the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley (http://www.VeteransAlliance.net). 

According to an advisory jointly issued earlier this month by Garza and Homer Gallegos, also co-chair of the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley: 

"The event is being heralded as an historical veterans event because South Texas veterans have been advocating for a full service medical center for the area for the past six decades, 

"World War II veterans asked for one when they returned from war.  They were later joined by Korea War veterans. The Vietnam veterans picked up the slack and have been carrying the issue forward.  Recently, veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have joined up with the cause. This expansion has been called Phase I of a two-phase plan leading to the creation of a full medical center that will serve as the flagship hospital for TVCBHS.  Veterans are seeing part of their dream come true. 

"It has been a long battle, and we still have to continue fighting for our full service medical center until we get. It is way overdue. Our dream will come true 

"There are plans to renovate clinics in McAllen, Corpus Christi and Laredo.  The new Ambulatory and Out-Patient Specialty Surgical Center will be an expansion of the Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic located a block away. Jeff Milligan is the director of the new system. 

"Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, along with Cuellar have been instrumental in getting funds from the Veterans Affairs for this expansion. During the last three legislative sessions, Cornyn and then-Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, filed bills to create a full service medical center for the South Texas area. There are an estimated 115,000 veterans in the identified sector. 

"Lt. Gen, Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs was scheduled to attend but he will be represented by Dr. Petzel. Veterans had been calling for his participation in order to meet with him.  Veterans will try to meet with Dr. Petzel during his visit." 

•••••• 

Rolling blackouts during February big freeze caused by lack of winterization at power plants

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES 

Some power companies had not prepared their plants for extreme cold before the severe winter weather that hit Texas the first week of Februrary, according to testimony offered before a joint Senate panel on Tuesday, February 15.

Members of the Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee and Natural Resources Committee heard from state officials and energy executives about the rolling blackouts that occurred in Texas on February 2. According to H.B. "Trip" Doggett, the CEO of the Electric Reliabilty Council of Texas (ERCOT), the loss of generation at 82 different units that night were all caused to some degree by equipment failure due to cold weather. 

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Public Utility Council, offered legislators three reasons why equipment failure led to rolling blackouts statewide. First was a lack of communication between various agencies that oversee the power grid in Texas. Second was problem with the state’s natural gas supply. Electric supplies were accidentally cut to some gas plants, so they weren’t able to supply additional gas needed to generate electricity. Finally, and most importantly, was a lack of adequate winterization to protect against extreme cold. Smitherman said that all plants in Texas are weatherized, but mostly to protect against hurricane conditions. 

One of the solutions the PUC is looking at, said Smitherman, is a review of all emergency plans at the various power generators to ensure they have adequate protection against future cold weather events. He thinks that current statutory authority combined with market forces are enough to encourage suppliers to better prepare. 

Senators were concerned that some generators may have anticipated the cold weather and tried to game the system for their own profit. In Texas’ unregulated market, many generators opt to bid on power generation a day early. So they buy low and the next day, when weather brings plants offline and the supply of electricity drops, they can sell electricity at a higher rate. On February 2nd, the price of electricity rose to an astronomical level of $3,000 per kilowatt hour. 

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, wanted to ensure that power companies weren’t profiting from their customers outages.

"I think we really do need to look and make sure somebody wasn’t buying at $30 and selling at $3,000," she said.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who is chair of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee,  told her that the state’s independent market monitor had found no evidence of fraud in the market in the days leading up to the freeze. 

Moreover, the event appears to have cost some power companies dearly. Luminant Energy, one of the largest generators in Texas, had outages at three coal-fired plants and a few small gas generators due to cold weather. Luminant CEO David Campbell told the committees that his company was willing to work with the state to ensure that a similar outcome can be avoided next time.

"I want to assure the committees that we are very focused in learning the causes of each shutdown," Campbell said. "We are evaluating improvements to processes and operations so that we will do better the next time extreme cold weather hits." 

•••••• 

Rep. Gonzáles reappointed chair of House Border and Intergovernmental Relations Affairs Committee

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA 

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has been reappointed Chair of the Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee by Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, once again securing an influential leadership position that will lead a committee vital to the border region.  

Gonzáles was also reappointed to the Public Health Committee, which she has served on for the past two legislative sessions.  

"I am pleased to reappoint Rep. Verónica Gonzáles as the Chair of the Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, and to serve on the Public Health Committee," said Speaker Joe Straus. "Verónica works tirelessly on behalf of our border region, and these appointments will fully utilize her talent and experience to improve the quality of life for the people in her district and all Texans."  

Gonzáles is the only Mexican American woman appointed by Straus to lead a standing committee. Membership in the committees as well as chair and vice-chair selections are assigned by Straus.  

“The Texas border region has continued to garner both federal and state attention as a vital economic area," Gonzáles said. "I am proud to be entrusted again with overseeing a committee that is so vitally important to my district, the border region, and the entire state of Texas.  I will continue to maintain a strong working relationship with Mexico and hope to forge new trade relationships as well.”  

The Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee is a nine member committee that oversees the relations between Texas and other nations, international commerce and trade, international and border regions’ economic development, public health and safety issues, tourism and goodwill along the border.  It also has oversight of state and federal relations.  

“Public Health is also a crucial committee, both for the Rio Grande Valley and the entire state," Gonzáles said. "The border area is specifically facing many serious health issues including a high rate of diabetes, lack of insurance coverage, and an increasing need for access to medical care.  I look forward to working to improve conditions for both my region and my state.”  

The Public Health Committee is an 11-member committee that oversees the state public health agencies, and is charged with the protection of public health, including supervision and control of the practice of medicine and dentistry.  The committee is also responsible for developing mental health programs, prevention and treatment.  

•••••• 

Rep. Muñoz says his committee assignments will help him champion increased funding

for education, health and human services 

By CHRISTOPHER MADRID 

Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, has been appointed by Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-Mission, to three House legislative panels: the  Government Efficiency & Reform Committee, the House Technology Committee, and the House Administration Committee. 

Calling them "very favorable appointments", the recently-elected state legislator said he will be able  to influence legislation and to protect funding for critical services that are important to his House District 36 – which includes Mission, McAllen and Pharr – as well as the border, and deep South Texas.  

"It will be an honor to serve on these committees and to be able to advocate House District 36 on issues related to technology, state departments, agencies and institutions on behalf of our constituency and all of the Rio Grande Valley," said Muñoz. "I have had ample time to learn the issues and prepare for a difficult legislative session. It is time to dig in our heels, roll up our sleeves and get to work for our families, children, schools, businesses and the economy." 

The  Government Efficiency & Reform Committee is a new committee with jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to the organization, operation, powers, regulations, and management of all state departments, agencies, institutions and advisory committees. 

The Technology Committee has jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to advances in science and technology, and the promotion of scientific development and technology transfer in the state. 

The House Administration Committee has jurisdiction over the State Preservation Board and a wide-range of House procedures, employees, office space, House floor procedures and the House budget. 

Regarding the proposed state budget, Muñoz said that restoring as much funding to public and higher education, as well as health and human services programs as possible, are still his top priorities. 

"Committee assignments aside, I continue to believe that adopting a responsible state budget that keeps our teachers in the classroom, that maintains a reasonable student-teacher ratio, that keeps Medicaid and CHIP funding flowing to areas of the state that need it most, and that keeps a variety of state functions and services vital to our part of the state, is the first priority of this legislature," said Muñoz. 

•••••• 

Rep. Lucio lands key assignments, including spot on powerful House Calendars Committee

By KRISTINE GLORIA 

On Wednesday,  February 9, Texas Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, was appointed to serve on three influential House committees for the 82nd Legislative Session. The representative will serve on both the House Committee on Calendars and the House Committee on Natural Resources. In addition, he has been appointed as Vice Chairman of the Government Efficiency and Reform committee. 

"I’m truly honored to be appointed to serve on these House committees and humbled to have this opportunity to continue working for not only my constituents in the Rio Grande Valley but for the entire state," said Lucio. "The state is at a critical juncture on several matters, and I look forward to working on these difficult issues."

As during the last regular session in 2009, Lucio will serve on the House Committee on Calendars, which oversees the thousands of bills that will be considered by the Legislature this session. The committee’s primary responsibility is to closely analyze all legislation before it reaches the House floor. Therefore, the Calendars Committee serves as a gatekeeper, and its members carry an influence on which issues the Texas House will be addressing this session. 

"I am pleased and proud to be named to the House Committee on Calendars for a second straight session," he said. "Calendars is a very important committee, and I embrace the opportunity to represent the Rio Grande Valley in the process which decides what bills will be debated on the House floor." 

As Vice Chairman to the House Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform, Lucio and its members will oversee matters pertaining to the efficient and effective operations of state departments, agencies, institutions and advisory committees. 

"In this economic downturn and with our current budget shortfall, it is critical that we recognize and evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of our state government as a whole," said Lucio. "We must learn to operate leaner and to maximize our current resources as best as possible in order to avoid passing the impact onto services our constituents depend on everyday. This committee is tasked with a very difficult challenge, and I look forward to helping guide the discussion in the right direction." 

The House Committee on Natural Resources, which covers the important issue of water and land resources issues, is a committee on which he also served from 2009 through 2010.

"Often overlooked, water and land issues provide both major challenges and opportunities for Texas, especially in the Valley" said Lucio. "Our natural resources are vital to our livelihood and for the future of our area, therefore we must continue the discussion and our efforts in protecting these resources."

••••••  

President Nelsen says proposed budget cuts for TEXAS Grant could mean $25 million loss for 2,005 UT-Pan American students in 2011

By JENNIFER BERGHOM 

Robert S. Nelsen, president of The University of Texas-Pan American, recently joined fellow leaders of The University of Texas System institutions in urging Texas state senators to continue providing funding for students and programs, particularly the Toward Excellence, Access & Success (TEXAS) Grant.

Nelsen and other UT System presidents testified in front of the Texas Legislature Senate Committee on Finance on Wednesday, February 9 about the need for the state to continue providing funds for the TEXAS Grant and other programs to ensure students can afford to attend and graduate from college. 

The TEXAS Grant was established in 1999 by the state legislature to provide need-based financial assistance to Texas students.

The Legislature is proposing to reduce funding for the TEXAS Grant, which helps students who have financial need pay for school. In 2009, the university awarded 2,005 students with money from the TEXAS Grant. Last year the university awarded $144 million overall in financial aid to students, $55 million of which came from federal Pell grants and $25 million from TEXAS Grants. 

Both chambers of the Texas Legislature are considering making significant reductions in funding for higher education among other services as they grapple with a projected deficit of at least $15 billion for the 2012-2013 biennium budget. 

"The Rio Grande Valley is a magic place," Nelsen said. "The magic in the Valley is education and education is changing that Valley … the magic in the Valley is going to be diminished if this bill is the final bill." 

"If TEXAS Grant is cut, more students are going to have to take out loans and that worries me," Nelsen said. "We could lose — if the current proposal goes through — 2,005 students next year. Indeed, because of the budget reductions, we’re planning to have fewer students at our University." 

Nelsen added that the university’s retention rate for TEXAS Grant recipients is 79.1 percent and its graduation rate is 46.3 percent, both of which are higher than the university’s rates for its overall student population. 

UTPA students don’t rely on TEXAS Grant alone, Nelsen added. More than 75 percent of the University’s students receive financial aid, and of those 44.2 percent must also take out loans to pay for their education. Also, according to Nelsen, 32 percent of UT-Pan American’s total student population now rely on loans to stay in school. 

Nelsen shared with the state senators about the efforts UTPA has already taken to reduce spending, including $500,000 by using less paper and $1.5 million by using the data center at UT Arlington and virtual servers instead of buying more computer servers. 

Nelsen told the committee that the success of the university and its students was because of the TEXAS Grant. He ended his presentation with a plea. 

"The students in the Valley need you," he said. 

•••••• 

Certain small businesses hurt by Hurricane Alex eligible for low-interest disaster loans

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, February 18, announced that small, non-farm businesses in Brooks, Hidalgo, Cameron, Refugio and Willacy counties will be eligible to apply for low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  

Businesses that suffered damage or suffered a financial impact due to the excessive rain, flooding and high winds associated with Hurricane Alex in July, 2010, can qualify for the low-interest loans. The loans have an interest rate of four percent for business and three percent for private, non-profit organizations for a maximum term of 30 years.  

“As Texans we all know how much damage a hurricane can bring in terms of economic loss by reduced revenue,” said Hinojosa. “We are very pleased that the SBA is stepping in to help our small businesses thrive and, by doing so, this assistance will also give our local economy a boost.”  

Small non-farm businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of any size may qualify for disaster loans up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred.  

Please note that businesses engaged primarily in farming or ranching should contact the Farm Services Agency (FSA) about the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) available assistance.  

Applicants should call the SBA’s Customers Service  Center at 1-800-659-2955 or email to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov or visit the SBA’s website at http://www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance

Hearing impaired individuals may call 1-800-877-8339. 

•••••• 

Congressman Cuellar announces new program to help women-owned small businesses 

By LESLEY LÓPEZ 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, has announced that women-owned small businesses can begin taking steps to participate in a new federal contracting program under the U.S. Small Business Administration. The new Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program will be implemented over the next several months, with the first contracts expected to be awarded by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2011.  

The WOSB Federal Contract Program will provide greater access to federal contracting opportunities f or WOSBs and economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs).  The Program allows contracting officers, for the first time, to set aside specific contracts for certified WOSBs and EDWOSBs and will help federal agencies achieve the existing statutory goal of five percent of federal contracting dollars being awarded to WOSBs.  

“As our economy continues to recover, we must provide emerging small business with the tools they need to be successful and to take their business to the next level,” said Cuellar. “This program is a great boost for women-owned small businesses to equal access in contracting opportunities and increases chances of winning federal contracts. America’s women-owned businesses can lead to further job creation and flourish in this demanding time.”

To be eligible for the program, a company must be a small business that is at least 51 percent unconditionally and directly owned and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens. To be deemed “economically disadvantaged”, a firm’s owners must meet specific financial requirements set forth in the program regulations.   

For more information about small business programs, please visit his website at:

http://www.cuellar.house.gov/ 

•••••• 

Hidalgo County issues 90-day ban on certain outdoor burning activities in rural areas 

By CARI LAMBRECHT 

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’  Court on Tuesday, February 15, issued a burn ban, effective immediately for up to 90 days.   

Outdoor burning is restricted in the unincorporated areas of Hidalgo County, including incorporated cities that do not have their own fire suppression resources. Household trash burning IS permitted, but only with a valid burn permit issued by and at the discretion of the County Fire Marshal’s Office, located at the Mediplex Building at 1615 S. Closner, Ste. J in Edinburg.  

Burn permits are free of charge. The burning of trash should be conducted within a recommended container with a lid and be supervised by a responsible party from ignition until extinguished. On days when a “fire watch” or “red-flag warning” weather advisory is issued by the National Weather Service, burn permits may not be issued.   

Residents with questions may call the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s Office at (956) 318-2656, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.   

The burn ban does not prohibit burning activities related to public health and safety that are authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for: 1) firefighter training; 2) public utility, natural gas pipeline or mining operations; 3) planting or harvesting of agricultural crops; or 4) burns that are conducted by a prescribed burn manager under Section 153.047, Natural Resources Code. The restriction does not ban outdoor cooking that takes place within a cooking apparatus — grill, pit, etc. This burn ban can be revoked at any time should conditions improve.  

A violation of this order is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $500. 

In other actions taken by the county commissioners court during its Monday, February 14 regular meeting, the county leaders: 

• Approved a resolution in  support of efforts to enact legislation to legalize slot machines at Texas

horse and greyhound race tracks and recognized Indian tribal lands. Proponents of these efforts

estimate that this legalization could raise an  additional $1 billion in additional state tax revenue

each year, infuse  $8.5 billion into the economy, and create approximately 70,000 jobs; and 

• Approved a resolution to  designate roadways within Hidalgo County that are part of the  Non-Radioactive Hazardous Materials Movement Routes.     

For more information, and to view a copy of the agenda posted for the court’s February 14 meeting, visit the county website at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us.   

•••••• 

More than 150,000 residents in Congressman Hinojosa’s district lack a high school diploma

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, February 17,  introduced the Graduation Promise Act (GPA), new legislation that will target federal resources to the nation’s lowest-performing high schools to reduce the dropout rate and increase student achievement.  

“While Congress continues to work on cutting the nation’s budget, we must remember to keep in mind that certain American rights should not be touched and that includes the education of our children,” said Hinojosa. “In my Congressional District 15 in South Texas alone, there are more than 150,000 adults who don’t have a high school diploma. This is unacceptable and that is why I am introducing the Graduation Promise Act. It is a clear and crucial investment in America’s future.” 

Hinojosa’s 15th Congressional District includes all or portions of Bee, Brooks, Cameron, Dewitt, Duval, Goliad, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Karnes, Live Oak, Refugio and San Patricio counties. 

All or major portions of Edinburg, McAllen and Harlingen are in Hinojosa’s congressional district.

The Graduation Promise Act will help to transform the nation’s lowest-performing high schools by:  

• Providing funds to build capacity for secondary school improvement and at the same time providing states and local school districts with the resources to ensure that high schools with the greatest challenges receive the support they need to implement research-based interventions; 

• Authorizing a $2.4 billion High School Improvement and Dropout Reduction Fund to drive reform in low-performing high schools and support the development in every state of statewide systems of differentiated high school improvement; and 

• Authorizing $60 million in competitive grants to strengthen the supply of quality education options available to schools and districts through the development, implementation and replication of effective secondary school models.

“We have exceptional model schools in deep South Texas already, but we need to scale up on these models in order to build a world class  education system and a world class economy,” said Hinojosa. “We must turn around our dropout factories because America cannot afford to continue to fall behind. The high school dropouts from the class of 2010 alone will cost our economy $337 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes. That is a price we can no longer afford.”  

According to the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States performs far below international competitors. Students in the U.S. rank 12th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math out of the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.  

The call for dramatic improvements in our high schools is urgent, especially when it comes to minority students. Only 54% of African American and 56% of Latino students graduate from high school with their class. Students of color are less than half as likely as their white counterparts to be proficient in 8th grade reading, and they are five times more likely than white students to attend one of the nation’s lowest performing high schools.  

“In order to keep our economy strong we must invest in education,” said Hinojosa. “If we cut the high school dropout rate in half, new graduates can contribute billions of dollars to our gross national product and at the same time create tens of thousands of jobs. Education and a prosperous economy go hand-in-hand.”  

The GPA has 30 congressional co-sponsors and supporters to date.  

•••••• 

Johnny G. Economedes High School named AVID National Demonstration School

By GILBERT TAGLE 

Johnny G. Economedes High School (JEHS) has been named an AVID (Achievement Via Individual Determination) National Demonstration School for the 2010-2011 school year.  

AVID is a national college preparatory program that reaches out to students who are among the first generation in their family to attend college. Many are low-income, come from families where English is not spoken at home, or come from families who have no college experience. Of the more than 4,500 AVID programs nationwide, less than three percent of all AVID member schools have been given the national demonstration school designation. JEHS is now among that distinguished three percent.  

The prestigious National Demonstration School distinction recognizes JEHS’s AVID program as an exemplary model which demonstrates the very best AVID methodologies and strategies. As a result, schools and districts interested in implementing AVID or in improving their own AVID program arrange to visit JEHS and learn from the school’s success.  

The National Demonstration School designation is for a three-year term, and comes to JEHS after a series of evaluations and school visits by the AVID program’s national and regional staff. 

Although AVID serves all students, the focus is typically on students in the academic middle who often are the least served. AVID students are enrolled in rigorous AVID classes and receive additional support in an academic elective class taught during the school day by a trained AVID teacher. The students are taught techniques to earn college acceptance, receive scholarships, and later succeed in college. As a result of the skillset taught in the program, AVID students also attain higher grade point averages.  

“Being named an AVID National Demonstration School is an honor for our school, and our students and staff,” said Gloria Rivera, the JEHS principal. “So many of our AVID students have new opportunities offered to them by learning how to get into college, and how to succeed there.”  

Rivera said JEHS’  journey through AVID began 10 years ago with one AVID teacher and two class sections. Presently the AVID program has evolved into a program that reaches approximately 210 AVID students in grades 9-12 with the guidance of AVID coordinator Cynthia Walls and AVID elective teachers Sonia Arambula and Edwina Lerma-Sánchez.  

As an AVID National Demonstration School, JEHS faculty and staff strive to incorporate AVID strategies school-wide, said Rivera. They assist all JEHS students with the development of time management skills, study skills, note-taking skills, and the retention of information. She said the JEHS AVID site team is made up of 34 teachers who were trained in an AVID Summer Institute in Dallas during the summer. These teachers become the campus AVID advocates and mentors for the school-wide initiative that focuses on AVID methodologies to bridge the obstacles that many students face, said Rivera.  

••••••  

RGV Stonewall Democrats is recipient of Roberto Flores Club Achievement Award

By RICARDO CONTRERAS 

The Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus (TSDC) announced on Thursday, February 10, the recipient of the Roberto J. Flores Club Achievement Award, which goes to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Stonewall Chapter.

The award, named in memory of an LGBT Democratic leader from San Antonio who died in 2010, will be presented at the 2011 TSDC State Conference in March and honors the state chapter for demonstrating membership growth, political impact and LGBT advocacy in their community. 

The Stonewall Democrats are the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Caucus of the Democratic Party. The mission of the organization is to educate their community and involve them in the political process; mobilize their community to get out the vote to elect more pro-equality and fair-minded Democrats; and standing up to attacks not only to the LGBT community but all families and their civil rights. 

“We are honored and elated for the recognition bestowed by the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus,” said Eli Olivarez, president of the RGV Stonewall Democrats chapter. “The award is a true testament to the time, work and effort our members have invested to make a social and political difference in our community. Moreover, we are humbled to have received an award representative of such a great leader like Roberto Flores who gave of his life to advocate for the LGBT community throughout Texas.”  

The RGV Stonewall Democratic Chapter consists of 64 members. Among the chapter’s accomplishments:

• 2010 LGBT Political Forum hosted at South Texas College;

• Active participation in the county and state Democratic conventions;

• Representation in Democratic Convention Committees and the State Democratic Executive Committee;

• Fundraising efforts to contribute to Democratic candidates and GOTV;

• Partnerships with Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA);

• Grassroots efforts to elect Democratic candidates; and

• Overall LGBT advocacy in South Texas.  

Flores, a longtime San Antonio activist who was the first openly gay chair of the Bexar County Democratic Party, died Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 75. Flores was co-chair of Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, and his widower, Dan Graney, is president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus.

"LGBT Democrats across the state are proud of the hard work members of Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley have done to raise LGBT awareness in the lower Rio Grande Valley, build coalitions with other groups to host events and raise funds and make a significant impact on both our Democratic Party and the community at large along the border,” said Graney. “Roberto J. Flores, in whose memory the Club Achievement Award is named, would have been proud had he lived to see this day." 

•••••• 

Hispanics in U.S. less likely than Anglos to have high-speed Internet or own a cell phone

By RUSS OATES  

Latinos are less likely than whites to access the Internet, have a home broadband connection or own a cell phone, according to survey findings released on Wednesday, February 9, from the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

Latinos lag behind blacks in home broadband access but have similar rates of Internet and cell phone use.  

While about two-thirds of Latino (65%) and black (66%) adults went online in 2010, more than three-fourths (77%) of white adults did so. In terms of broadband use at home, fewer than half (45%) of Latinos have it, while two-thirds (65%) of whites and more than half of blacks (52%) have home broadband access. Fully 85% of whites owned a cell phone in 2010, compared with 76% of Latinos and 79% of blacks.  

Hispanics, on average, have lower levels of education and earn less than whites. Controlling for these factors, the differences in Internet use, home broadband access and cell phone use between Hispanics and whites disappear. In other words, Hispanics and whites who have similar socioeconomic characteristics have similar usage patterns for these technologies.  

Survey questions also probed for the use of non-voice applications on cell phones. Respondents were asked specifically about whether they access the Internet and whether they use email, texting or instant messaging from a cell phone. The findings reveal a mixed pattern of non-voice cell phone application use across ethnic and racial groups.

Hispanics are less likely than whites to use any non-voice applications on a cell phone (58% vs. 64).  But when the sample is limited to cell phone owners, there are no differences between Hispanics, whites or blacks in the likelihood of using non-voice data applications (77% of Hispanics, 75% of whites and 79% of blacks do so).  

Though they are no more likely than whites to access the Internet from a cell phone, Hispanics are more likely to do so in lieu of a home Internet connection. Some six percent of Latinos report that they access the Internet from a cell phone but have no Internet access at home. This rate is the same for blacks, but notably higher than the rate for whites (one percent).  

This report is based on two national surveys. The first, the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2010 National Survey of Latinos, is a nationally representative bilingual telephone survey of 1,375 adults ages 18 and older. Interviews were conducted from August 17 through September 19, 2010. The second, the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s August 2010 Health Tracking Survey, is a national representative telephone survey of 3,001 adults, conducted from August 9 through September 13, 2010.   

The report, Latinos and Digital Technology, 2010, authored by Gretchen Livingston, Senior Researcher, Pew Hispanic Center, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center’s website:

http://www.Pewhispanic.org 

The Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, is a nonpartisan, non-advocacy research organization based in Washington, D.C. and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. 

•••••• 

Attorney General resolves legal action against developers of two colonias in Cameron County

El Jardin and Magic Valley developers must bring lots into compliance, pay restitution to property owners  

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, February 14, resolved the state’s enforcement action against a Cameron County couple that unlawfully subdivided, sold, and leased several residential lots in the El Jardín and Magic Valley subdivisions. 

Under the agreed final judgment, defendants Guadalupe Pérez and his wife Petra Pérez must bring all residential lots sold or leased in El Jardín subdivision into compliance with Texas’ platting and colonias-prevention laws. Until then, the defendants are prohibited from subdividing, selling, advertising and executing any new leases in the El Jardín subdivision. 

The defendants agreed to refund $155,860 to property buyers in the Magic Valley subdivision.

According to the state’s legal action, the Pérezes sold the properties without water and sewer connections or the required bond for installation. The defendants also agreed to pay Texas $54,000 in civil penalties and more than $57,000 in investigative costs. 

“Border-area developers must comply with state colonias-prevention laws by providing basic water and wastewater services to residential lot purchasers,” Abbott said. “The Attorney General’s Office will continue working with local officials to enforce colonias-prevention laws. We are committed to protecting border residents by investigating housing developments that fail to comply with Texas law.” 

This resolution stems from the state’s 2009 investigation and enforcement action against the Pérezes. State investigators determined that the defendants unlawfully subdivided a tract of land into at least 12 lots intended for residential use in the El Jardin subdivision. Without obtaining the required plat from the Cameron County Commissioners Court, the defendants illegally sold at least four of those residential lots for $35,000 to $75,000. In the Magic Valley subdivision, state investigators found that defendants sold two lots without water and sewer utilities. 

In 1995, the Texas Legislature enacted enhanced colonias prevention laws. The new laws strengthened platting, selling and utilities requirements for residential land sales outside city limits in any county within 50 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Cameron County is located within 50 miles of the international border dividing the United States and Mexico.

Texas’ colonia-prevention laws also require that residential subdivision developers either install water and sewer service facilities or provide a financial guarantee to cover the utilities’ cost if the installation is not completed by a specific date. Local officials will not approve the subdivision until that infrastructure is created or the required bond is paid. 

Before purchasing residential property outside the city limits, border-area home buyers should check with county officials to determine whether the property was legally subdivided and whether the developer has made the necessary arrangements to supply water and wastewater infrastructure. 

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

The Attorney General’s Office also maintains the state’s Colonia Geographic Database, which offers geographic and descriptive data on more than 2000 colonias in 29 border area counties. To access the database or find more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the “Texas-Mexico Border” page at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov

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South Texas College hosts 2011 National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies regional conference

By EDGAR CHRNKO

 

For the second time in three years, South Texas College’s Mexican American Studies Program is hosting the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Regional Conference at the Pecan Campus from Thursday, February 24 through Saturday, February  26. Admission is free and open to the public.  

The theme for the conference is De Diosa a Hembra to Chicana: Celebrating the Last 40 Years of Chicana Activism and is also title of the keynote panel, which will offer a discussion of the events surrounding the landmark 1971 First National Chicana Conference. Although the focus of the conference centers on analyzing and reflecting Chicana activism, other topics related to Chicano(a), Latino(a) and the Mexican-American experience will be explored over the course of the three-day event. The conference begins on Thursday, February 24 at 6 p.m. 

The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies is the academic organization that serves academic programs, departments and research centers that focus on issues pertaining to Mexican Americans, Chicana/os, and Latina/os. The Association was formed in 1972, during the height of the Chicana/o movement, calling for the development of a space where scholarship and Chicana/o students could develop their talents in higher education. For more than 30 years, students, faculty, staff, and community members have attended the NACCS annual conference to present their scholarly papers – many of which have spun into important intellectual pillars.  

“We had a great response to the first NACCS conference we hosted in 2008 and hope community members show as much enthusiasm this year,” said Víctor Gómez, the event coordinator and an instructor with the STC Mexican American Studies Program. “It was a huge undertaking, but it is well worth it for the benefit of our students and the community. It’s a great opportunity for all attendees to learn more about our culture, the pioneers who helped make a place for us in this country and to celebrate our heritage.”

The NACCS conference will feature six keynote panels on Mexican-American women’s civil rights and the Dream Act, 71 sessions covering a range of topics, a film screening, and awards luncheon. A Noche Cultural will include a book-signing session with more than 23 renowned Hispanic authors and a presentation by Mexican musical group Huehuetl.  

Among the featured guests speaking during the keynote panels are Elma Barrera, the lead organizer of the first National Chicana Conference held in 1971; John Valadez, director and writer of the PBS documentary The Longoria Affair: Women behind the Inception of Mexican American Civil Rights;  Sara Posas, a sister-in-law of Felix Longoria; and Wanda García, the activist daughter of civil rights pioneer Hector P. García.  

The Longoria Affair sparked the Mexican American civil rights movement. The screening and roundtable on Thursday, February 24 at 6 p.m. includes Valadez, Posas, García and Marianne Bueno of North Texas University. They will discuss the women who were absent from the accounts that brought the case to the forefront of the movement.

While most of the events will be held at STC’s Pecan Campus located at 3201 West Pecan Boulevard in McAllen, the Friday, February 25 keynote panel that will discuss the first 40 years of Chicana activism, the awards luncheon and the Noche Cultural will all be held at the McAllen Convention Center located at the corner of Expressway 83 and Ware Road in McAllen.  

During the awards luncheon, novelist Rolando Hinojosa Smith, who was raised in the Valley, will receive the Sol de Aztlán Award, and attorney Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, a longtime member of the State Board of Education, will be honored with the Letras de Aztlán Award.

For more information on the 2011 NACCS conference, visit http://www.naccs.org, or contact Víctor Gómez at vgómez@southtexascollege.edu or by phone at 956/872-2070. 

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Congressman Rubén Hinojosa named co-chair of bipartisan House Adult Literacy Caucus 

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, February 11, was named the co-chairman to the bipartisan U.S. House of Representatives Adult Literacy Caucus.

Hinojosa will co-chair the caucus with Congressman Phil Roe, R-Tennessee.

The House Adult Literacy Caucus aims to bring attention to the connections between literacy, economics and health and promote local, national, and global adult literacy initiatives.  

“During these difficult economic times we must focus now more than ever on making sure our work force is educated,” said Hinojosa. “I along with my colleagues, who support the House Adult Literacy Caucus, will work together and concentrate our efforts on creating jobs. At the same time we will also make certain those entering the work force are educated and highly skilled. These goals have been my priorities since I began serving in Congress and I will continue to work on making our nation strong through education.”

A recent study (American Community Survey) shows that of the 200 million adults above the age of 25, 15 percent have not achieved a high school diploma or an equivalent and 93 million function below the high school level according to the (National Assessment of Adult Literacy).  

“In my congressional district alone, there are over 150,000 adults without a high school diploma,” said Hinojosa. “In Texas, we have nearly 4 million adults who do not have a high school diploma. This is unacceptable and that is why we need to do more to educate our adult learners and assist them in acquiring the 21st century skills they need to succeed in the workplace.”

The House Adult Literacy Caucus will work with other organizations to help advance adult education, language, and literacy by fostering collaboration and advocacy at the national and local levels.  

Hinojosa was awarded the National Coalition for Literacy Leadership Award in 2008 for his contributions to improving literacy in the United States and for his deep involvement with literacy programs for families in Texas District 15.  

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Tri City Bomber street gang members charged with drug trafficking, firearms violations

By ANGELA DODGE 

A sealed indictment charging 13 alleged members or associates of the notorious Tri City Bomber (TCB) street gang, headquartered in Hidalgo County, with trafficking in cocaine and Ecstasy, and firearms violations has been unsealed, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and FBI San Antonio Division Special Agent in Charge Cory Nelson announced on Wednesday, February 9.

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.  

These charges are part of a coordinated national effort to combat gangs and gang-related violence through federal prosecutions of members and associates. The Department of Justice announced on February 9 that more than 41 members of various street gangs charged in indictments or criminal complaints unsealed that day in five judicial districts. In total, 112 defendants have been charged, pleaded guilty or been sentenced in February 2011 as part of this ongoing effort involving U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, the Criminal Division’s Gang Unit, and federal, state and local law enforcement partners. 

After a four-year long investigation, teams comprised of agents and officers from the FBI, United States Border Patrol, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, McAllen Police Department and Mission Police Department executed arrest warrants beginning early beginning Wednesday morning, February 9, and had arrested seven of 13 charged in a 14-count indictment.  The indictment, returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Houston on February 2, 2011, was unsealed on February 9 by order of the court. 

The seven defendants arrested on February 9 in and around the McAllen area made an initial appearance before a U. S. Magistrate Judge in McAllen on Thursday, February 10. An order directing that five others, presently in state custody, be transferred into federal custody to answer the charges has issued and their appearances in federal court were scheduled to begin on February 10 and continue through the end of the month. A warrant remained outstanding for the one defendant who remains at large. 

The 13 arrested are alleged members or associates of the TCB gang, an organization which allegedly makes its money by trafficking in cocaine and Ecstasy. The TCB gang was, according to the indictment, formed in the early 1980’s in the Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo areas of South Texas.

An organized group with mandatory specific rules and regulations knows as “Las Reglas”  to endure loyalty and participation of gang members in criminal activity, the TCB also has a decision making hierarchy including a person in charge in each city, and persons holding positions within the organization including president, generals, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, soldiers and prospects. 

“Prospects” are those in the process of becoming TCB members.  Non-members who do business with or perform work for the TCB are referred to as “associates”.  

TCB membership is for life and many of the members have tattoos – “TCB”, “39”, a necklace tattoo made of small bombs, a 1939 Chevy Bomb car, or three high-rise buildings – presenting their membership and allegiance to the TCB. TCB members pay monthly fees to support incarcerated members and to further the illegal activity of the gang.

“This indictment represents our continued cooperative commitment to infiltrating and dismantling violent gangs who victimize our communities through random acts of violence, firearm violations, and drug distribution,” said Moreno. “Gang activity represents a major organized crime threat, and we will continue to work hand-in-hand with our federal, state, and local partners to disrupt their operations.” 

“This investigation is an excellent example of the strength found in FBI partnerships with local, state, and other federal law enforcement agencies whereby resources are combined to identify and eradicate the threat posed by violent gangs in our communities, wherever they may be found,” said Nelson.

Twelve of the charged defendants are accused of conspiring with one another from April 2008 through February 2011 to procure and distribute illegal drugs  – kilogram quantities of cocaine and 3, 4 – Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as “MDMA” or “Ecstasy” – to carry out the business of the gang. The conspiracy charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment up to life imprisonment if convicted as well as a $4 million fine.

MDMA (Ecstasy)  can induce euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others, and diminished anxiety and depression. MDMA (Ecstacy) is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world and is taken in a variety of contexts far removed from its roots in psychotherapeutic settings. It is commonly associated with dance parties (or "raves") and electronic dance music. 

Those defendants are: 

• Jeffrey Juárez, also known as (aka) “Dragon”, a.k.a. “Tira”, 35, of Sugar Land;

• Rogelio Loera, aka “Lolo”, 33, of McAllen;

• Joe Lee González, aka “Jojo”, 33, of San Juan;

• Eric Ruiz, 27, Pharr;

• Rolando Flores, aka “6-4”, 35, of Pharr;

• Julio Cisneros, aka “Grouch”, 32, of Alamo;

• José Garza, aka “Psycho”, 33, of Alamo;

• John Rosas III, aka “Popcorn”, 34, of Pharr;

• Daniel Cuellar, 35, of Brownsville;

• René Cuellar, aka “Chito”, 29, of Donna;

• Guadalupe Piña, aka “Lupillo”, 22, of Donna; and

• David Connelly, 28, of Mission. 

Juárez, Loera, González, and Connelly are charged individually with possessing with intent to distribute controlled substance and face a maximum of 20 years imprisonment and millions in fines depending upon the amount of drugs involved in the offense.

The 13th defendant, Fidel Cuellar, 27, aka “Fido”, and René Cuellar are each charged being previously convicted felons and possessing a firearm, an offense which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years incarceration and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.   

The six defendants arrested  include Rogelio Loera, aka “Lolo” , Joe Lee González, aka “Jojo”; John Rosas, aka “Popcorn”, Daniel Cuellar, René  Cuellar, aka “Chito”; Guadalupe Piña, aka “Lupillo”, and David Connelly.  The five defendants presently in state custody include Jeffrey Juárez, aka “Dragon”, Eric Ruiz, Rolando Flores, aka “6-4”, José Garza, aka “Psycho”, and Fidel Cuellar, aka “Fido”. As of February 9, a warrant remained outstanding for the arrest of  Julio Cisneros, aka “Grouch”. 

The cases will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Tim S. Braley and Mark Donnelly.     

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Two area defendants sentenced to prison for straw purchase and illegal export of munitions

By ANGELA DODGE 

Isaac Cervantes-Sánchez, 29, of McAllen,  and Leonel Richard Soto, 20, a United States citizen residing in Tamaulipas, Mexico, have been sentenced to prison for their roles in the straw purchasing firearms and ammunition ultimately bound for Mexico, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced. 

A straw purchase is any purchase whereby the purchaser is knowingly acquiring an item or service for someone who is, for whatever reason, unable to purchase the item or service themselves. This term can be applied to any such purchase, but it is most widely used in relation to the sale of firearms, especially in United States federal gun laws. 

United States District Judge Randy Crane sentenced both men on Thursday, February 17, handing Cervantes-Sánchez to a total of 46 months in federal prison to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release for the illegal exportation of munitions conviction. Crane sentenced Soto to 24 months incarceration to be followed by three-year-term of supervised release for lying to buy two AK-47’s for Cervantes-Sánchez. Both men pleaded guilty to the offenses of conviction in December 2010. 

The charges and the convictions of these two defendants is the result of an investigation conducted by special agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) with the assistance of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

In August 2009, ATF and ICE-HSI agents saw the defendants load approximately 4,000 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammunition into a vehicle driven by Cervantes-Sánchez. CBP agents stopped Cervantes -Sánchez and Soto as they attempted to leave the United States. Cervantes-Sánchez admitted to exporting the ammunition to Mexico. Soto purchased two AK-47 type firearms for Cervantes-Sánchez and was paid $300 to do so. 

Both men have been in federal custody without bond since their August 2008 arrest and will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prison facility to be designated in the near future where they will serve their sentence.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Steven Schammel. 

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