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Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, center, and Terry Burkett, chairman of the Outreach Veteran Committee for the Texas Capitol Vietnam War Monument Committee, on Wednesday, March 30, are featured reviewing the cast model for a planned $1 million monument, to be located on the Texas Capitol grounds, which will pay tribute to Texas veterans who served in America’s longest war. Earlier that day, the Texas Senate approved Hinojosa’s Senate Resolution 649, which celebrated March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day. In a related measure, Gov. Rick Perry, also on Thursday, March 24, signed House Concurrent Resolution 56 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Hinojosa, who served as a Marine combat squad leader in Vietnam, recognizing Saturday, April 9 as Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day. Muñoz said HCR 56 also is intended to draw more attention to the major celebration – which is free and open to the public – which will be held at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday, April 9. See stories on the both measures later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, featured on Friday, March 25, speaking from the podium in the Speakers Committee Room at the State Capitol, praises the House passage of Senate Bill 14, the so-called "Voter ID Bill", which would require Texas voters to provide one of several government-issued photo IDs, such as a Texas drivers license, before being allowed to cast a ballot at a polling place. Peña, surrounded by fellow Republican House members, contends the measure is part of several major pieces of legislation he will support this spring to crack down of voter fraud. However, his support for the voter ID bill was not shared by the rest of the Valley’s state representative delegation, including Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who issued their own statements detailing the reasons for voting against the voter ID measure. That legislation now goes to a conference committee made up of five senators and five state representatives who must hammer out differences between the version approved by the Senate earlier this month, and the version approved by the House on March 24. See related stories later in this posting.

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American Electric Power representatives Ben Crandall and Ryan Smith on March 8 presented a $17,371.50 energy savings incentive check to the Edinburg school board during its regular meeting.  Accepting the check were board members Jaime Chavana, Juan “Sonny” Palacios, Carmen González, David Torres, Robert Pena, Jr., and Dr. Martín Castillo as well as Superintendent of Schools Dr. René Gutiérrez, Robert Estrada, district architect, René Olivarez, district engineer, and Mario Salinas, assistant superintendent for District Administration. The incentive check, which comes through AEP’s 2010 Entergy Texas SCORE Program (Schools Conserving Resources) program, rewarded the district for choosing to install energy-efficient appliances The SCORE Program provides support to select school districts and higher education partners through energy performance benchmarking, energy master planning, and cash incentives for SCORE participants who complete projects that result in peak demand savings.

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Sgt. Patricio Castañeda, a Weslaco native, was a combat soldier in Vietnam. Lyndon B. Johnson was our president at the time. The two come together in the locally-produce play, Pat & Lyndon, which began in Pharr on Thursday, April 7. In the performance, produced by Pedro García, a wide array of characters, portrayed by the actors featured in this photograph, is at the Café Saigon and in their own backyards. Pat dreamed of a family life and Lyndon had nearly 500,000 soldiers deployed. Together they share their lives, their views and their experiences of this controversial time. Join the Pharr Community Theatre (PCT), 203 West Park Avenue in Pharr, on April 7 through 16, and again on May 19 through 22, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and  3 p.m. on Sundays. Advanced tickets are recommended (80 seats available per show) and can be purchased at the theatre Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and noon, or call Carol at 956/460-5473 or 956/783-7746. Tickets are $7 apiece. Featured, from left: Abelardo "Cha Cha" Jiménez; Kenny Reyes; Robert Martínez; Omar Treviño; Lassiter Holmes (who portrays President Johnson); Cecilia Hinojosa; Noel A. Reyna (who portrays Sgt. Castañeda); Araceli Casares; Rigo Ordaz; Armandina Sesin; Daniel Román; José E. Martínez; and Viridiana Garza. Kneeling, from left, are: Emily May-G. and Rebeca Ortiz.

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Area residents who were near South Texas College’s Technology Campus in McAllen on Thursday, April 7 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. may have noticed a slight pink glow covering the buildings. Why? It was Ladies Night on campus and the facilities were flush with Valley women enjoying an evening of fun, fashion, refreshments and career exploration. Admission was free and open to the public. Some of the women of STC’s Technology Campus showed their pink power ahead of the college’s April 7 event, including, featured from left: Irma Rosales, STC Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) instructor; Esmeralda Adame, STC precision manufacturing instructor; Laura Salas, STC CADD instructor; Margarita Vanguelova, STC CADD instructor; and Sara Lozano, STC CADD instructor. See story later in this posting.

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Depression and Alzheimer’s will be some of the topics that will be covered at the South Texas Senior Summit – hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce through its Health Committee – on Friday, April 29. Dr. César A. Matos will address those related issues in English and Spanish during the morning portion of the gathering, which is free and open to the public. A free lunch, sponsored by HEB, also will be provided for residents who attend the sessions, which will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Palm View Community Center, 3401 Jordan Avenue in McAllen. Matos, who will be one of several medical professionals who will make presentations during the day, received his education at the University of Puerto Rico, University Autónoma of Guadalajara, University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, University of Florida and the New York Psychiatric Institute. He began his practice in New York in 1983 and established his private practice in McAllen in August 1992.  He is currently the General Medical Director for the South Texas Behavioral Health Center in Edinburg.  The public is invited to register and also learn about Medicare/Medicaid, senior abuse and crimes against the elderly. Exhibitors will be available giving out information and marketing items that are useful to all seniors. In addition, free eye exams, foot exams, glucose and blood pressure readings will be made available at no cost to the audience. For more information and/or to register, residents and prospective exhibitors may contact the RGV Hispanic Chamber at 928-0060.  Sponsorships and exhibit space are still available. Committee members featured with Matos are, from left: Lidia Limas, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program; Delia Estrada, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program; Norma Brewster, Office of Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Dr. César A. Matos; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Adelita Muñoz, Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

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Edinburg High School senior Audrie Vela, a Senior Cross Country Athlete, recently signed a National Letter Of Intent to run cross country and track at Texas A&M University-Commerce for the fall of 2011. Featured on her big day are, front row, from left: Carlos Vela; Audrie Vela; Rachel Mascorro; and Ernie Mascorro. Standing, from left: Joe Filoteo, the athletic director for the Edinburg school district; and Tencha Lancaster, cross country track coach for EHS. 

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Edinburg’s retail economy, commercial construction in early 2011 show strong improvements over levels set last year

By DAVID A. DÍAZ  

Edinburg’s retail economy in January 2011, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up 21.74 percent over the same month last year, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

In January 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,313,889.30 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,079,226.86 in local sales taxes produced in January 2010.

Also impressive, construction activities in the city for the first two months of 2011 were more than double the level set during the same period last year – from almost $19.6 million through February 2010 to almost $41 million through February 2011. Commercial construction in January and February 2011 accounted for the lion’s share of that improvement, registering more than $31 million during that period, compared with almost $2 million during the same two months in 2010.

Edinburg’s 21.74 percent improvement over its January 2010 local sales tax collections was more than three times better than the statewide performance for all cities, which averaged an improvement of 6.7 percent, according to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.

“This is the 11th straight month that sales tax revenue has increased,” Combs said, referring to the statewide totals. “Much like in recent months, there were increases across all major sectors including oil and gas activity, manufacturing and retail trade. We will continue to monitor current economic conditions and gauge the effects on consumer and business spending.”

The January 2011 sales tax collections numbers released for Edinburg on Wednesday, March 9, by Combs, followed a landmark showing for the local community’s retail economy in December 2010. During December 2010 – the crucial holiday shopping period – Edinburg set a record for the amount of local monthly sales taxes collected  – $1,724,220.34.

Under the reporting system used by the state comptroller’s office, local and state sales taxes generated on retail sales in January 2011 were reported to the state in February. On Friday, March 11, the state began sending back the local sales tax portion – called a rebate – to the cities in which the retail sales were made.

Those economic figures are linked as they represent a combination of new jobs, more confident local consumers, and strong belief by citizens and potential residents in the successes of the city’s overall economy, said Pedro Salazar, the executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

"Our population continues to grow, which leads to more retail activities in Edinburg, but that’s only part of the story," said Salazar. "People may be feeling more comfortable spending money, plus they have more retail stores in Edinburg from which to choose. They also like the direction of our local economy, which continues to draw regional positive attention with major economic announcements – including more great news to come."

Commercial construction skyrockets 

During the upcoming year, up to a dozen major new commercial construction projects will be announced, he said. 

"Commercial activity is taking off in Edinburg," Salazar noted. "A lot of it has to do with the 13 miles of prime commercial real estate that is located right off U.S. Expressway 281, from Owassa Road in south Edinburg to FM 490 in the northern portion of our city. There also are a lot of available properties along that tremendous stretch of one of South Texas’ most crucial highways, which is at an interstate-quality level." 

Two of the city’s most recent, and high-profile, commercial developments are located along U.S. Expressway 281, a six-lane transportation system that is also linked to the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg. The city-owned airport is being developed into a major commercial air cargo facility.

On Thursday, January 20, city, EEDC, county and state leaders participated in the groundbreaking for the Rio Grande Produce Park, which will eventually transform an 87-acre tract of land in northeast Edinburg 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.

Late last fall, construction began on the first phase of the Santana Textile denim manufacturing plant, which will represent a $170 million investment. It is projected to employ about 800 people over the next five years.

Santana Textiles Corporation of Ceara, Brazil, one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers, is building – on a 23-acre site located in Edinburg’s North Industrial Park – a 300,000-square-foot plant which will turn cotton into denim fabric.

Denim is the foundation of a huge worldwide industry that produces billions of dollars annually in affordable, comfortable clothes, such as long skirts, jackets, shirts,  and – most famously – blue jeans, a staple fashion with deep roots in this nation’s history.

The manufacturing plant, which will utilize high-technology equipment for converting cotton into the finished product through spinning, weaving, and dyeing, also will bring high-paying jobs to the region, averaging more than $26,500 annually.

Edinburg medical care a major asset

"The economic successes in the city are not limited to U.S. Expressway 28," Salazar added. "Edinburg has many other key roadway systems that are driving commercial growth, such as the the Edinburg Medical Corridor in southwest Edinburg, which features the state-of-the-art hospitals of South Texas Health Systems and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, along with many other medical offices, retail stores and restaurants."

The city’s medical and health care industries are vital in the recruitment of major employers, as well as in helping existing businesses prosper and expand, while improving the quality-of-life for all residents, he said.

The EEDC conducts tours of the city for prospective new businesses and residents, and the presentations include a focus on the high quality of health care in Edinburg. 

"A crucial region to which we take prospective employers is the Edinburg Medical Corridor. Health care is key element when we are recruiting a company because people who are going to come from outside the city want to know that they will receive the same standards of medical care that are available in Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio," Salazar explained. "Many of them are unaware of the excellent quality and extensive range of medical services that are available in Edinburg. They are really surprised. It is an economic draw for Edinburg."

One of the most recent quality-of-life headlines was generated by the Thursday, March 3 groundbreaking for the $9 million, 38,000-square-foot Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance (ECCR). 

The Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance – a private/public partnership between the city and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance – will provide world-class continuing medical education conferences and community educational seminars – as well as host various meetings, lectures, graduation ceremonies, community events, and patient education forums. The conference center is also designed to hold musical and theatrical performances.  

Copies of the city’s monthly construction activity reports are available to the public by contacting Edinburg’s Code Enforcement Department, located at Edinburg City Hall, 415 W. University Drive, or by calling 956/388-8203.

For details of local sales tax activities for Edinburg and all other cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales Tax and Use Allocations Comparison Summary Reports on the state comptroller’s web site:

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html.

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 tohttp://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Rep. Muñoz votes against Republican-led state budget approved in the House

By DAVID A. DÍAZ  

Saying he is hopeful that the Texas Senate will force a compromise with House Republican leaders, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., a Democrat from Mission, on Sunday, April 3, voted against House Bill 1, the state budget plan that was approved late that evening by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

In addition to Muñoz, all the other Valley state representatives – Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, José Manuel Lozano, D-Kingsville, Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, and Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg – voted against HB 1. 

House Bill 1 is a $164.5 billion budget proposal for the state government’s upcoming two year budget, which begins September 1, that slashes $23 billion from all major state obligations, including public and higher education, nursing homes, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), transportation, and public safety. 

Muñoz said that HB 1 would reduce up to $8 billion in state funding from public education statewide, likening the leadership’s budget cutting techniques to "using a machete to chop off an injury rather than a surgeon’s scalpel to heal the wound." 

The South Texas lawmaker, who says that "education is the top priority for all Texans," predicted that such deep budget cuts to public schools in Texas would have a far-reaching negative effect on the state’s economy. 

"These cuts could easily lead to layoffs of 100,000 school district employees, and another 140,000 related private sector jobs," said Muñoz. "Such a move would also result in more crowded classrooms and a lower quality of education for Texas’ children. These schoolchildren are our responsibility, and more importantly, they are the future of Texas." 

Muñoz did co-author a successful amendment that restored funding for South Texas College’s Bachelor of Applied Technology (BAT) program, working with the entire Valley House delegation to get it approved on the House floor. The amendment restores $630,000 for the next two-year budget to the STC program, one of only three such programs in the state. 

“While I voted against House Bill 1, based on principles that I swore to uphold – my duty to provide an adequate budget to fund our schools, be responsible about health care, and to provide for the public safety and transportation – I am thrilled to have restored total funding for STC’s BAT program," explained Muñoz. 

The college offers BAT Degrees in Technology Management as well as in Computer and Information Technologies.  STC is one of only three Texas community colleges accredited to offer bachelor degrees and the only Texas community college accredited to offer two bachelor’s degrees. The first class of BAT student graduated from the college in May 2007. 

Muñoz also supported numerous amendments that would have offered additional financial protections for neighborhood public schools, nursing homes jobs, and financial aid for state universities. 

"I am proud to have supported amendments that would have lessened some of the burden this budget will place on Texas and our local communities," he said.  

Fortunately, Muñoz noted, the Senate is considering its own state budget plan, which provides $5 billion more than the House budget plan, with the potential of raising up to $10 billion after a Senate committee looking for non-tax revenue sources makes its recommendation to the Legislature. 

Under the rules of the legislature, when the House and Senate versions of the budget bills do not reconcile, a handful of senators and state representatives are appointed to a conference committee to work out the differences in the bills.  That process will begin as soon as the Senate approves its version of the bill in the next few days or weeks.  It is during the conference committee’s deliberations that Muñoz and many of the Democrats in the Legislature will continue to influence a better budget plan than found in HB 1. 

Upon completion of the conference committee work on HB 1,  the entire House and Senate will have the final say on any new state budget, and the governor would have to approve it or veto (kill) it, or even veto specific line items of funding.  

A veto could require state lawmakers to meet until August 31 to come up with another version of the state budget. 

"I will work for a better state budget as hard and as long as it takes," said Muñoz. "We are going to fight for a state budget that is fair, that improves, not hurts, our economy, that provides for our children and our elderly, and which protects the most vulnerable in Texas." 

Muñoz votes to tap Rainy Day Fund 

In related action on Thursday, March 31, Muñoz voted for a separate legislative measure, House Bill 275, which will allow the use of $3.1 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund in order to keep state government running through the end of its current fiscal year, which ends August 31. 

The Rainy Day Fund is the state’s savings account, which draws much of its money from taxes on natural gas and oil. The March 31 vote allows the state to use the money for the remainder of this budget cycle only – for only the next five months.  Muñoz has argued to extend the use of the Rainy Day Fund into the coming budget cycle which begins on September 1.

Even after the March 31 allocation of $3.1 billion to help balance the remainder of this fiscal year budget, the Rainy Day Fund still contains $6 billion available to the Legislature for budgeting purposes. 

"I cannot think of a better time or a better use of the state’s Rainy Day Fund," said Muñoz.  "After hearing from, visiting with, and reading correspondence from thousands of Texans who are being affected by these drastic cuts, I believe it is fair to determine that it is storming, and the use of the Rainy Day Fund is in order." 

Potential revenue sources don’t involve tax increases 

There are many options to raise revenue to offset the base budget cuts and the resulting job losses, noted Muñoz. 

"These new sources of money, which do not involve tax increases, would generate billions of dollars to help pay for our most important state programs and services," he said. 

Among some of the new revenue sources Muñoz favors are: 

• Continuing to tap into the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund ($6 billion remaining after HB 275) to help provide needed state money for the most crucial state services;  

• Delaying the date of payments by the state by one day into the next fiscal year, a tactic used effectively in the past and that could save the state $3 billion to $4 billion; and 

• Prioritizing $550 million from the Available School Fund for digital and print materials for pre-kindergarten, English as a second language, and writing and science. The Available School Fund, which has almost $2 billion, is a program that sets money aside from the state to help pay for the public school system.

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State budget passed by House to have "devastating effects" on Valley, says Rep. Gonzáles

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA

House Bill 1, the state budget bill developed by the House Appropriations Committee and approved by the Republican-controlled House on Sunday, April 3, will have devastating effects on the Texas economy and particularly on the Rio Grande Valley, according to Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen.

(Editor’s note: The measure was approved by the large Republican majority in the House –  98 Republicans voted for HB 1, with only two Republicans – including Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg – voting against the House version of the state budget bill. It is awaiting action by the Senate, which may not recommend as many deep cuts.) 

The Legislative Budget Board (LBB), the state’s non-partisan legislative advisory board, looked at the effects of the proposed budget and released its findings in mid-March.  The LBB’s report revealed that budget cuts of $23 billion will result in 335,000 jobs being lost in 2012-13. The LBB noted that the budget proposal includes only cuts and no use of the state’s Rainy Day Fund or new sources of revenue.  

“Proposed budget cuts will have a detrimental effect on millions of Texas families, particularly in South Texas, as billions of dollars will be cut from services essential to our area,” said Gonzáles.  "Educators stand to lose their jobs, classroom sizes are expected to be increased, some schools will be closed and the elimination of funding for grant programs will mean that thousands of students will be unable to afford a college education."  

Under the House spending plan – which is different from the Senate state budget –  public education is being cut by $8 billion.  

Higher education institutions are expected to lose $412 million, with no funding for student enrollment growth, which results in an additional loss of $700 million and financial aid programs are expected to lose around $431 million. 

Currently, Texas ranks 50th in the nation when it comes to persons 25 and older with a high school diploma and 44th in the nation when it comes to state and local expenditures per pupil in public schools.  

"With these type of statistics, education is the last place that we should see such draconian cuts.  Texas needs to be college-educated and job-ready; yet this budget is promoting the opposite effect," she said.  

Medicaid will be cut by $6 billion and there will be a 10 percent rate cut in provider reimbursements. Hidalgo County has one of the largest Medicaid populations in the state.  While some argue that state spending on Medicaid in Texas is extremely high, Texas actually ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to per capita state spending on Medicaid and it ranks 1st in the nation when it comes to the percentage of the population that is uninsured.    

“I am outraged that this punitive budget is seriously being considered by so many members in the House," Gonzáles said. "The LBB report is further proof of the harsh and appalling reality that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost and serious consequences will ensue from the governor and the Republican leadership refusing to consider reasonable solutions to raise revenue, close loopholes and use the Rainy Day Fund intended to protect the people of Texas and mitigate some of these devastating and long-term effects.” 

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Sen. Hinojosa passes Senate amendment that protects aircraft safety near Texas wind farms

By DANIELA SANTONI

An amendment by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, which changes the reporting process for wind farm development and helps prevent hazardous conditions for air navigation was approved by the Texas Senate on Monday, April 4.

Hinojosa’s amendment was added to Senate Bill 497 by Sen. Mike Jackson, R-Pasadena, which relates to notice of the construction or expansion of a wind-powered electric generation facility located near a federally owned or operated radar installation or military installation.

Hinojosa, along with Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, are co-authors of SB 497.

Under the current process of notification for the development of a wind farm, a developer must advise the Federal Aviation Administration at least 45 days before the start of construction. The FAA then notifies eight different entities – the FAA Airport Division, FAA Flight Procedures Division, FAA Flight Standards Division, FAA Frequency Management, FAA Technical Operations, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army and Department of the Navy – who then look over the project and voice approval or objection. 

If there is an objection, it is up to the developer to meet with the objecting party to resolve the conflict.

The FAA must have clearance from all entities before issuing a "determination of no hazard"; however, there is no legal recourse to stop a developer from putting up a wind farm, even if the project doesn’t receive a determination of no hazard. 

"Right now, there is no legislation or legal recourse to stop a developer from putting up a wind farm, even if the FAA has denied a determination on no-hazard," Hinojosa said. "This issue needed to be addressed. These wind farms can create dangerous conditions for air navigation."

Hinojosa’s successful amendment would allow the Public Utilities Commission to impose a fine or penalty to a developer who moves forward with the construction or expansion of a wind-powered generation facility before they file the FAA determination of no hazard with the PUC.

"Under the amendment, the PUC can implement penalties and other actions against a developer who doesn’t comply – they can adopt rules and conduct proceedings necessary to administer and enforce these regulations," Hinojosa added. "When this becomes law, our military installations and airports, will have more resources to prevent a possibly dangerous or hazardous situation."

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Cameron County resident charged with wire fraud involving former district judge Limas

By ANGELA DODGE

A San Benito resident has been arrested following the filing of a criminal complaint accusing him of wire fraud arising from a scheme to defraud the state of Texas and its citizens of their right to the honest services of a state district judge performed free from deceit, favoritism, bias, self-enrichment and self-dealing, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Friday, April 1.

A criminal complaint is a accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.

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

José  Manuel Longoria, 52, a resident alien from Mexico residing in San Benito, was arrested on Thursday, March 31, 2011, by agents of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and officers of the Brownsville Police Department (BPD) as a result of a warrant which issued following the filing of a criminal complaint under seal on March 30, 2011.

Longoria appeared on April 1 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Félix Recio who ordered the defendant to remain in custody without bond pending a preliminary examination and detention hearing set for Tuesday, April 5, 2011.

The criminal complaint, unsealed on April 1 following Longoria’s court appearance, charges Longoria with wire fraud arising from  “a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the state of Texas of the right to the honest services of a state district judge, performed free from deceit, favoritism, bias, self-enrichment and self-dealing.” The offense is alleged to have occurred on April 24, 2008. 

According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Longoria was involved in a scheme with former 404th District Judge Abel Corral Limas to allow a state probationer to report by mail rather than in person in return for payment of money. The probationer had been convicted of aggravated assault in 2006 and was under court-ordered supervision. The complaint alleges the probationer left Texas for Arkansas without authorization from the probation officer in violation of the terms of his probation. Longoria allegedly was wired $1,800 from Arkansas as part of the scheme to pay Limas to enter an order authorizing the probationer to report by mail. The complaint alleges 404th court records indicate that on April 23, 2008, Limas contacted the state probation officer ordering that the probationer be permitted to report by mail.

A conviction for wire fraud carries a maximum punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000.00 fine, upon conviction.

The charges are the result of an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI, DEA and the BPD. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Óscar Ponce and Michael Wynne are prosecuting the case.

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Gov. Perry signs measure by Rep. Muñoz and Sen. Hinojosa designating Saturday, April 9, as Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, March 24, signed House Concurrent Resolution 56 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, which recognizes Saturday, April 9 as Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day

HCR 56 was co-authored by the entire Valley legislative delegation in both the House and the Senate. 

 “This measure is a fitting tribute by the Texas Legislature and the state’s top elected leadership to the tremendous courage shown and the selfless sacrifices made by thousands of South Texas veterans who served in southeast, defending freedom from the tyranny of communism,” said Muñoz. “I am so grateful to them – and all U.S. veterans from throughout our nation’s history – for our precious liberties in America.”

Hinojosa, who served as a Marine combat squad leader during the Vietnam War, said the loved ones of America’s fighting forces in Vietnam share in the statewide honor.

“The men and women in uniform who heroically protect our nation, here at home and throughout the world, know that their families share much of the hardship and fears that come with the honorable responsibility of protecting our country and the ideals we stand for,” said Hinojosa. “We owe our way-of-life to the families of our veterans as well.”

Perry, himself a U.S. veteran, served in Air Force between 1972 and 1977, flying C-130 tactical airlift aircraft in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.

“From our nation’s earliest beginnings, veterans have bravely protected the causes of freedom and liberty both within our borders and abroad,” Gov. Rick Perry said. “I am proud to call these fine individuals fellow Texans, and I join Rep. Muñoz and Sen. Hinojosa in recognizing and thanking Vietnam veterans in South Texas for their service to our nation.” 

McAllen Convention Center to host major celebration

Muñoz said the legislative resolution also is intended to draw more attention to the major celebration – which is free and open to the public – which will be held at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday, April 9.

According to the event’s website, http://www.LZRGV.com:

On April 9, 2011, all of the five-county communities of South Texas (Zapata, Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy) are invited to meet at the McAllen Convention Center to welcome home our Vietnam War era Veterans. The Vietnam era Veterans of South Texas were not given the welcome home acknowledgment that they justly deserved. The intention is to recognize the sacrifices many made during the Vietnam War. This event is intended to recognize all Vietnam War era veterans in South Texas and honor the many that were killed-in-action and missing-in-action. Prisoners of war and those wounded while fighting for our country will also be honored. There is a special tribute planned for other veterans as well. 

LZ:RGV program themes are derived from three main components: proclamation, education and celebration. This living memorial offers everyone the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the Vietnam War era veterans’ achievements. 

In addition to several regional veteran resources and services, other activities include a locally-produced play from the Pharr Literacy Project on the South Texas Vietnam War experience called "Pat and Lyndon", poetry readings, photography, videos, the traveling Vietnam War “Healing” Memorial”, a military vehicle exhibit, and a special Vietnam era music tribute featuring recording artists Carlos Guzmán, Freddy Martínez, Sunny Ozuna and other special guests. 

Muñoz expressed appreciation to the professional and financial contributions of the major sponsors for the event: H-E-B; Entravision Communications; the City of McAllen; McAllen Convention Center; the City of Edinburg; the City of Pharr; the City of Harlingen; the City of Brownsville; the American Legion; the Veterans Alliance; the Veterans of Foreign Wars; the Rio Grande Guardian; Entrevision Communications; (Hidalgo County Judge) Ramón García; TIS (Total Imaging Solutions); The Del Rio Agency; Border Media; Godínez Communications, The Monitor; Advertir; Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, Attorneys-at-Law; and Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation.

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was waged for numerous key reasons, but primarily to stop the expansion of communism. Communism is a political philosophy that gives all power to the government, including severely violating crucial human rights, such as freedom of speech, private ownership of property, and freedom of religion. 

Major American involvement in Vietnam spanned from the 1960s to the early 1970s, pitting the U.S. and then-South Vietnam against North Vietnam, a communist nation aided by the then-Soviet Union and China. The losses and casualties for the U.S., South Vietnam and North Vietnam were huge: 58,220 Americans were killed (mostly military personnel) and 303,635 (mostly military personnel) were wounded; South Vietnam suffered 220,357 killed and 1,170,000 military personnel and civilians wounded; and North Vietnam lost 1,176,000 military personnel and civilians with another 600,000+ wounded. 

HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 56 

WHEREAS, Proud South Texas veterans of the Vietnam War are being officially welcomed home at the LZ:RGV event at the McAllen Convention Center on April 9, 2011; and 

WHEREAS, Short forLanding Zone: Rio Grande Valley, the event honors the service and sacrifice of the South Texans who were among the 2.59 million Americans who served in Vietnam; during that conflict, more than 58,000 Americans died, including 3,400 from Texas, and over 300,000 were wounded, including 75,000 who were severely disabled; approximately 2,000 Americans are still listed as missing, and hundreds spent time as prisoners of war; and 

WHEREAS, These brave men and women served with honor and distinction at a time when the nation was divided in its support of the war; returning home, they were caught in the crossfire of debate and protest and never received the recognition that they deserved; and 

WHEREAS, In order to rectify that omission, a coalition of groups in South Texas has come together to organize, promote, and host a long overdue tribute for the region’s veterans; sponsors include Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Veterans Alliance, the cities of McAllen and Edinburg, The Monitorand the Rio Grande Guardian, Total Imaging Solutions, and Entravision Communications; and 

WHEREAS, The LZ:RGV event will include a dedication ceremony for the Veterans War Memorial of Texas, lectures, a keynote address, and a concert; visitors may also learn about the war and its veterans from information booths, a portrait gallery, exhibits, and documentaries; and 

WHEREAS, Citizens of this state and nation owe our brave Vietnam veterans an eternal debt of gratitude, and the LZ:RGVevent in McAllen will celebrate those South Texans who served and came home and will pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice; now, therefore, be it further 

RESOLVED, That the 82nd Legislature of the State of Texas hereby designate April 9, 2011, as LZ:RGV Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day and extend to the event’s organizers, supporters, and participants sincere best wishes for a meaningful and memorable day. 

••••••

Texas Senate approves bill by Sen. Hinojosa establishing March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day

By DANIELA SANTONI 

The Texas Senate on Wednesday, March 30, approved Senate Resolution 649 by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, celebrating March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day.

The measure draws attention to Hinojosa’s SB 1903, passed in 2009, which established March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day, and House Concurrent Resolution 36, approved in 2005, authorizing the construction of  the Texas Capitol Vietnam War Monument (TCVWM). 

Hinojosa is a Vietnam veteran who served his country as a U.S. Marines combat squad leader in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968.

"We remember our soldiers so their memory doesn’t die – the monument will be here in the Capitol to honor those who have given their life for our country and to welcome those who come back," Hinojosa said. "Texans did not have a day of recognition specifically for Vietnam before SB 1903, and now we can take this time to honor and support our veterans and their families."

The Vietnam War was the longest military conflict in United States history. More than 3,000,000 Americans served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and more than 58,000 Americans lost their lives defending the nation’s freedom during the Vietnam conflict. On March 29, 1973, the last remaining members of the United States armed forces withdrew from Vietnam.

"Many veterans felt discouraged and isolated when they came back from the war because our citizens confused a controversial war with the untainted valor and commitment of our American soldiers," Hinojosa said. "Veterans answered the call to go to war – now it’s our turn."

The senator also sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 79 in memory of a Marine who passed away on December 6, 2010, while the Legislature was not in session. Hinojosa expressed his solemnity for the loss of those who have lost their lives in war at a young age and their families.

"I’d like to take a moment to honor Marine Lance Corporal Colton Rusk of Orange Grove, Texas, who died at the young age of 20 in Afghanistan while serving his country," Hinojosa said. "With a heavy heart, I thank the family of this brave man for his valor."

In addition, Hinojosa is sponsoring a resolution in support of building a new underground Education Center across from The Wall in Washington, D.C. to honor those who served and died in the war.

"We served our country with pride, and I will continue to address the issues affecting our veterans with that same commitment," Hinojosa said. "I am proud to honor and serve my fellow Vietnam veterans."

"Thank you for your support and God Bless America – Semper Fi," Hinojosa concluded.

The planned Texas Capitol Vietnam War Monument is a designated IRS 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. You can find additional information on the website: http://www.buildthemonument.org. To date, the committee has raised $334,000 for the design and construction of the Texas Capitol Vietnam War Monument. The committee still needs $665,000.

Anyone interested in donating funds to construct the monument can send a check to the "Texas Capitol Vietnam Memorial Committee" at P.O. Box 2184 Austin, TX  78768-2184.

Hinojosa also recognized Robert Floyd, chairman of the TCVWM Committee, Monument Artist Duke Sundt, Chairman of the TCVWM’s Veterans Outreach Committee Terry Burkett, and several fellow veteran legislators, 

The Education Center will feature the Wall of Faces and the Hall of Heroes – representative images of those who have served in other wars – as well as an Artifacts Collection of more than 100,000 items left at The Wall. The Education Center will share and celebrate core values of duty, loyalty, respect, service, honor, courage, integrity and stories that must be preserved and shared with future generations.

••••••

Gov. Perry, House Speaker Straus praise Republican passage of "Voter ID" legislation

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Gov. Rick Perry and Speaker of the House Joe Straus, both Republicans, are praising the overwhelming passage of the Senate Bill 14, the so-called "Voter ID" bill, which will require all Texas voters to provide a government-issued photo ID card before being allowed to cast their ballots in person.

The measure, authored by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horshoe Bay, and sponsored by Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, was approved on March 24 in the House by an overwhelming majority. Only Republicans, who make up 101 votes in the 150-member House of Representatives, and one Democrat, voted for SB 14.

 

Under the legislation, which is expected to be signed into law later this spring by Perry,  a voter would be required to show either a Texas drivers license or identification card, a U.S. military ID card, a U.S. passport, a Texas concealed handgun license, or a U.S. citizenship certificate that contains a photo before casting a ballot. The bill also would increase the penalties for committing voter fraud.

Under current law –  which would be done away with by SB 14 – a voter who does not have a government-issued photo ID can still cast their votes by showing their voter registration card or several other approved documents, such as an electricity bill or birth certificate – documents that don’t require a photo ID.

"I commend the Texas House for passing legislation regarding photo ID requirements that are necessary to uphold the integrity of our state’s electoral process and ensure our state has the proper protections against voter fraud," said Perry. "This issue is important to Texans, and I look forward to this legislation reaching my desk very soon."

Straus, R-San Antonio, also expressed his support for the measure, which had been designated by Perry earlier this year as an emergency item for quick action by the Legislature.

"I commend Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring) and my colleagues in the Texas House for their hard work in passing SB 14 (Voter ID legislation)," Straus said.

Harless was the House sponsor of the bill. Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horshoe Bay, was the author of the legislation.

Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, is a joint sponsor of SB 14.

SB 14 now goes to a conference committee made up of five senators and five state representatives who must hammer out differences between the version approved by the Senate earlier this month, and the version approved by the House on March 24. 

"The Legislature must do all it can to guarantee that our elections are conducted fairly, legally, and without fraud. This bill is a significant step in achieving those goals," Straus explained. "I am confident that in the coming weeks we will find additional ways to protect the integrity of our elections, including ensuring that the mailed-in ballot process is not compromised." 

Earlier this spring, Fraser secured Senate approval of SB 14 on a 19 to 11 vote. 

Valley senators Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voted against SB 14.

Fraser said SB 14 is intended to increase confidence that in-person voter fraud does not occur. Senate Bill 14 would require that each voter show photo identification before being able to cast a vote.

"Photo ID is simply putting into practice the intent of the current – that the person who shows up at the polls is who he or she claims to be," said Fraser. "Voter impersonation is a serious crime, but without a photo ID requirement we can never have confidence in our system of voting."

According to a recent Lighthouse Opinion Polling and Research poll, 86 percent of Texans –  Republicans and Democrats – support a photo ID requirement.

"Polls show that people are less likely to vote if they believe their ballot will not be fairly counted," Fraser said. "Senate Bill 14 is just one step in restoring voter confidence by giving election workers a tool to eliminate in-person voter fraud."

••••••

"Voter ID" bill, opposed by Rep. Muñoz, will hurt elderly and minority voters

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Texas voters from all walks of life – especially the elderly and minorities – will find it more difficult to cast their ballots in any future elections as a result of the so-called “Voter ID” bill that was passed on Thursday, March 24, by Republican state lawmakers, says Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission. 

The controversial measure, Senate Bill 14, would for the first time require a voter to present one of a restrictive – and potentially expensive – choice of government-issued photo ID before being allowed to cast their ballot at a polling place.  

Muñoz, who voted against SB 14, said Republicans offered no proof that Texans were impersonating other people when they went to the election polls. 

“Fox News reported after the passage of SB 14, that – and I quote: – ‘Texas has only convicted one person of voter impersonation since 2002’” said Muñoz. “Despite this fact, the Republican leadership pushed the ‘Voter ID’ bill because they want to discourage, not encourage, people from being able to vote. ” 

Only Republicans who make up 101 votes in the 150-member House of Representatives, and one Democrat, voted for SB 14. 

The differences between the bill as earlier passed by the Senate and the version passed by the House goes to a conference committee made up of an equal number of senators and representatives who must come up with a compromise on the changes made in the House. Then, both legislative chambers will have to vote on the new version before it is sent to Gov. Rick Perry for his support or veto. 

Muñoz said the House Republicans defeated a Democratic amendment that would have lowered from age 70 to 65, those elderly Texans allowed to vote without a government-issued photo ID.  The Republicans then went a step further and removed the entire exemption, thereby forcing all Texans, including all the elderly, to abide by the photo ID requirement. 

"Many Texas senior citizens don’t have a drivers license for many valid reasons, such as they no longer have to drive to work or because medical conditions prevent them from driving, because they can’t afford the high costs of buying and maintaining a vehicle, or because they never needed a drivers license," said Muñoz. "Yet, the Republican leadership insisted on making elderly Texans now have to go through the burden of getting to a Texas Department of Public Safety Office and struggling through the bureaucratic nightmare of waiting in long lines in order to get their picture taken. Then they will have to wait even more before they finally get the photo ID through the mail before the government will allow them to vote."  

Under current law –  which would be done away with by SB 14 – a voter who does not have a government-issued photo ID can still cast their votes by showing their voter registration card or several other approved documents, such as an electricity bill or birth certificate – documents that don’t require a photo ID. 

Muñoz noted that the overwhelming majority of Hispanic and African-American state representatives opposed SB 14. 

"The same problems that will face elderly Texans because of SB 14 will face minorities, especially working families and the poor, who historically have been discouraged from voting in Texas," said Muñoz. "We should be focusing on restoring vital program funding to the Valley, protecting public safety, securing our border with Mexico, and locking up violent criminals, not making it more difficult for people to want to vote.”  

Muñoz said he voted for several successful amendments by fellow Democrats, including measures that would allow Texans who had lost their photo ID due to a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, to vote. 

He also supported successful Democratic amendments that would allow Texans whose photo ID has been stolen to provide a police report on the theft, thus allowing them to vote. 

Also, Muñoz supported a successful Democratic amendment that would make a photo ID issued by a federally-recognized tribal organization – such as the Yselta Del Sur Pueblo tribe in El Paso – an acceptable photo ID for the purposes of voting. 

The House Research Organization, the non-partisan legal research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, reports that SB 14 could “disenfranchise voters by creating a substantial obstacle to the right to vote.” 

The House Research Organization also reported that opponents of the bill warn: 

Eligible voters should not be needlessly hassled by the state and discouraged or intimidated from exercising their fundamental right to vote without legitimate justification, yet there is no proof that the barriers to voting that this bill would erect are needed at all. This bill would be an extreme, costly solution in search of a problem not proven to exist. 

There is little or no evidence of the voter fraud that this bill purports to address. No proof exists of organized, widespread voter fraud at the polls, and any recent individual cases of voter impersonation are anecdotal at best. 

A 2009 interim report by the Texas House Elections Subcommittee on Mail-in Ballot Integrity found no evidence of non-citizens abusing the electoral system. Furthermore, in its interim report to the 82nd Legislature, the Texas House Committee on Elections acknowledged that based on testimony from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, evidence of voter fraud is lacking. Such findings show that the current law is working and that this bill is unnecessary and unjustified.

Christopher Madrid contributed to this article.

••••••

"Voter ID" law could drop Hispanic participation in elections by 10 percent, says Rep. Gonzáles

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has expressed her strong concerns and dismay that Senate Bill 14, the so-called "Voter ID" bill, passed on the House floor on Friday, March 25, creating a substantial obstacle for many Texas citizens trying to exercise their right to vote. 

SB 14 requires a voter to present valid photo identification at the polls.  Currently, no such prerequisite is required.  

“Aside from being the most restrictive voter ID requirements in the nation, the adverse effects from the passage of this bill will inevitably lead to lower election turnouts and the disenfranchisement of many eligible voters, particularly in minority communities,” said Gonzáles.  

The bill is very restrictive in the types of ID that are acceptable. A driver’s license, passport, or concealed handgun license are allowed, but a government-issued ID or student ID are not. Further, potential problems could exist since the name on the photo ID must match the registered voter name. Slight discrepancies among names or addresses on ID cards, voter registration cards or the voting rolls as well as photos on expired ID cards could all result in eligible citizens being denied the right to vote. 

Perhaps more troubling, is that the author of the legislation (Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horshoe Bay/Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring) could present no evidence of voter impersonation existing in Texas which this bill purports to address. The true problem is voter turnout, a problem which most likely will be exacerbated when the bill becomes law.  

Texas already ranks last in the country on voter turnout.  If the true Republican intention was to eliminate voter fraud, this bill has created a loophole since no photo ID is required at all for mail-in ballots and the bill allows for two affidavits to be signed in order to vote without the voter ever having to present a photo. 

Obtaining a photo ID could be a significant barrier for many citizens, particularly for students, seniors, minorities, people with disabilities and rural voters. Many of these groups of people cannot afford to take time off from work, get transportation or endure long driving distances to secure an ID from a Department of Public Safety (DPS) office perhaps hundreds of miles away.  DPS confirms that there are no offices in 77 of Texas’ 254 counties.  

Of the states that have implemented voter ID laws, all of them have seen a reduction in voter turnout.  In the 2004 presidential campaign, African American voter turnout declined by 5-7 percent and Hispanic turnout dropped by 10 percent in these states. 

Perhaps most striking about the Voter ID bill is the sizable cost to the state, completely ignored and unacknowledged by the Republican party.  The bill’s fiscal analysis placed a $2 million price tag on the implementation of this voter ID program. According to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), the start-up process would involve advance notice of the ID requirement, voter education for the public, and enhanced training for election judges; all of which costs money.  However, nothing was even mentioned regarding the actual costs of the photo IDs that DPS plans to issue for free.  The LBB even acknowledged that the number of voters who would seek a free ID card is unknown; therefore, the bill’s fiscal analysis did not accurately reflect the bill’s potential costs.  

“Given Texas’ current budget crisis, it seems absurd that Texas should use its limited resources on complicating election procedures and creating more state bureaucracy for otherwise eligible voters,” Gonzáles said. “The ‘Voter ID’ bill merely pursues a costly solution to a nonexistent problem and creates an unnecessary roadblock that interferes with the constitutional right to vote given to every Texas citizen.”

••••••

Former president, vice president of Texas National Bank convicted of bank fraud

By ANGELA DODGE 

The former president and vice president of a McAllen-area bank and an area homebuilder have been convicted of bank fraud after pleading guilty on Monday, April 4, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno has announced.

Arsenio Alfaro, 45, and Elizabeth Aguirre 41, the former president and vice-president of Texas National Bank (TNB), and John Guzmán, 33, a McAllen area homebuilder, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud as alleged in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury on December 28, 2010. 

Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, who accepted the guilty pleas and convicted each defendant, has set sentencing for July 1, 2011. All three face a maximum of 30 years in federal prison without parole and a $1 million fine. 

A fourth defendant charged in this case is set for trial in 2011, and is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

According to information presented in court, Guzmán and one of his business associates – an alleged co-conspirator, owned several bank accounts at TNB beginning in December 2005. By the fall of 2006, the accounts had become overdrafted by thousands of dollars. Accordingly, then-TNB president Alfaro met with the alleged co-conspirator – with whom he had maintained a personal relationship, about resolving the overdrafted accounts and explained that an overdraft report, which listed all of the bank’s overdrafted accounts, was computer generated and circulated to TNB’s board of directors at the end of every month.  

To conceal the overdrafts from the board, Alfaro agreed to allow checks from a closed account, previously held by Guzmán’s alleged co-conspirator at another bank, to be deposited into the overdrafted accounts at the end of every month. The checks were to be made out in an amount greater than the negative balances in each account. While Alfaro knew these checks would be returned by the other bank for insufficient funds, the check deposits would make the accounts appear to be positive at the end of the month and, therefore, not reflected on the overdraft reports. 

From September 2006 through May 2007, numerous checks were deposited into the overdrafted accounts to avoid the accounts being listed on the overdraft reports. Moreover, the accounts’ negative balances increased every month as a result of numerous debit transactions that were initiated, in part, by Guzmán and approved by both Alfaro and Aguirre, who served as vice president at TNB. By May 2007, each account was overdrawn in excess of $100,000 which ultimately caused a loss of nearly $350,000 to TNB. 

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by FBI. Assistant United States Attorneys Greg Saikin and Jason Honeycutt are prosecuting the case.

••••••

Senate panel considers legislation to provide hurricane insurance to Texas coastal residents

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee considered a package of bills on Wednesday, April 6, aimed at improving the state agency that offers insurance to Texans who live in hurricane prone areas. 

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association was intended as the insurer of last resort for homes in the coastal regions of the state, but big storms like Ike and Rita brought billions of dollars in claims, and many private insurers stopped writing policies in the region. With more and more of the insurance burden pushed on TWIA, legislators are looking to improve the transparency, operation and organization of the state insurer.

Five bills considered before the committee on April 6 contained similar provisions. The measures offered by Senators Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, John Carona, R-Dallas, Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, all provided for increased transparency. The bills would insure that TWIA board meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Act, and would require meetings to be broadcast live on the Internet.

One of the problems TWIA had in assessing claims came from what are called "slab-claims". These are situations in which a storm completely destroys a structure, leaving only the foundation behind. It is difficult to determine to what extent the damage was caused by wind or by water. To address this, bills by Jackson and Fraser would require TWIA to use a panel of experts to develop a formula based on collected data to determine what proportion of the damage was caused by flooding and what proportion was caused by high winds. Carona’s bill contained an additional provision, requiring homeowners in high risk areas to carry flood coverage equal to windstorm coverage.

The bills also addressed the claims and appeals process, designating where policy holders can go to appeal claims decisions. Fraser’s bill would use binding arbitration at the State Office of Administrative Hearings to settle claims disputes. The bill would also add protection for TWIA against excessive litigation, preventing claimaints from suing for treble damages.

Though the bills considered on April 6 came from a number of different members, Fraser said it doesn’t matter who carries the bill, as long as the problems at TWIA are addressed. "There is no pride of authorship here," he said.

••••••

House approves bill by Rep. Lucio to promote safer football helmets used in Texas schools

The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday, April 6, approved House Bill 675, by Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, which requires schools to recondition helmets that are 10-years old or older every two years.

HB 675 also requires schools to keep records of the helmets’ age and each time they are reconditioned. Lucio authored the bill after seeing an unsettling upward trend in head-related injuries for student athletes. 

"The stories can be heartbreaking," said Lucio. "For the most part, these types of injuries could have been prevented. For Texas high school football players, the first line of defense in protecting players is the player’s helmet."

Currently, the process does little to address the degradation of helmet quality; and unfortunately, as studies have shown, the long-term effects of head injuries, specifically concussions, may lead to serious and permanent injury. 

HB 675 would ensure that a comprehensive record be kept of a helmets’ age and reconditioning. Most major helmet manufacturers recommend the reconditioning and recertifying of football helmets every other year at a minimum. Unfortunately, not every school district can afford to have these tests completed. The information gathered would also be available upon request to parents.  

The bill also requires that football helmets be taken off the field after 16-years of use.

"As student athletes continue to become faster, stronger and bigger, we must recognize the need for this type of bill," said Lucio. "This legislation is a simple, preventative measure for providing the utmost protection for our rising football stars."

••••••

Sen. Lucio among lawmakers who are seeking seeking more federal help on border security

A group of senators, including Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Thursday, March 24, called on the federal government to increase security along the border with Mexico. 

At the Capitol press conference, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and seven other senators announced the filing of a resolution that would send a delegation to Washington to secure more funding and more personnel to keep violence from spilling across the Rio Grande. The resolution also requests an analysis to show how much fully funding border security in Texas would cost. 

"We want Congress to secure our borders from the drug cartels and the people that are involved in human smuggling and all of the terrible things that are going on in our border region," said Williams, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, 

According to  Steve McCraw, director of the Department of Public Safety, an insecure border with Mexico is the number one public safety and homeland security threat to Texas and the U.S., saying drug cartels send billions of dollars worth of drugs north to the U.S. in return for weapons and cash. The cartel war in Mexico has lead to 34,000 murders south of the border, according to McCraw, more than seventy of whom were American nationals. He said cartels store both money and guns in Texas for use back in Mexico.

Beyond the threat of drug violence, international terrorists could be using the pourous border to get into the U.S., said McCraw. Nearly 300 "special interest aliens", citizens of countries known to harbor Islamic terrorists, have been apprehended along the border.

Though Texas hasn’t seen the level of violence of northern Mexico, Williams said crime related to illegal immigration has a serious impact in the state. He said there are more than 12,000 individuals in Texas jails for crimes committed while they were in the country illegally. 

"We’re incarcerating those folks, and it’s costing about $200 million a year to have those people in jail," Williams said.

"Our citizens have a right to be protected," Williams added. "Too many of our land and homeowners along the Texas-Mexico border live in fear of their lives and property.  It’s time for the federal government to fulfill their constitutional duty to secure our border and reimburse Texas for the extra costs our state and communities have incurred due to the federal government’s failure to secure the Texas-Mexico border."   

••••••

Bill by Congressman Cuellar would expand VA center in Harlingen into full-service hospital

By JOSÉ  BORJON

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Friday, April 1, introduced legislation that would transform the Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care Center in Harlingen into a hospital. The bill would expand the health care center by adding in-patient accommodations, an urgent care center and caregiver support services including adult day-care. The legislation would also provide a full range of health care services for female veterans. 

This bill is an alternate way to secure a hospital by asking the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include a project in the Strategic Capital Investment Plan of the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility in South Texas by adding the services mentioned above. 

Earlier this year, the VA opened the new $40 million Health Center in Harlingen to accommodate the needs of South Texans. The Health Center, which offers only outpatient care, was seen by Cuellar as a first step toward full-service health care to the region. 

“Establishing the health care center in South Texas was a major milestone for our veteran community,” Cuellar said. “It is not the end of the journey, but gets us a long way down the road to where we should be.”  

Cuellar, working closely with his colleagues in the Texas delegation, had long championed a VA Medical Center for South Texas. The closest VA facility is in San Antonio – a laborious trip for many patients suffering from chronic conditions.  

“Our bill will require the Secretary of Veteran Affairs to expand the current services offered at the health care center. By building upon our existing facility, we can bring the resources to get a hospital to the Rio Grande Valley area at the earliest possible date,” Cuellar said. 

Cuellar, who recently traveled to each of the 12 counties in the 28th District of Texas to host veterans issues forums, knows the importance of offering medical services to veterans close to home. 

“After speaking with hundreds of veterans, I am further convinced that establishing a hospital in South Texas is an obligation we have to the men and women that have served our country,” Cuellar said. “All veterans deserve convenient access to proper medical attention, and I will work for that cause.”  

Apart from offering in-patient care, the bill calls for urgent care and adult day-care to alleviate some of the stresses on veteran caregivers. Cuellar also included services such as preventative care for female veterans, who are the fastest growing segment of the veteran population.  

The bill is co-sponsored by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Blake Farenthold, D-Corpus Christi. Cuellar has requested a hearing before the House Veterans’  Affairs Committee. 

••••••

Congressman Hinojosa defends President Obama’s health care, higher education law 

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, March 30, joined U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Congressman Steny Hoyer and Assistant Minority Leader Congressman James Clyburn for a press conference on the one year anniversary of the signing of the Health Care Reconciliation and Higher Education Act.  

The Congressional leaders and members were joined by a group of young adults and students who have benefited from the historic legislation by way of health care and entering college. Part of this legislation includes health care reform which allows adult children up to 26 years of age to stay on their parent’s health insurance plan. 

This legislation is in danger of being dismantled by Republicans, Hinojosa warned. 

Never in the history of our great country has there been a more historic piece of legislation signed into law that directly affects the well being of our low income and middle class families and their future – as the Health Care Reconciliation and Higher Education Act," he said during the press conference, which was held in the Capitol Visitor’s Center.

More than 100 college students were present to show their support of the Health Care Reconciliation and Higher Education Act. Some students told their personal stories of how keeping the legislation intact will ensure they receive a college education and health care insurance. 

“Democrats will continue to fight the hard fight to keep these benefits for all Americans,” said  Hinojosa. “While Republicans are trying to tear down our low-income and middle class families by destroying this legislation, Democrats, along with President Obama, will not turn our backs on those who need help the most.” 

Every year, our nation’s community colleges and Minority Serving Institutions – HSIs, HBCUs, TCUs and other MSIs –  provide millions of low-income, minority, first-generation college students with the opportunity to fulfill their dream of a college education. 

The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which was signed into law as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation of 2010, put students and workers first and invested $2 billion dollars in community colleges and $2.55 Billion in Minority Serving Institutions. 

"This historic legislation will build the capacity of community colleges, bolster STEM education at M.S.I.’s, and increase the representation of minorities in STEM fields over the next decade," HInojosa said. "Above all, these landmark investments will support students in acquiring the 21st century skills needed to access family-sustaining jobs and thrive in our global economy."

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U.S. taxpayers have recovered almost 100 percent of federal bailout to major banks

By JOSÉ  BORJON

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Tuesday, March 22, announced that banks have repaid 99 percent of disbursed funds from the successful Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), according to the Treasury Department. Taxpayers have recovered approximately $244 billion in TARP funds, including nearly $500 million repaid the earlier in March. 

Banks under the Capital Purchase Program have repaid the American taxpayer. Including dividends and interest, Treasury estimates this will provide a lifetime profit of nearly $20 billion to taxpayers. 

“The half a billion dollars repaid earlier in March, and 99 percent of the funds repaid by financial institutions who participated in TARP, are clear indicators that this program was successful,” Cuellar said. “Taxpayers made an investment to save the global financial markets.  We avoided another Great Depression, and now taxpayers are getting their money back with interest.” 

The Troubled Asset Relief Program was created in 2008 to support struggling financial institutions to strengthen the financial sector during crisis and give relief to “troubled” assets that threatened to lead to widespread bank failures. TARP allowed the Treasury Department to purchase illiquid assets, such as mortgage backed securities, from banks to stabilize balance sheets and avoid further losses. Cuellar voted in favor of this legislation when it passed the House. TARP was signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2008 and was a component of the government’s measures to address the subprime mortgage crisis and the resulting economic fallout.  

In an effort to avoid a global financial meltdown, a total of $245 billion was invested to banks throughout the nation under the TARP Capital Purchase Program to assist in direct financial support. 

“TARP will be remembered as one of the government’s most successful programs. TARP ensured economic stability and provided much-needed measures to advert a financial crisis,” Cuellar said. “With banks paying back money and financial industry leveling, I am confident this is another sign of our economy growing. We begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and although we have much more work to do to ensure long-term economic stability, we are on the right path.” 

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Woman charged in McAllen with attempting to smuggle more than $277,000 into Mexico

By ANGELA DODGE

Jeanette Irazema Barraza-Galindo, 33, of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, has been indicted on charges of bulk cash smuggling, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Wednesday, March 23. The one-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in McAllen on Tuesday, March 22.

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

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

The indictment is the result of the discovery and seizure of $277,556 on March 1, 2011, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers aboard a bus heading outbound through the Hidalgo Port of Entry into Mexico. All passengers gave negative declaration for monetary instruments in excess of $10,000, firearms and ammunition. According to the allegations in a criminal complaint filed on March 2, 2011, upon entering the bus, CBP officers discovered U.S. currency totally $277,556 in throw pillows and two bags containing stuffed toy animals. Barraza-Galindo was identified as the alleged owner of the throw pillow and stuffed toys and subsequently arrested by CBP officers and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents.

Barraza has been in federal custody without bond pending further criminal proceedings since March 2, 2011, following the issuance of an order by U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby. She will be arraigned on the charges on a date in the near future to be set by the court.

Bulk cash smuggling carries, upon conviction, a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison without parole, a fine of up to $250,000 and a term of supervised release of up to three years. In addition, according to a forfeiture notice in the indictment, upon conviction, the entire $277,556 in cash that Barraza was allegedly smuggling could be forfeited to the U.S. government.

This case was investigated by CBP and HSI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Sully is prosecuting the case. 

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Attorney General Abbott, Gov. Perry endorse measures to combat human trafficking in Texas

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, March 22, joined Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, at a Houston event touting human trafficking prevention legislation. 

The state leaders gathered to show their support for Senate Bill 24 and House Bill 7, which contain legislative recommendations from the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force’s 2011 report. The task force, which was created by the Texas Legislature in 2009, is chaired by Abbott.

Van de Putte and Thompson are carrying the anti-human trafficking bills in each of their respective chambers of the legislature. If enacted, Senate Bill 24 and House Bill 7 would amend current Texas law governing the prosecution and punishment of human trafficking. They would also provide civil remedies against human traffickers and would implement new protections for human trafficking victims. On March 15, S.B. 24 was voted favorably out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Its companion bill, HB 7, was voted favorably out of the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on March 14.

“Human traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to essentially enslave their victims and compel them to work against their will for little or no pay,” Abbott said. “By continuing to foster cooperation among law enforcement agencies at all levels, Texas will become increasingly hostile territory for human traffickers. As authors of legislation that will give vital new tools to law enforcement, Sen. Van de Putte and Rep. Thompson – with support from Gov. Perry – are leading the charge against human trafficking in the State of Texas.”

The 2011 Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force Report was published by the Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the task force and its 47 members. In addition to informing the legislature about the nature and scope of human trafficking in the State of Texas, the task force’s 2011 report contained recommendations for the 82nd Legislature. Pursuant to those recommendations, SB 24 and HB 7 propose to create legally distinct definitions of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Compelling prostitution of a child would be punishable as a first-degree felony and be added to the list of “3g” offenses. 

Under both bills, human trafficking offenses would be added to the list of crimes for which a life sentence is automatic upon subsequent conviction. The legislative proposals would also require an offender who is convicted of sex trafficking to register in the Texas Sex Offender Registry.

The lawmakers’ proposed legislation would also offer greater protections for children who fall prey to human traffickers. Under both bills, the parent or guardian of a child human trafficking victim would be authorized to seek a protective order against their child’s trafficker. The legislative package would also allow courts to treat child victims in sex trafficking cases in a manner consistent with their treatment in sexual assault cases. Judges would also be given discretion to order that convicted human traffickers serve consecutive – rather than cumulative – prison sentences.

During their joint appearance in Houston, Abbott, Perry, Van de Putte and Thompson explained why human trafficking prevention requires a cooperative approach by all levels of law enforcement, prosecutors and victim advocacy groups. An example of a coordinated effort is the North Texas Trafficking Task Force (NTTF) – a joint initiative that included the Attorney General’s Special Investigations Unit, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and six North Texas police departments. The NTTF recently completed successful undercover operations during the 2011 Super Bowl that resulted in 133 arrests.

Abbott noted that a collaborative approach to prosecution helps prevent human trafficking. In a Houston case that was jointly prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, a federal jury convicted a human trafficker of forcing young females to engage in unpaid prostitution – and sentenced him to almost 34 years in prison. This spring, the Attorney General’s Office will assist the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston with another domestic sex trafficking case. According to investigators, six defendants transported women and children from Texas to other states, where they were coerced into prostitution.

Abbott also emphasized the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force’s ongoing efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute trafficking cases statewide. Recently, a joint investigation by task force members determined that a woman and her three children were trapped in a forced-labor situation after they were smuggled into El Paso through a tunnel under the U.S.-Mexico border. Two of the smugglers were identified and indicted on trafficking charges.

The Texas Legislature created the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force under HB 4009 during the 81st Legislative Session. The legislation Van de Putte and Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, established a statewide task force of law enforcement officials and crime victim services personnel who serve on the frontline of the state’s battle against human trafficking. In August 2010, the Governor’s Office awarded the Office of the Attorney General and the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force $291,000 to fund a financial analyst, a peace officer and a prosecutor to assist in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking cases statewide. All three positions have been filled and are currently participating in anti-trafficking efforts.

For more information about the Office of the Attorney General’s battle against human trafficking, see a copy of the 2011 Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force Report and visit the agency’s website at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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House approves bill by Rep. Guillen to protect tow truck operators from oncoming traffic

A measure that would help protect tow truck operators from oncoming traffic while they are attending to disabled vehicles on the road was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 30, according the Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.

House Bill 378 adds tow trucks to Texas move-over laws. Those laws currently require all motorists on roadways with two or more lanes to vacate the lane in the direction of emergency vehicles in order to increase the safety for assisting stranded motorists. Unfortunately, the law does not include tow trucks. Guillen’s HB 378 would provide the same protection for licensed and professional tow operators.

"Every day, professional tow operators are on our roads helping our state by clearing traffic accidents. These individuals are very aware of the dangers related to the nature of their work, and their safety and well-being shouldn’t be compromised," said Guillen. "As of this year, 39 states are protecting tow operators through move-over laws they’ve enacted. House Bill 378 will make Texas the 40th state."

The Towing and Recovery Association of American estimates that there are more than 200 strike-bys annually, leading to 60 or more tow operators killed nationally per year. In 2010, there were five tow operators killed in Texas while assisting stranded motorists or law enforcement. 

"One of top priorities for tow operators is to protect their customers from harm on public roadways, as well as expeditiously clear the roadways after and during accidents, which cuts down dramatically the numbers of secondary accidents. Unfortunately, the Texas tow operator has had no level of protection and has one of the highest death rates among emergency responders in the nation," said Jess Horton, Executive Director of Southwest Tow Operators, a professional towing and storage association for Texas tow operators. "HB 378 has addressed that issue, and we can only thank everyone involved for seeing this important problem addressed and bringing the kind of awareness that is warranted."

Jeanette Rash, government affairs chair of the Texas Towing & Storage Association, also supports HB 378. 

"Tow operators are often the first ones at an accident scene and often the only responder at an incident scene such as a break-down or flat-tire," Rash said. "Towing professionals know too well the dangers of being on the side of the road as traffic roars by. The very nature of the work – being bent down with backs to the traffic or lying underneath a vehicle to hook-it-up – makes tow operators extremely vulnerable at the scene."

During the committee on HB 378 in March, members of the House Licensing and Administration Committee heard from families of tow operators who have been killed in the line of work. Additionally, the American Automobile Association (AAA) testified in support of the bill.

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Senate designates portions of Laredo area state  roads as Korean War Memorial Highway

By WILL KRUEGER

The Texas Senate on Monday, March 28, unanimously voted to honor Texas’ Korean War veterans by enrolling portions of several important South Texas roadways in the Texas Memorial Highway System.

Senate Bill 58 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would designate segments of State Highways 359, 16 and 285 as the Veterans of the Korean War Memorial Highway.

The highway would extend from Laredo to Falfurrias and would traverse Webb, Jim Hogg, Duval and Brooks counties. 

"More than 289,000 Texans served in the Korean War, and 1,723 of them were either killed or missing in action," Zaffirini said. "Many of them were from South Texas, and naming an important South Texas route in their honor is a fitting tribute to their patriotism and sacrifice."

The Texas Memorial Highway System is a network of roads named in honor of noteworthy Texans, including the distinguished veterans of many conflicts.

Notably, two memorial highways intersect in Webb County: the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway (U.S. 83), which extends from the Texas-Oklahoma border to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the Senator Lloyd Bentsen Highway (U.S. 59), which extends from Houston to Laredo.

Groups including the Webb County Korean War Veterans Association and Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars are working hard to secure support for this important legislation. Grants or donations would cover the cost of erecting memorial markers and signs along the highway.

“Designating a memorial highway honoring Korean War Veterans in South Texas is supported strongly,” Zaffirini said. “This region is home to many of these brave men and women, and I am proud to collaborate in this effort with my friend, Mary Freeman, and Webb County Korean War veterans, including Ernesto Sánchez, who initiated this project."

SB 58 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

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Power of pink, highlighting women working in technology, ruled STC tech campus on April 7  

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

If you were near South Texas College’s Technology Campus in McAllen on Thursday, April 7 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., you might have noticed a slight pink glow covering the buildings. Why? It was Ladies Night on campus and the facilities were flush with Valley women enjoying an evening of fun, fashion, refreshments and career exploration. Admission was free and open to the public. 

“We have women in most of our technology and business programs, which run the gamut from culinary arts, to plumbing, computer aided drafting and design, information technology, logistics, and so much more,” said Esmeralda Adame, instructor for STC’s Precision Manufacturing Program. 

“And as the economy demands more professionals skilled in hands-on jobs that require heavy problem-solving skills, we are seeing plenty of interest from women in welding, automotive technology, electrician’s assistant, HVACR and manufacturing, just to name a few,”  said Lori Tijerina, program chair for STC’s Plumber Assistant Program. 

“The great part is, all these professions come with long term career prospects and great wages,” said Angie Teniente, instructor for STC’s Business Computer Systems Program. 

“If you thought these fields were for men only, we can share some eye opening information with you,” said Sara Lozano, instructor for STC’s Computer Aided Drafting and Design Program. 

All attending ladies were entered into drawings for a variety of great prizes and the first 500 attendees received a free vanity bag. 

“Men were welcome too,” added Mario Reyna, STC division dean of business and technology. “We hope they support the ladies or brought a woman they know and help educate them about a new world of possibilities. There is no glass ceiling – the sky is the limit for our Valley women.” 

STC’s Technology Campus located at 3700 West Military Highway in McAllen (the corner of Ware Road and Military Highway). For more information about the event call 956/872-6102.  

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Senate approves Sen. Zaffirini bill to bring private colleges under more state monitoring

By WILL KRUEGER

The Texas Senate on Monday, March 28, overwhelmingly voted to include private, for-profit institutions and career schools and colleges in the state’s higher education state’s accountability system.

Senate Bill 38 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to collect accurate, timely information regarding degree-granting for-profit institutions and make it available to students, parents and state policymakers via the statewide accountability system. 

"The Higher Education Accountability System tracks key performance measures that exemplify higher education institutions’ missions, but the system currently applies only to public colleges and universities," Zaffirini said. "Bringing for-profit institutions and career schools and colleges into the accountability system will help ensure that students have adequate information about an institution before they enroll."

Recent studies and media reports have documented problems associated with some for-profit universities, including high cohort default rates and misleading recruting practices.

"Enhancing our state’s higher education accountability system would not only give students greater peace of mind about the institutions they attend, but also focus on the key components of the state’s Closing the Gaps initiative: participation, success, excellence and research,"  Zaffirini said.

SB 38 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. The continued progress of this and all bills can be monitored via the internet at http://www.legis.state.tx.us or by contacting the Texas Legislative Reference Library’s toll free in-state hotline, 1/877-824-7038.

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Barbara Renaud González, award-winning Mexican-American writer, encourages aspiring authors at South Texas College 

By EDGAR CHRNKO

 

Award-winning Mexican-American author Barbara Renaud González on Wednesday, March 30, concluded the inaugural Jovita González Women’s History Month Lecture Series at South Texas College’s Pecan Campus Library in McAllen with a lively and energetic reading from her book titled, Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me? The series was sponsored by STC’s Mexican American Studies Program and the Department of Library Services. 

“It’s overwhelming and life-thrilling,” said Renaud González about her participation in the lecture series named in honor of Roma native Jovita González, an important Mexican-American writer, historian and teacher. 

“I know her work and she deserves this," said Renaud González. "I never believed I would get this chance to be a part of something like this. Everything happens for a reason. I never read with a classic guitarist either, but here I am.” 

Renaud González’ reading was accompanied by STC Guitar Instructor Jaime García, who met the author an hour before the event. 

“It was my first time doing something like this, and I really liked it,” said García. “We ran through it briefly before the event, but mainly it was just feeling the mood, whether she was going faster or slower, or higher or lower.”  

Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me? is based on Renaud González’ life and her life-long search for her own voice. She explained that it took her 10 years to complete and many of the characters are based on her family, especially her parents. Renaud González’ was born in Beeville and raised in the Texas Panhandle. Her mother was from Mexico, but her father was a sharecropper raised on the King Ranch. 

“What we are searching for as writers is our voice, no one can tell our story like we can. My hope was that I get to the source of who I am,” she said. “When you find your voice, it is mind-clearing.” 

Students and the community filled the Pecan Campus Library Rainbow room for Renaud González’ reading and several students, aspiring writers and poets enthusiastically participated in the question-and-answer portion of the event, in which she encouraged them to “write what they feel” and to “do what they love.” 

“If you write what you feel, that’s all that matters,” she advised. “Do what you love to do because you’re going to end up doing it anyway, just go full force and don’t listen to what people say.” 

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Attorney General Abbott resolves lawsuit against tax firm JK Harris & Company

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday, April 5, announced that he has resolved the state’s enforcement action against South Carolina-based income tax consulting firm JK Harris & Company.

The judgment also applies to two related companies, JKH Financial Recovery Systems, LLC and Professional Fee Financing Associates. In April 2009, the state charged the defendants with materially misrepresenting their ability to help Texans resolve their unpaid federal income tax obligations.

Under the agreed final judgment and permanent injunction, the defendants must pay $800,000 in refunds to their Texas customers. The court-approved agreement also imposed significant injunctive relief and ordered the defendants to reimburse the State for investigative and court costs and attorneys’ fees.

Under the court order, JK Harris and its related companies must reform the way it does business – and provide restitution to Texas taxpayers who were harmed by the defendants’ unlawful conduct,” Abbott said. “Taxpayers from across the state complained to the Attorney General’s Office about the defendants’ misconduct. The agreement seeks to resolve past problems, reimburse Texans who paid for services that were not actually rendered, and prevent additional misconduct in the future.”

In addition to the agreement’s financial penalties, the court ordered the defendants to reform several of their business practices and to improve disclosures to their clients. For example, the defendants must clearly disclose, in writing, the fact that very few taxpayers qualify for the Internal Revenue Service’s Offer in Compromise (OIC) program. The defendants must also acknowledge that a taxpayer’s future earning potential and equity holdings factor into taxpayers’ eligibility for the OIC program – and thus decrease the likelihood that certain taxpayers will quality for OIC treatment. JK Harris must also provide its clients written notice that the IRS is likely to continue collection efforts – including liens, levies and garnishment procedures – unless and until an OIC is approved.

The judgment stems from the state’s April 2009 legal action against the defendants for misrepresenting their ability to help delinquent taxpayers resolve their unpaid obligations to the IRS. According to the state’s enforcement action, JK Harris failed to provide promised services, overstated its ability to reduce taxpayers’ debts to the Internal Revenue Service, and accepted large, prepaid fees from customers whose tax liabilities the firm knew – or should have known – it could not actually reduce.

Former clients of JK Harris & Company, JKH Financial Recovery Systems, LLC, or Professional Fee Financing Associates who believe they were misled by the defendants’  conduct should contact the Attorney General’s Office at (800) 252-8011.

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