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Edinburg’s retail economy in April 2014 showed an improvement of almost 19 percent over the same month last year, leading all major Valley cities, which also showed big gains, Edinburg Mayor Richard García, featured third from right, has announced. Edinburg’s most recent economic showing is almost double the average of all Texas cities, which came in with a 10.7 percent monthly increase over April 2013, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Based on the amount of local sales taxes collected, which reflects the strength of an economy, Edinburg’s retail sector generated more than $1.5 million in local sales taxes in April 2014, compared with almost $1.3 million in April 2013. For the first four months of 2014, Edinburg’s retail economy also posted a double-digit upswing over the same period last year, generating $9,544,069.69 in local sales taxes, compared with $8,488,722.44 for January through April 2013 – a rise of 12.43 percent. García, who also serves as president of the five-member Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors (EEDC), said the April 2014 and January through April 2014 year-to-date figures reflect Edinburg’s reputation as a preferred city in which to set up a business, work, and live. “When I say our ‘growing community’, I mean specifically a community growing at a rate of 5.3 percent since the last 2010 census,” the mayor reported. “Today, Edinburg is ranked the third largest city in the Rio Grande Valley with almost 85,000 residents after the annexation of 2,200 acres this past year. Edinburg continues its commitment to attracting and building quality of life projects like the new $8.5 million Parks, Recreation and Wellness Center that is currently under construction at South Park. Four gyms, one which will be a practice gym for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers as well as for the Houston Rockets.” Featured from left on Tuesday, July 1 at Edinburg City Hall, are: Cynthia Contreras Gutiérrez, General Counsel, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Nelda T. Ramírez, Assistant Executive Director, EEDC; Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director, EEDC; Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Interim President, The University of Texas-Pan American and Member, Board of Directors, EEDC; Renata Marques, Attorney-at-Law, Max Paul and Associates in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Max Paul, Attorney-at-Law, Max Paul and Associates, Rio de Janeiro; Mayor Richard García, President, Board of Directors, EEDC; Fred Palacios, Secretary-Treasurer, Board of Directors, EEDC; and Steven Edward Cruz, III, Member, Board of Directors, EEDC. Max Paul is the President of the Texan Chamber of Commerce in Brazil. See story about Edinburg’s retail economy later in this posting.

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As tens of thousands of unaccompanied children flee violence in Central America in a desperate effort to join family members in the U.S., Texas must take more active roles in helping protect them while the federal government deals with the growing “humanitarian crisis” along the U.S.-Mexico border, including in the Valley, says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “In America, we do not turn a blind eye to the powerless, the weak, the sick, and especially to innocent children,” said Canales. “In Texas and in the Valley, we do not blame people for being victims.” In a related development, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Wednesday, June 18, announced the appropriations of $1.3 million a week, until the end of 2014, for the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct law enforcement surge operations to help the plight of these children and to protect them and Texas citizens from any criminal elements which seek to exploit this tragedy, Canales added. “I applaud the decision by state officials to provide additional funding to assist the Rio Grande Valley in what has become a humanitarian crisis,” Canales said. “We need real solutions to cope with the recent immigration surge in deep South Texas.” Straus, who was in Edinburg on Tuesday, June 17, called the situation along the Texas-Mexico border “a very serious problem. “Tens of thousands of young people have come into the United States, often from Mexico and Central America. This rush of young migrants has overwhelmed federal officials and could make the border region more vulnerable to criminal activity such as drug trafficking and human smuggling operations,” Straus said. “I was in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this week and visited with border patrol officers and state and local law enforcement officials about the situation on the ground and the effect of this influx on security efforts.” Featured, during a Saturday, June 14 legislative briefing at the Border Patrol holding facilities in McAllen, are, from left, bottom to top: Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. Featured, on right, second and third from the bottom, respectively: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Palmview; and Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García.

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Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Palmview, featured right speaking with McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, was appointed on Wednesday, July 2, by Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to the Select Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Texas Border Support Operations. The special legislative panel will examine the short- and long-term budgetary effects of addressing increased activity along the Texas-Mexico border by thousands of undocumented immigrants from Central America fleeing violence and poverty in their nations. Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, also was appointed to that legislative panel. Muñoz, who was addressing the McAllen mayor on Tuesday, June 17, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, said the thousands of Central American immigrants, especially children and their mothers, prompted the state’s top leadership to call for a surge of Department of Public Safety (DPS) Troopers along the Rio Grande Valley border region. Among its duties, the DPS is conducting law enforcement operations. The committee will monitor the costs of those operations and other services associated with increased border crossings. “It is quite an honor to accept this appointment and get right to work on these very pressing issues that are directly affecting our communities in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Muñoz. “It will be my priority to devise a system that rewards the great work that is being done by our local governments and communities by reimbursing the significant costs they bear by supporting what is ultimately a federal responsibility. A federal reimbursement revenue stream will allow our state and local governments to sustain the response to the humanitarian crisis and provide for adequate border security.” See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Harlingen, featured left, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Palmview (not in this image), have announced that a task force has been created to develop The Rio Grande Valley Regional Alert System, which is designed to help law enforcement agencies find missing or kidnapped residents or criminals involved abductions. Currently there are 17 regional alert systems across Texas – but not in the Valley – serving a majority of Texans by providing alerts in those respective regions. Lucio and Muñoz on Tuesday, June 11 met in Weslaco with law enforcement, emergency management, and bridge officials from across the Rio Grande Valley to discuss the progress of the Regional Alert System for the Rio Grande Valley. “It’s important to understand that we are not trying to replace the current state alert systems that exist now,” Lucio explained. “Every department we have spoken to has acknowledged a need to create a regional alert system that would help during the crucial, critical hours of a person being reported missing.” In this photograph, taken on Tuesday, June 17 at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Lucio and Ernest “Ernie” Aliseda of McAllen, who serves on the nine-member University of Texas System Board of Regents, greet constituents. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for May 2014 was 6.1 percent, the best showing in the city for that month since May 2008, and the second-best figure for all cities in May 2014 in the Rio Grande Valley, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. In addition, Edinburg’s labor force was the third largest in the Valley, with 33,485 persons employed in the city in May 2014. The area’s two most populous cities, Brownsville and McAllen, posted larger numbers with 63,313 and 58,523 individuals, respectively, employed in May 2014. For the month of May 2014, only McAllen (5.8 percent) had a better figure than Edinburg (6.1 percent), while the other major communities in the Valley had unemployment rates that ranged from 6.7 percent in Harlingen to 8.9 percent in Brownsville. The Valley’s three other most populous cities also had unemployment rates for May 2014 in single-digits: Mission (6.8 percent), Pharr (7.3 percent), and Weslaco (8.2 percent). These latest figures were released on Friday, June 20, by the Texas Workforce Commission, which is the state agency charged with overseeing and providing workforce development services to employers and job-seekers in Texas. The ongoing favorable employment figures for Edinburg are consistent with what Mayor Richard García, who also serves as President of the EEDC Board of Directors, envisions for this year. “So what is next?” the mayor, featured second from right on Wednesday, February 26, asks rhetorically. “What is on the horizon tomorrow for Edinburg?” Among planned and ongoing projects which will lead to more jobs in the coming months are: a series of master planned, multi-family, luxury projects with full amenities (pools, sauna, office and recreational space, and gyms); a slew of important road and infrastructure projects, including the expansion of FM 1925 (Monte Cristo Road), that will also connect to 10th street, converting it a five-lane roadway; and hotel developments for Edinburg, including a Holiday Inn Express, located at the corner of Closner and Trenton, which features a new prototype design for Texas, and set to open in early 2o15. The site also will include a restaurant pad site. The planned construction of a $70 million University of Texas-Pan American Science Complex and a $54 million University of Texas medical school classroom facility in Edinburg will boost job numbers once those projects get underway in earnest in the coming months. Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Dr. Francisco Fernández, Dean of the School of Medicine at UT-Rio Grande Valley; Mayor Richard García; and Councilmember Richard Molina. See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Wednesday, June 26, was appointed as Chairman of the Subcommittee to Study the Potential Closures of State Supported Living Centers (SSLCs). Texas houses 13 SSLCs that are state-run residential facilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They are campus-based 24-hour direct services facilities that are overseen by the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS). “We need a solution that recognizes the critical services that SSLCs provide to so many of our residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, but that also addresses the safety and quality control issues, the aging infrastructure, and the enormous budget costs associated with running these facilities,” said Hinojosa. “I am honored to chair this subcommittee and am looking forward to a coordinated approach with members and stakeholders to develop a plan that will set up criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of these SSLCs while at the same time improving community-based services.” The South Texas senator is featured here on Thursday, April 24, being interviewed in Edinburg by Zoraly Nuñez-Ramos with Noticias 48, KNVO-TV of McAllen. See story later in this posting.

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More students at The University of Texas-Pan American will get an extra boost toward achieving their dream of a law career thanks to a generous grant from The Texas Bar Foundation to support the University’s Law School Preparation Institute (LSPI). The $16,000 grant will assist 10 LSPI students with the cost of books, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) preparation courses and provide them a stipend while enrolled in the rigorous five-week summer course. Initiated in 2001, LSPI has continually yielded success, boasting a 90 percent acceptance rate for LSPI graduates who apply to law school, averaging much higher than the national acceptance rate of 60 percent. Over the years, numerous LSPI graduates have been accepted to law schools across the country, including Texas Tech University, Southern Methodist University and St. Mary’s University as well as The University of California at Berkeley, Indiana University, Penn State and Georgetown University, among many others. Featured at the recent check presentation ceremony celebrating the $16,000 grant are, from left: Dr. John Darcy, professor and LSPI Co-Director; Velinda Reyes, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations; Dr. Walter Díaz, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA President; Alejandra Martínez, LSPI graduate; Lorena Castillo, Texas Bar Foundation trustee; Verónica Gonzáles, Vice President for University Advancement; Lydia Alemán, Associate Vice President for University Advancement; and Dan Worthington, attorney and Texas Bar Foundation Fellow. See story later in this posting.

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The Hidalgo County District Clerk Office on Friday, June 27, presented a check totaling $3,000 to the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign, a program benefitting local charitable organizations. “Our Blues for Bucks program is a great way for our staff to become engaged and contribute to worthy causes in our community such as the Food Bank of the RGV,” said Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County District Clerk. “We are honored to help support an organization that is committed to overcoming poverty and hunger in our community and is making a huge difference in lives of children and families throughout the region.” The Food Bank of the RGV was founded in 1983 and incorporated in 1986 to serve as a clearinghouse for smaller food pantries and on-site feeding organizations. It serves as a champion to those organizations that focus on making food accessible to the Valley and is passionately committed to ending hunger. District Clerk personnel and Food Bank officials featured, from left, front row: Mónica Valdéz; Virginia Granados; April Lizcano; María Elva Garza; Brenda Pérez; Jasmine Cruz; Yanira Hernández; Melinda Sotuyo; Zayra Narváez; and Esmeralda Mendoza. Middle row, from left: Rose Ávalos; Aída Villarreal; María Barrera; Victoria Michelle Mancha; Ana De Luna; Joseph González; Krystal Hidalgo; and Claudia Lemus. Back row, from left: Yésica Garza; Sabrina Guerra; Irineo Razo; Jesse Castillo; Phillip Farías; Terry Drefke, Chief Executive Officer, Food Bank RGV; Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County District Clerk; Ana De Luna; and Pablo Campos. See story later in this posting.

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A detailed legislative look, requested by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia, featured center, into how Mexico’s planned, landmark energy reform will benefit the Valley and Texas economies, has been authorized by Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, featured left. On Tuesday, July 1, Straus instructed the House Energy Resources Committee, of which Canales is a member, and the House International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee to work on developing information and strategies to help Texas prepare for, and benefit from, Mexico’s efforts to tap into the huge reservoir of oil and natural gas in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Coahuila. With Mexico finalizing a major energy reform predicted to generate more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years in prosperity for Northern Mexico and South Texas, Canales and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – led by the Edinburg mayor – want Texas to be ready to help transform their home region into an even more influential international economic power. “There is an energy revolution about to take place in Northern Mexico just south of the Valley and Laredo, which stands to greatly affect our region and state,” said Canales. “The Texas Legislature must be educated concerning recent events in Mexico, how this will improve energy independence for the United States, and how our economies on both sides of the border will dramatically benefit.” Recently, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that his government would, for the first time, support foreign and private investment and participation in PEMEX, the energy giant owned by the Mexican federal government. This development is tied to the explosive growth and extraordinary findings known as Eagle Ford Shale located north of the Valley. “U.S. manufacturers, transportation companies, and service providers want to be closer to Mexico but maintain a presence in Texas,” the mayor reflected. Featured on Tuesday, June 17, for a legislative briefing with Straus at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, are, from left: Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; Michael J. Blum, Partner and Managing Broker, NAI Rio Grande Valley of McAllen; Dr. Guy Bailey, President, The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley; and former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Vice President for University Advancement, The University of Texas-Pan American. Standing in the background is Aisa Showery, Communications Liaison for Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen. See lead story in this posting.

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Speaker Straus accepts requests from Rep. Canales, EEDC, for joint legislative hearing on impact of Mexican energy reform on Valley and Texas economies

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

A detailed legislative look, which was requested by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, into how Mexico’s planned, landmark energy reform will benefit the Valley and Texas economies, has been authorized by Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus.

On Tuesday, July 1, Straus, R-San Antonio, instructed the House Energy Resources Committee, of which Canales is a member, and the House Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs to work on developing information and strategies to help Texas prepare for, and benefit from, Mexico’s efforts to tap into the huge reservoir of oil and natural gas in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Coahuila.

The House Speaker’s assignments, known as interim charges, call for the following major actions by the two House panels:

• Examine the impact on Texas’s economy and businesses of the recent expansion of oil and gas production in Northern Mexico; and

• Assess opportunities for economic growth in Texas and collaboration between Texas businesses and Mexico resulting from Mexico’s energy reform, including Mexico’s efforts to recover shale gas from the Eagle Ford Shale.

A date and location for the joint House committees’ public hearing has not yet been set.

With Mexico finalizing major energy reforms predicted to generate more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years in prosperity for Northern Mexico and South Texas, Canales and the EEDC, led by Mayor Richard García, want Texas to be ready to help transform their home region into an even more influential international economic power.

“There is an energy revolution about to take place in Northern Mexico just south of the Valley and Laredo, which stands to greatly affect our region and state,” said the Edinburg state lawmaker. “The Texas Legislature must be educated concerning recent events in Mexico, how this will improve energy independence for the United States, and how our economies on both sides of the border will dramatically benefit.”

Canales praised the House Speaker’s decision, and thanked the chairmen of the two House committees – Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland (energy committee) and Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas (international trade committee) – for their vital support that help lead to the legislative assignments, which could include public hearings before the end of the year.

“Much like the historic legislation in 2013 supported by Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives that will create the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and bring with it a UT medical school to our region, this is another great example of bipartisan cooperation by legislators to benefit the Valley and Texas,” said Canales, who was a legislative sponsor of the UT-RGV/medical school legislative measure, known as Senate Bill 24.

Senate Bill 24 was authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored by Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville.

In asking Straus earlier this summer for the two House committees to take action, Canales had expressed concern that “Texas is not prepared to take full advantage of the recent developments through a calculated collaboration between our two countries.

“It is pertinent that the Texas Legislature be prepared to capitalize on the impending economic boom effectuated by the energy reforms of our neighbor to the south,” Canales recommended to Straus. “The Texas House of Representatives, under your leadership, must be ready to help transform our border region into an even more influential economic power.”

• Mayor García: “Edinburg is right smack dab in the middle.”

City leaders in Edinburg have been promoting the potential energy boom in Northern Mexico as yet another major reason why businesses should move to, or expand in, deep South Texas.

U.S. and Texas firms expected to participate in helping PEMEX and Mexico prosper from their currently inaccessible but massive energy resources will have to come through Edinburg and the Valley, the Edinburg mayor had noted.

“Recently, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that his government would, for the first time in history, support foreign and private investment and participation in PEMEX,” said García.

This development is tied to the explosive growth and extraordinary findings known as Eagle Ford Shale,” the mayor noted.

“U.S. manufacturers, transportation companies, service providers want to be closer to Mexico but maintain a presence in Texas,” García reflected. “Edinburg is right smack dab in the middle.”

Petróleos Mexicanos (translation: Mexican Petroleums), better known as PEMEX, is the Mexican state-owned petroleum company, created in 1938 and under the control of the Mexican government. But PEMEX lacks the technology, equipment, and finances to find and recover new reserves, prompting Nieto to push for changes in Mexican law to allow foreign companies to come into Mexico and work with PEMEX to explore new reserves.

García also serves as president of the five-member Board of Directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The EEDC, led by Agustín “Gus” García, Jr., is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

• World is watching Mexican energy fields south of Valley

Just like the Eagle Ford Shale formation, which has become a worldwide leader in the production of oil and natural gas, the same is expected to take place for Mexico just south of the Valley, the House District 40 state representative said.

“When that happens in Northern Mexico, we in Texas will benefit as well. Texas will have an incredible opportunity,” Canales said.

The Eagle Ford Shale involves 30 counties north of the Valley, stretching 400 miles from the Mexican border in Webb County and other counties in South Texas, up into Brazos County in East Texas.

In 14 of the most productive counties, located in South Texas, the Eagle Ford Shale has generated tens of billions of dollars a year in economic activity from the recovery of oil and natural gas, and in the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

BBVA Research, which is part of the international banking giant BBVA Compass, headquartered in Spain, is among the many financial and energy firms throughout the world which are closely monitoring the development of the oil and natural gas reserves south of the Valley and Laredo.

According to the BBVA analysis, dated January 22, 2014, and titled Opportunities from Mexico’s energy reform, the potential effects on the South Texas border economies and quality-of-life are enormous.

“Faster economic growth in the border will narrow the socio-economic disparities between Texas’ border cities and big metro areas like Houston, Dallas, or Austin. If these border towns effectively seize the opportunity, the U.S.-Mexican border could see one of the most dramatic transformations in its history. The upside for Mexican border towns could be even greater if economic prosperity allows them to eradicate the bad reputation created by drug-trafficking and other illegal activities,” the BBVA economic report noted.

The BBVA Research analysis supported Canales’ and other South Texas leaders’ perspectives on the potential economic windfall for the Texas border region.

“Mexico’s energy reform will offer abundant opportunities to U.S. and foreign companies across energy and non-energy industries. Mexico is expected to regain its position as one of the top producers of hydrocarbons in the world. This has positive implications for the U.S. as it strengthens macroeconomic stability and energy security in North America,” the BBVA report continued. “The multiplier effect of energy investments will give a boost to the Texas-Mexico border area, generating $1.2 trillion dollars in economic activity over the next 10 years. Last but not least, the success of the reform will depend on the quality of the implementation process.”

Canales said the BBVA Research analysis is available to the public on the Internet, in both English and Spanish, at:

https://www.bbvaresearch.com/en/publicaciones/u-s-economic-watch-opportunities-from-mexicos-energy-reform/

• Duties, membership of Energy Resources, International Trade and Governmental Affairs committees

The House Committee on Energy Resources, which includes Canales among its 11 members, is chaired by Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.

The other committee members include Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, who serves as Vice-Chair; Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Ft. Worth; Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland; Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford; Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville; Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall; Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple; and Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House Committee on International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs, a seven-member panel, is chaired by Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, while Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, serves as Vice-Chairman.

The committee also includes Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake; Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin; Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass; and Rep. Mary Ann Pérez, D-Houston.

The powers of the House Energy Resources Committee includes jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

  • The conservation of the energy resources of Texas;
  • The production, regulation, transportation, and development of oil, gas, and other energy resources;
  • Mining and the development of mineral deposits within the state;
  • The leasing and regulation of mineral rights under public lands;
  • Pipelines, pipeline companies, and all others operating as common carriers in the state;
  • Electric utility regulation as it relates to energy production and consumption;
  • Identifying, developing, and using alternative energy sources;
  • Increasing energy efficiency throughout the state; and
  • The following state agencies: the Railroad Commission of Texas, the Office of Interstate Oil Compact Commissioner for Texas, the Office of Interstate Mining Compact Commissioner for Texas, the State Energy Conservation Office, and the Office of Southern States Energy Board Member for Texas.

The powers of the House Committee on International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs includes jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

  • The relations between the State of Texas and other nations, including matters related to trade relations and international trade zones;
  • The relations between the State of Texas and the federal government other than matters involving defense, emergency preparedness, and veterans issues;
  • The relations between the State of Texas and other states of the United States;
  • International commerce and trade, including the regulation of persons participating in international commerce and trade;
  • International and border regions (as described in Sections 2056.002(e)(2) and (3), Government Code) economic development, public health and safety issues affecting the border, tourist development, and goodwill, and economic development, tourist development, and goodwill in other areas of the state that have experienced a significant increase in the percentage of the population that consists of immigrants from other nations, according to the last two federal decennial censuses or another reliable measure;
  • The provision of public services to persons residing in proximity to Texas’ international border or in other areas of the state that have experienced a significant increase in the percentage of the population that consists of immigrants from other nations, according to the last two federal decennial censuses or another reliable measure; and
  • The following state agency: the Office of State-Federal Relations.

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, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, and Steven Edward Cruz, II. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.

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Edinburg’s May 2014 unemployment rate of 6.1 percent continues positive showings, reflects best May monthly report since 2008

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s unemployment rate for May 2014 was 6.1 percent, the best showing in the city for that month since May 2008, and the second-best figure for all cities in May 2014 in the Rio Grande Valley, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

For the month of May 2014, only McAllen (5.8 percent) had a better figure than Edinburg (6.1 percent), while the other major communities in the Valley had unemployment rates that ranged from 6.7 percent in Harlingen to 8.9 percent in Brownsville. The Valley’s three other most populous cities also had unemployment rates for May 2014 in single-digits: Mission (6.8 percent), Pharr (7.3 percent), and Weslaco (8.2 percent).

In addition, Edinburg’s labor force was the third largest in the Valley, with 33,485 persons employed in the city in May 2014. The area’s two most populous cities, Brownsville and McAllen, posted larger numbers with 63,313 and 58,523 individuals, respectively, employed in May 2014.

All cities combined in Hidalgo County averaged an 8.6 percent unemployment rate in May 2014, the same as in April 2014, while all cities combined in Cameron County averaged an 8.2 percent unemployment rate in May 2014, slightly up from an 8.1 percent unemployment rate in April 2014.

The statewide unemployment average in Texas for May 2014 was 5.1 percent.

These latest figures were released on Friday, June 20, by the Texas Workforce Commission, which is the state agency charged with overseeing and providing workforce development services to employers and job-seekers in Texas.

• More growth in the horizon

The ongoing favorable employment figures for Edinburg are consistent with what Mayor Richard García, who also serves as President of the EEDC Board of Directors, envisioned for this year during his State of the City Address, which he presented on Thursday, April 24, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

“So what is next?” the mayor asked rhetorically. “What is on the horizon tomorrow for Edinburg?”

Among planned and ongoing projects which will lead to more jobs in the coming months are:

• A series of master planned, multi-family, luxury projects with full amenities (pools, sauna, office and recreational space, and gyms).

“Three have announced already: The Residents at Trenton, The Villages at Sugar and Owassa, and the Auriel Development on North Sugar and Alberta, all aimed at the medical community, keeping the professionals living, eating, and shopping in Edinburg,” García noted. “Like these, there are a few others on the table that we will be reporting soon.”

• Hotel developments for Edinburg, including a Holiday Inn Express, located at the corner of Closner and Trenton, which features a new prototype design for Texas, and set to open in early 2015. The site also will include a restaurant pad site.

“Another deal was just signed on Wednesday, April 23, to bring a major, high-end hotel chain, conference center and business executive suites, and more dining across from the University of Texas-Pan American to focus on the traffic generated from the growth of the university, with two more higher-end hotel chains with restaurant pad sites currently in negotiations,” the mayor continued.

• Upgrading key infrastructure

Major roadway systems are the arteries of a community and its economy, which mean jobs.

“Tomorrow brings a slew of important road and infrastructure projects like the expansion of FM 1925 (Monte Cristo Road), that will also connect to 10th street, converting it a five-lane roadway,” Garcia reported. “Most of the cost for this project has already been secured through state and MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) funds, with Edinburg and Hidalgo County’s share being about $1 million,” the mayor said.

Edinburg also has collaborated with the cities of Pharr and McAllen, Hidalgo County Precinct’s 2 and 4 to widen Owassa Road, he added.

“All of these are planned with commitment to improve mobility and spur economic development in those areas,” García explained.

• Other key economic indicators

More detailed information about the labor market and unemployment rates in Edinburg and neighboring major communities include:

Number of persons employed, May 2014:

  • Brownsville: 63,313
  • McAllen: 58,523
  • Edinburg: 33,485
  • Mission: 29,942
  • Pharr: 25,882
  • Harlingen: 25,205
  • Weslaco: 13,479

Edinburg’s May unemployment rates, by year:

  • May 2014: 6.1 percent
  • May 2013: 7.3 percent
  • May 2012: 7.8 percent
  • May 2011: 8.7 percent
  • May 2010: 8.3 percent
  • May 2009: 6.2 percent
  • May 2008: 4.7 percent
  • May 2007: 4.4 percent
  • May 2006: 5.4 percent
  • May 2005: 4.9 percent

Edinburg’s May employment, by year:

  • 2014: 33,485
  • 2013: 33,004
  • 2012: 32,616
  • 2011: 31,886
  • 2010: 31,330
  • 2009: 29,960
  • 2008: 29,430
  • 2007: 27,935
  • 2006: 26,533
  • 2005: 25,559

Edinburg Monthly Unemployment Rates, 2014

  • May: 6.1
  • April: 5.5
  • March: 6.0
  • February: 6.6
  • January: 6.6

Edinburg Monthly Unemployment Rates, 2013

  • December: 6.7
  • November: 6.8
  • October: 7.4
  • September: 7.4
  • August: 7.6
  • July: 7.9
  • June: 8.0
  • May: 7.3
  • April: 6.7
  • March: 7.2
  • February: 7.5
  • January: 7.7

Because of substantial methodology changes between 2004 and 2005 in estimating city unemployment statistics, Texas city data is not available prior to 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Because of substantial methodology changes in geographic areas below the state level, data from 2005 and 2004 or earlier is not considered comparable, the state agency adds.

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, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez and Steven Edward Cruz, II. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

••••••

Edinburg retail economy up almost 19 percent in April 2014, leading all major Valley cities, which also showed big gains

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy in April 2014 showed an improvement of almost 19 percent over the same month last year, leading all major Valley cities, which also showed big gains, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

Edinburg’s most recent economic showing is almost double the average of all Texas cities, which came in with a 10.7 percent monthly increase over April 2013, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Based on the amount of local sales taxes collected, which reflects the strength of an economy, Edinburg’s retail sector generated more than $1.5 million in local sales taxes in April 2014, compared with almost $1.3 million in April 2013.

For the first four months of 2014, Edinburg’s retail economy also posted a double-digit upswing over the same period last year, generating $9,544,069.69 in local sales taxes, compared with $8,488,722.44 for January through April 2013 – a rise of 12.43 percent.

The local sales tax figure represents sales made in April, sent to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in May, and returned to the respective local government entities in June.

The sales tax, formally known as the State Sales and Use Tax, is imposed on all retail sales, leases and rentals of most goods, as well as taxable services. Texas cities, counties, transit authorities and special purpose districts have the option of imposing an additional local sales tax for a combined total of state and local taxes of 8 1/4% (.0825).

The local sales tax is used in Edinburg to help pay for many city services, while the EEDC uses its one-half cent local sales tax to help generate economic development in the city.

According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Edinburg’s retail economy in April 2014 generated $1,515,235.89 in local sales taxes, up 18.88 percent over April 2013, which reached $1,274,558.63.

Pharr registered the second-best improvement among major Valley cities for April 2014, up 15.27 percent over the same month in 2013, with $1,239,818.57 in local sales taxes being generated.

Weslaco’s retail economy in April 2014 produced $ 961,718.22 in local sales taxes, an increase of 13.38 percent over the same month last year.

Mission’s posting of $ 1,294,797.04 in April 2014 represented a 13.26 percent boost over its April 2013 monthly showing, while McAllen – the traditional retail giant of the Valley – reported $5,060,901.86 in local sales taxes, up 11.95 percent over the April 2013.

In Cameron County, Harlingen and Brownsville also enjoyed improvements in April 2014, with Harlingen reporting $1,705,190.61 in local sales taxes, an increase of 10.21 percent over the same month last year, while Brownsville, which generated $2,947,823.07 in local sales taxes, was up 8.23 percent over April 2013.

Mayor Richard García, who also serves as president of the five-member Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, said the April 2014 and January through April 2014 year-to-date figures reflect Edinburg’s reputation as a preferred city in which to set up a business, work, and live.

“When I say our ‘growing community’, I mean specifically a community growing at a rate of 5.3 percent since the last 2010 census,” the mayor reported. “Today, Edinburg is ranked the third largest city in the Rio Grande Valley with almost 85,000 residents after the annexation of 2200 acres this past year.

“Today, Edinburg continues its commitment to attracting and building quality of life projects like the new $8.5 million Parks, Recreation and Wellness Center that is currently under construction at South Park. Four gyms, one which will be a practice gym for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers as well as for the Houston Rockets,” García continued.

In addition, Edinburg boasts Cinemark Theatres first “Bistro” facility in the country.

“This six-screen theatre has a full service café that delivers to your seats – some of the best burgers in town, wine and beer, and stadium seating. This truly is a fun family experience: dinner and a movie with one stop,” he said.

Another first for Edinburg is a “splash pad” at Freddy González and I Road – a zero depth water park for children which is a recreation area for water play that has little or no standing water – thus eliminating the need for lifeguards or other supervision.

Another quality-of-life feature that encourages local residents and visitors to spend money in the local economy is Las Ramblas/El Paseo Cultural, also known as the McIntyre Street Project, which is now complete, the mayor said.

“Las Ramblas-Paseo Cultural is designed for pedestrians, bicyclists, runners and for entire families to enjoy outdoor local festivals and international cultural events like our monthly Jardín de Arte at the City Hall courtyard,” the mayor spoke of the ongoing development of the city’s downtown region into a center for economic development and tourism.

The Jardín de Arte festival, which is held on the second Friday of every month from April through November, hosts a wide range of cultural events, from showcasing local, regional and national artists, speakers, and writers, to featuring performances by local, regional and national musicians and dancers.

According to the state comptroller’s office, the Valley’s major cities reported the following local sales tax figures for April 2014:

  • McAllen: $5,060,901.86, up 11.95 percent over April 2013 ($4,520,372.01);
  • Brownsville: $2,947,823.07, up 8.23 percent over April 2013 ($2,723,467.74);
  • Harlingen: $1,705,190.61, up 10.21 percent over April 2013 ($1,547,086.64);
  • Edinburg: $ 1,515,235.89, up 18.88 percent over April 2013 ($1,274,558.63);
  • Mission: $1,294,797.04, up 13.26 percent over April 2013 ($1,143,124.93);
  • Pharr: $1,239,818.57, up 15.27 percent over April 2013 ($1,075,570.38); and
  • Weslaco: $961,718.22, up 13.38 percent over April 2013 ($848,169.63).

All cities in Hidalgo County generated a combined total of $12,112,848.14 in local sales tax revenue in April 2014, compared with $10,509,422.25 during the same month in 2013, an improvement of 15.25 percent.

All cities in Cameron County generated a combined total of $5,619,943.39 in local sales tax revenue in April 2014, compared with $5,092,079.11 during the same month in 2013, an increase of 10.36 percent.

For details of the April 2014 local sales tax figures for all cities, counties, transit systems, and special purpose taxing districts, located the Monthly Sales Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports at the comptroller’s website, log on to:

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, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Steven Edward Cruz, II, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

••••••

Speaker Joe Straus announces emergency appropriation while Rio Grande Valley leaders plan strategy session on “humanitarian crisis”

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

As tens of thousands of unaccompanied children flee violence in Central America in a desperate effort to join family members in the U.S., Texas must take more active roles in helping protect them while the federal government deals with the growing “humanitarian crisis” along the U.S.-Mexico border, including in the Valley, says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

“In America, we do not turn a blind eye to the powerless, the weak, the sick, and especially to innocent children,” said Canales. “In Texas and in the Valley, we do not blame people for being victims.”

In a related development, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Wednesday, June 18, announced the appropriations of $1.3 million a week, until the end of 2014, for the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct law enforcement surge operations to help the plight of these children and to protect them and Texas citizens from any criminal elements which seek to exploit this tragedy, Canales added.

“I applaud the decision by state officials to provide additional funding to assist the Rio Grande Valley in what has become a humanitarian crisis,” Canales said. “We need real solutions to cope with the recent immigration surge in deep South Texas.”

Straus, who was in Edinburg on Tuesday, June 17, called the situation along the Texas-Mexico border “a very serious problem.

“Tens of thousands of young people have come into the United States, often from Mexico and Central America. This rush of young migrants has overwhelmed federal officials and could make the border region more vulnerable to criminal activity such as drug trafficking and human smuggling operations,” Straus said. “I was in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this week and visited with border patrol officers and state and local law enforcement officials about the situation on the ground and the effect of this influx on security efforts.”

According to Straus:

• The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) has apprehended more undocumented immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley in the first eight months of the current federal fiscal year (over 160,000) than it did for all of fiscal year 2013 (154,453);

• In May 2014 alone, USCBP reported apprehending more than 1,100 undocumented immigrants per day in the Rio Grande Valley;

• This year, like last year, more than half of the individuals apprehended at the Texas-Mexico border by USCBP are from countries other than Mexico;

• Additionally, 34,000 unaccompanied undocumented children (UAC) have been apprehended in Texas so far this year, with estimates that number will reach 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year; and

• By comparison, 28,352 UAC were apprehended in fiscal year 2013.

Canales said he was overwhelmed with compassion and fear for many of these undocumented immigrant children, who are being kept in holding facilities at the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen.

“The Border Patrol is doing its best to take care of these children, but they just don’t have the facilities, manpower, and other resources needed to do what they do best, which is to protect our country, and to save lives, no matter where you are from,” Canales said.

The state lawmaker, at the invitation of U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Saturday, June 14, saw first-hand the trauma facing refugee children in U.S. custody at the Border Patrol holding facilities in McAllen.

“I do not care what your stance on immigration is,” Canales told the Rio Grande Guardian. “When you see a room full of four-year olds or eight-year olds with their noses pressed up against the glass, drowning in their own tears because they do not know where they are or who is going to save them, we have to treat them like human beings. There is no question this is a full-blown humanitarian crisis.”

In addition to Cuellar and Canales, other top Valley leaders who toured the Border Patrol holding facilities in McAllen were Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García.

Kevin W. Oaks, Chief Patrol Agent of the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, provided the private legislative update for the elected leaders.

“The (Obama) administration has tried to ease overcrowding in Border Patrol stations in the Rio Grande Valley, where a processing backlog left hundreds of unaccompanied children waiting in cramped and chilly holding cells for days. From the start of the fiscal year October 1 through May, the Border Patrol caught more than 47,000 children and teens traveling without parents, a 92 percent increase over the same period last year,” the Houston Chronicle reported in its June edition.

More than 33,000 unaccompanied children were caught in the Rio Grande Valley sector, the Houston Chronicle added. “They are backing up in facilities that were never designed for children,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said.

The situation facing the refugee children is so alarming that Canales said he was too emotional to participate in a news conference following the Saturday, June 14 inspection of the conditions at the McAllen holding facilities.

He said he went back to his car and cried – something he said does not happen very often.

“I could not stand in front of a camera. I would not have been any use to anybody. I was an emotional mess. There are not many things in this world that can do what this did to me,” Canales told the Rio Grande Guardian, in a phone interview an hour after his tour.

“It was not until I got in my car that I had just a meltdown,” Canales continued. “If you did not feel it in your chest and you were not holding back tears, you were not human.”

••••••

Rep. Muñoz, Rep. Longoria appointed to Select Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Texas Border Support Operations

By RICHARD SÁNCHEZ

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday, July 2, appointed Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Palmview, to the Select Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Texas Border Support Operations, which will examine the short- and long-term budgetary effects of addressing increased activity along the Texas-Mexico border.

Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, also was appointed to that legislative panel.

The recent influx of immigrants from Central America prompted the state’s top leadership to call for a surge of Department of Public Safety (DPS) Troopers along the Rio Grande Valley border region to conduct law enforcement operations. The committee will monitor the costs of those operations and other services associated with increased border crossings.

The committee will also review and evaluate any support that Texas receives from the federal government to address this issue and study the influx’s effect on resources available to local governments. Finally, the committee will determine the long-term budgetary effect of efforts to ensure Texans’ safety.

“It is quite an honor to accept this appointment and get right to work on these very pressing issues that are directly affecting our communities in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Muñoz. “It will be my priority to devise a system that rewards the great work that is being done by our local governments and communities by reimbursing the significant costs they bear by supporting what is ultimately a federal responsibility. A federal reimbursement revenue stream will allow our state and local governments to sustain the response to the humanitarian crisis and provide for adequate border security.”

“It is important for legislators and the public to know the full impact of these operations,” said Straus. “A comprehensive look at the costs and benefits associated with our investment in border security will be helpful as the House sets priorities for next year’s legislative session.”

Speaker Pro Tempore Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, will chair the new committee.

Its membership will also include Reps. Greg Bonnen, R-Angleton; Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton; Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin; Rep. Marisa Márquez, D-El Paso; Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton; Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America have crossed into Texas in recent months, raising concerns about the ability of federal, state and local authorities to focus on fighting drug cartels and other criminal activity along the border.

Muñoz has worked closely with Straus and with DPS officials to monitor the situation, especially as activity has increased in recent months.

Muñoz has visited with federal, state and local officials about the influx, and continues to assess the impact of the change in immigration trends and the flow of commerce and business across the ports of entry in his legislative district

Three major international ports of entry lay within Muñoz’ House District 36: The Pharr International Bridge, the Hidalgo International Bridge, and the Anzaldúas International Bridge.

“The committee needs to address the situation and find solutions both for the short term and the for the long term,” Muñoz said.

••••••

Sen. Hinojosa to lead subcommittee to develop Plan for the Future of Texas’ State Supported Living Centers

By JENNIFER SÁENZ

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, Chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission, on Wednesday, June 26, appointed Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as Chairman of the Subcommittee to Study the Potential Closures of State Supported Living Centers (SSLCs).

The Sunset Advisory Commission held their first hearings on June 25 and 26, lasting late into the night with hundreds of people testifying on various issues – with SSLCs being one of the most controversial issues.

Texas houses 13 SSLCs that are state-run residential facilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They are campus-based 24-hour direct services facilities that are overseen by the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS).

The Sunset staff report expressed serious concerns with the safety, quality, and enormous costs associated with these facilities as well as the declining number of residents housed in these facilities and recommended that the Austin SSLC be shut down along with five others. There has since been an outpouring of public comments and concerns — many wishing to shut some down, while many fighting to keep them all open.

“We need a solution that recognizes the critical services that SSLCs provide to so many of our residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, but that also addresses the safety and quality control issues, the aging infrastructure, and the enormous budget costs associated with running these facilities,” said Hinojosa. “I am honored to chair this subcommittee and am looking forward to a coordinated approach with members and stakeholders to develop a plan that will set up criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of these SSLCs while at the same time improving community-based services.”

The agencies under sunset review that were discussed at the hearing include University Interscholastic League (UIL) and four health and human services agencies: Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services (DARS), Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS).

The Sunset Advisory Commission is a 12-member legislative commission tasked with identifying and eliminating waste, duplication, and inefficiencies in or government agencies. It is composed of fie state Senators, five state representatives, and two public members.

“Our job is to evaluate whether these agencies and their programs are still necessary and, if so, how to structure them to be successful in carrying out their missions,” Nelson said. “We have a long way to go in this process. Nothing is set in stone. We need public input to ensure these agencies are running efficiently and effectively.”

At the next Sunset Advisory Commission meeting to be held on Wednesday, August 13, members will vote on whether to accept, modify or reject the recommendations of Sunset staff. Those decisions will result in legislation to be filed in the next legislative session. Final decisions on the future of all these agencies ultimately rest with the Legislature.

Each of the reports being discussed by the Sunset Advisory Commission during this week’s hearings can be viewed online at http://www.sunset.texas.gov.

The Sunset Advisory Commission reviews policies and programs of state agencies and recommends reforms, improvements, changes, dissolution of agencies, elimination of wasteful programs and any other changes that are needed to ensure transparent, cost-effective, and productive state programs.
Public participation is a key aspect of the Sunset Review process.

The Sunset Advisory Commission seeks public input through hearings on every agency under Sunset review, and recommends actions on each agency to the full Legislature in the next regular session.

••••••

Texas Bar Foundation grants $16,000 to UTPA’s Law School Preparation Institute

By GAIL FAGAN

More students at The University of Texas-Pan American will get an extra boost toward achieving their dream of a law career thanks to a generous grant from The Texas Bar Foundation to support the University’s Law School Preparation Institute (LSPI).

The $16,000 grant will assist 10 LSPI students with the cost of books, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) preparation courses and provide them a stipend while enrolled in the rigorous five-week summer course.

Initiated in 2001, LSPI has continually yielded success, boasting a 90 percent acceptance rate for LSPI graduates who apply to law school, averaging much higher than the national acceptance rate of 60 percent.

Over the years, numerous LSPI graduates have been accepted to law schools across the country, including Texas Tech University, Southern Methodist University and St. Mary’s University as well as The University of California at Berkeley, Indiana University, Penn State and Georgetown University, among many others.

Attorney and Texas Bar Foundation Fellow Dan Worthington (BA ’85) said the Foundation has been impressed with LPSI’s success in preparing students and how it supports the Foundation’s mission to serve the civil justice system and the Rio Grande Valley, which he said is often underserved.

“What this program [LSPI] does, is it helps get the students get ready for law school and if they succeed in law school, they will get a better opportunity for employment and … a lot of those students will return to the Valley as lawyers. That’s why, to us, it seemed an appropriate investment,” he said.

Through LSPI students are prepared for the LSAT, introduced to legal research and writing, and review selected law cases to help develop their analytical, argumentative and critical reading and writing skills. They also discuss the admissions process into law school and receive assistance in selecting and applying to law schools.

“LSPI makes our students aware of the opportunities available to them to pursue careers in law and other careers outside of law. It’s a very disciplined program that requires a great commitment and so it introduces students to study at a level of rigor that they don’t see at the undergraduate level,” said Dr. John Darcy, accounting and business law professor and LSPI co-director.

LSPI’s interdisciplinary team of instructors also includes UTPA faculty members Dr. Jerry Polinard, political science professor, and Dr. Erik Anderson, philosophy lecturer. Polinard, who has directed the program since its inception and is UTPA’s pre-law adviser, was honored in 2013 by the Pre-Law Advisors National Council with the Gerald Lee Wilson Award for Excellence in Pre-Law Advising.

Since many students who apply to the program balance a full-time work and school schedule, the $1,000 stipend will serve as a necessary incentive for students who have to either quit their job or take a leave of absence during the duration of the course described as “highly demanding.”

“It’s like an emersion; they’re there all day, which means that many of them, if they work, can’t work the hours that they usually work. So, that support is very, very important to the success of the program,” said Dr. Walter Díaz, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “The gift enables us to have a more sustainable program and to be able to provide the LSPI students the full support that they need.”

LSPI graduate Alejandra Martínez (BA ’13), who is currently balancing her job as a Chick-fil-A manager while studying for her LSAT, said she valued most the relationships she established with LSPI instructors, particularly Polinard, and the advice and mentorship she has received from them.

Martínez will be taking her LSAT in September and, depending on the outcome of her score, plans to apply to her top choice law school, UT Austin School of Law, as well as every law school in Texas and a few out-of-state law schools, she said.

“It’s important to continue having this program because we get an advantage over others; it looks great on our résumé. I know a lot of the administrators who accept these students know what the program is and they’re actually looking for students who have taken this program,” she said.

Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $15 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably funded bar foundation. The Foundation targets five general program areas including legal services for the underserved, education of the Third Branch of government, ethics and professionalism in the legal profession, administration of justice and victim services.

For more information on LSPI, contact the Department of Political Science at (956) 665-3341. For more information on giving opportunities at UT Pan American, contact the Office of Development at development@utpa.edu or (956) 665-5301.

••••••

Rep. Muñoz, Rep. Lucio announce creation of task force that will lead to development of Rio Grande Valley Regional Alert System

By RICHARD SÁNCHEZ

A task force was created on Tuesday, June 11, to develop The Rio Grande Valley Regional Alert System, which is designed to help law enforcement agencies find missing or kidnapped residents or criminals involved abductions, said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission.

Currently there are 17 regional alert systems across Texas – but not in the Valley – serving a majority of Texans by providing alerts in those respective regions.

The proposal to create a regional alert system was prompted by the cases of Harlingen residents David Mark García and former Rep. Don Lee, D-Harlingen, in 2012.

Both men were reported missing only to be found deceased shortly after their disappearance.

Both of these cases did not qualify for any state alert systems.

“But the regional alert systems across Texas have been extremely successful because local regions are most familiar with local resources that can be used when a BOLO (Be On the Look Out) alert has been activated,” Muñoz said. “The most effective tool to locate a missing person is the ability to use the community as a resource. Public awareness and participation is critical towards the success of any alert system.”

Each of the regional alert systems, including the statewide system managed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, are modeled after the original AMBER Alert System created in the Dallas area in 1996.

The AMBER Alert System began when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was created as a legacy to nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and then brutally murdered. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the nation.

“It’s important to understand that we are not trying to replace the current state alert systems that exist now,” Lucio explained. “Every department we have spoken to has acknowledged a need to create a regional alert system that would help during the crucial, critical hours of a person being reported missing.”

Muñoz and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, on June 11 met in Weslaco with law enforcement, emergency management, and bridge officials from across the Rio Grande Valley to discuss the progress of the Regional Alert System for the Rio Grande Valley.

Following that session, the two state lawmakers announced the group would establish the first official task force to design and put into action the guidelines of the proposed Regional Alert System.

“I am excited to see the consistent progress and development of this task force, and I strongly believe that we will establish a system that will prioritize, protect, and preserve the safety of the citizens of the Rio Grande Valley,” said Lucio.

The task force consists of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator, Mission Police Department, Pharr Police Department, the Anzaldúas and Hidalgo International Bridges, the Pharr International Bridge, Harlingen Police Department, Edinburg Police Department, Cameron County Emergency Coordinator, Raymondville Police Department, and the Palm Valley Police Department.

“The RGV Regional Alert System will be an additional tool for law enforcement agencies to use in an effort to recover missing or abducted persons,” Muñoz said. “I am confident that this task Force will develop a system that is responsive and responsible. They have my complete support and appreciation.”

Lucio and Muñoz thanked the founding members of the task force for their commitment to developing the initial Regional Alert System. They added they were proud of the representation from each county (Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy) by law enforcement officials, who the lawmakers praised for continuing to seek improved safety for Valley communities.

“It’s important to understand that we are not trying to replace the current state alert systems that exist now,” Lucio had explained. “Every department we have spoken to has acknowledged a need to create a regional alert system that would help during the crucial, critical hours of a person being reported missing.”

The Valley system “will be tailored to our local communities and administered by local emergency and law enforcement,” Muñoz said when both lawmakers first revealed their goal on Monday, January 27.

Currently, the state has active AMBER, Silver, Blue and Endangered Missing Persons Alert systems.

The AMBER, Blue, Silver and Endangered Missing Persons Alert Programs are housed within the Operations Section of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The State Operations Center (SOC) serves as the state primary control point, collecting and disseminating alert information to local, state, federal, public and private technology partners, known as the State Network. The goal of the State Network is to mobilize Texas citizens to search for abducted children, missing senior citizens, endangered missing persons and suspects involved with the death or serious injury of law enforcement officers. Each alert program has a specific set of criteria in order to protect the integrity of the network. Only law enforcement can request activation of the State Network.

••••••

Former Texas State Bank employee in McAllen sentenced to federal prison for bank fraud

By ANGELA DODGE

A former bank officer with Texas State Bank has been ordered to federal prison for defrauding her former employer, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Sondra Tredaway, 65, of Mission, was the former manager of the Texas State Bank branch located in McAllen. She pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud on June 7, 2011.

On Thursday, June 12, Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa handed Tredaway a sentence of 41 months in federal prison and further ordered she pay restitution to Texas State Bank in the amount of $4,496,455.83. The prison term will be immediately followed by a two-year-term of supervised release.

Tredaway had admitted she defrauded Texas State Bank, using her position as branch manager to defraud the bank of approximately $2.4 million.

She used the names and personal information belonging to several individuals, without their permission, to create more than 58 fictitious loans beginning in 1998 through 2010.

Tredaway further admitted she used the loan proceeds for her own benefit. The fraud was discovered when BBVA Compass Bank purchased Texas State Bank and began reviewing their loan records.

After handing down the sentence on June 12, Hinojosa permitted Tredway to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the FBI.

Assistant United States Attorney Robert Wells Jr. prosecuted the case.

••••••

Spa owner pleas guilty for role in unsafe liquid silicone injection that led to woman’s death

By ANGELA DODGE

Elva Navarro, 37, of Hidalgo, entered a guilty plea to violating the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act as her federal trial was about to being on Monday, June 9, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

The investigation into Navarro began in November 2013 after law enforcement discovered she was involved with providing liquid silicone to women to effect the structure and function of their bodies.

Court documents demonstrated that Navarro would administer injections of liquid silicone into individuals who would frequent her facility – Bella Face and Body Spa in McAllen. These injections were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Navarro falsely represented to her customers that they were safe when, in fact, they were not.

During her plea on June 9, Navarro admitted that on October 5, 2013, she used an adulterated device, namely, liquid silicone on a female customer at her spa. Navarro knew that the substance had caused complications on previous occasions, but admitted she intended to mislead the woman by not disclosing that information to her female customer.

The woman later died as a result of the injections.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Álvarez, who accepted the plea, has set sentencing for August 21, 2014. At that time, Navarro faces up to three years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine. She will remain in custody pending that hearing.

The case is being investigated by FDA, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Leo is prosecuting.

••••••

Hidalgo County District Clerk staff raises $3,000 for the Food Bank of the RGV

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

The Hidalgo County District Clerk Office on Friday, June 27, presented a check totaling $3,000 to the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign, a program benefitting local charitable organizations.

“Our Blues for Bucks program is a great way for our staff to become engaged and contribute to worthy causes in our community such as the Food Bank of the RGV,” said Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County District Clerk. “We are honored to help support an organization that is committed to overcoming poverty and hunger in our community and is making a huge difference in lives of children and families throughout the region.”

The Food Bank of the RGV was founded in 1983 and incorporated in 1986 to serve as a clearinghouse for smaller food pantries and on-site feeding organizations. It serves as a champion to those organizations that focus on making food accessible to the Valley and is passionately committed to ending hunger.

The Food Bank of the RGV is currently affiliated with Feeding America and the Texas Food Bank Network and has grown to become the 36th largest in the nation and 5th largest in Texas based on distribution. It currently serves Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron Counties.

“We are grateful for this amazing contribution from the Hidalgo County District Clerk Office,” Terri Drefke, Chief Executive Officer, said. “This contribution will help us provide 15,000 healthy meals for children right here in the RGV.”

The district clerk office kicked off their charitable efforts in 2008. The program, which allows department staff to wear jeans every Friday in exchange for a $5 donation, has since then expanded their efforts through the creation of a “charitable organizations list” of which staff randomly selects a recipient every six months. Over the past five years the district clerk office has collected over $40,000 that has gone to local charitable organizations throughout Hidalgo County.

Learn more about the Food Bank of the RGV and their efforts by calling 956.682.7921 or by visiting http://www.foodbankrgv.com.

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Hidalgo County government implements new procedures for public information requests

By HILDA SALINAS

The Hidalgo County Public Affairs Division on Friday, June 27, announced that it has implemented new policies and procedures for receiving Public Information Requests (PIR). The intent is to ensure that all PIRs are handled in a timely and uniform manner.

Pursuant to the Public Information Act, which is codified at chapters 552 of the Texas Government Code, effective immediately, all public information requests to Hidalgo County Public Affairs Division shall be made in writing to either of the following:

• Email: public.info@co.hidalgo.tx.us
• Facsimile: (956) 292-7766
• Mail:
Public Information Director
302 West University Dr.
Edinburg, TX 78539
Attn: Public Information Request

The Hidalgo County Public Affairs Division will no longer accept public information requests made to individual employees via writing, email or telephone calls.

The Public Information Request Form is available on the Hidalgo County website under the Public Affairs Division tab on the menu bar. Here is a link to the form:

http://co.hidalgo.tx.us/DocumentCenter/View/15319.

As a reminder, under the Public Information Act, a governmental body is not required to prepare new information in response to a request. See A&T Consultants, Inc. v. Sharp, 904 S.W.2d 668, 676 (Tex. 1995); Fish v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 31 S.W.3d 678, 681 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2000, pet. denied); Attorney General Opinion H-90 (1973); Open Records Decision Nos. 452 at 2–3 (1986), 342 at 3 (1982), 87 (1975).

Additionally, a governmental body is not required to prepare answers to questions or to do legal research. See Open Records Decision Nos. 563 at 8 (1990) (considering request for federal and state laws and regulations), 555 at 1–2 (1990) (considering request for answers to fact questions).

For more information regarding the Public Information Act, please visit:

https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/open/index.shtml

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