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Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, recites the Pledge of Allegiance on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives at the Texas Capitol in Austin. In an effort to help South Texas residents better understand the pros and cons of building a new Hidalgo County Courthouse, the House District 40 lawmaker has submitted a series of questions, which Canales has received from his legislative constituents, to Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García. García has been the main supporter of a current plan favored by the county judge to build a new courthouse, whose cost could reach $150 million, in downtown Edinburg, next to existing Hidalgo County Courthouse.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, an attorney whose House District 40 features much of Edinburg, including the downtown region, in a January 16, 2018 letter to Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, has submitted concerns from citizens. “There is little doubt that our current courthouse is not adequate for the actual needs of this community, yet I believe we need to work together to clarify misconceptions that seem to be circulating around the area,” Canales stated in his letter to García. “I have a series of questions that I have been asked by Hidalgo County residents that I would like answered in writing to help my constituents and myself become more comfortable with this project.” Canales said as he receives the responses – on the county judge’s official letterhead – to the specific questions from citizens, he will share those answers in follow-up news releases from his legislative office and postings on social media. “It is much better to get Judge Ramón García on the record on these important questions which continue to be asked by the community, show his answers to the people, and let the chips fall where they may,” Canales said. Canales has been deeply involved in introducing and passing state legislation that benefits Hidalgo County residents and county government, including working with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Armando Martínez, D-Weslaco, as a joint author in 2015 that resulted in the creation of a special fund to pay for construction, renovation, and repairs to the county courthouse. “Every major issue involving Hidalgo County government and services protecting Hidalgo County residents have been shaped and are reviewed by me,” Canales said. “The current and proposed county courthouse are in the heart of my legislative district, so you can bet that I have been very involved in following this very important development.”

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With uncertainties still surrounding proposed $150 million courthouse, Rep. Canales submits questions from citizens to County Judge García

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

In an effort to help South Texas residents better understand the pros and cons of building a new Hidalgo County Courthouse, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has submitted a series of questions, which Canales has received from his legislative constituents, to Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García.

García has been the main supporter of a current plan favored by the county judge to build a new courthouse, whose cost could reach $150 million, in downtown Edinburg, next to existing Hidalgo County Courthouse.

García, who is not seeking reelection as county judge, will have his current term expire at the end of 2018.

Canales, an attorney whose House District 40 features much of Edinburg, including the downtown region, submitted those concerns from citizens in his January 16, 2018 letter to the county judge.

“There is little doubt that our current courthouse is not adequate for the actual needs of this community, yet I believe we need to work together to clarify misconceptions that seem to be circulating around the area,” Canales stated in his letter to García. “I have a series of questions that I have been asked by Hidalgo County residents that I would like answered in writing to help my constituents and myself become more comfortable with this project.”

Canales said as he receives the responses – on the county judge’s official letterhead – to the specific questions from citizens, he will share those answers in follow-up news releases from his legislative office and postings on social media.

“It is much better to get Judge Ramón García on the record on these important questions which continue to be asked by the community, show his answers to the people, and let the chips fall where they may,” Canales said.

Canales has been deeply involved in introducing and passing state legislation that benefits Hidalgo County residents and county government, including working with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Armando Martínez, D-Weslaco, as a joint author in 2015 that resulted in the creation of a special fund to pay for construction, renovation, and repairs to the county courthouse.

“Every major issue involving Hidalgo County government and services protecting Hidalgo County residents have been shaped and are reviewed by me,” Canales said. “The current and proposed county courthouse are in the heart of my legislative district, I was directly involved in creating a non-tax fund to help pay for issues relating to the courthouse, so you can bet that I have been very involved in following this very important development.”

In 2013, which was his first session in the Legislature, Canales passed a measure which led to Hidalgo County being the first county in the state to allow digital court filing in all criminal courts. This law paved the way for the rest of Texas to institute this important technological reform which has led to financial savings for our courts. (Link: http://edinburgpolitics.com/2015/09/04/two-years-in-the-making-hidalgo-county-first-in-texas-to-allow-e-filing-of-criminal-cases-under-law-passed-by-rep-canales-and-sen-hinojosa/)

In addition, Canales has worked closely with the Office of Court Administration on addressing the shortage of courtrooms in Hidalgo County. In 2017, he filed legislation that ultimately created the 464th District Court in Hidalgo County, which represents a small step in providing timely justice in Hidalgo County. At the time he was quoted in local media about his concerns about delayed resolution of cases in Hidalgo County and the overburdened Hidalgo County judiciary. Link: http://www.themonitor.com/news/local/article_49f6e737-02ba-51a3-871a-07abd820e440.html

Canales’ influence in the legal system was also felt in 2017, when he authored and passed landmark legislation – House Bill 214 – that requires the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to make video recordings of their oral arguments, and any open meeting the courts have, and publish the recordings on their respective websites

“Recording and broadcasting courtroom proceedings can promote transparency and allow the public to evaluate the efficacy of the judicial system,” Canales explained. “HB 214 increases the public’s access to the judicial branch at the highest levels in the Texas judicial system.”

Canales also was the author of legislation, signed into law on June 15, 2017, which will help do away with a decades-old injustice which results in hundreds of thousands of Texans going to jail every year because they are too poor to pay fines for traffic tickets and other Class C misdemeanors.

“In Texas, at the rate we are going, we were going to eventually be throwing a million poor people in jail every year for failure to pay tickets, fines and fees arising from court cases,” explained the House District 40 lawmaker. “We have too many Texans statewide who are struggling to pay rent and groceries, then they wind up getting ticketed and getting jailed for the most minor offenses, such as traffic violations.”

HB 351 includes comprehensive changes recommended by the Texas Judicial Council to provide judges with new tools and procedures to hold low-income Texans accountable without jail time when they cannot pay their fines and court costs in criminal cases.

HB 351 will help clear up confusion in existing state law so local judges, including justices of the peace, can allow the defendant to perform community service instead of being thrown into jail when they are found to be indigent.

“At the time of sentencing, judges should also be making judgments on whether defendants can even pay the fines that are levied,” Canales said. “Low-income Texans are being set up to fail by the way fines and fees are handled, and they are often driven deeper into poverty.”

Here is the text of Canales’ letter to the Hidalgo County judge:

January 16, 2018

The Honorable Ramón García
County Judge for Hidalgo County
P.O. Box 1356
Edinburg, TX 78539

Dear Judge García:

First and foremost, I would like to thank you, your office, and the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court for your service and efforts to construct a much-needed courthouse in our community. As Hidalgo County moves towards the construction of a new county courthouse, there are many questions that seem to be swirling around our community.

As you know, I am the Texas State Representative for District 40, which includes most of the City of Edinburg and the current Hidalgo County Courthouse. Additionally, I am a practicing attorney who has spent 3 or 4 days a week in the Hidalgo County Courthouse over the past 10 years, and many of my constituents work at and/or live near the courthouse.

There is little doubt that our current courthouse is not adequate for the actual needs of this community, yet I believe we need to work together to clarify misconceptions that seem to be circulating around the area. I have a series of questions that I have been asked by Hidalgo County residents that I would like answered in writing to help my constituents and myself become more comfortable with this project.

• Is there an economic impact study assessing how much, and how, would a new courthouse built on the Hidalgo County Downtown Square benefit the Edinburg economy?

• Is there an economic impact study assessing what would happen to the property tax values of residences and businesses located around and near the Hidalgo County Downtown Square?

• If Hidalgo County moves forward with a new courthouse on the Hidalgo County Downtown Square, will drainage still be a problem in that area?

• Is it your understanding that the $20 million appropriated by Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to improve mobility and drainage for downtown Edinburg is contingent on the construction of the courthouse on the Hidalgo County Downtown Square?

• How much money has been generated and is estimated to be generated for the construction, renovation, and improvement of court facilities as a result of Senate Bill 1964, which was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2015? (SB 1964 allows Hidalgo County to collect civil courts filing fee and on the cost for official real property recordings, for the construction, renovation, and improvement of court facilities.)

• Has the City of Edinburg paid for any of the costs of construction, renovation and improvement of the current Hidalgo County Courthouse?

• What happens if the City of Edinburg is unwilling or unable to help pay for a new Hidalgo County Courthouse in that city?

• Why should the City of Edinburg have to pay for any of the construction costs of the new Hidalgo County Courthouse?

• If a new Hidalgo County Courthouse is built on the Hidalgo County Downtown Square, what will become of the existing courtrooms and other offices in the current Hidalgo County Courthouse?

• As an area that is experiencing rapid growth, for how long would a new Hidalgo County Courthouse meet the current demand for courtrooms and for the expected increase over the next 20 years?

• How will Hidalgo County address the future needed court rooms?

• Will we build a new facility at that time?

• Has a list been developed of other similar sized courthouse projects in our region so that the public can see if this project compares favorably or unfavorably with normal practices?

• How will parking be addressed in the new courthouse?

• Are there plans for the construction of a multi-level parking garages for employees at the Hidalgo County Courthouse and/or for the public which conducts business at the Hidalgo County Courthouse?

• How much would Hidalgo County save if they constructed the courthouse outside the downtown corridor?

• How would this new courthouse include technology to ensure that our courts are ready for the future?

I appreciate your help with this information and look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience so that we move forward together on this important project.

Very  truly yours,

Rep. Terry Canales
Texas House District 40

Cc: Hidalgo County Commissioners Court
Hidalgo County Board of Judges
Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina
Edinburg EDC President Gilbert Enríquez

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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