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Edinburg school board, citizens panel begin joint work on $150 million bonds

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the City of Edinburg and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation have congratulated Memorial Funeral Home for their recent contribution to the 3rd Annual Texas Cook ‘Em: High Steaks in Edinburg.  Memorial Funeral Home will sponsor Edinburg’s Very Important Party (VIP) on Friday, July 4 at the Edinburg Municipal Park, located on 714 Raúl Longoria. The party kicks off at 6 p.m., and all competing cooks are automatically entered to participate and compete for the “Party of the Year” banner. Also featured at the Texas Cook ‘Em on July 4 will be John Conlee plus the Valley’s own Texas Heat. Doors open at 10:30 a.m., and admission is free with payment of a $5 parking fee per vehicle. The Texas Cook ‘Em is sanctioned by the International Barbeque Cookers Association (IBCA) and sponsored by Inter National Bank, The Edinburg Review, The Monitor, and H-E-B.  To participate log on to http://www.Edinburg.com.

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During the 19th annual Valley Proud Honors Banquet, which recognizes the top two graduates of every high school in the region, Mr. Bill Summers, president/CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, jokes that everyone can show thanks to H-E-B, the event sponsor, by buying bread there.  Watching on from far left that evening are Mr. and Mrs. Armando Sánchez with H-E-B; Mr. Bill Card, III, chairman of the Partnership board of directors; Mrs. Jo Summers; Ms. Marcy Martínez with KGBT Action 4 News; and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, who was the keynote speaker.

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Staff members from the office of the Texas Comptroller visited South Texas College’s Technology Campus on Wednesday, June 11 to learn about the college’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and the training it offers to support the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research & Education’s (NAAMREI) Wired Grant Initiative. Karen Hudgins and Karl Wolfson, writers for the comptroller’s newsletter, comptroller photographer Barbara Schlief and KVNO videographer Don Ramírez were given a presentation by STC regional manager Carlos Margo and met with other STC staffers. They discussed the college’s work with local manufacturing companies to train new and existing employees to meet the challenging demands of the manufacturing sector. The comptroller’s four-member team will use the knowledge and materials gained during their visit to shed light on the important role that South Texas College is playing in the long-term vision of NAAMREI to develop a sustainable advanced manufacturing sector in the Rio South Texas Region. For more information about NAAMREI visit http://www.naamrei.org.  Featured from left are Margo, Schlief,  Ramirez, STC training specialist Ron Merrill, Karen Hudgins, Karl Wolfson, and Keith Partridge,  president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

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Dr. Francisco Guajardo. featured here during a recent meeting of the Edinburg school board, is the chairman of the Bond Oversight Committee, a citizens advisory panel which is working with trustees and top administrators on the best ways to implement the construction plans for new campuses authorized by the May 10 passage of almost $112 million in bonds. On Tuesday, June 10, he gave an update to the community. Trustee Carmen González also provides her views on how the school board is approaching the major school construction projects that will be made possible by the bond issuance. Stories on González  and Guajardo are featured later in this posting.
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Edinburg hoping northern section of planned Hidalgo County Loop goes near city-owned South Texas International Airport

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May (observed in 2008 on May 26). It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates U.S. men and women who have died in military service to their country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. Stories relating to Memorial Day are featured later in this posting, including President Bush’s proclamation and prayer for peace, and updates on a major reform to the G.I. Bill that has passed the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, featured second from left, brought key House legislators for a recent tour of the newly-opened Rapid Response Manufacturing Center at the University of Texas-Pan American. “It’s not every day that representatives from other regions of the state have the opportunity to see the burgeoning economic development of the Rio Grande Valley,” said Gonzáles. “The Rapid Response Manufacturing Center is a perfect example of how the Valley is continually striving to create and sustain jobs and opportunities for local residents.” Featured on the first row,, from left, are: Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr., D-Corpus Christi; Gonzáles; Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Chair of the Select Committee on Higher and Public Education Finance; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College; and Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, president of UTPA. See story later in this posting.

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A billboard off the U.S. Expressway 281 northbound frontage road near Canton Road heralds the planned construction of a 14-story, $150 million complex that will feature luxury condominiums, a hotel, restaurant, and other amenities known as the Sky View Las Palmas. Work is already underway at the site, which is located near the 1.2 million square-foot Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, where construction there also is moving forward. Sky View Las Palmas, which proposes to create about 200,00-square-feet of retail space, would be the latest major boost to construction activities in the city. It is tentatively scheduled to be built in four phases, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and be wrapped up in about two years.

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Robert Gandy, III, President/CEO of First National Bank, the largest privately held bank in Texas, will be the keynote speaker for the Wednesday, May 28 Leadership Edinburg Banquet at the Echo Hotel honoring the 19th graduating class. Tickets are available at $25 per person. Applications for Leadership Edinburg Class XX are currently available by contacting the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974. See story later in this posting.

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El Dorado Tejas Kooks of Houston, shown here last summer participating in the annual Texas Cook ‘Em in Edinburg, are expected to be among dozens of teams competing for awards and $15,000 in cash prizes again this July 4, when the major event gets underway again at Edinburg Municipal Park. A new category has been added to the competition – T-Bone Steak. The event is free and open to the public, but there will be a $5 parking fee per family. For more information on the cook-off, including how to enter a team, please log on to http://www.Edinburg.com. See story later in this posting. (More information on photojournalist Kirsten Luce, who took this shot, is available at http://www.KirstenLuce.com).

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Homer Gutiérrez, an engineer with J.E. Sáenz and Associates, points out one of the dozen high-resolution maps to Mayor Joe Ochoa, left, that were part of an open house held Wednesday, May 14, at Edinburg North High School, that depict a possible route for the planned $650 million Hidalgo County Loop that could wind up near the city-owned South Texas International Airport in Edinburg. Ochoa, former Mayor Richard Garcia, and Gerry Pate, the leader of Hidalgo County Road Builders, the private coalition developing the loop system, agree it will have a major economic impact on the three-time All-America City. Also featured in this shot is Robert Fina, also an engineer with J.E. Sáenz and Associates, which is one of numerous area firms which make up the Hidalgo County Road Builders. See story later in this posting.

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In battle over Border Wall, the medium is the message in order to influence national opposition

Key leaders of the Texas Border Coalition, welcomed here by Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, a member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (featured bottom row, second from left), on Tuesday, April 15, in Edinburg spoke against federal government plans to build 2,000-mile border wall designed to stop terrorists from illegally crossing into the United States. Opponents against the wall say border security can be better enhanced with additional Border Patrol agents and high-technology detection systems. The wall, TBC leaders have contended, will hurt the border economies while doing little to stem the threat of terrorism. “It affects us very directly,” contended Martínez. “Many of us have a family members, friends, business relations across the border, and building a fence sends a message that we are breaking ties with them.” The international gathering, which included mayors from Mexican cities, will help spread the right image about border concerns, as well as favorably portray the local university. “It really shines a light on us and allows us to fulfill one of our functions as a major university – to project local knowledge to the world,” Martínez reflected on the event. The TBC forum was hosted by The University of Texas-Pan American. See lead story later in this posting.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez (center) was escorted by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg (left) and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz upon his arrival at the University of Texas-Pan American on Thursday, April 11, for the opening of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center. See story later in this posting.

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The development of a world-class advanced manufacturing industry in the Rio South Texas Region is one step closer following the official opening on Thursday, April 11 of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center (RRMC) at The University of Texas-Pan American. UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas welcomed more than 200 representatives from education, business and government and presided over a ceremony that included remarks from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez, U.S. Representatives Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and South Texas College President Dr. Shirley Reed. Featured, front, from left, are: right Dr. John Lloyd, RRMC director; Reed; Blas Castañeda, chief development officer, Laredo Community College; Cuellar; Gutiérrez; Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas; and Hinojosa. See story later in this posting.

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Mayor Ochoa says 2007 “another phenomenal year for Edinburg” during State of the City presentation

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Mayor Joe Ochoa, shown here on Thursday, February 7, delivering the State-of-the-City address, says Edinburg in 2007 continued with positive economic growth and a high quality-of-life, and the future remains bright. “When unfortunately other parts of the country are struggling, Edinburg is blessed,” Ochoa told the audience at the Public Affairs Luncheon, which was hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. “Construction activity, economic development, sales tax revenues, population, and labor force are all on the rise.” See story later in this posting.

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Leonel Guerrero, featured in this portrait with his wife, Leslie, kicked off his campaign for City Council, Place 3 on Wednesday, February 6, by promising to do away with alleged favoritism and intimidation by the powers-that-be in municipal government. “I want to be your next city commissioner for Place 3 so I can be your voice to stop any group or personal agendas that benefit the few,” Guerrero told the gathering of supporters at the University of Texas-Pan American. “The practice of ‘old time politics’ services few, and doesn’t answer the problems of our modern and global society. I am here to tell you I will bring about the end of ‘old time politics’.” Guerrero, a pharmacist, is challenging incumbent Gene Espinoza, a sales manager with Rio Grande Steel, L.T.D. See related story.

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Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, featured left with Wanda Garza, executive officer for Workforce Development and External Affairs for South Texas College, earlier this month visited with members of South Texas College’s administration, as well as representatives from The University of Texas-Pan American, to learn more about the status of work on the region’s Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) Project. “I am very excited with the work that has been started for this initiative,” said Combs. “A well trained and educated workforce is of utmost importance to our state’s prosperity in a diverse and competitive economic climate. The team at South Texas College is developing innovative strategies to address this vital issue.” See story later in this posting.

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City Council approves incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, were in McAllen on Friday, February 23, to present a $5.1 million grant for the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative to South Texas College and The University of Texas-Pan American. The grant, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) program, will go toward workforce development and the creation of a sustainable manufacturing infrastructure in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley region. The plan includes the development of a rapid response manufacturing facility as well as integrated educational initiatives to produce skilled workers and managers. The event was held Friday afternoon at STC’s Technology Center at 3100 W. Military Highway. Featured in the photograph, from left, are: Hinojosa; STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed; Wanda F. Garza, STC’s Executive Director for Workforce and Resource Development; Cuellar; and Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, president of UT-Pan American.

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Joaquín A. Rodríguez was honored by the Edinburg City Council on February 6 for his selection on January 9 as the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg Youth of the Year 2007. The Edinburg High School senior, currently ranked sixth out of 610 students in his class, has been publicly recognized by both the the city’s elected leadership and the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg for his superior leadership skills, academic achievements, obstacles overcome, and his service to the three-time All-America City. Featured, from right, are Mayor Joe Ochoa; Joaquín; his father, Carlos Rodríguez; his mother, Nancy Rodríguez; and his brother.

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City Council approves economic incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center

As part of the city’s efforts to bring an 800,000 square foot shopping center, valued at about $80 million and representing hundreds of jobs, the Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, February 20, approved a proposed package of economic incentives that would help the mall developer pay for a portion of the costs of making the retail complex a reality.

The proposed incentives, which will be soon be presented to First Hartford Realty Corporation, Inc., of Connecticut, have been in the works for months by local government leaders, including the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The planned retail mecca would be the latest big addition to the city’s continuing economic growth.

Plans for the shopping center were first announced about a year ago by then Mayor Richard García, who now serves as president of the board of directors of the EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the city council.

Mayor Joe Ochoa, who also sits on the EEDC board of directors, is leading the city council’s efforts to package an incentives deal to move the project forward.

“Those involved in the development agreement that is currently being negotiated, and hopefully will be finalized very shortly, with the developers of the proposed mall project to provide an incentives- based economic development package,” said City Attorney Dan Ríos. “If First Hartford meets certain specific goals throughout the development of the project, the city, in accordance with state laws, will provide for certain incentives for that development.”

He said some of those incentives to be offered by the city include “reimbursements for public improvements that would be dedicated for public use, and also involve certain levels of sales tax incentives and reimbursements, provided they meet construction of square footage. It is a phased-in incentive package.”

The city council and the EEDC since last year have been developing the economic incentives for the planned mall, which would be similar to The Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio.

“If they (First Hartford) meet additional goals, they would be able to seek additional economic incentives,” Ríos said. “Those items that have been negotiated over the past several months would bring a major impact in terms of development and growth that would benefit the city and its citizens. We are pleased with a developer that is contemplating making that type of investment in the area, and that investment, in the council’s view, justified serious consideration of this economic package.”

Ochoa noted that the agreement “states that First Hartford will be building a facility at least 800,000 square feet in size in multiple buildings to be located on approximately 128 acres of land at the northeast corner of the intersection of Business 281 and Trenton Road in Edinburg.

“First Hartford has advised the city that a significant contributing factor that would induce First Hartford to locate and construct the facility in the city is the ability to obtain certain economic development incentives to would assist First Hartford in being able to finance to facility,” the mayor added.

One component of the economic development incentives being provided to the shopping center’s developer, under the development agreement by the city, is a commitment from the city to grant to the First Hartford a portion of the city’s one percent sales tax revenues collected within the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone to be created by the city, said García.

The city is authorized under Texas law to grant public funds for economic development purposes pursuant to a “program” established under Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code. A resolution approved Tuesday, February 20, by the city council authorizes the establishment of such programs, which must occur before the city grants public funds for economic development purposes.

As a result of the passage of that resolution that evening, the city is able to provide a one percent city sales tax grant detailed in the development agreement.

As part of its economic development strategies, the city council previously authorized the creation of the Local Government Finance Corporation (LGC) to assist with financing and constructing economic development projects within the city in order to promote economic development and to stimulate business and commercial activity in the city, all at the request of the city council.

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com

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United League Baseball, Edinburg Coyotes make pitch for improvements at city baseball stadium

The city-owned Edinburg Baseball Stadium, home of the Edinburg Coyotes professional baseball club and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs baseball team, would benefit from the addition of a covered picnic area, an outdoor bar and grill, a large advertising video monitor, and other modifications, leaders of United League Baseball said Tuesday, February 23.

The Edinburg Coyotes are part of the six-member ULB.

Addressing the Edinburg City Council, ULB and Coyotes officials asked the elected leaders to consider approving the proposed capital construction projects, valued at about $100,000, which would be paid for by the league and team.

“This capital improvement project reflects our commitment to the community and the team to provide the best affordable family fun entertainment around,” said Gary Wendt, the principal owner of the Coyotes. “We hope that you approve it – it is a substantial investment by ourselves, and I think it is in everyone’s best interest to support it.”

In exchange for their investment, which must be approved by the city council, the Coyotes asked the city to repair or replace the baseball stadium sound system, to provide additional lighting for security purposes, and to add architectural barriers to prevent cars from parking on the outside concourse of the stadium.

Since the proposal by the ULB and the team came during the public presentation portion of the city council’s meeting, there could be no action taken. However, City Attorney Dan Ríos said the league and team soon would be receiving a written response from the city.

Craig Brasfield, ULB President and Executive General Manager, said the planned improvements are needed to enhance the entertainment value of the stadium, not only for baseball games, but for other outdoor events at the city-owned facility, which opened almost six years ago.

“One thing we recognize is that there is very little that has been done, on a large scale, since its opening in 2001,” Brasfield said. “We just need to do some things that will get the ‘wow’ back. Nowadays, in minor league baseball, if you don’t reinvent yourself, you kind of get stale. We have come up with some ideas we feel will give our organization a better chance for success, as well as offer a much more affordable family entertainment venue for the citizens of this region.”

The $5.6 million complex, which has hosted outdoor gatherings with more than 10,000 people, can continue to reach its potential with the added improvements, Brasfield explained.

“We want to build on the first base side of the stadium, overlooking the home side dugout, an outdoor cantina, or outdoor bar and grill, that will have upscale food, and the ability to serve mixed drinks, beers, soft drinks, and food that will make the experience of coming to an outdoor event much more pleasurable, and give us the chance to draw a day crowd,” Brasfield said. “It will also give us the opportunity to put on other off-game events that will be another reason to come to this facility.”

A second venue in the stadium is also being recommended by the team.

“We want to build a covered picnic pavilion. This is a must for an outdoor facility. We didn’t do very well last year in group outings and picnics because of the summer heat and the lack of cover,” he continued.

“Our idea is to build a 30 foot by 35 foot covered pavilion with ceiling fans and televisions, so now, when we go out to a major corporation to ask them to bring their employees and their families to an event, they can go to a nice covered area with catered meals,” Brasfield revealed. “This pavilion will also offer a great opportunity for the citizens for family reunions, wedding reception, and on and on.”

Both proposed additions would be consistent with the decor of the existing facility, he reassured the council.

The team also wants to build a new ticket booth at the stadium that would eliminate the long wait that many fans now endure.

“The existing ticket system is really tough for the fans,” he acknowledged. “Our idea is to build a ticket booth out in front that would service four to five windows.”

Out in the front of the stadium, facing traffic coming by and to the stadium, the team wants to add a $45,000 video monitor which would allow sponsors to advertise to the thousands of cars that travel by the stadium on a daily basis, much of that flow fed by the ever-expanding UTPA campus.

In addition to its baseball field matching or exceeding the size of many fields in Major League Baseball stadiums, the Edinburg Baseball Stadium also includes a diamond vision scoreboard and luxury boxes.

It is located at the intersection of Sugar Road and Schunior Street, immediately northwest of the University of Texas-Pan American.

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com

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Luis M. Ríos, Sr., M.D., a pioneer among Hispanic plastic surgeons in Texas, remembered for his contributions to Edinburg and the nation

Luis M. Ríos, M.D., Sr. entered into eternal rest on February 18, 2007. He was born on February 12, 1935 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Dr. Ríos’ father passed away when Dr. Ríos was eight years old, leaving his mother as the sole provider as he grew up in Mexico City. Through the inspired devotion of his beloved mother, María Luisa de Ríos Pastrana, Dr. Ríos excelled in all of his educational pursuits, and graduated from college and medical school in Mexico with honor and distinction.

In 1960, Dr. Ríos was accepted to an internship program at the St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago, Illinois where he met his wife, Mary Ann Mungovan. They were married in 1962. They were to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary on June 23rd of this year.

Soon after their marriage, Dr. Ríos accepted a position as a resident in general surgery at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He became chief resident of that program. During their time in Nebraska, Dr. Ríos and Mary Ann brought three boys into this world, Luis M. Ríos, Jr., M.D., Daniel G. Ríos and Edward X. Ríos. After the passing of his mother, the family moved to Mexico City in 1966, where Dr. Ríos practiced medicine until 1969. During that time, Jennifer Ann was born.

In 1969, Dr. Ríos entered the plastic surgery residency program at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He completed that program in 1971. Though heavily recruited from established plastic surgery programs from San Antonio and other large cities, Dr. Ríos made the decision to move to the Rio Grande Valley in 1971. He became one of the first Hispanic plastic and reconstructive surgeons in Texas, and was the first plastic and reconstructive surgeon in the Rio Grande Valley, where he treated patients from Starr County to Brownsville.

As his colleagues and thousands of patients can attest, Dr. Ríos dedicated himself to providing incomparable medical care to his patients. Whether destitute or of considerable means, Dr. Ríos never distinguished between his patients, and passionately strove to provide each with the best of care.

These virtues were perhaps best illustrated through his work as the founding member of the Rio Grande Valley Cranial-Facial Anamolies Advisory Group, where he, Dr. Phil Hunke, Dr. David Reed and others donated their time and skills to those, young and old, suffering from debilitating facial deformities. Dr. Ríos felt this group most exemplified the reasons why he became a doctor, and in 1993, the Valley Association of Speech Pathologists and Audiologists awarded him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

In keeping with his calling, Dr. Ríos served his profession and community humbly, and with great dedication and distinction. He involved himself in many international, national, state, and local organizations, which included the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, RGV Cranial-Facial Anamolies Advisory Group, American Cleft Lip and Palate Association, Royal Society of Medicine, Association of Military Plastic Surgeons, Texas Board of Medical Examiners, International Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society, Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation, American Board of Plastic Surgery, American College of Surgeons, Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates, Creighton Surgical Society, American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Maliniac Circle. While he was honored to dedicate much of his time to these organizations, Dr. Ríos never looked beyond the needs of his patients, whom always remained the most important priority of his professional life.

In 2005, the National Endowment for Plastic Surgery awarded Dr. Ríos with its prestigious “Citation for Excellence in Humanitarian Service”, formally recognizing his technical excellence and unwavering devotion to the medical needs of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. While he could not attend the ceremony, his son, Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Jr., also a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, proudly accepted this honor on his behalf.

Dr. Ríos also served his country as an officer in the United States Army where he achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel. He took great pride in applying his surgical skills for the benefit of the men and women serving in the United States Armed Services. He felt this was but a small token of his appreciation for the privilege of obtaining his United States citizenship and for the privilege of living in this country.

Dr. Ríos retired in 2002 and succumbed to a progressive and physically debilitating disease, the onset of which began shortly after his retirement. Throughout his long battle, he remained fully cognizant of his condition and surroundings. He enjoyed spending his last years with his family and grandchildren, Christopher Ríos, Emily Ríos, Nicole Childress, Alyssa Childress, Sydney Childress, Steven Childress, Edward Ríos and Sophia Ríos. During his difficult times, he especially enjoyed all of those friends and patients who visited him.

The family hopes that those, whose lives Dr. Ríos touched, remember him as a humble and skilled servant of his profession, a person who dedicated his heart and soul to the healing of his patients, no matter their circumstances.

Dr. Ríos was blessed to have wonderful doctors who attended to him faithfully, as he would have to them. For this, his family thanks Dr. Jetta Marie Brown, Dr. Tommy Yee, Dr. Roger Vitko, Dr. Ramiro Verdooren, and his beloved dentist, Dr. Joe Villarreal. The family also wishes to thank his caregivers who dedicated themselves to his well-being and comfort during his difficult times. They are Nick Bustamente, Olivia Rodríguez, Lisa Salazar of Innovative Home Health, and Scott Henderson of the Sandy Jo Funk Hospice.

A visitation was held at Kreidler Funeral Home at 314 N. 10th St., McAllen, between noon and 8 p.m. on Friday, February 23, 2007. The family received visitors between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. There was a prayer service at 7:30 p.m on February 23. The funeral service began at 10 a.m., February 24, 2007, at St. Joseph’s Church in Edinburg.

Dr. Ríos is survived by his loving wife, Mary Ann, his children and grandchildren and Mrs. Luis M. Ríos, Jr., M.D. (Lisa), Mrs. Daniel G. Ríos (Mónica) and Mr. Brett Childress (Jennifer). The pallbearers honoring Dr. Ríos were Mr. David O. Rogers, Jr., José Luis Aliseda, M.D., Joe Villarreal, D.D.S., Mr. Gilbert García, Mr. Joel Huerta, Mr. Albert Bergh, Ali Seif, M.D. (in absentia), Mr. Bill Reynolds and Antonio Ulloa, D.D.S.

The family encourages memorial donations to the World Cranio-Facial Foundation, P.O. Box 515838, Dallas, Texas 75251, or the Parkinson’s Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic, Dept. of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, 6550 Fannin, Suite 1801, Houston, Texas 77030, or the Society for PSP, Executive Plaza III, 11350 McCormick Road, Suite 906, Hunt Valley, Maryland, 21031 (800)457-4777 or to a charity of one’s choice.

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Sen. Hinojosa, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announce filing of legislation to require defibrillators in public schools

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday, February 19, announced legislation to put Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in all Texas public schools.

The bill is set for a public hearing on Tuesday, February 27, by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

Hinojosa and Dewhurst provided details on Senate Bill 7, which will be carried by Hinojosa, during a Capitol news conference.

SB 7 would require every Texas public school to be equipped with a minimum of one AED and a staff member trained in its use.

“I don’t want a family to have to endure the loss of a child when it could have easily been prevented,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst thanked Hinojosa for sponsoring SB 7, a key component of the Dewhurst’s comprehensive Texas Children First plan.

“It’s clear that defibrillators save lives, and if we can save even one life by placing a defibrillator in every school, then the state’s investment has been well spent,” Hinojosa said.

Joining Hinojosa as co-authors of SB 7 are Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville; Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio; Sen. Bob Deuell, M.D., R-Greenville; and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.

According to the Texas Education Agency, almost 4,000 of the state’s nearly 8,000 public school campuses in Texas do not have these critical lifesaving devices. Funding options for acquiring the AEDs include public/private partnerships, donations, grant funding and state general revenue.

“With a solution to save young lives this simple, I can’t think of any reason why AEDs should not be in all public schools,” Dewhurst said.

Also joining Hinojosa and Dewhurst at the Capitol press conference was Laura Friend, co-founder of Parent Heart Watch, a nationwide advocacy organization dedicated to reducing Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in children.

Friend’s 12 year-old daughter, Sarah, died of SCA in 2004.

“This is an important public policy issue. Most occurrences of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in young people happen in public places like schools. Immediate response with an AED can literally mean the difference between life and death,” Friend said.

Parent Heart Watch supports placing AEDs in all Texas public schools.

Currently only five other states (New York, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) have laws specifically regarding the placement of AEDs in public schools, school districts or athletic events. The estimated average cost of a portable AED is approximately $2,000.

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ECISD among leading districts in Texas to place defibrillators in every school

The Edinburg Consolidated ISD is among a handful of school districts who have made it their goal to place an automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in all 35 of its schools.

While many school districts in the Valley and the state already have AEDs in place in some of their schools through the help of a grant or partial donations to purchase limited amounts, the ECISD school board decided to budget them into their budget to ensure that every school will have one in place within 45 days.

The ECISD school board approved the purchase of AEDs for every campus at last week’s board meetings. The AEDs have been ordered and should be in place within 45-days.

The school district, which spans over a 945-sq. mile area, has 13 school campuses that are out of the Edinburg city limits. At least eight of those schools are located several miles from town where emergency medical services are readily available.

Albert López, coordinator of Health Services for the ECISD, said that placing AEDs in these schools (as well as in all schools) will provide valuable assistance in the event help is needed in these rural schools and an ambulance is several minutes away.

López said the district already has about 200 individuals who have been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use of the AEDs and will bring these individuals together for additional training before the AEDs are put in place at the schools. Lopez said there will be yearly trainings as well to make sure that the AED operators are up-to-date on information and usage.

“The purchase of the AEDs for every campus is another effort by the school board to show the community just how valuable the lives of their students and staff are,” said Gilberto Garza, Jr., interim superintendent of schools. “It wasn’t hard to sell the need for AEDs in all of our schools to the board. They didn’t want to wait for the state to provide funding for them. The board moved quickly to budget the funds and make them available as soon as possible.”

López said AEDs are self-contained, portable medical devices that look somewhat like a briefcase and are easily carried by a handle. The AEDs contain a battery, a control computer and electrodes.

López said when the electrodes are placed on a person, the computer will determine the type of rhythm or arrhythmia present. The control computer will then set necessary power levels and signal whether or not a shock is needed, said López..

AEDs will not allow a shock to be delivered if the person does not require defibrillation. Once the signal is given to administer a shock to the person, the AED operator must be certain no one is touching the person and then manually press a button to deploy the shock, said López.

As more people begin to understand the importance of AEDs in addressing unexpected episodes of cardiac arrest, AEDs are being put into corporate offices, shopping malls, sports stadiums, college campuses, airports, community centers, schools and other places where large groups of people gather daily.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 250,000 Americans die every year of sudden cardiac arrest. The AHA says the chances of a person surviving an unexpected cardiac arrest increases dramatically if defibrillation is available to the person suffering the attack within a few minutes.

Last October, the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the organization that provides educational extracurricular activity guidance for schools, made it a requirement that all public schools in Texas install at least one AED by Aug. 1, 2007. The UIL made this decision following the sudden death of several student athletes in Texas and the successful resuscitation of an athlete at a school equipped with an AED.

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ECISD board approves turf makeover for Cats Stadium to enhance safety for players and others

Come this fall season, the football field at Cats Stadium will have a new look that both the district’s football teams and bands can use as necessary.

The Edinburg CISD school board approved the installation of a synthetic turf to replace the Greg Norman Grass Turf during a January session in which both the Athletic Department and the Fine Arts Department joined forces to ask the board for a new field.

Coach Robert Alaníz, athletic director, said the wear and tear on the present grass turf field does not make for a healthy field. Alaníz said that the use of the field by three high school football teams two to three times a week during the fall can create a situation where it becomes unsafe for a football player and even a member of the band marching on the field.

“Even the best turf cannot withstand the traffic and sustain a safe condition for the use of the field,” said Alaníz.

Alaníz said the new granular infill synthetic turf will be able to sustain daily sports use without any significant deterioration or danger. He said the school district’s sports teams and school bands will be able to use the synthetic turf without damaging the surface.

Alaníz explained that natural grass fields typically cannot be kept in good condition under heavy sports use, and with wet weather, the situation is made worse. The synthetic turf approved by the school board, on the other hand, is a durable product that can handle considerable wear and tear without field deterioration.

“The middle part of a grass football field experiences the worst deterioration,” said Alaníz. “The synthetic turf has the ability to remain uniformly safe across the entire playing surface regardless of the amount of play or weather conditions.”

Alaníz said the likelihood of head-to-ground impact injuries is greatly increased as the condition of a field deteriorates. Additionally, Alaníz said the possibility of rotational leg injuries due to a shoe or cleat binding in the turf are nearly eliminated by using a synthetic field.

He said that last year there 20 football games played at Cats Stadium with the school bands performing at halftime. The football teams and bands did not, however, practice on the field because it would deteriorate the field and create an unsafe playing field.

ECISD Fine Arts Director, Willie Pérez, said that marching bands, which have a reputation as being “grass killers,” can damage a grass field very quickly. The present stadium field, said Pérez, cannot be used because of safety issues for the band students.

Pérez said a synthetic turf will enable the three high school bands to practice and perform on the football field with a turf that is similar to the turf where competitions like the Pigskin Jubilee at McAllen Memorial Stadium, the Bands of America competitions at Rice Stadium and the UIL State Competitions at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

“The band department would be able to host competitions on a local, state and national level,” said Pérez. “These kinds of events here in Edinburg would draw the community together and help to boost the local economy.”

Alaníz said the present cost to maintain the grass field at the stadium is $66,400 per year or $3,320 per game for 20 games. The cost to maintain a synthetic turf for 40 games will be $59,000 per year or $1,475 per game.

Estimated construction costs for the new synthetic turf are $708,000 ($655,600 for the turf with $52,400 for engineering, project management and inspection).

The cost for the new turf is being funded through a budget amendment approved by the school board. Gilberto Garza Jr., interim superintendent of schools, said that the budget amendment allows the district to use budgeted monies from the both the current Athletic Department and the Fine Arts Department budgets. Garza said both departments have been very careful this year in their spending and that the cost for the new turf will be absorbed by the nearly $800,000 in cost savings realized by the departments.

Garza said the economic impact of Cats Stadium having a synthetic turf will greatly benefit the school district. The new turf would allow the district the option of hosting events like play-off games, band competitions and semi-pro games without the worry of damaging the field. He said that last year athletic ticket sales from all sports generated $320,000, of which $273,000 was from football ticket sales.

Construction of the new turf is anticipated to begin in mid-May with completion by August.

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Edinburg Public Library to close down March 4 to prepare for move to Dustin Sekula Memorial Library

The Edinburg Public Library will officially close its doors on Sunday, March 4, at 5 p.m. in preparation of its move to 1906 S. Closner, across the street from the ECHO.

The public library will open as the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library. The opening date of the new library will soon be finalized and announced

The new library will bear the name of local hero Lance Corporal Dustin Michael Sekula, who was the first Hidalgo County casualty of the Iraqi Freedom War. Sekula was an avid reader, cowboy and a brave Marine. The library seeks to reflect some of his outstanding qualities in hopes of inspiring the youth of our community.

This almost 36,000 sq. ft. library will include an expanded children’s area, a built in puppet stage, activity room and garden. Study rooms and a computer training room will also be available.

Materials may still be placed in the book drops at the current library until the opening of the new library. An amnesty period will be scheduled from March 5, 2007 through April 30, 2007 to ensure that all outstanding materials are returned without overdue fines. Patrons are encouraged to bring in any overdue materials during this time.

Library staff will work diligently to ensure that the move is done swiftly so that library services can resume as quickly as possible.

“We look forward to serving the community at our new library where we look forward to hold true to our new motto: ‘The Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library … Empowering Our Community,” said Head Librarian Letty Leija.

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Dr. Alejo Salinas, South Texas College trustee and former Edinburg city commissioner, honored for public service

As part of Board Appreciation Month, South Texas College took the opportunity to honor Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr. and Roy de Le?n, as well as the entire Board of Trustees, recognizing their ongoing support of the college’s construction expansion and continued growth.

Salinas was an Edinburg city commissioner during the 1990s before being elected in 1996 as the District 5 trustee, which includes the three-time All-America City, on the community college governing board.

Salinas also is a former superintendent of Hidalgo ISD.

Salinas has served STC since 1996. He is superintendent emeritus for and a clinical lecturer at The University of Texas – Pan American. Roy de Le?n, representing District 7 that includes north east Edinburg, has served the board for 10 years. He was appointed by former Governor Ann Richards to fill the unexpired term of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa and was subsequently elected to the board in May 2002 to a six year term and serves as a vice president for Laredo National Bank.

“Of the many responsibilities the board members have had, none have been as demanding as the construction program implemented by the college since the passage of the $98.7 million bond issue on September 29, 2001,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College. “Sixteen buildings in 16 months at five locations, with three more being completed, is no easy undertaking! The property owned by South Texas College has almost doubled in acreage and state-of-the-art facilities for students, faculty, and staff have now expanded to over 1.3 million square feet. Their commitment is steadfast, their integrity is above reproach, and their expectations for the highest standards and quality are firm. The board’s dedication to providing public accountability for the construction projects serves as a model for community colleges and school districts across this great state of Texas.”

In appreciation of their hard work, each board member was given a scrapbook highlighting the stages and completion of the construction project at the January 2007 Board meeting.

District 2 representative and education icon in the Rio Grande Valley, Irene García, serves as the chair of the board and has been a member of the board for more than six years. Jesse Villarreal, vice chair of the board, has represented District 6 for six years and works as a parent specialist for the Weslaco ISD. Mike Allen, widely known member of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, serves as the secretary for the board and has been a member of the board since May 2004.

Atlas and Hall managing partner Gary Gurwitz, District 4 representative, and director of transportation for the Rio Grande City ISD Manuel Benavidez Jr., District 1 representative, were both hand-selected by former Governor Richards to serve on the board in 1993 with the inception of the college.

“These are the hardest working people in higher education in the Valley, donating their time supporting and developing new opportunities and initiatives for South Texas College and the citizens of Hidalgo and Starr Counties,” added Reed. “Words alone cannot substitute for the many hours they have taken away from their own profession and family to address the many challenges and opportunities placed before the college. The administration, faculty, staff and students at STC extend our deepest appreciation for their tireless support, dedication and commitment to serving the best interests of our college and the communities of Hidalgo and Starr Counties.”

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Senate committee to investigate claims of abuses of youths in Texas Youth Commission

The Criminal Justice Committee of the Texas Senate on Tuesday, September 27, will delve into allegations of abuse at the state’s troubled Texas Youth Commission (TYC) during a public hearing in Austin scheduled to consider a comprehensive reform bill by Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Hinojosa a member of the committee and longtime advocate for juvenile justice reform.

The hearing will be held in Room E1.016 (Hearing Room) in the State Capitol complex beginning at 1:30 p.m., or upon adjournment by the Senate.

Senate Bill 103 by Hinojosa would require TYC to provide 300 hours of training to guards before they begin duties at state facilities, increase staffing to at least one guard for every 12 youths in each facility, and prohibit the current practice of housing youth as young as 11 and 12 with those as old as 19.

Hinojosa’s bill would also authorize the Texas Rangers to make monthly unannounced visits to facilities and submit reports to the state’s Sunset Commission for inclusion in TYC’s review evaluations.

In addition, SB 103 would create a criminal investigations unit, reporting to TYC’s board of directors instead of the agency’s executive director. The investigators would be commissioned peace officers who would investigate criminal acts among TYC youth, guards, and other commission employees.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee consists of the following members: Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair; Hinojosa; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy.

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“Jessica’s Law” clears House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, now headed for debate on the House floor

The House Committee on Jurisprudence, chaired by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Wednesday, February 21, unanimously approved a measure that would deny parole to certain first-time sex offenders and put the death penalty in play for repeat offenders.

House Bill 8 by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, has also become known as “Jessica’s Law”, named in memory of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year old Florida girl who was murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005.

“I think Chairman Aaron Peña and the other members of the committee should be applauded for the leadership they have shown on this issue,” Riddle said. “This is a clear sign of bipartisan unity, and a positive message to the whole state that politics is not going to stand in the way of the safety of our children.”

Riddle serves on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

The act would also extend the current statute of limitations on sexually violent offenses committed against children by 10 years, and would mandate GPS monitoring of all civilly committed offenders.

Gov. Rick Perry placed “Jessica’s Law” on his list of emergency issues earlier this session, giving the house permission to hear the bill before the 60 day moratorium on floor debate has elapsed.

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Rep. Gonzáles votes for measure to extend school property tax cuts to senior, disabled homeowners

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen joined her Democratic colleagues on Tuesday, February 20, in unanimously voting for a constitutional amendment, (SJR 13) extending the tax cuts passed last year to include seniors and disabled persons.

Though the amendment passed unanimously, it had been endangered a week earlier when it was attached to a highly controversial and unprecedented amendment to bust the constitutional state spending limit. Had the issues remained attached, it is likely that the senior tax cut would have died in the Senate as a result, she said.

In addition to passing the tax cuts, Democrats offered three amendments to the bill appropriating the funding for the property tax reductions promised last year (House Bill 2). The amendments would not change the allocation for property tax cuts, rather they would direct leftover money to three specific purposes should the actual cost of the cuts be less than the $14.2 billion set aside in the bill.

“I am proud to stand with all of my Democratic colleagues today. At our urging, the House (Republican) leadership abandoned its plans to hold seniors hostage to the budget debate,” Gonzáles said of the property tax cut. “When it comes to protecting our seniors and the disabled, I am proud we did the right thing.”

Despite its support for the senior tax cut, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) came out strongly against the Republicans’ decision to link the heated debate about busting the spending limit to tax cuts for seniors and the disabled, she said.

Because linking the two issues together put the passage of the senior tax cuts in danger, the AARP said last week that the Republican leadership was holding seniors hostage and using them as “political human shields,” she contended.

Under current law, seniors (65 and older) and individuals with disabilities qualify to receive a freeze on the amount of school property tax that can be imposed on their homestead residence. At the same time, other Texas homeowners’ property tax rates were lowered by legislation passed last year.

Without the proportional tax cuts delivered today, many seniors would have received a smaller tax cut than their neighbors. Some seniors and disabled individuals would have received no property tax reduction at all.

Last year, the Legislature met in a special session and passed legislation to cut local school district property taxes for Texas homeowners. At that time, Gonzáles voted to provide a proportionate reduction in property taxes for those seniors and disabled Texans receiving the tax freeze, but it died in the Senate.

In another attempt to fix this problem, immediately following the 2006 general election, several representatives filed legislation to ensure that seniors and disabled Texans receive the same proportional property tax cuts as every other homeowner, she said.

On February 20, Gonzáles again voted to provide seniors and disabled Texans the relief they deserve and, pending the voters’ approval, the legislation will become law.

“The seniors in the Valley can finally rest assured that they will get the same tax cut as everybody else,” Gonzáles said. “The last thing seniors should have to worry about is their financial stability. They have worked hard and they have earned peace of mind. We helped provide that with this vote today.”

Gonzáles said that Democrats offered three amendments to the property tax cut appropriations bill (HB 2):

•Should the price tag for the tax cuts come in under the $14.2 billion allocated for that purpose, the bill initially set aside all remaining funds for future cuts.

•House Democrats proposed using the extra money to improve public schools by funding a teacher pay raise and purchasing new textbooks.

•A third amendment offered by House Democrats proposed to use the excess to increase the homestead exemption to $45,000, which homeowners are allowed to deduct from the taxable value of their home. Middle class homeowners (the vast majority of Texas homeowners) would benefit most from that change.

“Once we have fulfilled our promise for property tax rate cuts, it is time to start talking about other important priorities for educating our children and expanding opportunity for the middle class once again,” said Gonzáles. “It is entirely possible to provide for quality teachers and return money to hardworking middle class homeowners.”

Texas teachers are still paid $4,000 below the national average annually, despite a pay raise passed last year. The state comptroller estimates that more than 37,000 teachers leave the profession every year.

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Sen. Lucio: Teacher retirement pension fund needs upgrade

By Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

We repeatedly hear about the need to pay teachers what they are really worth and to increase their benefits, especially health insurance.

A quieter but just as important related topic is what retired teachers receive from their pension plans. The amounts are not only pitiful, but they fall behind in terms of cost-of-living and inflation adjustments.

To alleviate the financial distress many retired teachers and retired school personnel encounter, I have filed Senate Bill 492. This legislation would increase a retired teacher’s monthly retirement, disability or death benefit by a five percent cost-of-living adjustment. Retired teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2001.

One of the motivating factors that prompted me to file this bill came from a poignant message written in a letter sent to me by Ms. Sylvia G. Suárez from Brownsville. The retired teacher, who also serves as legislative chair of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) for District 1 wrote, “We have given many hours to promote the best education and now we have been forgotten.” Who would not be stirred by such a moving and true comment?

Ms. Suárez also reminded us that “with the higher taxes, increased healthcare cost, higher cost of gasoline, electricity and higher cost of living” their retirement annuities have not increased to meet and maintain a healthy living standard.

As a former educator and someone with many siblings and relatives involved in public education, I can sympathize with the neglect our retired teachers endure. It has been tremendously rewarding to receive hundreds of phone calls from retired teachers throughout the state thanking me just for filing the bill. They understand that this is the first step in a lengthy process that also involves compromise at the financial rung of this legislative ladder.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will work with my colleagues to make possible this cost of living adjustment, which will be based on the performance of investments of the Teacher Retirement System pension fund. I was glad to be approached the other day by Sen. Robert Duncan, a member of Finance and chair of the State Affairs Committee, who differs slightly on the amount of the increase. He indicated that he would like to join me at the table in finding solutions to this issue.

Mr. Tim Lee, executive director of the TRTA says, “Providing retired educators with a real cost of living raise will help ensure their quality of life during their retirement years.”

The increase would also include retired school paraprofessionals, many of whom live at poverty levels. Some are reported to be receiving pension checks of between $300 to $600 a month. I’ve heard accounts that a retired teacher’s spouse dies and the retiree must sell their home because mortgage payments and upkeep become unaffordable. Texas can do better than this in taking care of the people who have devoted their lives to instructing generations of youngsters. I for one am committed to doing so.

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Texas’ Permanent School Fund tops $25 billion

The Permanent School Fund, the state’s 153-year-old endowment for public schools, on Tuesday, February 20, topped the $25 billion mark for the first time in its history.

The Fund was originally created with a $2 million appropriation from the Texas Legislature in 1854.

“This is an important milestone for the Permanent School Fund. The Fund has consistently been one of the top funds in the world and has provided money for the public schoolchildren of Texas through both good and bad markets. Today, it is performing admirably under the leadership of Holland Timmins, executive administrator, and the prudent oversight of the State Board of Education,” said Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, chair of the State Board of Education.

The Permanent School Fund is the second largest education endowment in the country, trailing only the Harvard University endowment.

The Texas endowment fund experienced strong growth in 2006, earning a return of 14.98 percent, which outperformed the target policy return of 14.41 percent. In calendar year 2006 alone, the Fund grew from $21.9 billion to $24.4 billion.

Timmins said that “the Permanent School Fund is an extraordinary gem that benefits every person living in Texas from students to taxpayers. The Fund has crossed the $25 billion level now due to the very strong return that it experienced in 2006.”

Proceeds and sales from this perpetual fund are used to help finance Texas public schools. It expects to distribute about $1.7 billion to the schools during the 2006-2007 biennium.

The money available for distribution is used to fund the purchase of textbooks for the state’s 4.5 million schoolchildren. This function has earned the Fund the nickname “the children’s textbook fund.”

After paying for the books which are given free of charge to students, the remaining available money is distributed on a per capita basis.

For fiscal year 2006, the per capita distribution was $213 per student, up from 62 cents per student when first distributed in 1855. This is the only state revenue distributed to schools, regardless of the property wealth of a district.

Since 1983, the corpus of the Permanent School Fund has been used to guarantee school bonds. This strong backing means any bond guaranteed by the PSF has the equivalent of an AAA rating, the highest available, and that saves districts millions of dollars in interest and insurance costs.

During the past 24 years, the Bond Guarantee Program has guaranteed more than 3,347 school district bond issues. The amount of these issues is $64.5 billion.

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Sen. Zaffirini files bill to protect Texas children from Internet predators

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Wednesday, February 21, filed legislation to protect Texas children and families from internet predators and cyberstalkers. Part of Lt. Gov, David Dewhurst’s priority legislative package, Senate Bill 6 by Zaffirini significantly will strengthen laws aimed at preventing online child exploitation and cyberstalking, or the use of the internet as means to stalk and harass.

Protecting against internet crimes, exploitation and online solicitation of minors are top priorities outlined in the lieutenant governor’s Texas Children First plan, which promotes a safe and healthy environment for Texas children.

“This bill will protect children, improve public safety and ease concerned parents who want stronger laws to prevent and punish internet crimes in Texas,” Zaffirini said. “According to the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment, 45 percent of children nationwide are active online – more than 30 million who are younger than 18. With more than 560,000 sex offenders registered nationally, we must enhance the safety of our young internet users and punish online predators appropriately.”

SB 6 will require internet service providers (ISP) to comply fully with a uniform 48-hour time period to respond to subpoenas, search warrants or other court orders pertaining to the online solicitation of a minor. It will allow prosecutors to seek consecutive prison sentences for the online solicitation of a minor; make the penalty for a conviction of online sexual solicitation of a minor a second degree felony; increase penalties for sexually explicit online communication with a minor; use state rewards programs to emphasize reporting and apprehending predators and criminals; and create a clearinghouse of ISP contact information in the Attorney General’s office so prosecutors can access important information necessary to prevent online predatory behavior.

“I want to thank Sen. Zaffirini for her leadership and for her commitment to protecting our children,” Dewhurst said. “SB 6 is an important part of my Texas Children First plan and sends a strong message that Texas is serious about stopping child predators on the internet, as well as in our schools and neighborhoods.”

SB 6 builds on Zaffirini’s legislation that protects families from online crimes. In 2005 she authored and passed SB 327, the Consumer Protection Against Spyware Act, which made it unlawful for a person or entity to knowingly install spyware. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced last December that a lawsuit based on SB 327 resulted in a multimillion dollar settlement with Sony BMG Music, which installed harmful and problematic “spyware” on more than 100 compact discs sold to Texas consumers.

In 2005, Zaffirini also sponsored and passed HB 1098 by Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, which prohibited internet “phishing” or fraudulent websites and e-mails sent to induce victims to divulge personal financial information.

This year she also filed SB 120, which would protect children from internet predators by establishing a clearinghouse of educational resources related to on-line safety at the Attorney General’s office and directing school districts to update their discipline management program to prevent the use of the internet for sexual solicitation.

“Providing online users with safe internet services free from personal exploitation and protecting children and students from online predators are among my highest priorities. This is why I passed SB 327 and HB 1098 last session and filed SB 6 and SB 120 this year,” Zaffirini said. “I appreciate greatly Lt. Governor Dewhurst’s leadership in providing our families with effective and earnest solutions that will prevent our children from becoming victims of online exploitation and solicitation. I look forward to passing these essential bills that will increase public safety throughout Texas.”

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South Texas fugitive child sex offenders arrested in sweep by Attorney General’s Office

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Fugitive Unit has arrested 12 convicted child sex offenders and two Louisiana criminals during a one-week South Texas fugitive operation.

The Attorney General’s investigators, working with local law enforcement officers in several South Texas counties, arrested eight men for violating Texas sex offender registration requirements. Six parole or probation violators were also arrested in the sweep, including two Louisiana fugitives who went into hiding during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina evacuation.

“Texans expect law enforcement to closely monitor convicted sex offenders. Protecting children is our highest priority,” Abbott said. “The Fugitive Unit will continue aggressively pursuing violent felons and missing parolees who pose a threat to our children. We are grateful to the local police and county sheriff’s departments that helped us locate and arrest these dangerous criminals.”

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Gov. Perry joins leaders in cancer research and technology to champion cancer research initiative

At events in Houston and Dallas on Monday, February 22, Gov. Rick Perry joined leaders in cancer research and technology to champion a $3 billion research initiative focused on finding a cure for cancer. With the sale of the lottery, the state can dedicate $300 million annually toward research efforts. This funding will give stability to important scientific projects, while making Texas a national leader in cancer research.

“Steady funding is particularly important in research endeavors to ensure uninterrupted progression of scientists’ work,” Perry said. “This funding will unite today’s brightest minds in cancer research to work together with our universities and research institutions toward a common goal: curing cancer.”

Today, Texas is home to 400,000 cancer survivors. This year 95,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and 34,000 lose their battle with the disease. The resources made available through the cancer research initiative will be used to focus primarily on how cancer metastasizes and pharmaceutical development. Steady financial support also allows Texas to draw many esteemed researchers to the state to work together with universities and other research institutions.

In recent years, the lottery has yielded approximately $1 billion annually. However, this funding is an unstable source of revenue. Selling the lottery for a conservatively estimated $14 billion allows the state to invest in secure trust funds which would annually generate nearly $1.3 billion interest, $300 million more than yearly lottery returns. Gov. Perry proposes using the annual interest gained from the sale of the lottery to establish trust funds in perpetuity for cancer research efforts, public education, and a premium assistance program for the uninsured.

“How we finance cancer research is secondary to whether we do finance cancer research,” Perry said. “We have to reach for the stars today so we can promise a brighter future for the next generations of Texans.”

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Sen. Cornyn lobbies Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff on issues important to border region

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Ranking Member of the Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee, hosted a meeting in Laredo on Wednesday, February 21, with Texas border mayors, county judges and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff to discuss issues important to the border region.

“It’s critical that local officials along the border continue to have input as we work to secure the border, ensure legitimate trade and travel and address the many issues facing the region,” Cornyn said. “This meeting provided Secretary Chertoff a first-hand look at the border and allowed him to hear the needs and concerns directly from the local community.”

The meeting comes as a follow-up to a recent one in Washington, D.C. co-hosted by Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that brought together Texas border mayors and community leaders with Secretary Chertoff.

Cornyn said he continues working to bolster border security and implement broader reforms of the immigration system.

“Our nation’s security is paramount, but we must also ensure that any security measures adopted are balanced with the goal of facilitating legitimate trade and travel, which is so important to Texas communities along the border,” Cornyn said. “As we move forward on these critical issues, I’ll continue working closely with border leaders to make sure their voices are heard.”

Another topic discussed at the meeting was Cornyn’s work to bring about parity in the admission periods for Canadian and Mexican nationals. He recently introduced The Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007, S. 422, which extends the initial period Mexican laser visa holders (who already cleared security checks) can remain in the U.S. from 30 days to six months.

“Laser visa holders are fully screened before being issued secure travel documents and are checked again at the border,” Cornyn said. “Many of them come here to do business and spend money, which boosts the economy in South Texas and contributes to job creation. So this bill maintains security, grows the economy and promotes fairness.”

Implementation of the US-VISIT program was also addressed.

Cornyn said we must ensure the program targets those who may be a threat to national security but also facilitates legitimate travel.

“DHS must continue working hard to ensure that it continually receives the input of the public and interested stakeholders, including officials along the Texas border, on any expansion efforts,” Cornyn said. “Southern border businesses and officials are concerned with the increased delays at border-crossing checkpoints and the impact of the delays on the local economy. We need to develop a quick and efficient process to identify those who may be a threat to national security while allowing legitimate, law-abiding travelers to enter and exit the U.S. in a timely manner.”

On a related note, Cornyn continues to fight against proposed funding cuts to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). Cornyn said reducing the critical funding will create unfunded mandates and cause border communities to pick up the tab for this law enforcement work.

“When the federal government fails to live up to its responsibilities on the border, states and counties shouldn’t—and in many cases can’t—pick up the tab,” Cornyn said. “They didn’t create this problem and local communities in Texas shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. As the budget and appropriations process moves forward this year, I will fight against funding cuts to this critical program.”

Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.

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Texas Senate approves memorial resolution honoring life and times of Valley music icon Freddy Fender

The late Valley music recording star Baldemar Huerta of San Benito, better known as Freddy Fender, has been honored by the Texas Senate with a memorial resolution chronicling some of the highlights of the internationally-renowned musician.

The resolution was authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. It was unanimously approved by the Texas Senate on Monday, February 19.

The resolution’s text follows:

SENATE RESOLUTION NO. 264

WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas commemorates the life of Freddy Fender, who died October 16, 2006, at the age of 69; and

WHEREAS, He was born Baldemar Huerta in 1937 in San Benito, where he was influenced by the Mexican-polka sound known as conjunto; the son of migrant workers, he worked alongside his

parents in the fields, and there picked up the melancholy sound of the blues in the songs of the black people he worked with; and

WHEREAS, While still just a boy, he was performing on radio and often won contests for his singing; he was proud of his Mexican-American heritage and sang popular tunes of the day in Spanish, including Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell,” which became big hits in Mexico and South America; and

WHEREAS, He took the name Freddy Fender after signing on with Imperial Records in 1959; the following year he recorded “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”; and

WHEREAS, In the 60s and early 70s, Freddy went through a time of adversity and disappointment, but he returned to prominence in 1974 with the hit, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”; in 1975, he

won best new artist award from the Academy of Country Music and a rerelease of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” topped the country music chart and landed in the top 10 on the pop music chart; and

WHEREAS, He appeared in movies and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999; he won a Grammy for the best Latin pop album in 2002 and shared two Grammy awards, one with the

Texas Tornados and one with Los Super Seven; and

WHEREAS, Freddy Fender was known for his unique sound and memorable music and he will long be remembered by his family and many fans; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 80th Legislature, hereby pay tribute to the life of Freddy Fender and extend sincere condolences to the members of his bereaved family; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution be prepared for his family as an expression of deepest sympathy from the Texas Senate, and that when the Senate adjourns this day, it do so in memory of Freddy Fender.

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Museum of South Texas History to offer Children’s class about Huastec culture on March 4

A new class about the Huastec culture in Mexico is being offered to children ages 6 through 12 at the Museum of South Texas History on Sunday, March 4.

There is no fee, other than general admission. Registration in advance is required by phoning 383-6911. Limited space is available. The class will hold 30 and meet two hours.

“The history of the Huastecos is a very complex and fascinating story,” said Melissa Tijerina, Programming Officer for the Museum of South Texas History. “The Huastec are an indigenous people of Mexico historically based in the states of Hidalgo, Vera Cruz, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas. The Huastec people call themselves ‘Teenek,’ also the name of their language, which means ‘those who live in the field.’ They were conquered by the Spanish between 1519 and 1530’s.

“The ancient Huastec culture is one of the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. According to archeological remains, they date back to about 10th Century B.C. The pre-Columbian Huastecs constructed temples, carved sculptures, made pottery and also were known for their musical abilities,” Tijerina added.

“Getting to Know the Huastecan Culture” will be presented by three teachers representing Language Success, a school where several languages are taught in McAllen.

Odette MacDonald, Maribel Nava and Araceli Rodríguez will present story-telling, water colors and pottery while explaining the vivid history of the Huastec Indians. The Huastecos are known for making beautiful pottery with intricate designs. The children who learn about them will learn to paint a sample of their designs.

The Sunday children’s program will teach them about many aspects of the ancient Huastec culture with hands-on activities.

The Museum of South Texas History is located in downtown Edinburg, where the entrance is one block north of the Hidalgo County Courthouse parking lot. Admission fees are $4 for adults, $3 for seniors 62 and over, $2.50 for students over 12 (with ID), and $1.50 for children 4 to 12. Children three and under are free.