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Disabled veterans’ home property tax breaks, Valley VA Hospital plan, posting big victories in Legislature

Paul Cowen, longtime chief-of-staff for Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and an alumni of then Pan American University, on Monday, June 1, was honored by the Senate for his legislative work on behalf of the Valley and Texas. Cowen will be leaving his Senate post on August 31. “Paul has been the most loyal employee and friend. His enormous contributions to state government and to the people of District 27 will never be forgotten,” said Lucio. “His work has been exemplary and of the highest quality, and as one of the Texas Senate’s most valuable employees, he will be greatly missed by all of us.” See story later in this posting.

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“Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott once said, “helping one another is part of the religion of sisterhood.” No need to tell that to the “Trigo sisters” of Edinburg, as they have come to be known in the College of Education at The University of Texas-Pan American. The three siblings – featured from left, Elda Trigo, Armidia Trigo Ríos, and Iliana Trigo – all celebrated earning their master’s degrees at the same time in the same field – bilingual education – at one of three UTPA commencement ceremonies held May 9 at the McAllen Convention Center. See story later in this posting.

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Julissa Barrera, shown second from left, learned over her years as a student at The University of Texas-Pan American that leadership requires creativity, determination and perseverance. For her final project as a member of the four-year Student Leadership Program at the university, Barrera created, researched and implemented a drive in which she successfully collected nearly 8,000 diapers to give to clients of AVANCE Rio Grande Valley, a local nonprofit agency providing services to lower income Valley families. Featured at a recent ceremony to present diapers to AVANCE RGV collected as a part of a UTPA Student Leadership Program senior project are, from left: Noelia Telles, family service coordinator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; Julissa Barrera, who graduated this spring; Cecilia Quiroga, parent educator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; and Teresa González, supervisor of family programs, AVANCE RGV. See story later in this posting.

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Top leaders with South Texas College and Texas A&M-Kingsville recently signed an agreement to ease the transfer of students studying education. Featured, seated from left, are: Steven Tallant, TAMUK president; Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs; and Ali Emaeili, STC dean for bachelor programs and university relations. Standing, from left, are: Marilyn J Bartlett, TAMUK dean of the College of Education; Art Montiel, chair of STC’s Education Department; and Mike F. Desiderio, TAMUK chair for education. See story later in this posting.

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Texas Transportation Commission would include South Texans under measure approved by House

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, featured in Edinburg last year with Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has secured House passage of his legislation that would prevent the sale and distribution in Texas of flame-producing lighters that look like toys – mechanisms that have been linked to injuries and deaths of children nationwide. His House Bill 90, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 1, now goes to the Senate for its consideration and action. The bill defines "toy-like lighter" to mean a mechanical or electrical device typically used for lighting cigarettes, cigars, or pipes that resembles in physical form or function articles designed or intended for play by children under 10 years of age. "HB 90 would protect the public, and especially children," said Martínez, who is a firefighter, licensed paramedic, critical care flight paramedic, and Texas Department of Health instructor and coordinator. "Deadly fires have  been caused across the country by these lighters. These objects are easily  mistaken for toys and are enticing to children. They do not have  disclaimers and are inherently dangerous." Gonzáles is a co-author of Martínez’ legislation. See story later in this posting. 

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Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, right, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday, May 7, in Washington, D.C., to discuss border security and the appointments of U.S. District Judges, U.S. Marshalls, and U.S. Attorneys. The gathering was part of a meeting between the Texas congressional delegation and Holder. Also on May 7, Cuellar, during a separate event, joined a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.  The bill, which cracks down on predatory lending practices and ensures that the mortgage industry follows basic principles of sound lending, responsibility, and consumer protection, passed the U.S. House on a 300-114 vote. See story on the mortgage legislation later in this posting. 

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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, on Tuesday, May 5, marked the Texas Senate’s passage of legislation that would require convicted sex offenders to provide their online and cellular telephone account information to the state’s Sex Offender Registry.  Senate Bill 689 passed the Senate on Monday, May 4, and is now pending in the Texas House of Representatives, where the Edinburg lawmaker will carry it as the sponsor. “This legislation will help protect children by ensuring that state law keeps up with modern technology,” Abbott said. “By requiring sexual predators to provide their electronic identities, the Legislature is simply improving existing registration requirements – which require convicted sex offenders to provide their addresses to the Department of Public Safety. As Attorney General, I am grateful to Sen. Shapiro and Rep. Peña for their innovative approach and commitment to Texas children.” See story later in this posting. 

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Rio Grande Valley members of the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas are featured behind the Senate chamber, greeted by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, during their visit to the Texas Capitol on April 29. The group was in Austin to attend a conference. From left: Linda M. Luna of Brownsville; Abel Zapata of La Feria; Sen. Lucio; Al Elizondo of San Benito; Luis Flores of Harlingen; and Javier Losoya of Harlingen. 

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Weslaco airport legislation by Rep. Martínez set for House committee hearing on Wednesday, April 8

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sylvia Handy, shown here in early December 2008 successfully championing the extension of the proposed Hidalgo County Loop through her district, on Thursday, April 2, was named in a six-county indictment charging her, her spouse, Juan Gabriel Espronceda, 35, María De Los Ángeles Landa de Hernández, 27, and Eloisa Andrade Uriegas, 58, with harboring aliens for financial gain. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. Handy has said she is innocent. Following news of her indictment, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III released the following statement: “Today, we became aware that Pct. 1 Commissioner Sylvia S. Handy and three others were arrested on the allegation of defrauding taxpayers for personal gain. We will withhold our own judgment, as this is an ongoing investigation and is in the hands of the court system. However, my office has been in contact with Commissioner Handy’s chief of staff to offer our help. My office pledges to the public that all vital public services for the families of Pct. 1 will continue.” Featured in this file photo, to her right, is Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, and to her left, is Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who serves as the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, led the workgroup on that panel that developed state funding for general government, the judiciary, natural resources, and regulatory services.  The Senate Finance Committee, which writes the Senate’s version of the two-year state budget, on Wednesday, April 1, approved a $182 billion budget, which would cover the period between September 1, 2009 and August 30, 2011. This biennial budget is a seven percent increase over 2008-2009, but nearly half that growth is attributable to federal stimulus money. Actual state spending grows only about two percent per year over the next biennium. See story later in this posting. 

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On September 8, 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed the founding South Texas Community College (now South Texas College) Board of Trustees, which included Manuel Benavidez, Jr., of La Grulla in Starr County, who passed away on Saturday, March 28. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose district includes Starr County, expressed her condolences to his family and friends. "I am profoundly saddened by our loss of Manuel Benavidez, a champion of higher education, economic development and housing, and am among the countless South Texans who will miss him greatly," she said. "His legacy as a regent for South Texas College and the Starr County Housing Authority reflects his lifelong commitment to creating a brighter future for our families." Highlights of his life are featured in an article composed by one of his daughters, which is featured later in this posting. In this 1993 file photo, the founding board of trustees posed for their portrait, including, seated, from left: Rosalinda González and Pearl Mathis; and standing, from left: Glen Roney (vice chair); Manuel Benavidez, Jr.; Dr. Amparo Cárdenas; Gary Gurwitz (secretary); and Rubén Hinojosa (chair). 

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, recently welcomed the 2008-09 Leadership Mid Valley class, which visited the Capitol to gain further insight into the workings of state government. Leadership Mid Valley provides opportunities for developing leadership skills and increasing knowledge of vital public issues. Members of this year’s class, from left to right, are: Annette Turner, Nels Anderson, Allison Summersett, Martínez, Priscilla Castañeda, Jesse Colin, Yvonne Chamblin, Vicky De La Garza, Lucio, Mari Avilés, Nancy Peña and Rolando Pedraza. On Wednesday, April 8, a bill by Martínez which would designate the Mid Valley Airport in Weslaco as the emergency headquarters for the Valley during times of natural and man-made disasters will be heard by the House Defense and Veterans’ Committee. See lead story in this posting. 

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Regional Mobility Authorities would post their full agenda packets on the Internet under legislation being developed by Rep. Flores

 

State Farm Insurance Company on Thursday, January 29, awarded $50,000 to The University of Texas-Pan American toward a project to promote service learning and safety awareness among South Texas educators and students. The twofold initiative, titled Project SELS (Service Learning and Safety), will incorporate workshops and other communication tools to engage more faculty, teachers and students in service learning activities related to their studied disciplines as well as opportunities for State Farm agents to promote safety awareness practices to create safer neighborhoods in South Texas. Area lawmakers, company officials, and university leaders were joined by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, during a press conference to announce the grant award. Featured, from left:  Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa; James Langabeer, UTPA Vice President for Business Affairs; Janice Odom, UTPA Vice President for University Advancement;  Congressman Rubén Hinojosa; Lyra Vela-Salazar, State Farm agent; and Amelia Folkes, State Farm public affairs specialist. 

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Community leaders from the City of Edinburg, including the majority of the Edinburg City Council, will be in Austin on Tuesday, February 10 to observe Edinburg Day at the Capitol, according to Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured center. The group will participate in legislative meetings with state leaders, visit with key lawmakers, and receive a special recognition in the House and Senate chambers. "Edinburg has much to be proud of and I am honored to once again host my hometown at our state Capitol," said Peña. "I want to thank those city leaders who will travel to Austin to help make this day a great success. It is important that other legislators hear about the great things happening in our community." With Peña, during a gathering last fall at Edinburg City Hall are, from left: Councilmember Alma Garza; Mayor Joe Ochoa; Peña; Councilmember Noé Garza; and Councilmember Gus García. The four city officials are part of the delegation scheduled to travel to the Capitol. See story later in this posting. 

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Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured during a reception in October at Edinburg City Hall, on Wednesday, February 4, voted to approve the final version of legislation that will provide health care to 11 million children in modest-income families. The bill was immediately sent to President Obama, who signed the legislation into law late that Wednesday afternoon. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Reauthorization Act becomes the second bill that President Obama has signed into law since he became President. "We have a duty as a nation to protect those who cannot protect themselves. This SCHIP legislation does just that by providing health care to millions of children whose families otherwise would not be able to afford private insurance,” Hinojosa said. “It is simply unacceptable that America continues to be the world’s only developed nation that does not provide health care coverage to all children.” See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, featured here with Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., the new chancellor of the University of Texas System, was recently appointed chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, which will have jurisdiction over many major issues facing public universities, medical schools, law schools, and community colleges in Texas. That and other Senate committee appointments were made on Friday, January 30, by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He reappointed her to the Senate Finance, Health and Human Services, and Administration committees and to the upgraded Economic Development Committee. "Because higher education issues are so important and timely, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst empowered us to address them more swiftly, efficiently, effectively and fairly," said Zaffirini. Her higher education committee will process legislation addressing pressing issues facing colleges and universities, including tuition deregulation, the top ten rule and the need for additional tier one universities. See story later in this posting. 

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Newspaper carriers file $100 million lawsuit against flagship newspaper of Freedom Communications, Inc., owner of McAllen Monitor and others

The family of former Rep. Cullen Looney, D-Edinburg, and his wife, Carol Lynn, gathered on Thursday, September 18, for the dedication of the Will Looney Legacy Park, which is an addition to the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg.  The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a bronze sculpture entitled, “Texas Legacy.”   The sculpture depicts with great detail a young man mounted on horseback respectfully clasping the hand of an elderly woman standing next to the horse and rider. The figures represent the late Will Looney and his grandmother, the late Margaret Montgomery Looney. The sculpture is a gift from the Looney family. Featured, from left, are: Cullen Looney; Carol Lynn Looney; Cortney Looney; Forrest Runnels holding Forrest Runnels Jr.; and Lorin Looney holding William Cullen Runnels. See story later in this posting.

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The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, September 23, passed a balanced budget for the second year in a row. The 2009 general fund budget is roughly $162 million, an overall increase of 9.3 percent from 2008. “This is the second time in more than 20 years that Hidalgo County has had a balanced budget. The first time was last year,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured here during a recent appearance at the University of Texas-Pan American. “I am extremely pleased with the leadership of the court and the understanding and carefulness with which the budget department and department heads developed this balanced budget.”  See story later in this posting.

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Gov. Rick Perry, featured in this file photo during his visit to Edinburg earlier this summer, on Friday, September 26, encouraged the continued support of research in cancer prevention and treatment during the groundbreaking of the Baylor Cancer Center in Dallas.  “Baylor’s new facility will be an essential part of our statewide effort to eradicate this indiscriminate killer,” Perry said. “The brilliant ideas in cancer research developed at this center will move us closer to discovering a cure, bringing an end to cancer’s deadly role in our society.”  The governor noted that facilities like the Baylor Cancer Center combined with funding provided by Proposition 15, will launch Texas to the forefront of biomedical research and innovation. Proposition 15 was created by the Texas Legislature at Perry’s request through House Bill 14 and approved by voters in November 2007. It established the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, enabling the issuance of $3 billion in bonds over the 10 years to fund cancer research at institutions throughout the state. See story later in this posting.

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