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Videotapes of public meetings of many elected governmental bodies must now be posted on the Internet under law co-authored by Rep. Canales

Videotapes of public meetings of many elected governmental bodies must now be posted on the Internet under law co-authored by Rep. Canales

Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, addressing the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon, held on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in McAllen.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

The key public meetings of elected governmental bodies in the larger school districts, cities and counties in Texas, including many in the Valley, must now be videotaped in their entirety and made available on the Internet under a state law coauthored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which went into effect on January 1, 2016. “House Bill 283 will improve transparency and access to our government leaders by ensuring that recordings of open meetings are now easily available to the people,” said Canales. “Many people do not have the available time to attend city council/commission, school board, and county commissioners court meetings because they are working, spending time with their families, or lack access to transportation.” During the public hearing on HB 283 held on Monday, May 11, 2015 before the House Committee on Government Transparency, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas announced its support for the goals of the legislation. “We feel that the bill is a very good one, puts it out there, people can look online if there is a certain decisions, debates, discussions they are interested in,” said Kelley Shannon, Executive Director for the Freedom on Information Foundation of Texas. “They don’t have to be at the meeting, they can use technology and access it. We support the bill.” The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, founded in 1978 and led by a volunteer board of directors, is a non-profit 301(c)(3) organization devoted to promoting open government and protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press, according to its website. The House District 40 legislator also said it was important for public officials to provide the unedited visual/audio recordings of their actions on the Internet so their comments cannot be taken out of context or misunderstood, leaving a false impression of their actions and motives. “Some of the local governments in the Valley and in my legislative district already were providing this and other vital public information services, but now more of our elected leaders are going to do the same beginning this month,” Canales said. “This measure makes it state law that elected officials cannot take away the right of the people to see for themselves through the Internet what is being said and done in their name.” As finally approved by the Legislature during the spring of 2015 and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 17, 2015, HB 283 applies to “district board of trustees for a school district that has a student enrollment of 10,000 or more, an elected governing body of a home-rule municipality that has a population of 50,000 or more, or a county commissioners court for a county that has a population of 125,000”, according to the legislation. Metropolitan rapid transit authorities, regional transportation authorities, and municipal transit departments also are covered by this law. Canales said he encourages area elected leaders in the Valley, who represent smaller populations, to also put their meetings on the Internet, even if they are not required by the new state law. “Technology has improved so much that a community can use even an smartphone to record, with good to excellent quality in the audio and video, their public meetings, and the costs to get it online, such as posting them on YouTube, is very little, if no cost,” the state lawmaker said. “Testimony on this law last spring found that a county in west Texas, with a population of 11,000, was already doing it.

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Lawmakers working on major CHIP expansion to help both low- and middle-income families, says Rep. Flores

 

President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Memorial Day commemorations at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Memorial Day, May 25. After being introduced by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President told an audience gathered inside the Memorial Amphitheater that Arlington’s hallowed grounds contain the remains of, “presidents and privates, Supreme Court justices and slaves; generals familiar to history, and unknown soldiers known only to God.” See story later in this posting. 

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South Texas Health System, which was recently awarded a contract by the Veterans Administration to provide medical care and treatment to veterans in South Texas, will be holding an enrollment fair at Edinburg Regional Medical Center on Saturday, June 20, from 8 a.m. to noon. The Hidalgo County Veterans Services Office will be onsite with applications for health care benefits. Veterans will be required to complete an application (form 1010-EZ) and provide a copy of their DD214 (discharge papers) for enrollment.  Edinburg Regional Medical Center, located at  1102 W. Trenton Road,  is part of a network of Hidalgo County hospitals, including McAllen Medical Center, featured here recently, when it announced it was going to provide VA medical services at that location. Valley veterans and their families are invited to attend the June 20 event in Edinburg, where a variety of health screenings for the veterans and their families will be provided. In addition, family entertainment, food, and many door prizes will also be available.  For more information, contact Edinburg hospital officials at 388-2036. 

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Óscar Longoria Jr., featured second from right, was sworn in on Thursday, May 21, as the District 2 trustee for South Texas Community College. He succeeds Irene García, who last November had to resign her post at STC because she had been elected to the Mission school board, and state law prohibited her from holding both positions at the same time. Longoria, 27, is an attorney, and is the youngest person to serve on the STC Board of Trustees. In a special election in April, he defeated Graciela Farias and Connie Garza. Longoria, who is a resident of Mission and native of La Joya, represents the constituents of La Joya, western Mission, Palmview, Sullivan City, Penitas and western Alton. Featured with him are his parents, Óscar, Sr. and Rosa, along with his brother, Jason.  See story later in this posting.

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Ana De Luna, a collection specialist with the Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office, on Wednesday, May 20, was honored with the Collector of the Year Award by the Government Collectors Association of Texas. This award is presented to the collector selected as having had the greatest impact on collections efforts for their respective city or county in the past year.  The local county’s Collections Department also received the Excellence in Service Award, which is presented to programs selected for unselfishly providing assistance to others embodying the elements of dedication, commitment and service to the association and its membership. The association consists of professionals from across the state of Texas responsible for the collection of funds for the governmental entities for which they are employed and is devoted to the education, strategies, techniques and tools for judicial collections. Ms. De Luna is featured here with her colleagues, during a ceremony celebrating her award. “I feel very honored and privileged for having received such a prestigious award which reflects the collection efforts our county strives for.  I am so thankful for the wonderful supervisory leadership I have and the support of my co-workers.  It is through team work that we can achieve our goals,” said De Luna. She has been employed with the district clerk’s office since August 2007 and will continue serving in her capacity as a Collections Specialist. 

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House passes bill by Rep. Martínez to protect Texas’ $159 million citrus industry from new plant plague

 

Hidalgo County leaders on Friday, May 1, commemorated the historic infusion of about $300 million in federal funds for the Hidalgo County Levee Rehabilitation Project during a special recognition ceremony and press conference at the Hidalgo Pump House Museum and World Birding Center Nature Park.  Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured first on right, released an economic impact study, commissioned by his office and conducted by Sai Mullapudi of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Data and Information Systems Center Division of Community Engagement, that highlighted the economic impact of the levee upgrades.  The study indicates that the entire levee rehabilitation project, when completed, will produce nearly 5,000 local jobs and generate $508 million in economic impact. From left, in this photograph, are: Ron Vitiello, chief for the Rio Grand Valley Border Patrol sector; Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; and Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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May marks National Mental Health Month and to recognize the month-long health campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, the South Texas Behavioral Health Center hosted an advocacy reception for community leaders on Friday, May 1. Area leaders spanning from law enforcement, military, elected officials, health care practitioners and social service providers attended the event in recognition of the advancements and challenges of mental health care in the Valley. Standing, from left, are: Solomon Torres, District Director for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Doug Matney, Vice President of Acute Care and Group Director for South Texas Health System; César Matos, MD; Joe Rodríguez, CEO for South Texas Behavioral Health Center and Michael Sauceda, Business Development Director for South Texas Behavioral Health Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Manuel Garcia and Johnny Rodriguez, two of the board members for Edinburg Child Care, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to providing nutrition and education services to children in day care homes, display a cake that helped mark the 25th anniversary of the local entity.  The local firm, which helps generate a multi-million dollar economic impact for the region, hosted a celebration in the Edinburg/San Manuel region on April 25, 2009, as a treat for many of its participants. Operations consist of reimbursements to day care homes and day care centers for meals served to children under their care and administrative costs.  All seed funds/startup costs were provided by Romeo Villarreal, a local businessman and educator. The policy-making board of directors oversees the program, which is administered by an executive director. Since 1991, this program has generated between $2 million to $2.3 million dollars annually and disbursed to providers from Corpus Christi to Laredo, to Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. Three hundred to 500 small business owners of day care centers are being supplemented annually through this agency. Edinburg Child Care, Inc. is located 2002 West University, Suite 3, Edinburg, 78539. They may also be contacted by telephone at 956/383-6789; by fax at 956/383-6888; and toll-free at 1/800-281-6780. Mary Villarreal, the company’s executive director, may also be reached via Internet mvillarrealmmv@sbcglobal.net or edinburgchildcare@hotmail.com. 

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The Texas Senate on Monday, May 4, unanimously voted for Senate Bill 1443 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee,  that would provide financial relief to students and their families, while recognizing the shared responsibility of the legislature and higher education institutions to keep college affordable and accessible without sacrificing excellence. The bill focuses on total academic costs, not simply on tuition; caps increases and links them to formula funding; offers an optional 4-year guaranteed tuition rate; includes additional cost-cutting measures; and establishes legislative oversight. See story later in this posting. 

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Asian citrus psyllid nymphs, shown here in their development stages by a U.S. Department of Agriculture photograph, can live on citrus trees that are infected with the Citrus Greening Disease and can acquire that plague just before reaching the adult stage. Once that happens, those insects can immediately transmit the disease to uninfected trees, which ruin the trees and citrus.  The greening disease, which has not yet been detected in Texas, could devastate the state’s $159 million citrus industry, most of which is located in Hidalgo County. A bill by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has been passed by the House of Representatives. The measure would give the Texas Department of Agriculture the needed policy powers to help citrus growers prevent a potentially-devastating outbreak of this plant disease. See lead story later in this posting. 

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House panel preserves option to upgrade Edinburg RAHC into UT medical school, says Rep. Martínez

A second Edinburg war hero – the late Pedro Cano – could soon join an elite group of Texas veterans who have been bestowed the state’s highest medal for valor – the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor – under a bill introduced on Friday, April 17, by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

Family members for Cano – who is featured here during ceremonies honoring him in downtown Edinburg more than 60 years ago – are among the special guests invited to participate in a special presentation on Saturday, April 25, while Peña’s measure continues through the legislative process. The April 25 gathering,  which is free and open to the public, is also being organized by the Edinburg lawmaker. It will begin at 10 a.m. on the western plaza of Edinburg City Hall. More than half a century ago, the city of Edinburg dedicated April 26, 1946 as Pedro Cano Day. On that day, businesses closed, schools were dismissed, a parade was held and more than 4,000 people witnessed the award of the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, to the 25-year-old South Texan. Only six Texans have been bestowed the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, including its most recent recipient, the late U.S. Marine Sgt. Alfredo "Freddy" González of Edinburg, who was posthumously awarded the honor in February 2008, during a public ceremony in Edinburg which featured his mother, Dolia González, and Gov. Rick Perry. See story on Pedro Cano later in this posting. 

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Amanda Lira, who attends Economedes High School, hugs her mother, Delma Lira Sánchez, during a ceremony earlier this month at the University of Texas at Austin, where Amanda was one of two South Texas high school students honored as Migrant Students of the Year. Texas has the second-largest migrant education program and the largest interstate migrant student population in the nation. Students and their families migrate annually from Texas to 48 other states to work in agricultural and other seasonal jobs. The Liras were joined in this portrait by Dr. Judy C. Ashcroft, UT’s Dean of Continuing and Innovative Education, and Dr. Felipe Alanis, UT’s Associate Dean of Continuing and Innovative Education and Director of the K-16 Education Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Deyanira Castillo of Weslaco celebrates with her mother, María Castillo, after Deyania was one of two Texas high school students honored by the University of Texas at Austin as Migrant Student of the Year. Since it was begun more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 22,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the Beaumont Foundation of America, the Exxon Mobil Foundation, the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, honored members of the Zonta Club of Brownsville on Tuesday, April 14, at the Texas Capitol with a Senate Resolution commending them for their contributions to the Brownsville community and congratulating them on their 50th anniversary. Zonta is a worldwide service organization of executives and professionals working together to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy. There are over 32,000 members in 1,255 clubs in 67 countries. Featured, from left: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Danita Utsman, Zonta District Governor; Rosalie Gutiérrez, Brownsville Zonta President; Lee Ann Greer, Zonta Vice President; Brenda Pérez, Public Relations Chairwoman; Brunilda Villarreal and Minnie Lucio (wife of Sen. Lucio), Conference Co-Chairs, and Sen. Lucio. 

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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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