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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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House approves plan by Rep. Flores to use state agencies, other resources to build Valley VA Hospital

Al Ramírez, Edinburg’s first Mexican American mayor who served from 1963 to 1967, passed away on Wednesday, April 22. The groundbreaking mayor, shown here last August 21 during a campaign kick-off for Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González, was credited for helping desegregate public swimming pools, among many other achievements. "We lost one of the great men of the Valley," said former Rep. Alejandro Moreno, D-Edinburg. "He was a descendant of pioneer families. He was a former mayor of Edinburg who welcomed the striking Rio Grande City Farm workers from a hospital bed on their 1966 march to Austin. He was a life long educator who helped develop bilingual curricula in the 1970’s. He also published history and genealogy books and had a great sense of humor. May he Rest in Peace." See obituary later in this posting. 

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Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, a guest of Mayor Joe Ochoa during Kennedy’s visit to the University of Texas-Pan American in February 2008, accepted a replica of the community’s All-America City Award, a symbol of some of many achievements generated during the leadership of Ochoa, who is not seeking reelection. Ochoa, who a few days after Kennedy’s visit welcomed then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, to the three-time All-America City, will be making one of his final official appearances as mayor on Thursday, May 7, as part of the National Day of Prayer. The prayer breakfast, which will take place from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., will be held at The Social Steak House and Club, 205 Conquest Boulevard in Edinburg.  There is a $15 fee, which includes breakfast along with a special gift to the first 150 people, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  For more information or to RSVP call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.  

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United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison, featured second from left, a 1966 alumnus of the University of Texas-Pan American, came back to his alma mater recently to address military cadets in Edinburg.  Garrison became most famous for his role as the commanding officer of Operation Gothic Serpent, the military operation launched in 1993 to capture Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which ended with the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Actor Sam Shepherd later portrayed Garrison in the film Black Hawk Down, which chronicles the events of the Battle of Mogadishu, regarded at the time as as the biggest single firefight involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. Featured, from left, at at the Dining-In ceremony for UTPA and UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College ROTC cadets are: Colonel (USAR) Christopher B. Rivers, UTPA assistant director of military science; United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison; UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale; Cadet Bronc Battalion Commander Vanessa Randolph; and Lieutenant Colonel André Dean, professor of military science and commanding officer of the UTPA battalion.  See story later in this posting. 

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Saturday, April 25, was declared Texas Meningitis Awareness Day under a measure by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, which was approved by the Senate on Friday, April 24. Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cords. The disease strikes 2,000 to 3,000 Americans each year, and 10 to 12 percent of those infected die. There is also a viral type of meningitis. Lucio also named a bill by Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Fort Worth, requiring bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campus in this state, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, after the 20-year-old University of Texas student has been hospitalized for the past six months with the less common and more violent version of the bacteria Meningococcemia. Jamie Schanbaum’s mother, Patsy Silva Schanbaum, is originally from Brownsville. Featured on the Senate floor on April 24, from left: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Maureen Moore, of the Houston Area Immunization Partnership and Confederation of Meningitis Organization; Nancy Day, representing her son, Kyle Hendrix (Meningitis survivor); Patsy Silva Schanbaum, representing her daughter, Jamie Schanbaum (Meningitis survivor); Jamie’s brother, Nicholas Schanbaum; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Ft. Worth, and Sen. Lucio. See story later in this posting. 

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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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Proposed airport designation could elevate Weslaco’s reputation as the Valley’s Homeland Security City

 

South Texas College has honored the commitment to education in Starr County of founding board member Manuel Benavidez Jr., who passed away on Saturday, March 28, by naming the college’s new Starr County Campus Rural Technology Center in his honor. Benavidez, who represented Starr County on the STC Board of Trustees, is a past president of the board and served as secretary until his passing from terminal cancer. "He did a fine job for the college,” said Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr., STC board member from Edinburg. “The entire community owes him so much for his efforts to purse the best education possible for our students. He was elected to do the same job we were, but he took a tremendous lead in getting things accomplished for the college and making STC one of the best community colleges in the nation. He was a dear friend and deserving colleague.” See story later in this posting. 

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South Texans who are working on ways to help autistic children recently took their ideas to the Texas Capitol, including meeting with area legislators, to seek support for the creation of State Autism Resource and research Center.  There are more than 5,000 South Texas children afflicted with autism, according to the Texas Health and Human Services, and that figure is projected to double by the year 2028. Autism is a developmental disability characterized by language impairment, deficits in communication and social interaction, and abnormal behavior, such as repetitive acts and excessive attachment to certain objects. Autism affects at least one in every 166 children nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diagnostic rates are increasing 10 percent to 17 percent annually. The CDC estimates that every day, 66 children – nearly three per hour – are diagnosed with autism. Members of South Texas’ Autism Council for Educational Support and Scientific Studies (ACES3) and the RGV chapter of the Texas Council on Autism are featured on the steps on the Texas Capitol on February 26 with local senators. Front row, from left: Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; Gabriela Ortiz; Heather Vitek; Missy Renaud; María "Charo" Mann; Adriana Paz; and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Center row, from left: Celine Garza; Zacnith Treviño’  Bret Mann; and Dalia De La O Carr. Back row, from left: Dagoberto Garza; Linette Linsangan; Belen Garza; Joel Garza; Claudia Rodríguez; Nancy Alanis; Allan Mercado, M.D.; and Gladys Ajero.

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The RGV Branch of the National Association of Social Workers, more than 200 members strong, on Friday, March 27, named Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III as the Public Elected Official of the Year. “From a social worker’s standpoint, he’s made a difference in the community,” said Rebecca Ramírez, NASW Texas Chapter RGV Branch Chair. “Our criteria are to honor somebody who stands up for the civil rights of those in need.” The group didn’t have a hard time choosing Salinas, Ramírez observed, adding that the judge’s compassion toward the uninsured and granting access to health care, his outcries against the border fence and his vested interest in “the little guy,” are readily apparent. Salinas was honored along with Tim Smith, Media Representative of the Year, for his work with Tim’s Coats; Public Citizen of the Year Amelia Molina; Social Work Student of the Year Eileen Palacios; and Social Worker of the Year Candice Guillen. “When you elected me to be your County Judge, I vowed to be there full time. And I am surprised today, because I am being honored for just doing my job," Salinas said. "But we have a team of professionals that work hard for you every day, so I accept the award for my staff and for the Commissioners’ Court. We serve full time for you." 

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Sergeant 1st Class Jeff Printy last July 22 marshaled in nine light-medium tactical vehicles deployed from San Antonio to the Standing Joint InterAgency Task Force headquarters located at the Army National Guard Armory in Weslaco. Texas military forces came to southern Texas in anticipation of heavy flood relief efforts caused by Hurricane Dolly. A bill introduced by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, would allow the governor to designate the Mid-Valley Airport, which is located next to the armory, as the Valley headquarters for emergency responses to natural and man-made calamities. See story later in this posting. 

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Interim President Sorber updates UTPA Alumni Association on plan for $70 million fine arts facility

 

Former Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Alfredo "Fred" Longoria, a native son, successful businessman, and longtime community leader who helped transform what many considered to be a sleepy border town in the early 1990s into a major economic force for South Texas in 2009, on Sunday, March 22, passed away as a result of complications from a stroke. He was 80. For Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Longoria’s passing literally hit home. His son, Aron Leonel Peña, is married to one of Longoria’s daughters, Clarissa Longoria-Peña. "I am very sad to hear that Fred Longoria has passed away. My condolences to his family and friends," the veteran state representative reflected. "Fred was not only a long time supporter but a good man who wanted to do right by his City of Edinburg. Sometime after our initial work together, Fred became a member of the family when my eldest son married his daughter," Peña said. "The City of Edinburg has lost a loyal son who will be dearly missed. May God speed."  See story later in this posting. 

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The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, March 17, unanimously approved a resolution in support of a “universal freight shuttle”, featured in this diagram, along U.S. Highway 281. The diagram illustrates what the freight shuttle could look like: an elevated, unmanned track with single load transporters going in both directions. At destination, the transporters would enter cargo bays terminals at which point the trailers would simply hook up with a traditional big rig to get a short distance to a particular store. The freight shuttle is a linear motion, automated track with single container transporters that could get goods quickly and safely from Point A to Point B using only renewable energy sources and with zero-emissions. This concept, developed over the past eight years by the Texas Transportation Institute, could be used within the footprint of existing highways, including U.S. Highway 281. “Hidalgo County is working with the communities along U.S. Highway 281 to make sure we are ready to be the first to make the most of this new technology,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III. See story later in this posting. 

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Lack’s Furniture has created a $10,000 scholarship fund through South Texas College to provide opportunities for the dependants of Lack’s employees to attend college. The company was originally founded in 1935 by Sam Lack, a Russian immigrant. The operations focused on selling automotive parts, but World War II pushed the boundaries of Lack’s into the home furnishings arena.  Today, the business is still family-operated under the leadership of Lee Aaronson. A tradition of giving runs in the Aaronson family, which still owns the chain of 11 Lack’s stores serving the Rio Grande Valley from Laredo to Port Isabel. Featured, from left; Michelle Moffitt, buyer’s assistant for Lack’s; John Price, director of human resources for Lack’s; Al Moffitt, general manager for Lack’s; Kris Karr, advertising manager for Lack’s; and Anabel Hudson, buyer’s assistant for Lack’s. See story later in this posting. 

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House Calls, one of South Texas’ largest home-based health care agencies, along with their employees and various community donors, have donated $20,000 to The University of Texas-Pan American to establish the Veronica Noble-Daley, R.N. Scholarship endowment. Noble-Daley graduated from UT Pan American in 1991 and became a registered nurse. She was only 25 years old when she decided to open House Calls and fulfill her desire to care for the sick and promote education, something she considered very important. Many times she assisted her employees in completing or furthering their education by providing them with flexible hours and tuition reimbursement. In addition, she helped support organizations and events that promoted education, such as the Florence Nightingale Gala, an event aimed at raising money for the university’s Department of Nursing. The endowment will benefit students pursuing a registered nursing degree and who are classified as entering freshmen, continuing freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. Other requirements for the scholarship include maintaining a 3.2 grade point average, and residency in one of four Rio Grande Valley counties. Surrounded by House Calls employees, holding the check, from left, are: Armando Garza, House Calls marketing director; Erika Nobel, sister of Veronica Daley; Michael Daley, husband of Veronica Daley; Ruth Nobel, mother of Veronica Daley; and Lydia P. Alemán, associate vice president for University Advancement. For information on supporting the advancement of UTPA, call the Division of University Advancement at 956/318-5301. 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a "Spring Luncheon and Style Show" at the Embassy Suites in McAllen on Saturday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Casual, business, western and formal wear will be modeled by local community leaders and professional models. "The luncheon and style show allows our members, future members and the community to enjoy viewing the latest fashions as well as helping to stimulate our economy in McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley," said Verónica Vela, MHCC Vice Chair of Women’s Issues. A Spring Mercado consisting of individuals and/or stores will also be selling their wares and services in the hallway.  Spring jewelry, crafts, purses, dietary supplements, etc. are just some of the items.  The Mercado is free to the public. There are still some Mercado booths for sale. For more information on the Spring Mercado and/or the Spring Luncheon & Style Show call the MHCC at 928-0060. Featured are representatives of the stores that will be participating in the Style Show: Maclyn Flynn and Becky Cuellar of Warehouse 503; Becky Malcik of Beck’s Fashions; Alicia Suárez and Jessica Rangel of JCPenny’s Hair salon; Raúl Traigo of GUESS; Ana Delgado of GUESS by Mariano; Alejandro J. Garza of Kalifa’s Western Wear; Gloria Muñoz of Cute Cotton Co.; Carmen Esparaza of Joyce’s International Boutique; Mónica de Coss of Room Clothing; and Tony Lucio of Banana Republic. Committee members shown are: Verónica Vela, Vice Chair of Women’s Issues; Zaira García; Elizabeth Martínez, Vice Chair of Public Relations; and Orie Salinas, Vice Chair of Events. Participating stores not shown are: Spa La Posada, Our Secret, Dillards, Boot Jack, Nicole’s Boutique and Renée’s. 

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