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Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation

Edinburg City Councilmember Alma A. Garza, flanked by her parents, Dr. Omar and Dora Garza, took her oath of office on Monday, May 12, for a three-year term on the five-member governing body. Alma Garza, who for the first time in her young political career had faced an opponent, generated 63 percent of the vote, a significant margin of victory.  She was sworn in by Hidalgo County 206th District Court Judge Rose Guerra Reyna. Garza also raised more than $29,000 in campaign funds in the second phase of her campaign to help secure her victory, according to her campaign finance report filed with the City Secretary’s Office. See story later in this posting.

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Gene Espinoza, left, who was reelected to a new three-year term on Saturday, May 10, is congratulated by his uncle, Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza, after the city councilmember, who was joined by his immediate family, was sworn in to office on Monday, May 12.  In addition to his own many supporters, Espinoza was helped in his reelection bid by generous contributions for several prominent Edinburg-area business leaders.  The most recent list of his contributors, along with the campaign financial supporters for Councilmember Alma Garza, are featured in a story later in this posting.

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Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, featured left, on Monday, May 12, was sworn in for another three-year term as presiding judge of the local court by  his nephew, Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr.  Palacios, who is also a partner in the law firm of García, Quintanilla and Palacios in McAllen – which includes former Edinburg Mayor Richard García – serves a key role in the administering of justice in the community. Rodríguez was  a former Edinburg City Councilmember before resigning that post in October 2005 to make his own successful bid for district judge. According to CourtReference.com, municipal courts in Texas have original and exclusive jurisdiction over criminal violations of certain municipal ordinances and airport board rules, orders, or resolutions that do not exceed $2,500 in some instances and $500 in others. Municipal courts also have concurrent jurisdiction with the justice courts in certain misdemeanor criminal cases. In addition to the jurisdiction of a regular municipal court, municipal courts of record also have jurisdiction over criminal cases arising under ordinances authorized by certain provisions of the Texas Local Government Code. The municipality may also provide by ordinance that a municipal court of record have additional jurisdiction in certain civil and criminal matters. Municipal judges also serve in the capacity of a committing magistrate, with the authority to issue warrants for the apprehension and arrest of persons charged with the commission of both felony and misdemeanor offenses. As a magistrate, the municipal judge may hold preliminary hearings, reduce testimony to writing, discharge the accused, or remand the accused to jail and set bail.

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Dr. Scott Cook, one of the world’s expert on Mexican brick culture, has a unique window on Valley’s history, and he will be in Edinburg on Wednesday, June 11, to share those perspectives at the Museum for South Texas History, located at 200 N. Closner, immediately northeast of the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Accompanying him will be local musicologists and “North of the Border” radio show hosts Joe and Rosa Pérez (singing songs of the brick-makers).  The presentations will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and wine and hors d’oeuvres will be provided.  Cook is professor emeritus of anthropology and interim director of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. He lives in Willimantic, Connecticut. There is a $5 donation requested, and the event calls for business casual attire. To RSVP or obtain more information, interested persons may call 956/ 776-0100, extension 311.

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Edinburg recorded phenomenal year 06, future remains bright

chuystc.jpg

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured center, was recently honored by South Texas College and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz for Hinojosa’s key role in creating and promoting the development of South Texas College into the largest higher education institution in the Valley. “Education is the greatest equalizer,” said Hinojosa, whose many political achievements also include successfully carrying legislation that resulted in the creation of the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center in the Valley and the merger of Pan American University into the UT System. Featured with Hinojosa are STC President Dr. Shirley Reed and Cortéz.

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Rep.Verónica Gonzáles D-McAllen, attending a recent legislative breakfast in McAllen sponsored by South Texas College, was appointed on Thursday, February 1, to lead the Mexican American Legislative Caucus Task Force on Immigration in the Texas House of Representatives. “Coming together as a task force on immigration allows us to organize, arm ourselves with accurate information and have our voices heard on this important and complicated issue,” said the House District 41 lawmaker, whose district includes southwest Edinburg. “I am honored that my colleagues would place trust and confidence in me to head up this group of talented and informed members from throughout the state,” she added. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus is a bipartisan group of Texas House members who are of Mexican-American descent or who represent districts with a large population of Hispanics. The members of the caucus are committed to working together to improve the lives of Latinos in Texas. “The immigration debate invokes issues of humanity, economics, border security and the American Dream,” Gonzáles noted. “Reform must be practical and comprehensive to successfully address our state and nation’s realities and needs.” In a related matter, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, featured left, has filed a measure to add a fee to the money wire transfers sent outside the country, with those fees to be used to bolster homeland security measures in Texas. See story on Patrick’s plan later in this posting. Featured in this photograph from left are: Patrick; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.; D-Brownsville; Paul S. Moxley, president and secretary of the board of directors for Texas State Bank; South Texas College trustee Gary Gurwitz of McAllen; and Gonzáles.

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Jo Rae Wagner, the national president of the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors Association for 2006-2007, was honored on Tuesday, January 30, with a resolution in the Senate Chamber presented by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr, D-Brownsville. “Ms. Wagner is a fine example for other women to emulate,” said Lucio. “I am proud to know that she resides in my Senatorial District, and her leadership and dedication to involving more women in the construction industry is indeed admirable.” Wagner, a mechanical contractor in Harlingen, is the second woman to serve as the president of the national association since its inception in 1883. She has worked in the construction industry for 34 years and is currently president of CTO, Incorporated, a Harlingen company. She is a strong proponent of women serving in the construction industry and encourages women to become more involved in their profession. To help further her goals of bringing more women, minorities and young people into the industry’s associations, ensuring educational and certifications programs are up-to-date, and focusing on legislative issues, such as tort reform, Wagner also serves on numerous other boards, including the Harlingen Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals and the Rio Grande Valley Apprenticeship Program.

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Edinburg recorded “phenomenal year” in 2006, future remains bright for 2007, says Mayor Ochoa

Another record-breaking year in 2006 for the city’s economy, made possible in large part by significant expansions in the medical and retail industries, the continuing high-quality of local public and higher education, and a 30 percent growth of Edinburg’s population since 2000, bodes well for the future of the three-time All-America City, says Mayor Joe Ochoa.

“Edinburg has great health care facilities and professionals, excellent educational opportunities, a great place to shop and eat, and is a beautiful city to raise families,” Ochoa told more than 250 residents during his State of the City address at the ECHO Hotel on Wednesday, January 31. “The year 2006 was another phenomenal year for the city, and I see a great future for Edinburg.”

Ochoa said the positive gains for the city were the result of local government policies and citizen participation that began almost a decade earlier, and he shared the credit with elected leaders going back to the early 1990s.

“Ten years ago, a foundation was established by a group of citizens named the Edinburg 2020,” he said. “A vision was established to improve the quality of life to attract more commercial development, to lower unemployment, to beautify our community, to attract new families, and allow our children to want to stay, or entice them to come back as they left to get a higher education elsewhere.

“Today, we are seeing the fruition of dreams of many people,” the mayor observed. “I congratulate the past and the present leaders for their commitment to this community.”

Tradition of leadership

The consecutive years of positive growth for the city goes back to Ochoa’s first years as mayor, back in 1993, through the administration of Mayor Richard García from May 2003 to May 2006, and again through Ochoa’s latest term in office, which began in the spring of 2006.

Former mayor García continues his public service to the city, serving as president of the board of directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the city council.

Members of the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC, along with the Edinburg school board, were in attendance for Ochoa’s remarks, including Mayor Pro Tem Noe Garza, Councilmember Alma A. Garza (no relation to the mayor pro tem), and Councilmember Gene Espinoza; Edinburg school board vice president Carmen González, school board member Greg García, and school board member David Torres; and EEDC board of directors members Fred Palacios and Mike Govind.

Key milestones in 2006

Among the highlights for 2006 reported by Ochoa were:

•Edinburg has passed Harlingen as the third largest city in the Valley, with a population approaching 65,000;

•Total construction activities in 2006 set a record with more than $192 million, with the value of new residential and commercial construction leading all categories, coming in at more than $70 million and more than $79 million, respectively;

•South Texas Health Systems and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance began or completed additions or expansions to their respective campuses valued at an estimated $180 million, which are expected to create more than 1,000 new jobs;

•Bank deposits in 2006, a reflection of economic growth in the community, averaged $640 million;

•More than 400,000 square feet of new retail space was began or was completed in 2006, led by the opening of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on South McColl Road and adjacent stores, the opening in January of Lowe’s, and the ongoing construction of the Trenton Crossroads shopping complex. Combined, these retail additions will wind up creating 1,000 jobs;

•The Texas Department of Transportation in 2006 authorized spending $175 million for six major state roadway projects in Edinburg, including the continuing expansion to federal interstate highway standards of U.S. Expressway 281;

•Major new public building projects are approaching completion within the next 18 months, including a new city hall, a new library, and a new water plant;

•The city government is embarking upon numerous commercial roadway and neighborhood street improvement and paving projects;

•Unemployment rates in Edinburg continued to be among the lowest in the Valley, with the city reporting a 4.2 percent jobless rate in December 2006, the best showing of all cities in deep South Texas; and

•The city leadership will take an active role in the current state legislative session to increase state funding for key education, infrastructure, and economic development initiatives.

Citizen volunteers encouraged

Ochoa continued to reach out to the community, encouraging residents to sign up to serve on any of numerous city boards and panels which make policy recommendations to the city council.

“We need volunteers,” the mayor said. “We have advisory boards, and we are planning on building other committees to help us continue planning vision, and to continue fulfilling the dreams of many of us as business people, as citizens, and as families. I encourage you to volunteer, to sign up for these committees, to help your community continue to grow.”

Elva Jackson-Garza, a director for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce who served as mistress of ceremonies for the State of the City speech, shared Ochoa’s optimism for the future.

“The January issue of Fortune Magazine recognizes the Mission/McAllen/Edinburg area as one of the best places to live in the country,” Jackson-Garza told the gathering. “So not only locally are we realizing the potential of this region, but others throughout the United States are looking for land, for commercial investment opportunities right here in our back yard.”

Mark Magee, the chairman of the board of directors for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, said the public affairs luncheons, such as the one that featured Ochoa, mean a lot for all citizens.

“This showing we have here today is a clear indication that this program this past year is very successful and has been received very, very well,” Magee said. “This is the third in a series of four that we will have on an ongoing basis every year to allow you, the membership, and the community, to remain in touch with your leaders so that you know what is going on, and so you have the opportunity to visit with them.”

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com
For more information on the people and politics that impact Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com

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Rep. Aaron Peña one of several Valley lawmakers with generous contributions from GOP heavyweight

Famed Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, equally renowned as one of the biggest financial contributors to Republican causes, has given $5,000 to the campaign funds of several Valley state lawmakers, including Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

The contribution, made on September 21, was the largest received by the veteran lawmaker during the second half of 2006, according to his campaign finance report submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission.

The full report is available online at http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/filer.php?acct=00051164coh

Peña’s campaign finance report, along with the campaign reports of all state lawmakers, cover the period between July 1 and December 31, 2006.

For that six-month period, Peña, who faced no opposition in the 2006 Democratic Party primary or in the November general election, raised more than $24,000, while spending more than $26,000.

Perry is not related to Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, although Bob Perry has been a strong financial supporter of the incumbent governor for many years, including making more than $500,000 in contributions to the governor through 2003.

But Bob Perry has also shared money with lawmakers on the other side of the political aisle, including a $1,000 contribution to former State Rep. Debra Danburg, a liberal Democrat from Houston, while she was still in office.

In addition to Peña, who helped Republican Speaker of the House Tom Craddick survive a challenge from a fellow Republican and a Democrat earlier this year, Perry also was generous with Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

Perry gave Flores a $10,000 campaign contribution last fall, while he donated $5,000 apiece to Guillen, Flores, and Martínez.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, did not report any contributions from Perry in their latest campaign finance reports.

Bob Perry political involvement

According to Wikepedia, the Internet free encyclopedia:

Political donations

527 groups

In the 2004 election cycle, Perry gave $4.45 million to Swift Vets and POWs for Truth (formerly Swift Boat Veterans for Truth), a 527 group; he was the largest single donor.[4]

In that cycle, Perry also donated $3 million to Progress for America Voter Fund. In all, he donated almost $8.1 million to 527 group in 2003-2004.[4]

In mid-2006, Perry donated $5,000,000 to found a new 527 group, the Economic Freedom Fund.

The $5 million makes the group one of the top ten in the 2006 election cycle.[5] He also appears to be the sole donor to Americans for Honesty on Issues. These groups have primarily paid for negative advertisements targeting Democratic Party candidates in the 2006 United States general election.

Other

Perry contributed $46,000 to George W. Bush’s 1994 and 1998 campaigns for Texas Governor. He was the largest individual contributor to the Texas Republican Party during the 2002 election cycle (calendar 2001 & 2002) giving $905,000.[6]

Perry gave $165,000 in the 2002 election cycle to Tom DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee (TRMPAC) giving $165,000 in the 2002 election cycle. In October 2002 they contributed $95,000 to Delay’s Americans for a Republican Majority political action committtee (ARMPAC)[7] Perry and his wife also contributed $10,000 to DeLay’s legal defense fund.[8].

Peña campaign information

Peña listed his wife, Monica, as his campaign treasurer, and her address, along with his candidate/officeholder address, were listed as 404 South McColl Road in Edinburg.

In addition to homebuilder Perry, Peña’s second largest campaign donation came from BG Distribution Partners of Houston – a beverage distributor – which gave him $3,000 on November 21.

R.L. Glazer, chairman of the board of The Glazer Companies, a Dallas-based wine, spirits and malt beverage distributor, donated $1,500 on November 15 to Peña.

Five individuals or firms each donated $1,000 to Peña:

•McAllen homebuilder Alonzo Cantú on August 17;
•Texas Trial Lawyers Association of Austin on October 10;
•Texas Automobile Dealers Association of Austin on October 10;
•Texans for Lawsuit Reform of Houston on December 4; and
•TREPAC, which represents realtors, of Austin on December 5.

One $800 contribution was made to Peña’s campaign on November 15 from the Texas Optometric PAC of Austin.

$500 contributions were each given to Peña from nine individuals or firms:

•Texas Gas Services of Austin on October 12;
•Texas Manufactured Housing Association of Austin on October 12;
•Texas Federation of Teachers of Austin on October 17;
•Wells Fargo Bank of Texas – Brownsville, on October 23;
•Larry Safir, a media executive with Univision in McAllen, on December 2;
•Allied Waste PAC of Austin on December 2;
•La Joya Federation of Teachers on December 5;
•ACC Capitol Holdings, representing mortgage interests, of Austin on December 8; and
•TSCPA PAC, representing certified public accountants, of Dallas on December 13.

$300 contributions were each donated to Peña from the following firms:

•Texas Credit Union League PAC of Dallas on September 12;
•American Collectors Association of Austin on October 10; and
•Trinity Industries PAC of Austin on October 23.

$250 contributions were each donated to Peña from the following individuals or firms:

•Bickerstaff Heath Pollan and Caroom of Austin on October 10;
•Merk Employee PAC of Washington, D.C. on October 10;
•Motorola PAC of Washington, D.C. on October 10;
•Hughes and Luce of Austin on October 10;
•Deborah Ingersoll of Austin on October 10;
•Independent Insurance Agents of Texas on November 13;
•Verizon Good Government of Austin on November 16;
•Texas Association of Mortgage Brokers of Houston on November 27;
•Texas Farm Bureau of Waco on November 27;
•Edward Thomas of Austin on December 1; and
•Chris Bell Campaign of Houston on December 1.

$100 campaign contributions to Peña came from the following individuals or firms:

•Al Beltran of McAllen on September 12;
•Texas Probation Association of Beaumont on October 16; and
•Texas Federation of Teachers of Austin on December 5.

Peña’s largest campaign expenditures – totaling more than $16,000 – were made out to him in the form of repayments for personal loans he gave to his campaign.

His campaign expenditures follow:

•$4,000
Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 9.

•$4,000
Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on July 14.

$3,000
Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 30.

•$2,000 each
Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on November 11; and
Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 24.

•$1,623.27
CP&L of Tulsa, Oklahoma on October 16 for utilities at his Edinburg district office;

•$1,500
AT&T of Dallas for telephone service on December 11.

•$1,341.49
505 Media, 1204 Sandpiper Avenue of McAllen for website service on July 10.

$1,200
Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 11.

•$1,086.83
Wolf Camera of San Antonio for a camera and equipment on December 7.

•$1,000
Juan Escobar Campaign of Kingsville for a political contribution on December 5. Escobar is a state representative from Kingsvile whose legislative district includes Willacy County.

•$900
Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October September 29.

•$831.94
Cornerstone Bar and Grill of Edinburg for events catering on July 7.

•$716.65
Double Tree Guest Suites in Austin for lodging on October 16.

•$542.82
Verónica Bernal of McAllen for contract labor on October 13.

$150
Circle K of 1611 S. Closner of Edinburg for gasoline.

$105
Clarion Inn of Austin for lodging on October 9.

$89.91
Ciro’s of 4634 S. Expressway 281 in Edinburg for constituent lunch on October 14.

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com

For more information on the people and politics that impact Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com

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Rep. Flores’ influence to remain high with reappointment as House chairman, plus selection to Ways and Means, Redistricting panels

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, has been appointed for a third time to serve as chairman of the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

Flores’ appointment builds on an impressive leadership portfolio that includes four years on the House Appropriations Committee, which develops the state budget for action by the House of Representatives.
Flores was also appointed to serve on the Ways & Means and Redistricting committees.

“I’m honored to once again serve in a committee leadership capacity and take the trust that my colleagues in the House have in me very seriously,” said Flores. “My appointment as chair of an important committee, coupled with my experience in the legislature, places me in a tremendous position to bring meaningful benefits to the citizens in my district and the area.”

Flores added: “My constituents send me to Austin to be their voice and secure results in a very competitive environment. Quality committee assignments and experience are critical to being effective in the legislature and help me meet the demanding goals I set each session to support the Valley.”

Following are roles and responsibilities for the committees assigned to Flores:

• Licensing and Administrative Procedures — Studies legislation and has oversight on issues related to businesses, industries, general trades and occupations regulated by the state;

• Ways & Means – Studies legislation and has jurisdiction over many state revenue and tax issues;

• Redistricting – Studies legislation and has jurisdiction over all matters concerning any changes or amendments to legislative and/or congressional districts.

Flores represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the Cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.

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Rep. Gonzáles reelected secretary of the House Democratic Caucus

The Texas House Democratic Caucus has reelected State Representative Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, as secretary for the 80th legislative session. The Caucus serves to promote Democratic leadership in the state legislature.

Gonzáles, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, said she was pleased to be re-elected to her second term as the Democratic Caucus secretary.

“My colleagues’ confidence in my ability to continue to serve the Caucus makes me proud,” she said.

Gonzáles is the only member from the Rio Grande Valley to hold an officer position.

“I am honored that my colleagues have shown confidence in me and I am eager to move Texas forward with good policy that benefits, not only my constituents in the Rio Grande Valley, but all Texans,” she reflected.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, was re-elected to serve as Caucus Chair.

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, was elected Vice-Chair, while Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, was also reelected as treasurer for the Democratic legislative group.

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ECISD sets new school boundaries for 2007-2008 school year

The Edinburg CISD school board has approved a comprehensive rezoning plan that goes into effect in the 2007-2008 school year.

Gilberto Garza Jr., interim superintendent of schools, said the opening of the district’s fifth middle school next fall and the construction of classroom wings at Canterbury, Escandón, Zavala, Guerra, Kennedy, Truman and Lincoln elementary schools, have made the new boundaries necessary as the school district attempts to address the continued new student growth.

Garza said the new boundaries will enable the school district to evenly distribute students with regard to building capacity.

The boundary changes will directly affect 19 of 27 elementary schools; the four middle schools and the high schools, said Garza. The elementary schools that will not be affected are Austin, Brewster, Cano-González, De la Viña, Guerra, Hargill, Jefferson, Lee, Travis and Truman schools.

Garza said a 13-person Rezoning Committee met nine times to study several different possible new boundary options. The criteria the committee used in order to arrive at a recommendation for the school board included:

•To keep within the neighborhood school concept as much as possible
•To take the building capacity into consideration
•To maintain a workable and safe student membership at each affected campus
•To minimize as much as possible the number of students impacted by the rezoning.

Central Administrative staff took a final recommendation to the school board in early January for approval. The changes will become affective for the 2007-2008 school year, said Garza.

As it stands currently, the Edinburg school district has grown by 1,333 students over the 2005-2006 school year, Garza said.

He said the elementary totals show 15,359 students (an increase of 674 students) in 27 elementary schools. Of that total, Garza said, Ávila, Eisenhower, Escandón, Treviño and Villarreal elementary schools are well over the 700 mark and rapidly approaching 800 students. Additionally, Betts, Freddy González, Guerra and Truman elementary schools are bordering on the 700 student mark.

The new boundaries will impact the middle school levels the most, Garza said. The district has 6,441 students in its four current middle schools. The opening of the district’s fifth middle school, Francisco Barrientes Middle School, in August, will enable the district to more evenly distribute middle school students, Garza said. Barrientes MS is currently under renovation to accommodate middle school students. The middle school should be ready by June 2007.

The impact to the high schools will be minimal, said Garza. Although the three schools will be somewhat impacted by the new boundaries, Garza said, the boundaries at the high schools will not be as impacting as at the middle schools where the growth has been greater.

For any questions regarding individual school boundaries, contact the school principals.

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Congressman Cuellar introduces bill to grant parity to laser visa holders from Mexico

On Monday, January 29, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, introduced the Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007.

A companion bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, earlier that day.

The bill mandates that Mexican nationals with laser visas, a machine-readable border crossing card, be given the same length-of-stay opportunities as Canadian visitors. Currently Mexican nationals with laser visas are allowed to enter this country for up to 30 days, while Canadian visitors, who do not use laser visas, are allowed to stay for up to six months.

“This bill addresses what I believe to be a serious imbalance in the way our government treats foreign guests,” said Cuellar. “We must strive to treat all of our foreign guests fairly, regardless of their national origin. Mexican nationals that hold laser visas have already undergone a rigorous vetting and screening process and are screened again as they enter the United States. To treat them differently than our Canadian visitors, who do not undergo such a vetting process, would be unfair.”

Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007:

• Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to ensure that Mexicans with laser visas who have completed security screening receive the same period of time in the U.S. as Canadians—six months.

• Retains the Secretary of Homeland Security’s authority to set the length of time such individuals can be in United States.

• Grants the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to modify admission periods on a case-by-case basis if good cause exists.

• Bars eligibility for the six-month admission period if the foreign national is inadmissible, has previously violated his or her nonimmigrant status, or the laser visa was not processed through a machine reader at the U.S. port of entry.

Cuellar continued, “I strongly believe that we must work to build and maintain secure borders with both of our neighbors. However, we must also work to ensure that we do not unduly impede the travel of those who are here for legitimate reasons. Our nation is the predominate global power because we have always strived to maintain an open and free exchange of capital and knowledge; this bill helps us maintain that flow.”

Cuellar is a member of the House Homeland Security, Small Business, and Agriculture Committees in the 110th Congress; accessibility to constituents, education, health care, economic development, and national security are his priorities. Congressman Cuellar is also a Majority Senior Whip.

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Following visit to the Valley, Houston Sen. Patrick files wire transfer fee to help fund border security

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, spent four days in late January on a fact-finding tour of the Texas border as a guest of the Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownville, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, along with Texas House members representing the Valley.

During the trip, Patrick visited with members of the Border Patrol, several area mayors, business leaders, school superintendents and concerned citizens.

“I’m coming away from this trip with great optimism we can find a solution to the issue of illegal immigration in a bi-partisan manner,” said Patrick. “I believe there is a perception by conservatives in our big cities and suburbs that the people on the border are not as concerned about border security. I also think there is a perception by Texans on the border, where almost 90% of the population is Hispanic, that border control advocates are anti-Hispanic and want to kick out 12 million people or build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso.”

The Houston lawmaker added, “I found Valley residents want a secure border as much as any Texan. The crime rate is up in the Valley and schools and hospitals are having to service non-citizens at great costs to local governments. They are also concerned about the negative economic impact if cross border commerce is disturbed.

“I explained to our friends on the border that most Texans understand we cannot bus millions back across the border but at the same time we cannot have millions more coming to our state and country. I believe we need fencing (walls) around our major entry points as well as a major boost in manpower to protect our border. We should begin to put into place a guest worker program that identifies who is coming to our country so we can stop drugs and criminals at the border and at the same time bring the workers to Texas that our economy needs. Everyone I talked to in law enforcement in the Valley told me they need more manpower and better equipment to protect our border,” he continued.

To that end, Patrick on Monday, January 22, filed Senate Bill 268, which would place a fee on money wired out of Texas to any foreign country. The fee, 10% of the amount wired under $5,000, would be collected to provide funds for border security.

While the bill was filed to just provide funds for border security, Patrick said he looks forward to working with Lucio and Hinojosa to expand the application of the funds to cover the costs associated with illegal immigration such as indigent health care and the strains on our education system.

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Congressman Hinojosa statement of proposed federal fee hike for immigration services

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, January 31, issued the following statement regarding the proposal by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to raise fees for services:

“We all want better service from our immigration agency, but raising fees by 66 percent on average strikes me as an unreasonable fix to the backlog and red tape. I am highly skeptical of this proposal since it will most likely place an unfair burden on all the hard-working families complying with our country’s regulations. These fees also will be a serious hardship to many people in my district who are only trying to play by the rules.

“Currently, a person filing for legal permanent resident status must pay $325 to submit an application; under the new proposal, the fee would go up 178 percent to $905. For those applying for citizenship, the fee would be raised from $330 to $595-an 80 percent price hike. These proposals are too much to ask anyone to pay. Not only that, but applicants will be forced to pay for improvements that they will probably never enjoy since changes will no doubt take years to implement. It is important to reduce processing times, but we should not price people out of realizing the American dream.”

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Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approves SB 61 by Sen. Zaffirini to improve emergency preparedness

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on Wednesday, January 31, unanimously recommended to the Senate that it pass Senate Bill 61 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which authorizes Texas counties to adopt an internal plan for delegation of administrative authorities, chain of succession to cover essential county functions and meeting procedures during a catastrophic event or declared disaster.

The bill significantly would assist county government officials who, under current law, are bound by statutory requirements that may not allow them to mitigate significant administrative hindrances during a declared emergency or catastrophic event.

“This bill can help improve state public safety by ensuring local governments are unfettered during a catastrophe,” said Zaffirini. “I truly am pleased that the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee reported SB 61 favorably to the full Senate, and I look forward to working with my colleagues toward its final passage.”

Current law does not explicitly authorize local governments to adopt and implement internal emergency plans for delegating administrative authorities, designating chain of succession, and meeting procedures during a declared emergency.

What’s more, quorum requirements for county commissioners courts are set fourth in state statutes and provide no exceptions to the requirement that “three members of the commissioners court constitute a quorum.” County governments would have to meet in violation of state law if a disaster incapacitated enough members to constitute a quorum in a commissioners’ court.

SB 61 will allow county governments to increase response times, guarantee the operational status of essential services and assure their constituencies that local government facilities are fully functional and working to protect public safety and the county infrastructure.

“In the wake of hurricane evacuations that affected several counties across central Texas and heightened security levels issued from federal and state homeland security agencies, legislators must do everything possible to allow our communities to prepare for all contingencies,” Zaffirini said.

“Families rely upon their local governments to keep them safe and to provide essential information and guidance during a catastrophe,” she added. “SB 61 ensures that, during an emergency, the last thing county governments will have to worry about are statutory requirements that prevent commissioners courts from meeting and developing emergency plans to keep families in their counties safe.”

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Gov. Perry proposes $50 million disaster contingency fund

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, January 30, proposed the creation of a $50 million Disaster Contingency Fund to ensure that state and local governments have the ability to forcefully respond in times of great public emergency.

“As we have learned from disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as recent wildfires and floods, we can never be too prepared,” Perry said. “The Disaster Contingency Fund will allow state and local government to respond with all the necessary resources in the face of a disaster and better manage the cost to taxpayers.”

The fund will be used to pay costs associated with pre-positioning state resources in anticipation of disasters; reimburse local jurisdictions for disasters that do not meet federal disaster declaration standards; provide up-front funding to smaller jurisdictions that lack the necessary resources to conduct large-scale emergency operations; and pay the federal matching fund obligations that are required for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Various disaster situations would merit the allocation of these funds. For example, the Fire Management Assistance Grant Program under FEMA does not reimburse local jurisdictions for fighting wildfires before they become a threat to communities. Also, as part of Gov. Perry’s hurricane evacuation plan, the state pre-deploys substantial resources to support local communities as a hurricane’s projected path includes the Texas coastline. If a hurricane turns and misses Texas, as Hurricane Ernesto did in 2006, FEMA will not reimburse funds for the pre-deployment of resources.

“There is no question that Texas is prepared to step up to the plate and meet a disaster head-on,” Perry said. “I encourage the Legislature to support this $50 million fund, so we may continue to coordinate our emergency response efforts and protect our communities without being financially penalized.”

If approved by lawmakers, these funds will be available September 1st for the 2007-2008 biennium and will be distributed by the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management to eligible applicants

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Sen. Hinojosa, Sen. Lucio, Sen. Zaffirini co-author resolution to permanently place motto “In God We Trust” in Senate chamber

A Senate resolution calling on the the motto “In God We Trust” to be permanently placed in the Senate chamber was unanimously adopted on Tuesday, January 30, by the Senate.

The measure, filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was co-authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

The resolution requires the Senate to post the motto of “In God We Trust” immediately on the reader board and by September 1, 2007 to permanently affix the motto on the “white portico located over” the Lt. Governor’s podium. Immediately upon the Senate’s adjournment, the newly adopted Senate motto was displayed on the reader board in the Senate chamber.

“The purpose of this is that it sends a message to everyone who comes in here that this Senate stands for Judeo-Christian values,” Patrick stated on the Senate floor. “We can look at the words to get us through those tough times in the days and months to come.”
A week earlier, State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, introduced a similar measure in the Texas House of Represenatives that passed 141-3.

In addition to Patrick, Sen, Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, spoke in favor of the resolution and almost all the senators signed on as co-authors of the resolution.

Following the favorable remarks, Senators voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

“I am pleased my first legislative victory will forever recognize our creator and am equally honored to have all of my colleagues support the measure,” Patrick offered. “The constant reminder will offer us guidance in the many tough decisions that face us,” Senator Patrick remarked.

On April 22, 1864, the United States Congress adopted “In God We Trust” as their official motto.

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Popularity of STC’s bachelor’s program drives expansion of eligible applicant pool

As South Texas College’s Bachelor of Applied Technology (BAT) in Technology Management gains steam, the need to further open the program opportunity to additional students continues to expand. Recently the college’s Board of Trustees, after receiving formal approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), approved three more associate’s degree feeders to the program.

Students earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Aided Drafting and Design, Manufacturing Technology, Precision Manufacturing, Culinary Arts, Radiological Technology, Nursing, and Child Care and Development will all be eligible to apply for acceptance into the BAT Program. These new feeders are in addition to Business Administration, Paralegal, Business Computing Systems and Administrative Office Careers, which were the first groups of students eligible for the program since its inception in 2005.

“More and more students are inquiring about the program, so we took a look at which fields of study that these students were from, reviewed the curriculum and found that many of them would be good candidates for the BAT,” said Dr. Ali Esmaeili, associate dean for Bachelor Programs and University Relations. “We currently have more than 100 students pursing a bachelor’s degree in this program and anticipate that the number will only continue to rise every semester. Technology is a fast growing field and we are training the leaders that are needed in the maquila and other industries that are becoming the cornerstone of the Valley’s fast-paced growth.”

Students enrolled in the program will be prepared for a variety of career opportunities, including office management, paralegal management, plant supervisor, loan officer and supply chain management. Through the program, students have access to free tutoring in a variety of subjects, flexible course schedules, financial aid, a student support club, leadership activities, internships, mentorships, business networking events, job placement and a variety of other resources to ensure their academic and personal success.

“Although the BAT Program is still in its infancy when compared to other bachelor’s programs in the area, it is vital to breaking down the economic and social barriers that many of our students face,” added Dr. Esmaeili. “We hope that they will attain their bachelor’s, get into the field, gain some experience and we hope they understand that education is a lifelong process, so we also encourage them to go on to earn their MBA at The University of Texas–Pan American. They are great candidates for that program and well prepared to accept the challenges faced in industry and a master’s program. The first of our BAT students will graduate this spring and that will mark a major milestone of success, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for our current and future program students and providing the leadership needed in this vital field.”

For additional information about South Texas College’s BAT Program visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu/ba/BAT or call 872-7270.

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Gov. Perry calls for higher education reforms

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, January 31, proposed an ambitious higher education reform plan, directing responsible investment in the academic rigor and future success of Texas’ students and universities.

“Today I am proposing major reforms to higher education that will reward colleges and universities for every student that earns a degree, lead to more degrees awarded in critical fields like computer science and nursing and increase financial aid by $360 million,” Perry said. “If lawmakers adopt this plan, the ultimate result will be a higher education system that is more affordable, more accountable and more focused on meeting the needs of tomorrow’s global marketplace.”

The comprehensive higher education reform plan includes measures to:
• Increase higher education funding by $711 million in general revenue ($1.7 billion all funds).
• Increase financial aid by 60 percent, or $362 million.
• Fully fund the higher education operations formula.
• Substantially change the funding mechanism by eliminating “special items,” or earmarks, so funding increasingly follows students instead of schools.

“While our two largest university systems have been ranked among the best values in the country, we must do more to improve access to a college education for students of all income levels,” Perry said. “If students have proven themselves in high school and need financial assistance to better their future, Texas should pay their tuition and fees.”

Budgetary allocations will provide for an incentive program for well-performing universities and colleges, an increase in need-based and performance-driven financial aid, and the creation of alternative programs to address nursing shortages statewide.

The governor also repeated his call for transparency in budgetary expenditures today, recommending the Legislature eliminate vague lump sum appropriations to higher education institutions.

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Statement from Sen. Zaffirini regarding Gov. Perry’s higher education agenda

“I applaud Gov. Rick Perry and his efforts to produce a positive higher education agenda for the 80th legislative session. The governor’s proposals regarding increases in need- and performance-based financial aid, increases for my B-on-Time zero-interest higher education loan program and efforts to improve graduation rates certainly are steps in the right direction.

“I am concerned, however, with the funding reallocations that would accompany the governor’s proposals, especially the across-the-board cuts to University Special Items. The governor’s proposal details more than $614 million in reductions to special items, which includes institutional enhancements such as the South Texas Border Initiative. The South Texas Border Initiative was adopted in 1989 by the Texas Legislature to provide additional funding for border universities to help them achieve parity with other Texas institutions. Several institutions in my district and in surrounding areas within South Texas, including Texas A&M International University, the University of Texas-Pan American and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, would be impacted adversely by this proposal. It is still too early to estimate exactly how this reduction in special items will affect individual institutions, but I plan to examine closely the Governor’s proposal to ensure the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee is best informed and prepared to make the appropriate recommendations.

“I look forward to working with Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and my colleagues in the House and Senate so we may provide Texas with a higher education agenda that promotes both access and excellence.”

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Injured workers may be eligible for legal counsel

By Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

Currently in Texas, people injured on the job are at an unfair disadvantage in the court room. Their inability to work affords them little or no income to pay for legal representation.

In many cases, insurance carriers opt to file in district court when injured employees are awarded income and/or medical benefits at the administrative level because they are aware that injured individuals are often unable to obtain legal representation. Consequently, these cases often result in default judgments.

Generally insurers are at an advantage because the cost is less for legal fees than for payment of benefits. And in instances when injured employees choose to represent themselves in court, insurers routinely prevail because they have legal counsel.

I have filed a bill that will help level the playing field for both parties. Senate Bill (SB) 287 will provide district courts the authority to appoint an attorney to represent injured employees who have won approval throughout the administrative claims process.

During the 79th legislative session, we passed House Bill (HB) 7, which eliminated the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission and moved workers’ compensation under the regulatory authority of the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). HB 7 also created an independent agency to protect the interests of injured workers and advocate on their behalf. It is called the Office of Injured Employee Counsel (OIEC).

This department has identified claims cases that clearly demonstrate how the current system is failing some injured employees. SB 287 is a response to these findings. If injured employees are guaranteed the right to legal counsel, insurance carriers who are currently electing to appeal in court will be more judicious in determining when to pursue legal action.

In cases where the injured worker prevails in court, HB 7 already mandates the carrier to pay for the employee’s legal fees. However, injured employees have difficulty obtaining attorneys to represent them since they face the prospect that they may not be paid. SB 287 would guarantee that an injured employee’s attorney would be rightfully compensated for reasonable legal fees in cases where the injured employee loses the case. The fees would be reimbursed from the Subsequent Injury Fund (SIF), an account with a balance of over $40 million. The fund is maintained with taxes paid by insurance companies and is administered by TDI.

My bill would more fairly utilize the funds insurance companies are already required by law to pay into the SIF.

No one should have to forfeit a court case with merit because of the lack of money to hire an attorney. Our judicial system should be based on equity, and through SB 287, I want to ensure fairness to both sides in workers compensation cases.

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Congressman Hinojosa works on federal legislation to clean up former meth labs in homes

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, is helping communities across Texas clean up methamphetamine labs and the toxic mess they leave behind. This week, Hinojosa added his support to House Resolution 365, a bill that charges the Environmental Protection Agency with the development of guidelines to assist state and local authorities in the clean-up of former meth production sites.

“The volatile, poisonous chemicals used to make methamphetamines leave behind a toxic residue that threatens the health of anyone exposed to it,” Hinojosa said. “This is especially worrisome when you consider that most labs are mom-and-pop operations located in houses, apartments, and hotel rooms.”

In 2005, The Drug Enforcement Administration shut down over 260 meth labs in Texas and seized 2,140 pounds. The agency estimates that for every pound of meth produced, five pounds of toxic waste is created. The average direct cost of clean-up ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 per lab.

However, the true damage done by meth production is compounded when one takes into account the thousands of innocent children that authorities have discovered at these labs. Nationwide, 1,660 children were affected by, injured, or even killed at meth labs in 2005, according to the El Paso Intelligence Center.

“Virtually no corner of this country has escaped the rampant rise in meth production,” said Hinojosa. “It is imperative that we shed light on this issue and help our local communities safely clean up these hazardous sites.”

In addition to establishing those guidelines, the bill would also:

• Direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to consult with the EPA in developing technologies to detect meth labs, emphasizing in field test kits for law enforcement

• Require the National Academy of Sciences to study the long-term health impacts of meth exposure on first-responders and on children taken from meth lab sites

The Methamphetamine Remediation Act is expected to be considered soon by the full U.S. House.

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Gov. Perry orders creation of Criminal Justice Analysis Center to provide assessment of criminal justice efforts

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, January 29, issued an executive order establishing the Texas Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center (SAC) to provide objective analysis and assessment of state criminal justice programs and initiatives.

“By providing objective reports on statewide criminal justice trends, the Statistical Analysis Center will help policymakers develop effective and efficient criminal justice programs that will keep Texans safe,” Perry said. “This center will help us manage our prison population better and attract more federal funds for crime prevention and criminal justice initiatives.”

Under the governor’s order, the SAC will collect, analyze and report statewide criminal justice statistics; evaluate the effectiveness of state-funded initiatives; and disseminate analysis results to practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and the public in order to enhance the quality of criminal justice and crime prevention at all levels of government.

Perry’s directive also designates the SAC as the state’s liaison to the U.S. Department of Justice on criminal justice data reporting and research. This designation will make Texas eligible for additional federal criminal justice funding.

The SAC will be housed within the Office of the Governor and will have access to data maintained by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, the Texas Youth Commission, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and other relevant agencies as needed.

Perry designated Janna Burleson as director of the Center. Previously, Burleson served as the governor’s policy advisor for criminal justice issues. Prior to that she was a top policy advisor to Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

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Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, child safety advocates launch ‘Texas First!’ partnership

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Monday, January 29, was joined by John Walsh, host of the FOX Television program “America’s Most Wanted,” and Julie Clark, co-founder of The Safe Side Company, to announce the ‘Texas First!’ initiative, a public/private child safety partnership. At a State Capitol news conference, Dewhurst highlighted the initiative and explained how it will help K-2 students learn how to stay safe around strangers.

“Texas First! truly does put Texas Children First,” said Dewhurst. “This public/private partnership will provide every Texas school district–more than a thousand–with a curriculum that teaches our children vital safety information about strangers.”

Under the Texas First! initiative, The Safe Side Company, co-founded by Walsh and Clark, is donating more than 1,000 Stranger Safety Resource Kits to Texas school districts. The kits have two components–a curriculum that includes lesson plans and activities for classroom use, and a media library that includes 25 copies of the Stranger Safety DVD for take-home use.

Texas is the first state to participate in the program, which is focused on educating children between the ages of 5 and 10 about dangerous predators online, in schools, and in their neighborhoods.

Dewhurst has made child safety a top priority during the 80th legislative session by proposing a package of measures to protect Texas children from sexual predators, to combat illegal steroid use in high school athletics, and to equip public schools with life-saving automatic external defibrillators (AEDs).

The centerpiece of Dewhurst’s Texas Children First plan is the nation’s toughest Jessica’s Law proposal, which would require a 25-year to life sentence for first-time violent sexual offenses, and give prosecutors the option of seeking the death penalty for repeat violent sexual offenses. Dewhurst’s proposal also would double the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children from 10 to 20 years.

To learn more about the Texas First! initiative, visit the Lt. Governor’s web site at http://www.ltgov.state.tx.us or the Safe Side web site https://www.thesafeside.com/texasfirst/.

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Sen. Lucio files bill to provide vital services for autism, a brain disorder which affects children

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr, D-Brownsville, on Thursday, February 2, filed Senate Bill 419 to improve the outlook of children afflicted with Autism.

Autism is a disorder of brain function that appears early in life, generally before the age of three. Children with autism have problems with social interaction, communication, imagination and behavior. Autistic traits persist into adulthood, but vary in severity. Some adults with autism function well, earning college degrees and living independently. Others never develop the skills of daily living, and may be incorrectly diagnosed with a variety of psychiatric illnesses. The cause is unknown.

“On behalf of thousands of Texas families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), I am extremely excited to announce new legislation that will help assure vital services are provided for children and adults diagnosed with this condition” said Lucio.

The language in SB 419 is the culmination of six years of research on how to most effectively and affordably serve individuals with ASD in Texas. SB 419 defines autism as a neurobiological disorder and includes language to prevent insurance companies from denying routine coverage to enrollees diagnosed with autism. SB 419 will ensure that individuals in need of routine services are equally covered by their health plan, regardless of whether they have an autism diagnosis.

SB 419 will also add Texas to a list of 17 states that require early intervention treatments for children with autism. According to Lucio, “Twenty-five years of research demonstrates that when autistic children are provided with a comprehensive set of intensive services at an early age, more than 40 percent are able to enter and succeed in regular classrooms, and another 40 percent make remarkable gains in functional ability.”

SB 419 requires that health plans cover all services included in a physician prescribed treatment plan for children with autism ages 3 to 5 years and encourages them to continue covering treatment as long as necessary.

Numerous studies indicate that early interventions for children with autism could cut associated lifelong costs by two-thirds. “Early intervention can mean the difference between helping a child achieve the ability to engage in a conversation with a parent and a child incapable of even maintaining eye contact,” explained Sen. Lucio.

The United States currently spends $90 billion on ASD related services each year, 90 percent of which is used for adult services.

“With ASD rates growing between 10 and 17 percent per year, we as a state and a nation must do everything in our ability to offset the impact, starting by ensuring that young children get the services they need,” added Lucio. “By refusing key services to children with autism, we are condemning them and their families to a lifetime of unnecessary hardship and social isolation.”

The staff member handling this issue for Lucio is Ms. Katharine Volti, policy analyst, 512-463-0127.

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Gov. Perry establishes HPV vaccination program for young women

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, February 2, issued an executive order directing the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to adopt rules requiring all girls age 11 and 12 to receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prior to entering sixth grade, effective September 2008. The executive order also directs HHSC and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to make the vaccine immediately available to eligible young females through the Texas Vaccines for Children program for young women ages 9 to 18, and through Medicaid for women ages 19 to 21.

“The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer,” said Perry. “Requiring young girls to get vaccinated before they come into contact with HPV is responsible health and fiscal policy that has the potential to significantly reduce cases of cervical cancer and mitigate future medical costs.”

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Today, approximately 20 million people in the nation are infected, including one in four 15 to 24 year olds. Certain strains of HPV cause most cases of cervical cancer. Texas has the second highest number of women suffering from this devastating disease in the nation. In 2006, there were 1,169 new cases and nearly 400 deaths from cervical cancer in the state.

Parents may choose to opt out of mandatory vaccinations for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs. The governor’s executive order directs DSHS to ease the opt out process by providing exemption request forms online.

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Sen. Cornyn presses DHS to ensure border officials’ concerns are heard during US-VISIT implementation

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and ranking member of the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee, said on Wednesday, January 31, that implementation of the US-VISIT program must target threats, facilitate legitimate travel and include input from the border community.

Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee’s Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security subcommittee, served as Ranking Member during a hearing of that panel, which received testimony from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials and other witnesses. The hearing was titled: “US-VISIT: Challenges and Strategies for Securing the U.S. Border.”

“DHS must continue working hard to ensure that it continually receives the input of the public and interested stakeholders, such as 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. As we continue working toward additional security measures, 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.”

Cornyn addressed border leaders in the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, January 27, and hosted a meeting with Texas border mayors and other leaders in his Washington office in mid-January to discuss these and other issues. In addition, he has met with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials to make sure the border community’s concerns are heard.

Witnesses who testified at the hearing included: Robert A. Mocny, Acting Director, US-VISIT, Department of Homeland Security and Richard Barth, Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy Development, Department of Homeland Security.

On a related note, on Monday, January 29, Cornyn introduced legislation permitting laser visa holders—temporary, fully-screened travelers from Mexico—to stay in the United States up to six months. The Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007, S. 422, extends the length of stay for these visitors from 30 days to six months, or parity with Canadians.

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Edinburg City Council to meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 6

EDINBURG CITY COUNCIL

CITY OF EDINBURG,

HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS

Location: University of Texas – Pan American
International Trade and Technology Building
1201 West University Drive
300 Block, Dr. Miguel Nevarez Drive

FEBRUARY 06, 2007

REGULAR MEETING AGENDA 7:00 P.M.

I. CALL TO ORDER, ESTABLISH QUORUM.

A. Prayer.

B. Pledge of Allegiance by Gene Espinoza, Mayor Pro Tem.

II. CERTIFICATION OF PUBLIC NOTICE.

III. PUBLIC COMMENTS.

IV. MAYOR’S REPORT.

V. CITY MANAGER’S REPORT.

VI. PRESENTATIONS.

A. Presentation of Proclamation Recognizing February 2007 as National Children’s Dental Month, as Requested by Dentists Who Care, Inc.

B. Presentation of Proclamation Recognizing Joaquin Rodriguez, Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg-Rio Grande Valley “2007 Youth of the Year.”

C. Proclamation Presentation Recognizing February 2007 as Arbor Month, as Requested by the Edinburg Environment Committee.

D. Presentation on Fiesta Edinburg, as Requested by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

E. Presentation, as Requested by the South Texas Agricultural Roundup (STAR).

F. Presentation on Rio Metro Transit Services by Tom Reyna, Assistant Director of Transit Services, Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.

VII. PUBLIC HEARINGS/ORDINANCES.

A. Consider Ordinance Providing for a Temporary Special Use Permit for a Carnival to be held from February 19 to February 25, 2007 at the Edinburg Municipal Park, on the south half of Lot 11, Section 268, Texas-Mexican Railway Company Survey, located at the intersection of Raul Longoria Road and East Sprague Street, as requested by Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

B. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for the Renewal of a Special Use Permit for an On-Premise Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages for Fast Eddie’s, on Lot 2 and the west 20 feet of Lot 3, Block 1, Vector Addition, located at 815 North Closner Boulevard, as requested by Robert Wilson, representing 815 Eddie, Inc.

C. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for a Special Use Permit for an On-Premise Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages for Candela Bar, on Lot 3, Trenton Crossroads Plaza Subdivision, located at 2101 West Trenton Road, as requested by Victor S. Haddad, representing Seju Capital Investments, L.P.

D. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for the Rezoning Request from R-A1, Single Family Residence District to C-2, General Business District, being 1.062 acres out of Lot 10, Section 276, Texas-Mexican Railway Company Survey, located approximately 950 feet east of McColl Road on the south side of University Drive, as requested by Rasec, L.L.C.

E. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for the Rezoning Request from R-A1, Single Family Residence District to R-A2, Single Family Residence District, All of the 40 acres, Wisteria Heights Subdivision, located on the southeast corner of Schunior Road and Hoehn Road, as requested by Hector Guerra.

VIII. AWARDING OF BIDS/CONTRACTUAL.

A. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-28, Installation of the Geosynthetics, to Texas Environmental Plastics, LTD., from Houston, Texas, in the Amount of $271,099.50.

B. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-30, Computer Technology Equipment (Computers and Laptops) from Valley Network LLC, CDWG and Dell Computers for Various Departments Within the City, in the Amount of $49,517.97.

C. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-46, Street Asphalt Recycling, to Mission Paving Company, Inc., in the Amount of $145,000.

D. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-47, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program to Benchmark Construction.

E. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-48, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program to Benchmark Construction.

F. Consider Purchase of One (1) S185 Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader to Bobcat Company of West Fargo, ND, in the amount of $19,044.

G. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Enter Into An Inter-local Agreement for Cooperation and Joint Sponsorship with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council for Rio Metro-Edinburg Bus Shelters.

IX. CONSENT AGENDA.

A. Consider Authorizing the Interim City Manager to Renew the Farm Lease Agreement for Airport Land with L.M.B. Partnership, LTD., For a One (1) Year Term Beginning January 16, 2007, through January 15, 2008.

B. Consider Authorizing the Interim City Manager to Enter Into a Rural Emergency Services Contract with the County of Hidalgo for Rural Emergency Services Provided by the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department.

C. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Enter Into An Engineering Agreement With Golder Associates, Inc. for Construction Quality Assurance for Cell SD8 for Permit 956B at the Edinburg Regional Sanitary Landfill.

D. Consider Transfers of Funds in the Fiscal Year 2006-2007 Budget Within the Following Accounts:

1. Airport: From Streets Account to Professional Services Account, in the Amount of $1,125.

2. Planning and Zoning: From Personnel Services Account to Office Supplies Account, in the Amount of $2,636.36.

3. CDBG: From Various Accounts to Colonia Rodriguez Sewer Hookups Account and Contractual Rehabilitation Housing-32nd Year Account, in the Amount of $66,354.83.

4. CDBG: From 31 st Year Entitlement, 30th Year Entitlement, and 29th Year Entitlement Accounts to Reprogrammed Funds 32 nd Year Account, in the Amount of $66,354.83.

X. EXECUTIVE SESSION.

The City Council will convene in Executive Session, in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act, Vernon’s Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated, Government Code, Chapter 551, Subchapter D, Exceptions to Requirement that Meetings be Open, §551.071, Consultation with Attorney; Closed Meeting.

1. Settlement Proposal Regarding Cause No. CCD-1493-A; City of Edinburg vs. Grande Valley Homes; In the County Court at Law No. 1 of Hidalgo County, Texas.

2. Legal Discussion: Status of Proposals for Professional Services for Collection of Municipal Court Delinquent Fees and Fines.

OPEN SESSION:

The City Council will convene in Open Session to take necessary action, if any, in accordance with Chapter 551, Open Meetings, Subchapter E, Procedures Relating to Closed Meeting, §551.102, Requirement to Vote or Take Final Action in Open Meeting.

XI. ADJOURNMENT.

I hereby certify this Notice of a City Council Meeting was posted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, at both bulletin boards located at the main entrances to the City Offices of the City of Edinburg, and at the 210 West McIntyre entrance outside bulletin board, visible and accessible to the general public during and after regular working hours. This notice was posted on February 02, 2007 at 6:35 p.m.

By: /s/Myra Garza, City Secretary

City of Edinburg, Texas

[All matters listed under Consent Agenda are considered to be routine by the Governing Body and will be enacted by one motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items. If discussion is desired, that item will be removed from the consent agenda and will be considered separately.]

IF ACCOMMODATIONS FOR A DISABILITY ARE REQUIRED, NOTIFY THE CITY SECRETARY DEPT. AT 383-5661 PRIOR TO THE MEETING DATE. WITH REGARD TO ANY ITEM, THE CITY COUNCIL MAY TAKE VARIOUS ACTIONS; INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO RESCHEDULING AN ITEM IN ITS ENTIRETY FOR A FUTURE DATE OR TIME. THE CITY COUNCIL MAY ELECT TO GO INTO EXECUTIVE SESSION ON ANY ITEM WHETHER OR NOT SUCH ITEM IS POSTED AS AN EXECUTIVE SESSION ITEM AT ANY TIME DURING THE MEETING WHEN AUTHORIZED BY THE PROVISIONS OF THE OPEN MEETINGS ACT.

Edinburg’s jobless rate in December drops to 4.2 percent, best in Valley

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Tuesday, January 23, honored the memory of the late Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio – which would have been Madla’s 70th birthday. The veteran lawmaker was killed November 24, 2006 in a house fire in San Antonio. Co-authoring the Memorial Resolution was Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who also honored Madla’s five-year-old granddaughter, Aleena, and his mother-in-law, Mary Cruz, 81, both of whom perished in the fire, with separate resolutions that Lucio coauthored. The entire body of the Senate signed onto all three documents. Accepting the resolutions were Madla’s wife, Helen Madla; son, Dr. Frank Madla III; daughter, Marci Madla; brother, Ralph Madla; and other members of the family. Featured in this portrait, which was taken on the floor of the Senate chambers, are Lucio (center), presenting a Texas State Cemetery flag to Dr. Frank Madla, Jr. and his wife, Nenette, pictured to the right of Lucio. At the far right is Marci Madla, who also received a flag. Left to right are Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington; Van de Putte, and Helen Madla, who received the flag that was draped over her husband’s coffin at the burial.

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The City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation have announced the revitalization of the “I Shop Edinburg” campaign. The renewed campaign kicked off in early January, and will continue through December 2008. The mission of I SHOP is to promote economic growth in Edinburg resulting in improved city services by encouraging residents to trade with local merchants, who will provide quality goods and services, thus securing a better future for the Edinburg community. All Edinburg businesses are invited to participate. Any business owner interested in benefiting from the I Shop Edinburg campaign may call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce to get a logo. Shoppers can save money by patronizing participating businesses by looking for the I SHOP logo. To pick up an I SHOP savings card, stop by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, Edinburg City Hall, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, or call 956-383-4974 for more information about the program.

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On Tuesday, January 16, Kiwanis Clubs of District 11 were honored with a visit by Texas/Oklahoma Kiwanis Governor William E. Crump, III and his wife Jane, at the ECHO Hotel. Crump updated area Kiwanis Clubs on local Texas/Oklahoma initiatives and asked for the clubs support with issues such as events, fundraisers, meetings and seminars occurring across the state. He has served as an active member of the Kiwanis Club organization for the past thirty-two years with thirty years perfect attendance of club meetings. Lt. Gov. Terry Wilson who represents District 11 was also present at the special event. The Edinburg Kiwanis Club hosts community events and fundraisers throughout the year. The annual Pancake Breakfast will be held on Saturday, February 3, 2007 from 7-11 a.m. at the ECHO Hotel. Tickets are only $3 and include all the pancakes you can eat, free coffee or milk, and one serving of sausage. Tickets can be purchased at the door or through any Edinburg Kiwanis member. For more information, please call Letty Martínez at 956-383-4974.

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Edinburg’s jobless rate in December drops to 4.2 percent, best in Valley, better than state average

Edinburg’s jobless rate, which is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy, dropped to 4.2 percent in December, the best showing in the Valley for the fifth month in 2006, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

At 4.2 percent, the local showing was also better than the Texas average of 4.5 percent, which is the lowest statewide average in five years, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.

As of December, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, 1,169 Edinburg residents were looking for jobs, while 26,752 local residents were employed.

The jobless rate, also known as the unemployment rate, is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed.

To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and actively seeking work.

The jobless rate for Hidalgo County was 6.6 percent in December, same as the previous month, representing 18,649 area residents without jobs, while 262,795 residents were employed during that month.

McAllen had the lowest monthly unemployment rates during seven months of 2006, followed by Edinburg, which had that distinction during five monthly reporting periods.

In December, McAllen reported a 4.4 percent jobless rate.

Cameron County’s jobless rate in December was 5.7 percent, representing 8,404 people looking for work and 138,090 residents holding down jobs.

Harlingen had the third-best showing among major Valley cities in December, reporting a 4.7 percent jobless rate, followed by Mission and Pharr, which each registered 5 percent unemployment rates for that month.

Also for December, Brownsville posted a 5.7 percent jobless rate, followed by Weslaco, with its 6.1 percent unemployment rate.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent in November and from 5.2 percent in December 2005.
The declining unemployment rate continues to set records for the lowest rate in five years. The state unemployment rate matches the U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.

Seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment grew by 15,600 jobs in December as Texas employers continue adding jobs.

Over the last 12 months, the Texas economy grew by 213,200 jobs, with an over-the-year growth rate of 2.2 percent. Texas employers now have added jobs for 27 consecutive months.

“Record-setting low unemployment rates and high job growth highlight the strength of the Texas economy,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Diane Rath. “Employers are displaying confidence as they continue to add jobs.”

Trade, Transportation & Utilities contributed 6,700 jobs in December, the largest increase within a sector.

Employment in Construction rose by 2,800 jobs over the month, for a total of 44,700 jobs since December 2005.

“Both the goods producing and service providing sectors experienced broad-based growth in December,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “Employment gains in Construction jumped 7.7 percent over the year, and Professional & Business Services added 46,000 jobs over the same period.”

Financial Activities employment displayed a significant increase of 3,100 jobs in December. This was the largest December job gain recorded in the group in over a decade. Financial Activities completed 2006 with a total of 19,300 jobs created for an annual growth rate of 3.1 percent.

“For Texans seeking employment, now is the time to find work,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “The tremendous job growth means many opportunities in a variety of industries.”

Natural Resources & Mining employment increased for the seventh consecutive month, adding 1,500 jobs in December.

The industry finished the year with a total of 11,800 positions gained in 2006 representing an annual growth rate of 6.9 percent.

Initial claims for unemployment compensation in December 2006 were 56,501, down 4.8 percent from a year ago.

The Texas Workforce Commission is a state agency dedicated to helping Texas employers, workers and communities prosper economically.

For details on TWC and the programs it offers in unison with its network of local workforce development boards, call (512) 463-8556 or visit http://www.texasworkforce.org.

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com

For more information on the people and politics that impact Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com

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Mayor Ochoa to deliver The State of the City address during Wednesday, January 31 luncheon at ECHO

Mayor Joe Ochoa will address the community as part of the upcoming Public Affairs Luncheon, hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, on Wednesday, January 31, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the ECHO Hotel in Edinburg.

Ochoa will present the annual State of the City speech, which will cover topics such as major city projects, economic overview, and the legislative agenda for the City of Edinburg.

Ochoa is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science Degree in pharmacy with certification in immunization, diabetes care, and nutrition. He is self-employed as a retail pharmacist and owner of two community pharmacies and other business ventures.

Ochoa has served as mayor for several terms, from May 1993 to May 2003, and from May 2006 through the present. His current term continues through May 2009.

Ochoa served as an Edinburg school board member from May 1981 to May 1993, is past President and current member of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, co-chairman of I-69 Alliance – Highway 281, past chairman and present member of Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Also, other public service endeavors include him serving as a member South Texas Border Partnership, past member of NAITCP (National Association of International Trade Corridor Partnership), has achieved two “All American City” awards as Mayor for Edinburg in 1995 and 2000 plus an Outstanding Business Award 1995 from UTPA-SIFE, Ochoa received the Leadership in Economic Development award from the American Economic Development Council in 1995 and lastly, received the Clean Cities Award in 2000 and 2001, which held State of Texas Recognition.

The Public Affairs Luncheons are a new initiative introduced in 2006 and part of the chamber’s vision to inform, involve and educate chamber members and civic leaders. The event allows business people to meet, network and create opportunities for the companies they represent.

“The chamber of commerce encourages all chamber investors and others interested in learning about hot topics affecting our community and the Rio Grande Valley to attend,” commented Elva Jackson-Garza, Vice Chair of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Membership Committee. “We would like to thank our sponsors for their generous time and donations: Edwards Abstract & Title Co., AT&T, and Time Warner Cable.”

The cost to attend is $10 per person, and will include a hot lunch, beverage and dessert. For more information on programs and events sponsored by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, please call 956-383-4974.

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Sen. Hinojosa presses Gov. Perry, U.S. officials to improve access by children to medical care

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Friday, January 28, released the following statement regarding the visit by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to announce to offer federal assistance for Texas-based initiatives to improve access to health care:

“I applaud the effort to free up state leaders to explore innovative ways to make sure all eligible Texans have access to the high-quality, affordable health care they deserve, especially when it comes to the federal Medicaid program and how it serves children.

“My bottom line is simple and straightforward — if a criminal has the right to see an attorney, a child should have the right to see a doctor. Period.

“How we reach that goal should be a top priority of this legislative session.

“U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) estimates that Texas forfeits more than $600 million in available federal funding each year by not enrolling more eligible children in the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program. This makes no moral or financial sense.

“I look forward to working with Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and my colleagues in the Texas Senate to make sure we take advantage of this new-found freedom announced today to try to find new ways to make Medicaid more effective and efficient as part of a comprehensive agenda for addressing the health care needs of all Texans.”

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Gov. Perry and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Leavitt discuss restructuring Medicaid

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, January 26, joined U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt and state lawmakers to discuss restructuring the state’s Medicaid program. As the cost of managing the Medicaid program continues to grow, the state must develop new approaches to sustain the program that serves 2.7 million vulnerable, disabled and elderly Texans.

“Texas cannot continue to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to Medicaid,” Perry said. “Escalating costs and increasing enrollment has made our current system unsustainable. Together, with our state and federal partners, we must develop a more flexible and efficient system of providing safe, quality medical care to those who need it most.”

In 10 years (1994 to 2004), the cost of Medicaid doubled in Texas, now constituting 26 percent of the state’s budget. In the near future, Gov. Perry will suggest reforming Texas’ Medicaid program through:

• Providing customized benefit packages for specific populations;

• Providing assistance for enrollment in private insurance and employer-sponsored plans; and

• Promoting consumer choice through health savings accounts and consumer directed services.

At the January 26 event, Perry emphasized the importance of greater flexibility in managing diverse Medicaid populations. Children represent 70 percent of the Medicaid population and only 30 percent of the cost, while the elderly and those with special needs represent 21 percent of the Medicaid population and account for about 60 percent of the cost.

“The best insurance plan for pregnant women and children is not the same as the best plan for elderly Texans who need long-term care,” Perry said. “I would like to create Medicaid benefit packages that target specific groups, such as a plan for healthy children and adults, a separate plan for children with special needs, and a third plan for adults with disabilities and long-term care needs.”

On Thursday, January 25, HHS awarded Texas $4 million for Medicaid “transformation grants” to support the development of electronic health passports for children in foster care. Electronic health passports ensure greater continuity of care for a population of children that often receives treatment from a variety of physicians due to changing living arrangements.

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Rep. Peña’s appointment as House panel chairman in honor of his late son, says Speaker Craddick

State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Friday, January 26, was appointed to serve on two House committees, including serving as chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

The committee assignments were made by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

Craddick said he selected Peña to lead the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, not only because he was qualified, but also because the Speaker of the House made a special effort to recognize the representative’s late son.

“I am proud to make this appointment in the memory of John Austin Peña,” Craddick said, noting that Pena’s son was the motivation for his father to eventually enter public service.

Peña said he was grateful for the appointment, and vowed to work on behalf of all Texans who face difficulties in their lives, particularly from the threat or consequences of crime, including substance abuse.

“I am honored to have been given the opportunity to lead this very important committee,” said Peña. “Chairing Criminal Jurisprudence and being named to Ways and Means gives our community a stronger voice in the leadership of the state. These assignments give me a special opportunity to keep working on substance abuse and mental health policy.”

The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence has nine members, with jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

(1) criminal law, prohibitions, standards, and penalties;

(2) probation and parole;

(3) criminal procedure in the courts of Texas;

(4) revision or amendment of the Penal Code; and

(5) the following state agencies: the Office of State Prosecuting Attorney and the Texas State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision.

During the 2005 regular session, Peña served as a member of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. The top position on that House panel became available when Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, retired from the Legislature.

But as a result of his Peña’s chairmanship, under the rules that govern the Texas House of Representatives, a state representative who is chairman of a House committee can not serve on the House Appropriations Committee, which develops the state budget for the House of Representatives.

Peña selection to the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has nine members, will give him considerable influence over the following legislation and issues:

(1) all bills and resolutions proposing to raise state revenue;

(2) all bills or resolutions proposing to levy state taxes or other fees;

(3) all proposals to modify, amend, or change any existing state tax or revenue statute;

(4) all proposals to regulate the manner of collection of state revenues and taxes;

(5) all bills and resolutions containing provisions resulting in automatic allocation of funds from the state treasury;

(6) all bills and resolutions diverting funds from the state treasury or preventing funds from going in that otherwise would be placed in the state treasury;

(7) all bills and resolutions relating to the Tax Code; and

(8) the following state agencies: the Office of Multistate Tax Compact Commissioner for Texas and the State Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Peña’s promotion to chairmanship came after he supported Craddick’s bid for reelection to a third-two year term as Speaker of the House, arguably the most powerful state legislator in state government.

The Speaker of the House is elected every two years, on the first day of the regular session, by a vote among the 150-members of the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House needs 76 votes to secure a victory.

Peña supported Craddick against Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston, who announced for speaker last spring before dropping out of the race late last year. Then, Peña stood by Craddick – even seconded his nomination on the House chamber – when Craddick was unsuccessfully challenged by Rep. Jim Pits, a Republican from Waxahachie.

Hidalgo County Democratic Chairman Juan Maldonado summed up the sentiments of many community leaders regarding the chairmanship.

“Rep. Peña continues to serve his constituents well,” said Maldonado. “South Texas needs more good Democrats to assume leadership roles in our state government.

Peña said his selection to the House Committee on Ways and Means is significant but more importantly and of greater impact to South Texas was his appointment to serve as Chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

Peña noted that Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, retained his chairmanship of the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures, which has jurisdiction over legislation dealing with businesses, industries, general trades, and occupations regulated by the state.

Peña said the appointments made by Craddick along with other top assignments “have led many to consider this Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation as the strongest in the history of the state.

“I am honored to have been given the opportunity to lead this very important committee,” said Peña. “Chairing this committee and being named to Ways and Means gives our community a stronger voice in the leadership of the state.”

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, was another Craddick loyalist who was repaid with plum committee assignments. Guillen was selected by Craddick as the Vice Chair of Appropriations,

“Rep. Peña has always been a strong advocate for the Rio Grande Valley. His leadership appointment brings strength to the South Texas and border delegations,” said Guillen.

As Chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Peña has the power to call meetings, set the agenda and influence legislation in that committee.

“The committee is especially significant because many members of the Texas House file numerous

bills regarding criminal jurisprudence issues,” Peña said.

The committee is charged with writing state criminal laws, prohibitions, standards, and penalties. It also has jurisdiction over probation, parole and criminal procedure in the courts of Texas. The committee maintains sole control over any changes made to the Texas Penal Code, which determines punishment for our most serious crimes.

“As our state grows so do the challenges facing our criminal justice system,” said Peña. “Many of our jails are operating at maximum capacity and we are once again faced with the decision of building more prisons or expanding probation and diversion programs. As the Lt. Gov. mentioned in his inaugural speech, we face critical problems regarding sexual predators in our communities. I am ready for the challenge of finding solutions to these complex issues.”

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Rep. Gonzáles will influence health care, Texas courts with appointments to House Public Health, Judiciary committees

State Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Friday, January 25, was appointed by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to serve on the House Public Health and Judiciary committee.

“I am thrilled that I received my top two choices for committee assignments,” said Gonzáles. “Health care is an extremely critical issue in our state and our nation, and is especially important in the Rio Grande Valley, where so many do not have access to healthcare,” said the House District 41 lawmaker, who represents southwest Edinburg. “The tremendous need for public health issues to be addressed is evident by the many hospitals and medical facilities serving Valley residents in my district.”

The Public Health Committee is responsible for the protection of public health, including supervision and control of the practice of medicine and dentistry and other allied health services.

The Public Health Committee has nine members, with jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

(1) the protection of public health, including supervision and control of the practice of medicine and dentistry and other allied health services;

(2) mental health and the development of programs incident thereto;

(3) the prevention and treatment of mental illness;

(4) oversight of the Health and Human Services Commission as it relates to the subject matter jurisdiction of this committee; and

(5) the following state agencies: the Department of State Health Services, the Anatomical Board of the State of Texas, the Texas Funeral Service Commission, the State Committee of Examiners in the Fitting and Dispensing of Hearing Instruments, the Texas Optometry Board, the Radiation Advisory Board, the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, the Board of Nurse Examiners, the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners, the Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, the Texas State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the State Board of Dental Examiners, the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, the Advisory Board of Athletic Trainers, the Dental Hygiene Advisory Committee, the State Board of Barber Examiners, the Texas Cosmetology Commission, the Texas Cancer Council, the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners, the Health Professions Council, the Office of Patient Protection, the Texas Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Perfusionists, and the Texas Health Care Information Council.

“I appreciate the importance of good health and look forward to working on legislation that will improve the quality of public health for my constituents,” said Gonzáles.

“I am likewise pleased to be reappointed to serve on the Judiciary committee which oversees matters relating to judges and the creation or changes to courts in the State of Texas,” she continued. “Last session, I was able to secure the passage of legislation that created a new district court, a new county court, increased jury pay and salary increases to our Texas judges. I feel confident that my experience as an attorney will continue to benefit my service on this committee and the legal system in Texas.”

The Judiciary Committee has nine members, with jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

(1) uniform state laws;

(2) creating, changing, or otherwise affecting courts of judicial districts of the state;

(3) establishing districts for the election of judicial officers;

(4) the Texas Judicial Council;

(5) the State Commission on Judicial Conduct;

(6) the Office of the Attorney General, including its organization, powers, functions, and responsibilities;

(7) courts and court procedures except where jurisdiction is specifi cally granted to some other standing committee; and

(8) the following state agencies: the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Office of Court Administration of the Texas Judicial System, the State Law Library, the Texas Judicial Council, the Office of the Attorney General, the Court Reporters Certification Board, and the Board of Law Examiners.

Gonzáles explained that thousands of pieces of legislation will be considered by the Legislature this session, and the committee process closely analyzes legislation before Representatives vote on bills on the House Floor. Taking an active role as a committee member enables her to have greater input on a large number of bills covering a wide range of issues.

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Speaker Craddick outlines process for committee appointments, appoints 14 new committee leaders

Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Friday, January 26, announced the House committee assignments. The appointments are a culmination of weeks of meetings between Craddick and the members in what was a long and thoughtful process.

“The committee assignments reflect the preferences of each individual member, to the degree that it could be achieved,” Craddick said. “I made these appointments after weeks of discussions with legislators, and I believe this leadership team strikes a balance between experience and the diverse interests of this state. The subsequent selection of subcommittee chairmen will round out the committee process. I want these members to go forth in carrying out the business of the state and in achieving the goals they have set for themselves and their constituents.”

Craddick appointed 14 new chairmen to reflect the ever-changing face of the House membership. He expressed his belief that the committees are one of the most important components of the legislative process.

Faced with challenging issues such as appraisal reform, property tax relief, water conservation and healthcare costs, the House leadership team will focus on reaching solutions in a bipartisan and pragmatic manner, said Craddick, who added he wished to thank the House members for their patience and goodwill throughout the whole committee selection process.

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Sen. Hinojosa says scholars program for Hispanic legislative interns reaches $200,000 funding goal

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Thursday, January 25, said the innovative Senator Gregory Luna Memorial Luna Scholars and Fellows Program met its fundraising goal of $200,000 when Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, a Republican, and others gave generous contributions to provide fellowships for Texas’ future leaders and make it possible for them to work in the Texas Legislature during the current session.

Hinojosa, chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, which oversees the fellowship program, thanked his Senate colleagues and Dewhurst for their commitment to the innovative program.

“Hosting these young scholars and mentoring them helps build the future leaders of Texas,” Hinojosa said. “It is especially important for them to have the opportunity to serve in a vital office like the Lt. Governor’s, and we are especially pleased by his support and commitment and his leadership in helping us surpass our fundraising goals for this important program.”

Hinojosa also congratulated the 16 scholars currently participating in the fellowship program, which is named after the late Gregory Luna, a longtime Texas senator, a strong education advocate and onetime chair of the Senate Hispanic Caucus.

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Hidalgo County revisits issue of illegal drug use by employees; Judge Salinas, Commissioner Garza volunteer to be first to be tested

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, along with Precinct 4 Commissioner Oscar Garza Jr., on Wednesday, January 24, volunteered to be the first to submit to random drug testing.

“Hidalgo County employees need to be sober, sincere and professionally accountable to taxpayers,” Salinas said. “I am more than willing to go first and I’m also volunteering the staff of the county judge’s office to be tested right away.”

Garza said his office was also volunteering to lead the way.

“Everyone from me to the janitor will be tested,” Garza said. “And we don’t mind going first.”

Hidalgo County’s drug and alcohol policy came under fire when a county employee returned to his job of interviewing inmates at the detention facility, after he allegedly consumed alcohol during his lunch hour.

That employee was initially given a punishment of three months probation, but was eventually fired.

The county adopted a policy in 2005 and a drug testing company was contracted, however pre-employment testing and random checks were never implemented.

Salinas said he wants both random drug tests and pre-employment screens to begin immediately. Officials expect both tests to begin as early as next week.

“I’m interested in knowing why the drug testing was never started in 2005,” Salinas said. “But I’m even more interested in getting the testing started immediately.”

Members of the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court will vote on the revised drug testing policy at their Monday, January 29 meeting.

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Mrs. Francisca V. Flores, 72, mother of Rep. Flores, passes away

Francisca V. Flores, 72, mother of State Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, passed away on Monday, January 22, at Lifecare Hospitals of South Texas in McAllen.

Born October 19, 1934 in Cuevitas, Texas to Nieves and María Luisa Villalón, Mrs. Flores was married for 54 years to Gumaro Flores.

She was a patient, forgiving, and educating person, always taking the opportunity to teach and pass on knowledge as evident having worked more than 30 years with children. She will be missed by all who knew her.

She was preceded in death by her parents and her two sisters, Estela Flores and Josefina Gómez, and by her brother Nieves Villalón, Jr.

She is survived by her loving husband, Gumaro Flores; her daughter Esmeralda Amany, and her son, Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores. She is also survived by her only only daughter-in-law, Debra Y. Flores, Kino’s loving wife of 29 years. Debra has always been supportive of her husband and her mother-in-law.

Also surviving her are three grandchildren, Kino, Jr., Kareema Anany, and Eric Daniel Flores.

Pallbearers for her funeral were Ismael Flores, Jr., Hugo Villalón, Isaac Suelmana, Isaias García, Macario Solís and Arnulfo Flores.

Honorary pallbearers were Kino, Jr., Kareema Anany and Eric Daniel Flores.

Visitation for Mrs. Flores was held Tuesday, January 23 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with prayer service at 7 p.m. at L&I Funeral Home, 1005 West Expressway 83 in Peñitas.

Funeral mass was celebrated Wednesday, January 24 at 2 p.m. with Pastor Jaime Chapa from El Faro Bible Church at L&I Funeral Home Chapel in Peñitas.

Burial followed at New Sullivan City Cemetery in Sullivan City. L&I Funeral Home was in charge of the funeral arrangements.

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Former Congressman Kika de la Garza, wife Lucille, honored by Rep. Gonzáles, House of Representatives

The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday, January 24, unanimously approved House Resolution 86, authored by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, which honors the lifetime contributions of former U.S. Congressman Kika de la Garza, D-Mission, and his wife, Lucille, who is an Edinburg native.

The text of the congratulatory resolution follows:

WHEREAS, The Honorable Kika de la Garza and his wife, Lucille de la Garza, have been selected to receive the Golden Eagle Award from the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in recognition of their many significant contributions to the benefit of their fellow citizens; and

WHEREAS, The first couple to jointly receive this award, the de la Garzas are highly regarded for their efforts in support of their community, most notably through Congressman de la Garza’s

dedicated public service as a longtime member of the Texas and U.S. House of Representatives and through Mrs. de la Garza’s myriad civic endeavors; and

WHEREAS, Congressman and Mrs. de la Garza both hail from the Rio Grande Valley, he from Mercedes and she from Edinburg, and they continue to make their home in the Valley today as residents of McAllen; reminders of the respect and admiration felt for the de la Garzas abound, including such namesakes as the Kika de la Garza Border Crossing Station, Lucy’s Garden at the Butterfly Gardens in Mission, and the Kika de la Garza Federal Building in McAllen; and

WHEREAS, A 12-year member of the Texas House of Representatives and a 32-year member of the United States Congress, Congressman de la Garza cofounded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus

and was a driving force for positive change during his legislative tenure, and he has rendered invaluable service to this state and nation as an expert in national and international law as it relates to agriculture and commerce; his extensive list of honors includes distinguished service awards from Texas A&M University and the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, and the Order of the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest honor for foreigners; and

WHEREAS, Mrs. de la Garza has deep roots in the Valley, descending from a long line of area Democrats and regional pioneers; named Distinguished Democrat of the Year for 2002 by the

Hidalgo County Democratic Party, she currently serves on the Advisory Board for the North American Butterfly Association and Lucy’s Garden; honored as the first Mother of the Year by AVANCE-Rio Grande Valley, she joins former First Lady Barbara Bush as one of only two people to have christened two U.S. Navy vessels; and

WHEREAS, Congressman and Mrs. de la Garza have earned the esteem of countless people in Texas and beyond through their civic, charitable, and political efforts, and their selection as recipients of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Golden Eagle Award is indeed well-deserved; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate the Honorable Kika de la Garza and Lucille de la Garza on their receipt of the Golden Eagle Award from the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and commend the de la Garzas for their extensive contributions to residents of the Rio Grande Valley and the Lone Star State; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for the de la Garzas as an expression of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives.

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Congressman Cuellar appointed to chair Homeland Security subcommittee

Congressman Henry Cuellar has been selected to serve as Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness & Response.

The Subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes: interoperability and other emergency communications; first responders; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); state and local preparedness and response; private sector preparedness; national response plans and planning; and public health preparedness.

“I’m deeply honored and humbled to have been chosen to serve as the chairman of such an essential subcommittee,” said Cuellar. “The Emergency Communications, Preparedness & Response Subcommittee plays a crucial role in ensuring that our local police and fire departments have the tools they need to effective. I look forward to working with my committee colleagues to improve our nation’s ability to respond to emergency situations. Whether it’s local first responders or federal disaster response, Americans should have faith in their government’s ability to respond to unforeseen incidents.”

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said, “It gives me great pleasure to welcome Henry to the Committee on Homeland Security. As one of Laredo’s favorite sons, Congressman Cuellar, came to Washington with a promise to keep his focus and priorities relevant to his constituents. His leadership on the Committee, balancing privacy protections as much as homeland protections, will be an invaluable asset.”

Cuellar was also appointed to serve as a member of the Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee. This Subcommittee oversees operations along the border, including the implementation and construction of a border fence.

“This subcommittee assignment will help me to ensure that the views and opinions of those that live along the border are heard when Congress considers issues of border security,” noted Cuellar. “I will fight to protect the interests of our border communities, while working to enhance our nation’s safety and security.”

Cuellar is a member of the House Homeland Security and Agriculture Committees in the 110th Congress; accessibility to constituents, education, health care, economic development, and national security are his priorities.

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Gov. Perry emphasizes need for additional border security during visit to McAllen

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, January 24, encouraged the Texas Legislature to support a $100 million border security package to be proposed this session.

Perry made this announcement at a press conference in McAllen about the recent launch of Operation Wrangler, a statewide expansion of highly successful border security surge operations.

“We have launched a statewide operation this week, Operation Wrangler, to send a message to drug traffickers, human smugglers and criminal operatives that their efforts to exploit our international border will come at a great cost,” Perry said. “In order to continuously fund surge operations like this one in the future, I am asking the legislature to join me in supporting a $100 million investment in border security.”

Operation Wrangler is a coordinated interagency law enforcement surge effort intended to prevent and disrupt all crime, including illegal international drug and human trafficking. It is the second phase of Operation Rio Grande, launched February 2006, which reduced all crime by an average of 60 percent in sheriff-patrolled areas of border counties during five surge operations last year.

“There can be no safe haven for drug traffickers and human smugglers anywhere in Texas,” Perry said. “If legislators pass my $100 million border security package, we can take back our streets, neighborhoods and private ranches from the criminal scourge that currently jeopardizes them.”

Operation Wrangler will involve federal, state and local ground, air and water-borne assets, including more than 6,800 personnel, 2,200 vehicles, 48 helicopters, 33 fixed wing aircraft and 35 patrol ships. Up to 90 sheriffs’ offices and 133 police departments are participating, as well as 604 Texas Army National Guard (TANG) troops activated by Perry. These TANG troops comprise 12 armed security platoons that will deploy to various traffic crossovers along the Rio Grande River and will be accompanied by a Border Patrol agent and a local police officer.

Local, state and federal agencies involved in Operation Wrangler include the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Department of Transportation; the National Park Service; the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the Texas Civil Air Patrol; the Texas Cattleman’s Association; Texas Military Forces; Texas Task Force 1; the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Railroad Police; the U.S. Transportation Security Agency; the U.S. Postal Service; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the University of Texas Center for Space Research.

“The best border security policy involves more boots on the ground, more patrol cars, more helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, more patrol boats and the latest law enforcement technology. All of this costs money; but our security is worth a whole lot more.”

Perry was joined at the press conference by local, state and federal officials.

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Rep. Gonzáles files House Bill 701 to restore CHIP medical benefits to thousands of Texas children

State Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has filed House Bill 701 to restore health coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for hundreds of thousands of children in Texas.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature reduced state funding for CHIP and passed House Bill 2292, which significantly increased the difficulty for enrollment. Since the restrictive policies were enacted in 2003, almost two hundred thousand children have lost their health coverage.

“Providing health coverage for our children is one of my top priorities,” Gonzáles said. “I believe we must put our children and our families first. Lets remember CHIP is not free; it was created to help families who are helping themselves. My bill will move forward with positive change for our children’s health coverage by repealing restrictive policies that have needlessly kicked children in our community off the CHIP program.”

Restoring the CHIP program to the enrollment levels that existed before 2003 would not cost the state any money. According to data collected from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), during the 2006 budget year, the State of Texas left unspent $400 million in state funds dedicated for CHIP and Children’s Medicaid. Those dollars could easily cover every child that has lost CHIP coverage since 2003.

“It would take no more than 1/100th of our $14 billion surplus each year to restore CHIP for our children,” Gonzáles said. “We have the money – there’s no question about that. The only question is if we have the will.”

Gonzáles joined dozens of other House members on Wednesday, January 24, to advocate and raise awareness for the repealing of the restrictive CHIP policies.

“Common sense policies – like reducing paperwork, deducting child care costs when determining eligibility and not counting families’ savings against them – will ensure that more of our kids have health care,” Gonzáles said. “We’ve heard it time again, Children are an asset to our state; a healthy child is a successful child.”

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Rep. Peña signs up as joint author for legislation to overcome cuts to Children’s Health Insurance Program

State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has signed up as a joint author for House Bill 109 in an effort to restore cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The legislation seeks to bolster the CHIP program to pre-2003 levels. Peña joins House colleague Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in the effort to provide health care to more Texas children.

Turner is the Speaker Pro-Tempore, which is the top lieutenant to Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

“By expanding the number of children who are eligible to receive care under CHIP we are investing in a stronger, healthier Texas,” said Peña. “Our goal is to provide primary and preventive health care to almost 3/4 of a million children.”

There are over 700,000 children who are eligible to receive health care under the CHIP program. As of January 2007, only 321,815 are enrolled. At its peak, in 2002 CHIP served more than 500,000 children and Texas was lauded nationally for the success and enrollment rates of the program.

“I voted against those cuts two sessions ago,” said Peña. “Last session we went back and restored some of those programs. This session we are going to do what it takes to make sure that all kids who qualify have access to health care.”

Highlights of the legislation include:

•The reinstatement of twelve months of continuous coverage instead of 6 months;

•The reinstatement of “income disregards,” expenses that drop a family’s income to the eligibility level, such as child care expenses or work related expenses;

•The reinstatement of community outreach and education campaigns, utilizing school-based health clinics, community based organizations and coalitions to provide information and education to the community; and

•The elimination of the assets test. Texas is one of two states that maintains this standard and the other state’s asset test is capped at $20,000 whereas Texas is at $5,000.

“Other than our public schools I can not think of any other program that has done more good for so many kids,” said Peña.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program was created in 1999 by SB 445 with broad bi-partisan support in the Texas Legislature.

The program is designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private insurance for their children. CHIP provides eligible children with coverage for a full range of health services including regular checkups, immunizations, prescription drugs, lab tests, X-rays, hospital visits and more.

Peña currently sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He is serving his third term in the Texas House.

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Lt. Gov. Dewhurst outlines Senate Bill 1 and budget priorities, including $3 billion in property tax cuts

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Wednesday, January 25, unveiled Senate Bill 1, the Legislative Budget Board’s base budget for 2008-09 and outlined his budget priorities in a Capitol news conference.

The two-year LBB budget totals $147.6 billion.

It funds essential services and a separate bill will deliver $14.2 billion in local school property tax cuts passed by the Legislature last spring.

“Four years ago we faced a $10 billion budget deficit that threatened to cripple the state’s ability to provide essential services. By keeping taxes low, holding the line on state spending and passing conservative budgets, we helped generate billions in new revenue. Our conservative fiscal policies are working and there’s no reason to change course now,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst was joined by Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Vice Chair Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

“Thanks to fiscal discipline, new jobs and a robust economy, Texas has gone from a $10 billion deficit to $14.3 billion in new money – a $24.3 billion upswing,” Craddick said. “I am looking forward to continuing this success by working with the Lieutenant Governor, the Senate and the House to make investments in our most critical needs and possibly look at further tax relief.”

Dewhurst’s top priority in the 2008-09 state budget is to return taxpayers’ money to Texas families. To pay for the $14.2 billion in local school property tax cuts, Dewhurst proposes using a portion of new available state revenue along with revenue from tax reform passed last spring to provide a net tax cut of over $6 billion for the biennium.

Dewhurst will also ask the Legislature to set aside at least $3 billion in new revenue to continue local school property tax cuts in 2010-11.

“Cutting local school property taxes isn’t just good fiscal policy, it’s keeping the commitment we made to taxpayers. When we’re blessed with billions in new revenue, we should return as much money as possible to Texas taxpayers,” Dewhurst said.

As introduced, Senate Bill 1 increases the General Revenue budget by $4.6 billion. Over half the increase, $2.5 billion, is not an increase in overall spending but repaying the Foundation School Program deferral in used 2003 and transferring payment of some Child Protective Service reform and public education items to General Revenue from the Rainy Day Fund.

The remaining $2.1 billion increase in the base budget is continuing spending for public schools passed during the Spring Special Session and a net increase for population growth in Medicaid, CHIP, prisons and education which represents a conservative increase in real spending of 3.2% over the biennium, or about 1.6% per year, a rate less than inflation.

Local school property tax cuts and modest growth in essential services will commit approximately $12 billion of the $14.3 billion in new available revenue announced by the Comptroller earlier this month. In this plan approximately 70% of the new available revenue is dedicated to items that do not increase government spending, including tax cuts and paying back money borrowed in 2003.

“I’m going to make sure every penny of the local school property tax cut gets to the taxpayers. I also want to make sure we’re in good shape if our economy slows down,” Dewhurst said.

Details of the Legislative Budget Board’s base budget can be found at http://www.lbb.state.tx.us.

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Rep. Riddle takes case to eliminate in-state tuition for illegal immigrants to national airwaves

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Austin, on Monday, January 21, continued her efforts to repeal a Texas law which allows illegal immigrants to receive discounted tuition at state universities with an appearance on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight.

“We have got hardworking Texans, hardworking folks here in Texas that are playing by the rules, abiding by the law.” Riddle told Tonight’s Bill Tucker. “It is their tax money that is helping pay for the college education for folks that, quite frankly, should not even be here in Texas, should not even be here in the United States because they’re illegal.”

Texas was the first state to enact the policy in 2001. Nine other states have since enacted similar legislation.

“It all comes down to this: either our immigration laws matter or they don’t,” Riddle said. “I think that they should matter, and I don’t think you should get a discount on your tuition as a reward for breaking the law, most especially if that reward is being paid for by the taxpayers who are breaking the bank to send their own kids to college.”

Riddle’s House Bill 104 would amend current statute to stipulate that only legal residents are eligible for in-state tuition. The bill will is expected to be debated during the state’s legislative session, which began on Jan 9 and will continue until the end of May.

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Sen. Cornyn named top Republican on Immigration, Border Security panel

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas on Thursday, January 25, was officially named the top Republican on the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee on Thursday during Judiciary Committee approval of subcommittee leaders and members.

In addition, Cornyn was selected to serve as a member of the following three subcommittees:

The Constitution; Human Rights and the Law; Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security.

“These subcommittees will allow me to continue working on several of the top challenges of our day, including securing our border and homeland, implementing comprehensive immigration reform and fighting and winning the war on terror,” Cornyn said. “Securing the border and fixing our broken immigration system is one of the most pressing domestic issues facing Texas and our nation and we must work together to address it.”

In the previous Congress, Cornyn and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz, introduced the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act to dramatically bolster border security, strengthen interior enforcement and implement broader reforms of our immigration laws.

Cornyn said the newly formed Human Rights subcommittee will “provide the opportunity to ensure we continue taking steps to end the atrocity of sex slavery and international human trafficking and smuggling.”

Cornyn led a bipartisan effort in the last Congress to combat sex trafficking, a crime that disproportionately victimizes women and children. He introduced legislation to target and reduce demand of trafficking as well as increase penalties for human smuggling. In addition, he has worked with federal, state and local officials to establish task forces in several Texas cities to combat human trafficking and slavery.

Regarding the Terrorism subcommittee, Cornyn said, “We must build on last year’s efforts to provide the necessary tools to fight and win the war on terror, including the ability to detect, deter and disrupt terrorist attacks.”

Below is more information about Cornyn’s Judiciary Committee subcommittees–

Immigration, Refugees and Border Security

Jurisdiction: (1) Immigration, citizenship, and refugee laws; (2) Oversight of the immigration functions of the Department of Homeland Security, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Ombudsman Citizenship and Immigration Services; (3) Oversight of the immigration-related functions of the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the Department of Labor; (4) Oversight of international migration, internally displaced persons, and refugee laws and policy; and (5) Private immigration relief bills.

The Constitution

Jurisdiction: (1) Constitutional amendments; (2) Enforcement and protection of constitutional rights; (3) Statutory guarantees of civil rights and civil liberties; (4) Separation of powers; (5) Federal-State relations; and (6) Interstate compacts.

Human Rights and the Law

Jurisdiction: (1) Human rights laws and policies; (2) Enforcement and implementation of human rights laws; (3) Judicial proceedings regarding human rights laws; and (4) Judicial and executive branch interpretations of human rights laws.

Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security

Jurisdiction: (1) Oversight of anti-terrorism enforcement and policy; (2) Oversight of Department of Homeland Security functions as they relate to anti-terrorism enforcement and policy; (3) Oversight of State Department consular operations as they relate to anti-terrorism enforcement and policy; (4) Oversight of laws related to government information policy, electronic privacy and security of computer information, Freedom of Information Act, and Privacy Act; (5) Oversight of encryption policies and export licensing; and (6) Oversight of espionage laws and their enforcement.

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Other UT System campuses join UT-Pan American in offering tuition breaks to low-income students

With an eye toward making college more affordable for economically disadvantaged Texans, The University of Texas System’s academic institutions are establishing guaranteed financial aid programs for students who come from low-income families.

Although eligibility and criteria vary somewhat by campus, the programs effectively guarantee qualifying students that their tuition and mandatory fees will be covered so long as they perform well in their studies and graduate on time.

Most of the guaranteed financial aid programs will begin this fall and apply primarily to incoming freshmen who come from Texas households which earn fewer than $25,000 annually. Three campuses have extended the guaranteed financial aid initiative to eligible students regardless of their class standing.

UT Arlington and UT Dallas were the most recent academic institutions to announce guaranteed financial aid programs, meaning all nine academic institutions in the UT System will have programs available beginning in Fall 2007. UT Arlington will offer its program, called the Maverick Promise, to students who take as few as six hours per semester. UT Dallas’ program is called the UT Dallas Tuition Promise.

“This demonstrates the UT System’s continued commitment to enhance higher education opportunities for financially disadvantaged Texans, and sends a clear message to deserving students that their socio-economic status shouldn’t be a barrier to their college aspirations,” UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof said. “We believe these programs will not only get more students into college, but provide them with the incentives to make good grades and graduate on time,” Yudof added.

The programs could have a profound impact at campuses that serve the state’s most impoverished regions.

At UT Pan American in Edinburg, it is possible that as many as one-half of the student population may meet the financial qualifications for the program, said Elaine Rivera, the university’s director of financial aid.

She expects the initiative, known there as UTPAdvantage, to have a positive impact on the college graduation rate for the Rio Grande Valley, which has a degree attainment rate of about 11 percent – well below the state average of 20 percent.

“This has the potential to change the lives of countless families in the Rio Grande Valley,” Rivera said.

At UT El Paso, where the UTEP Promise launched in the Fall 2006 semester, about 600 students took advantage of the program.

And at UT San Antonio, where the average cost of tuition and mandatory fees hovers at about $6,000 per year for a total of 30 semester hours, the program also includes a work-study component that allows participants to earn additional money to offset the costs of room and board.

The UTSAccess program, as it is known, will also provide support programs such as heightened academic advising, financial aid counseling and tutoring to help students handle the program requirements and graduate on time.

“Access to higher education just got easier for cash-strapped families who want to send their children to UTSA,” President Ricardo Romo said. “This not only helps the students and families that we serve; it adds to the vitality of Texas’ future workforce – and everyone benefits from that.”

At UT Tyler, that campus created the Pathway to Success Program, which allows incoming freshmen from households earning $25,000 or less to participate as long as they complete a minimum 12 semester credit hours in the fall and spring semesters (plus six more in the summer) and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average.

UT Permian Basin offers the UTPB Promise financial aid program and UT Brownsville/TSC plans to announce its program this month.

The first campus to start such a program was The University of Texas at Austin. Since 2003, eligible students there have had all increases in flat-rate tuition covered by the program if they come from households that earn up to $40,000 per year and, on average, eligible students have had all their flat-rate tuition paid by financial aid.

To become eligible for any of the programs, students must be Texas residents and apply for federal financial aid by the March 31 deadline. Once qualified, they must fulfill academic requirements set forth by each campus and graduate on time.

The programs will be funded through a mix of federal, state, institutional and private sources. Although many of the qualifying students already would’ve qualified for federal and state aid, each institution has promised to fill in the gaps to cover the entire cost of tuition and fees.

Students who come from families that earn more than the limit necessary to qualify for the program are also encouraged to apply for federal financial aid by the March 31 deadline to help reduce their college costs.

Although they may not qualify for the program, they still could qualify for significant financial aid. To find out how much aid you may qualify for, visit the UT System’s TexasCollegeMoney.org Web site. For more information about each campus program, please visit the respective institutions’ Web site.

Serving the educational and health care needs of Texans for more than 125 years, the UT System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems with 15 campuses – including nine academic and six health institutions – and an annual operating budget of $10 billion (FY 2007). Student enrollment exceeded 190,000 in the 2006 academic year. The UT System confers one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates three-fourths of Texas health care professionals. With more than 76,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in Texas.

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Texas Senate Week in Review: Lawmakers file legislation as session gears up

Though Senate rules prevent legislation from being debated on the Senate floor for the first 60 days of session, senators aren’t wasting any time getting their bills in the parliamentary pipeline. Only bills on the governor’s emergency agenda, or those that get four-fifths approval can be brought to the floor before sixty days, but any bill can get a committee hearing with the chairman’s approval.

Among the bills already filed is Senate Bill 1, the base budget bill. This legislation will act as a framework for the final appropriations bill, which sets state priorities for spending and provides the money for essential services.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst laid out the base budget bill Tuesday, January 22, with the help of Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Vice-Chair Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Dewhurst wanted to make clear exactly how much of a budget surplus the state has available for the upcoming 2008-2009 biennium.

Some media outlets have been reporting the surplus as the full $14.3 billion in new revenue, he said, but the state has obligations for most of that money.

“We’ve got enough money to be able to balance our budget over the next four years, provide for modest increase in our essential services, and still provide the promised local school property tax cuts that we outlined last May, a little over $7 billion in local school property taxes each year for the next four years,” said Dewhurst.

After paying back state funds used to balance the budget in past sessions, debt service on bonds, Medicaid expense increases, new education reforms, and the cost of lowering property taxes from $1.50 per $100 valuation to $1, Dewhurst said the budget surplus will be about $2.5 billion. He said lawmakers will have to decide how to spend that new money, with competition among higher education, prison construction, border security, and others.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, filed a bill Wednesday, January 23, that he says would pressure the Sudanese government to stop the genocide being committed in the Darfur region of that country. Senate Bill 247, the “Stop Darfur Genocide Act” would prohibit state pension funds, notably the Teachers and Employees Retirement System funds, from investing in companies that do business with the Sudanese government, and require them to divest funds already invested with these companies.

Ellis said that economic pressure is the best way for Texas to affect the domestic policy of the Sudan.

“This targeted disinvestment approach will maximize the impact to the Sudanese government, while minimizing harms to the Sudanese citizens and investment returns,” said Ellis.

Also filed Wednesday, January 23, was a bill that puts single, first-time mothers in contact with qualified nurses to teach them to be better parents.

Senate Bill 156, filed by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, would expand the Nurse/Family Partnership initiative (NFP) from a pilot program in Dallas to 11 other urban areas in Texas. NFP provides in-home counseling and training to mothers from pregnancy up to two years after birth.

House sponsor Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who chairs the House Corrections Committee, said this preventative program is among the most successful ever in reducing future crime and increasing the quality of life among participants.

“The Nurse/Family Partnership has demonstrated consistent, quantifiable outcomes that are verifiable through multiple randomized tests with the first populations [in NFP]. It works everywhere,” he said.

Shapiro pointed out that this program offers a good return on investment for Texas. She cited a Rand Corporation study that showed that for every dollar invested in NFP, communities reap $5.70 in social benefits, from increased productivity to decreased crime and learning impairment. “I have always believed in evidence based prevention programs,” she said, “I believe in the long-term effects of a long-term initiative that will truly save dollars, not just talk about it, and we’ve seen the evidence that goes along with it.”

It was announced Monday, January 21, that Senate President Pro Tempore Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, underwent a liver transplant over the weekend. Close friend and colleague Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he visited Gallegos, and that the senator was alert, conscious, and optimistic about his prognosis.

Dewhurst said Gallegos told him he could be back to work in Austin in a few weeks.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 29, at 1:30 p.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages.