Select Page

Two years in the making, Hidalgo County first in Texas to allow e-filing of criminal cases under law passed by Rep. Canales and Sen. Hinojosa

Two years in the making, Hidalgo County first in Texas to allow e-filing of criminal cases under law passed by Rep. Canales and Sen. Hinojosa

Featured: First row, from left: Martin V. “Marty” Baylor, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Vice President for Government and Community Relations, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Elva Jackson Garza, Vice President and Marketing & Business Development Manager, Edwards Abstract & Title Company; Lucy G. Canales, Partner, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Alex Ríos, District Director, Rep. Terry Canales; and Robert McGurk, Senior Vice President, Elsa State Bank & Trust Company. Back row, from left: Edinburg Fire Chief Shawn Snider; Jacob De León, Funeral Director, Memorial Funeral Home; Edinburg City Councilmember David Torres; and Michael Williamson, Market President, PlainsCapital Bank. This portrait was taken at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Legislative Luncheon held on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center.
Photograph By RONNIE LARRALDE

Chalk up Hidalgo County as the first region in Texas that allows attorneys in all criminal cases to file pleadings and documents electronically – known as e-filing ­– as a result of a state law passed two years ago by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which will continue to bring the state’s court system into the paperless generation. Effective Tuesday, September 1, the eyes of the state judicial system began looking at the use of e-filing in criminal cases in Hidalgo County, as the rest of the Texas prepares to follow Hidalgo County’s lead beginning on November 1 in implementing a new system designed to improve justice for all. Canales is confident that his measure – House Bill 349, which was sponsored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, two years ago – will be a resounding success. HB 349 is designed to improve the delivery of justice in Hidalgo County, reduce costs to county taxpayers, attorneys and litigants, and take advantage of the latest technological advances in the state’s legal system, the House District 40 lawmaker contends. “Courts have long been burdened with processing paper, a problem that continues to grow exponentially and largely unabated,” said Canales. “After more than 167 years of processing traditional filing, Texas Court Clerks are awash in the state’s judicial paper trail. Electronic filing offers a means to stem the paper tide.” Hinojosa, citing data provided by the Office of the Hidalgo County District Clerk, reported that in 2014, there were 5,170 criminal cases filed, in addition to 19,341 civil and family cases. “One of the key advantages of the e-filing system, both in civil and criminal cases, is it allows attorneys more time during the day to submit their motions, rather than face a 5 p.m. deadline,” the state senator explained. “The statewide e-filing portal (efiletexas.gov) allows filers to file documents until midnight during regular business days in both civil and criminal cases. As a result, attorneys have more flexibility and are no longer rushed to file documents at the courthouse before closing hour at 5 p.m.” There would be no cost to the county government to use the e-filing system for civil or criminal cases, and there would be no cost to litigants who are too poor to pay for the service, Canales added. Later this fall, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa (no relation to Sen. Hinojosa) will organize a question-and-answer session for the area’s attorneys to help them better understand the e-filing system for criminal cases. The details of that event will soon be announced by District Clerk Hinojosa. Also under the new state law, Hidalgo County can still allow traditional paper filing as well. Canales predicts that the future is at hand. ‘The era of big paper is over,” Canales said. According to dictionary.law.com, a motion is a formal request made to a judge for an order or judgment. Motions are made in court all the time for many purposes: to continue (postpone) a trial to a later date, to get a modification of an order, for temporary child support, for a judgment, for dismissal of the opposing party’s case, for a rehearing, for sanctions (payment of the moving party’s costs or attorney’s fees), or for dozens of other purposes. Most motions require a written petition, a written brief of legal reasons for granting the motion (often called “points and authorities”), written notice to the attorney for the opposing party and a hearing before a judge. However, during a trial or a hearing, an oral motion may be permitted

•••••• (more…)

$70 Million Science Building for UT-Pan American, approved May 14 by UT System Board of Regents, will feature life-saving biomedical research, say EEDC, Rep. Canales, Sen. Hinojosa

20150515

Featured: A section of the $70 million, four-story addition to the Science Building at The University of Texas-Pan American, which received final approval for funding and design development by the UT System Board of Regents in Austin on Thursday, May 14.

Graphics Courtesy MUÑOZ AND COMPANY

A $70 million addition to the Science Building at the University of Texas-Pan American has been approved by the UT System Board of Regents, paving the way for thousands of students a year to receive a cutting-edge education that will lead to professions focused on preventing and treating diseases that cause illnesses and deaths in people, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. Meeting in Austin for a regularly-scheduled public meeting, the nine-member UT System governing board, which includes Ernest Aliseda of McAllen, on Thursday, May 14, gave final approval for the release of funding and of design development for the 115,000-square-foot structure. Anticipated construction start is scheduled for December 2015, anticipated substantial completion will take place by December 2017, and the final completion is expected by February 2018, according to the UT System. “This new facility represents the next big wave of higher education opportunities in Edinburg and for deep South Texas,” said Mayor Richard García. “In addition to the positive economic impact in our community from its construction, it will provide the crucial infrastructure, such as classrooms, offices, suites, works stations, laboratories, and equipment, to increase STEM graduates to 873 a year, and provide 16 additional labs that will reduce the time to graduate.” STEM stands for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Four teaching labs will allow 4,200 students to take courses and labs during the same semester. The overall project will accommodate 16 additional research labs, two classrooms, 42 faculty offices, 11 staff work stations, and eight suites for research assistants. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, STEM-related programs became a national priority in 2011 because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields. The U.S. Department of Labor expects that there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields by 2018, but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them. The EEDC, which is led by García, is the jobs-creation arm of the mayor and Edinburg City Council. The mayor serves as the President of the five-member EEDC Board of Directors, which works with EEDC Executive Director Agustín “Gus” García, Jr. and his staff on major projects, such as new construction and additional degree programs at UT-Pan American. Mayor Richard García and EEDC Executive Director Gus García are not related. Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President Ad Interim for UT-Pan American, also serves on the EEDC Board of Directors. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, whose House District 40 is home to UT-Pan American, works closely with the city’s elected and appointed leadership, as well as with UT System and UTPA officials, to promote growth and investment at the Edinburg campus, which serves more than 20,000 students. “I wish to commend the University of Texas System Board of Regents for their vision and drive to grow and expand the System’s resources in deep South Texas,” Canales said. “The Science Building (addition) will provide much needed classroom and lab space for the university, while increasing the instructional efficiency for all students of the new University of Texas System institution.” Canales in 2o13 was a joint cosponsor of Senate Bill 24 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which is combining the resources of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville into that new institution referenced by Canales, to be known as The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. UT-Pan American will be the largest component of UT-RGV, complete with a full-fledged medical school, at the end of this August, when UT-Rio Grande Valley becomes a reality. “UT-RGV is more than a new university or a new logo, it is a vision for the future of our community. The investments that the UT System Board of Regents has made in the Rio Grande Valley bring with it a new opportunity for our youth to pursue a quality education and work towards a brighter future for them and their families,” Canales said. Michael O’Donnell, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning and Construction for the UT System, noted that the $70 million addition will also provide the space necessary to increase research capacity for approximately 168 researchers, supporting physical and biological sciences with a focus on biomedical research. Hinojosa, whose Senate District 27 includes UT-Pan American, praised the emphasis on producing more students with high-level biomedical research capabilities. “Biomedical research involves the sciences whose goal is to come up with effective treatments and cures for the most serious afflictions, and just like the School of Medicine that is now under construction in Edinburg, this new addition to our Science Building will produce dramatic advances for all of Texas,” said Hinojosa. “When the upcoming 115,000 square-foot addition is connected to the existing Science Building, we will wind up with a 272,000 square-foot intensive STEM research and learning center. It is going to be an extremely large and impressive state-of-the-art complex.” The building will support 21st-century classroom and teaching pedagogies by providing additional group study rooms, collaboration spaces, huddle rooms located throughout the facility, and flexible classrooms and teaching labs supported with AV and IT technologies for long distance and enhanced learning, O’Donnell added. Rooms will also be designed to support multiple furniture configurations. He noted some of the many complexities of linking the Science Building and the $70 million addition. We are constructing a building on a completed, basically built-out campus. Accordingly, the vision and the decision consistent with the Master Plan to put this building in there, this is as big a building as we could fit in there. It met the needs of the campus as it was designed,” O’Donnell said. “But at the same time, this particular addition is very difficult to build, because we have to do lifts from outside, with cranes, into the facility, into the courtyard, to be able to complete the building.” Despite the challenges of connecting the $70 million addition to the exiting Science Building – including having to import contractors from outside the Valley for considerable specialized work – “this building is going to be built for a 21st century learning,” he said.

•••••• (more…)

Edinburg’s unemployment rate stays under five percent for March 2015 as $42.7 million Performing Arts Complex opens at UT-Pan American

20150430

Featured, from left: Dr. Dahlia Guerra, D.M.A., Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, the University of Texas-Pan American; Edinburg Mayor Richard García; Kirk Clark and Jeri Clark, patrons of the UTPA arts, on Thursday, April 23, in the reception room of the $42.7 million Performing Arts Complex at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Edinburg’s unemployment rate for March 2015 was 4.8 percent, representing the second consecutive month that the city posted a monthly rate under five percent, with only McAllen being the other major Valley city to come under five percent, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. Edinburg’s unemployment rate, as reported by the Texas Workforce Commission, was the best showing for the city during that month since March 2008, when it was reported at 4.4 percent by the state agency. The city’s latest performance also was better than the U.S. unemployment rate for March 2015, which came in at 5.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest data represents an increase of 457 jobs in Edinburg when comparing the employment figures for March 2015 and March 2014. In March 2015, there were 35,651 persons employed in Edinburg, compared with 35,194 in March 2014. Those most recent figures, released on Friday, April 19 by the Texas Workforce Commission, came about a week before the Grand Premier of the Performing Arts Complex at The University of Texas-Pan American. On Thursday, April 23, the latest ultra-modern complex in Edinburg formally opened to the public, with a free concert, which included faculty and student performers from both campuses, that attracted not only arts patrons, but also students and community members to the 1,000-seat, state-of-the-art performance hall. Dr. Dahlia Guerra, D.M.A., Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, built on the economic impact theme of the new performing arts conglomerate. “The arts bring so much to a community. It is the heart and soul,” said Guerra, whose brother is Edinburg Mayor Richard García. “The artists bring with them a draw to the community because a city wants to have these opportunities to offer their citizens.” In addition to the cultural aspects of Edinburg that will be enhanced because of the new facility, the financial prosperity of the city also will be increased, she added. “A community that is rich in the arts and rich in culture, it draws business, it draws hotels, it benefits the local economy because people will come to Edinburg to see the events, concerts, art exhibits,” Guerra said. “A rich community will be rich in arts and culture.” The Performing Arts Complex is a $42.7 million investment by the Texas Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents which was the result of successful lobbying several years ago by the Edinburg Mayor, Edinburg City Council, and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. City officials credit Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, for delivering on the state legislation that resulted in the funding, through the issuance of tuition revenue bonds, for the Performing Arts Complex. Hinojosa shared the praise with his fellow state lawmakers and UTPA leaders, past and present, and reflected on the significance of the Performing Arts Complex. “Today is a momentous day in the history of this campus and of our community. We are opening the most magnificent performing arts center you can imagine,” said Hinojosa, who participated in the public ceremony. “It is wonderful acoustics, incredible lighting and sounds. The most important part to me is that it is an academic performing hall. There are classrooms which are rehearsal halls for our students. Now, they will have the best facilities, and it really does makes a difference when it comes time for performing.” Guerra provided additional details that are designed to make all performances reach world-class levels. “On this stage, there is an incredible amount of clarity. The sound bounces from the stage through the entire auditorium, so the student is required to have very fine-tuning skills to listen carefully and make sure he or she is at the top of their game,” she said. “We will see an improvement in the musical skills of our students.”

•••••• (more…)

Senate awaiting action by House of Representatives on $4.6 billion tax cut package endorsed by Sen. Hinojosa

20150405

Featured, center, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, along with Roxanne De La Garza, who serves on Hinojosa’s legislative and McAllen district staffs, greet Alex Ríos, District Director for Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 prior to the groundbreaking of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley’s $54 million Medical Academic Building in Edinburg, the first new construction for the UT-RGV School of Medicine.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

The House of Representatives is considering a $4.6 billion tax relief package, approved by the Senate on Wednesday, March 25, which its supporters, including Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, say is designed to benefit homeowners and small businesses. Hinojosa is a joint author of Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 7, and Senate Bill 8, which would give many Texas homeowners a bigger break on their school property taxes, and provide more small business owners with relief from the amount of franchise tax they must pay. “I am proud to joint-author these tax relief bills giving our hard-working families and small business owners much-needed tax cuts,” said Hinojosa. “These bills make good economic sense and will provide critical tax relief on a statewide level for our Texas families so they will be able to keep more of the dollars they earn.” The first measure, SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would decrease school property taxes for homeowners by increasing the homestead exemption, a move which lowers the value of a home for the purpose of paying those property taxes. The result would be reducing school property taxes on the primary residence by about $220 a year over the next two years, according to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. During that period, school districts would be entitled to additional state aid to the extent current formulas do not fully reimburse them for the local tax revenue losses from SB 1. The state would use more than $2.1 billion from the state budget surplus over the next two years to make up for the revenue losses by local school districts. Property tax in Texas is a locally assessed and locally administered tax, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Texas law allows a variety of partial or complete exemptions from local property taxes. A partial exemption removes a percentage or fixed dollar amount of the property’s value from taxation. An absolute or total exemption excludes the entire property from taxation. Currently, all school districts in Texas are required to offer a $15,000 exemption on residence homesteads. But under SB 1, as approved by the Senate, the homestead exemption for school district taxes would significantly improve from its current $15,000 level to 25 percent of Texas home median market value. The exemption amounts are estimated to be $33,625 in 2016 and $35,979 in 2017, according to Hinojosa. “SB 1 will specifically benefit homeowners with immediate and long-term economic relief by raising the homestead exemption and decreasing the property taxes homeowners will have to pay,” Hinojosa said. If SB 1, and a related measure, Senate Joint Resolution 1, also by Nelson, are approved by the Legislature and the governor, a statewide election would be held on Saturday, September 12, 2015, which would give Texas voters the final say on more than doubling the school property tax exemption for homeowners. SJR 1 is the constitutional amendment required to implement SB1, and like all proposed amendments would put the question of the new exemption before the voters in September, according to Texas Senate News, the public information arm of the Texas Senate. SJR 1 also contains language to exempt the state money necessary to cover the cost of the tax cut from the state spending cap. The state constitution forbids the state budget growing faster than the state economy, which Nelson has said in the past hinders the ability of lawmakers to cut taxes. In addition, SJR 1 would constitutionally prohibit the establishment of any tax on real estate sales, thus preventing future Legislatures – without another statewide election – from taxing the sales of homes in order to generate more money for the state government, Hinojosa added. Nelson, who serves as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee – on which Hinojosa serves as Vice-Chairman – also filed legislation to make all tax cuts and debt relief appropriations exempt from the spending cap, but SJR 1 is only a one-time exemption for the estimated $2.1 billion needed to cover the cost of SB 1. The two other tax-relief proposals being championed by Hinojosa are SB 8, which establishes a $4 million total revenue exemption from the state’s business franchise tax for small businesses, and SB 7, which reduces the franchise tax rate by 15 percent for those over the $4 million threshold. “SB7 and SB 8 will similarly give small business owners a tax reduction. Small businesses create jobs and drive our economy; they are the backbone of our Texas economy. For many small businesses struggling to survive, the franchise tax represents an unnecessary and burdensome tax that limits job growth and economic investment,” Hinojosa explained. “SB 8 will exempt more than 61,000 small businesses in Texas that would otherwise pay the franchise tax. These small businesses represent over 52 percent of all businesses in Texas required to remit payment under the current franchise tax structure.” The Texas franchise tax is a privilege tax imposed on each taxable entity formed or organized in Texas or doing business in Texas, with the exception of most sole proprietorships. The owners of businesses which pay the franchise tax receive key benefits, such as liability protections under the state law, where their personal assets can be shielded against potentially-devastating legal judgments against their businesses. A sole proprietorship, on the other hand is an unincorporated business with one owner who pays personal income tax on profits from the business, according to Investopedia.com. With little government regulation, they are the simplest business to set up or take apart, making them popular among individual self contractors or business owners.

•••••• (more…)

Sen. Hinojosa files Hidalgo County Healthcare District measure; seeks state funding to attract and keep more doctors to border, rural areas

20150219

Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Mario E. Ramírez, M.D., of Rio Grande City, who was appointed in March 1991 by Gov. Bill Clements to serve a six-year term on the University of Texas System Board of Regents, share ideas and memories in Edinburg during the Tuesday, August 26 groundbreaking ceremony of the $54 million UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine Medical Education Building.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Legislation to create a Hidalgo County Healthcare District was filed on Wednesday, February 18, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to provide a source of local funding for The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, as well as to deliver health care to the region while lowering the tax burden on Hidalgo County residents. Senate Bill 626 legislation to create a Hidalgo County Healthcare District is s a top priority this legislative session, and Hinojosa and Lucio will work together with the Valley House delegation to ensure its passage. “The Hidalgo County Healthcare District is critical for our families in the Rio Grande Valley to provide resources to support a medical school, to cover our community’s healthcare needs for both the insured and uninsured, and to decrease the tax burden on our county taxpayers,” said Hinojosa. The McAllen-based lawmaker, whose District 20 covers most of Hidalgo County stretching northward to Nueces County, includes Edinburg, where major facilities of the UT-RGV School of Medicine are going to be built. Hinojosa said without the healthcare district, hospitals in deep South Texas, which are required by federal law to provide emergency medical care, wind up tapping into public funds in order to provide critical care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay. “Our healthcare providers provide millions of dollars in care to people who can’t afford it ever year, forcing them to pass the bill onto county taxpayers or to people with insurance through higher fees and premiums,” said Hinojosa. “The healthcare district will benefit taxpayers by bringing more federal dollars to the county and putting the uninsured into the system with a focus on prevention and early treatment.” Lucio, who represents a portion of Hidalgo County, echoed Hinojosa’s call for action. “I am pleased to joint author this bill which is critical to healthcare delivery in Hidalgo County. We have some of the highest rates of uninsured individuals and amongst the worst health care outcomes in the nation,” said Lucio, who represents Senate District 27. “Senate Bill 626 will allow Hidalgo County to improve our indigent care program as well as leverage and draw down additional federal funds to address health disparities,” the Brownsville lawmaker said. “The Hidalgo County Healthcare District will provide the ability to improve health outcomes in some of the most vulnerable communities, and the benefit to all cannot be underestimated.”

•••••• (more…)