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Sweeping reform by Rep. Canales of unfair system that annually jails hundreds of thousands of poor Texans for traffic tickets is signed by Gov. Abbott

Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, looks out at the Texas Capitol grounds in Austin as he handles calls from constituents during a break from legislative debate on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives earlier this spring 2017.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday, June 15, 2017, approved House Bill 351 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which will help do away with a decades-old injustice which results in hundreds of thousands of Texans going to jail every year because they are too poor to pay fines for traffic tickets and other Class C misdemeanors. HB 351 was one of 12 measures passed by Canales which were approved by the Texas Legislature and the governor following the five-month regular session, which ended on Monday, May 31, 2017. Those 12 now-enacted state laws covered a wide range of issues, from protecting veterans and victims of family violence, to advancing medical education, creating more jobs, and promoting open government. In addition, Canales also served as a joint author or co-author of 24 other bills. The legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process is the author (also called the primary author). The Senate allows multiple primary authors for each bill or resolution. The House of Representatives allows only one primary author, the house member whose signature appears on the original measure and on the copies filed with the chief clerk. Both chambers also have coauthors, and the house of representatives has joint authors. Canales said HB 351 represents a “sweeping reform” of the state’s criminal justice system. “In Texas, at the rate we are going, we were going to eventually be throwing a million poor people in jail every year for failure to pay tickets, fines and fees arising from court cases,” explained the House District 40 lawmaker, who is an attorney. “We have too many Texans statewide who are struggling to pay rent and groceries, then they wind up getting ticketed and getting jailed for the most minor offenses, such as traffic violations.” For Class C misdemeanors, there is no jail time, and the fine is limited up to $500. But a person can be put in jail for not paying the fines, and other related costs, such as failure to appear in court. Canale added that the border of jailing all these people for petty crimes ultimately falls on the shoulders of taxpayers. “This whole system of putting poor people in jail has become a convenient cash cow for our government, which wants to squeeze money out of indigent Texans,” he said. “HB 351 provides a much better way for minor offenders to pay their debt to society without unjustly putting them behind bars.” Canales is the primary author of HB 351 while Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, by carrying HB 351 in the Senate, is the primary sponsor of the legislation. The measure, which won final support in the House of Representatives on a huge, bipartisan vote of 132 Yeas, 11 Nays, and 2 Present, Not Voting.

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Rep. Canales’ plan to do away with “debtors prisons” for poor people who can’t pay traffic fines and other minor offenses approved by Texas Legislature and on its way to Gov. Abbott

Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio, during a meeting at the Capitol of the Jurisprudence Subcommittee on Asset Forfeiture on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

State lawmakers on Friday, May 26, 2017, approved House Bill 351 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which will help do away with a decades-old injustice which results in hundreds of thousands of Texans going to jail every year because they are too poor to pay fines for traffic tickets and other Class C misdemeanors. Canales said HB 351 represents a “sweeping reform” of the state’s criminal justice system. “In Texas, at the rate we are going, we were going to eventually be throwing a million poor people in jail every year for failure to pay tickets, fines and fees arising from court cases,” explained the House District 40 lawmaker, who is an attorney. “We have too many Texans statewide who are struggling to pay rent and groceries, then they wind up getting ticketed and getting jailed for the most minor offenses, such as traffic violations.” For Class C misdemeanors, there is no jail time, and the fine is limited up to $500. But a person can be put in jail for not paying the fines, and other related costs, such as failure to appear in court. Canales added that taxpayers wind up paying more because through the costs it takes to look after people who are in local jails for petty crimes. “This whole system of putting poor people in jail has become a convenient cash cow for our government, who want to squeeze money out of indigent Texans,” he said. “HB 351 provides a much better way for minor offenders to pay their debt to society without unjustly putting them behind bars.” Canales is the primary author of HB 351 while Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, by carrying HB 351 in the Senate, is the primary sponsor of the legislation. Hinojosa, also an attorney, agreed with the need for Canales’ legislation. “Our current system is counter-productive, and it traps people into a cycle of debt when they cannot pay their tickets and other low-level, fine-only citations. Our current practice also leads to license suspensions and arrest warrants,” said Hinojosa. “In 2015, fines in over 677,00 cases were satisfied through jail credit and over 230,000 Texas were unable to renew expired licenses until their fines and fees were paid off.” HB 351 allows courts to ask about a defendant’s ability to pay during the sentencing phase, Hinojosa explained. “After making that determination, courts would be allowed to reduce or waive fines and costs and offer community service as an alternative. In 2015, judges resolved fine-only cases with community service just 1.3 percent of the time,” Hinojosa said. “HB 351 seeks to put the justice system’s time and resources to more efficient use by holding people accountable while saving money and increasing public safety.”

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For House Speaker candidate Senfronia Thompson, speaking truth to power personifies Texan’s values

 

For Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a veteran state legislator, moderate Democrat, and state party superdelegate who helped rally support for the nomination and landmark election of a black American (Sen. Barack Obama) for president, making history is a foundation of her own life.

With legislative achievements that include leading a major House committee for a dozen years and authoring more than 200 bills that became state laws, the renowned attorney – who represents northeast Houston and Humble – is a major player in the race for Texas Speaker of the House. Thompson’s personal and professional achievements drew the admiration of Obama when the Illinois senator was campaigning for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. "I’m honored to have earned the support of Representative Thompson and am pleased that she’ll play an important role in advancing our grassroots movement for change in Houston and across Texas," Obama said in a February 2008 statement. "Throughout her three decades in the Legislature, she’s been a tireless advocate for working families and when I’m president we’ll work together to put the American dream within reach of every child in Texas and across our country." Thompson, born in Booth, Texas, and raised in Houston, is Dean of women legislators in the Texas House of Representatives. See lead story later in this posting.  

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Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., featured left, the president of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is reportedly one of two finalists to lead the UT System as chancellor. If he is selected, the Laredo native and transplant surgeon would become the first Mexican American chancellor of the sprawling UT System, which includes UT-Pan American, the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg, Harlingen, and Brownsville, and UT-Brownsville. The UT System, which includes 15 institutions and 185,000 students, is the largest system of higher education in Texas and one of the largest in the country.  Cigarroa, along with former Sen. John Montford, D-Lubbock, are expected to be interviewed for the top job by the UT System Board of Regents this week during its meeting in Austin, scheduled for Thursday, December 18, and Friday, December 19. In this photograph, taken in 2006 during the ribbon-cutting of the UT-RAHC in Edinburg, are, from left: Cigarroa; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and UT-Pan American President Blandina "Bambi" Cardenas. In a related story, McAllen construction magnate Alonzo Cantú has been appointed by the UT System Board of Regents to serve on an advisory panel to recommend the successor to Cigarroa, who will be retiring next summer from his current role as president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Also, the UT System Board of Regents are scheduled to review plans for a football team at UT-San Antonio. See the story on Cantú and a separate story on the UTSA college football team plans later in this posting.  

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The McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, December 4, presented Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured second from right, with its prestigious TR, or Teddy Roosevelt Award, given to individuals who, in the face of adversity, “do the right thing.” The chamber chose Salinas for his stance against the Border Wall and for his success in working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to rethink the wall and instead rebuild portions of the county’s levees, said Steve Ahlenius, president and CEO of the chamber, who is shown in this photograph.  The levee-barrier alternative, which Salinas fought for in Washington D.C., will save residences and businesses from having to purchase mandatory flood insurance and will protect southern Hidalgo County’s bustling industrial parks from flooding. The award, a beautifully drawn graphite portrait of the 26th president captioned and framed with one of President Roosevelt’s most famous quotes, was designed by McAllen artist Joe Taylor. 

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The Office of Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa recently partnered with Target to promote professionalism in the workplace as part of their office training series. The workshops, held monthly and proposed through employee feedback, consist of professional and technical development for staff throughout the year. Through their partnership, the district clerk’s office was able to borrow store apparel at no cost. During the session, staff volunteers modeled select ensembles for their peers during the “fashion show” portion. Featured, from left: Elias Arteaga, Roxanne De La Cruz, Norma Cantú, Erick Rodríguez, Angela García, Jessica Jiménez, Irma López, Janey Ramón, and Oneida Llamas. See story later in this posting. 

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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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