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Hidalgo County Healthcare District legislation set for public hearing at Texas Capitol on Thursday, March 19

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Featured, from left; Anne Drescher, Chief-of-Staff; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and Aisa Showery, Legislative Director, on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Edinburg. Guerra is carrying House Bill 1596, set for a public hearing in Austin on Thursday, March 19, to create the Hidalgo County Healthcare District.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

An effort to create the Hidalgo County Healthcare District, which would help support the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, provide health care for many residents who do not have health insurance, set a limit on the property tax rate that would come with its creation, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new jobs and businesses, will receive its first legislative hearing in Austin on Thursday, March 19. House Bill 1596, whose primary author is Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, is one of five measures set to go before the House Committee on County Affairs. The public hearing, which will be held in Room E2.016 of the Capitol Extension, will begin at 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment by the full House of Representatives. The event, which will be broadcast live and also be available for viewing afterwards, is accessible on the Internet. Information on how to access the live and recorded broadcasts are available by logging to http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/. The companion bill in the Senate, which seeks the same goals as HB 1596, is Senate Bill 626 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville. Although no action has been set on SB 626, that measure is currently before the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs, of which Lucio serves as Chair. In response to feedback received from voters, who in November 2014 narrowly voted against a different version of this legislation, Valley lawmakers have put safeguards into the current legislation in order to ensure the most protections for taxpayers. The name was changed to “Hidalgo County Healthcare District” to allow for a more comprehensive approach to the system which the Valley’s Hidalgo County state legislative delegation hopes to implement. Some of the key differences in this measure from the one last year are: the tax rate would be capped at 25 cents per $100 valuation; the budget must be approved by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court to ensure proper oversight; all residence homestead exemptions will be provided, including an exemption for elderly and disabled residents as well as a total exemption for 100% disabled veterans and their surviving spouse; and all rollback tax provisions apply. Joining Guerra in support by signing on as Joint Authors are Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission.

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Edinburg’s retail economy, commercial construction in early 2011 show strong improvements over levels set last year

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, center, and Terry Burkett, chairman of the Outreach Veteran Committee for the Texas Capitol Vietnam War Monument Committee, on Wednesday, March 30, are featured reviewing the cast model for a planned $1 million monument, to be located on the Texas Capitol grounds, which will pay tribute to Texas veterans who served in America’s longest war. Earlier that day, the Texas Senate approved Hinojosa’s Senate Resolution 649, which celebrated March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day. In a related measure, Gov. Rick Perry, also on Thursday, March 24, signed House Concurrent Resolution 56 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Hinojosa, who served as a Marine combat squad leader in Vietnam, recognizing Saturday, April 9 as Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day. Muñoz said HCR 56 also is intended to draw more attention to the major celebration – which is free and open to the public – which will be held at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday, April 9. See stories on the both measures later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, featured on Friday, March 25, speaking from the podium in the Speakers Committee Room at the State Capitol, praises the House passage of Senate Bill 14, the so-called "Voter ID Bill", which would require Texas voters to provide one of several government-issued photo IDs, such as a Texas drivers license, before being allowed to cast a ballot at a polling place. Peña, surrounded by fellow Republican House members, contends the measure is part of several major pieces of legislation he will support this spring to crack down of voter fraud. However, his support for the voter ID bill was not shared by the rest of the Valley’s state representative delegation, including Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who issued their own statements detailing the reasons for voting against the voter ID measure. That legislation now goes to a conference committee made up of five senators and five state representatives who must hammer out differences between the version approved by the Senate earlier this month, and the version approved by the House on March 24. See related stories later in this posting.

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American Electric Power representatives Ben Crandall and Ryan Smith on March 8 presented a $17,371.50 energy savings incentive check to the Edinburg school board during its regular meeting.  Accepting the check were board members Jaime Chavana, Juan “Sonny” Palacios, Carmen González, David Torres, Robert Pena, Jr., and Dr. Martín Castillo as well as Superintendent of Schools Dr. René Gutiérrez, Robert Estrada, district architect, René Olivarez, district engineer, and Mario Salinas, assistant superintendent for District Administration. The incentive check, which comes through AEP’s 2010 Entergy Texas SCORE Program (Schools Conserving Resources) program, rewarded the district for choosing to install energy-efficient appliances The SCORE Program provides support to select school districts and higher education partners through energy performance benchmarking, energy master planning, and cash incentives for SCORE participants who complete projects that result in peak demand savings.

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Sgt. Patricio Castañeda, a Weslaco native, was a combat soldier in Vietnam. Lyndon B. Johnson was our president at the time. The two come together in the locally-produce play, Pat & Lyndon, which began in Pharr on Thursday, April 7. In the performance, produced by Pedro García, a wide array of characters, portrayed by the actors featured in this photograph, is at the Café Saigon and in their own backyards. Pat dreamed of a family life and Lyndon had nearly 500,000 soldiers deployed. Together they share their lives, their views and their experiences of this controversial time. Join the Pharr Community Theatre (PCT), 203 West Park Avenue in Pharr, on April 7 through 16, and again on May 19 through 22, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and  3 p.m. on Sundays. Advanced tickets are recommended (80 seats available per show) and can be purchased at the theatre Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and noon, or call Carol at 956/460-5473 or 956/783-7746. Tickets are $7 apiece. Featured, from left: Abelardo "Cha Cha" Jiménez; Kenny Reyes; Robert Martínez; Omar Treviño; Lassiter Holmes (who portrays President Johnson); Cecilia Hinojosa; Noel A. Reyna (who portrays Sgt. Castañeda); Araceli Casares; Rigo Ordaz; Armandina Sesin; Daniel Román; José E. Martínez; and Viridiana Garza. Kneeling, from left, are: Emily May-G. and Rebeca Ortiz.

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Area residents who were near South Texas College’s Technology Campus in McAllen on Thursday, April 7 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. may have noticed a slight pink glow covering the buildings. Why? It was Ladies Night on campus and the facilities were flush with Valley women enjoying an evening of fun, fashion, refreshments and career exploration. Admission was free and open to the public. Some of the women of STC’s Technology Campus showed their pink power ahead of the college’s April 7 event, including, featured from left: Irma Rosales, STC Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) instructor; Esmeralda Adame, STC precision manufacturing instructor; Laura Salas, STC CADD instructor; Margarita Vanguelova, STC CADD instructor; and Sara Lozano, STC CADD instructor. See story later in this posting.

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Depression and Alzheimer’s will be some of the topics that will be covered at the South Texas Senior Summit – hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce through its Health Committee – on Friday, April 29. Dr. César A. Matos will address those related issues in English and Spanish during the morning portion of the gathering, which is free and open to the public. A free lunch, sponsored by HEB, also will be provided for residents who attend the sessions, which will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Palm View Community Center, 3401 Jordan Avenue in McAllen. Matos, who will be one of several medical professionals who will make presentations during the day, received his education at the University of Puerto Rico, University Autónoma of Guadalajara, University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, University of Florida and the New York Psychiatric Institute. He began his practice in New York in 1983 and established his private practice in McAllen in August 1992.  He is currently the General Medical Director for the South Texas Behavioral Health Center in Edinburg.  The public is invited to register and also learn about Medicare/Medicaid, senior abuse and crimes against the elderly. Exhibitors will be available giving out information and marketing items that are useful to all seniors. In addition, free eye exams, foot exams, glucose and blood pressure readings will be made available at no cost to the audience. For more information and/or to register, residents and prospective exhibitors may contact the RGV Hispanic Chamber at 928-0060.  Sponsorships and exhibit space are still available. Committee members featured with Matos are, from left: Lidia Limas, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program; Delia Estrada, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program; Norma Brewster, Office of Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Dr. César A. Matos; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Adelita Muñoz, Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

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Edinburg High School senior Audrie Vela, a Senior Cross Country Athlete, recently signed a National Letter Of Intent to run cross country and track at Texas A&M University-Commerce for the fall of 2011. Featured on her big day are, front row, from left: Carlos Vela; Audrie Vela; Rachel Mascorro; and Ernie Mascorro. Standing, from left: Joe Filoteo, the athletic director for the Edinburg school district; and Tencha Lancaster, cross country track coach for EHS. 

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Texas veterans denounce Texas Monthly’s attack on Rep. Flores for fighting for disabled war heroes 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, flanked by leaders of local veterans’ groups, on Thursday, June 11, explained why he took on powerful legislative enemies in order to get his bill passed that will provide up to a 100 percent home property tax break for thousands of disabled veterans. "We veterans, we don’t leave anyone behind, and I wasn’t about to leave these veterans behind," Flores said during a press conference organized by the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. The group chose the Rio  Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission as the site for the news event, noting that Flores had also been the principal architect in bringing the state veterans cemetery to the Valley. Despite behind-the-scenes legislative opposition to his measure, Flores, a U.S. Army veteran, outmaneuvered his  political rivals and passed the veterans’ home tax break. Flores praised Texas veterans groups for playing a key role in the measure’s hard-fought success.  See lead story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured first on right, was rated as one of the best state lawmakers in Texas by Capitol Inside, a non-partisan web site news service has been a big hit with Republicans, Democrats and diehard independents as well since making its debut online in January 2003. At the conclusion of each legislative session, several political publications and websites name best and worst performers based on their service to their districts and the state. This year, Capitol Inside and political strategists Ted Delisi and Harold Cook compiled top ten lists, each naming Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as one of Texas’ top ten legislators. Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as a veteran legislator that "just keeps getting better."  The Delisi/Cook list noted Hinojosa’s ability to secure funding for District 20 projects, including highway infrastructure, and millions of dollars for health care delivery services. From left, during a recent visit to the Capitol, are Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa (no relation to the senator), Hidalgo County County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr., and Hinojosa. See story on the Capitol Inside ranking later in this posting. 

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South Texas firefighters were among the dozens of area groups which visited state lawmakers at the Capitol during the recently-concluded five month regular session. On Wednesday, April 1, a Valley delegation brought their issues to Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. Featured with Lucio, in his office, are, from left: Manuel Vargas, McAllen; Raul R. Zúñiga, Jr., San Benito; Javier Gutiérrez, McAllen; Lucio; Ramón Martínez, San Benito; Jesús Tijerina, San Benito; and Ernest Abrego, Harlingen. Later in this posting, Lucio writes about several key measures approved by the Legislature that will benefit another key constituency – military veterans.  

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The Convention Committee of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is finalizing plans for the 34th annual Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) Convention, which this year will be held at the McAllen Convention Center from July 29 through August 1.  The theme to the convention is “Growing Hispanic Business, for a Stronger Texas Economy”. Featured, front row, from left:  Sam Guzmán, TAMACC president;  Froy Garza with Congressman Henry Cuellar’s office; and Salomon Torres with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s office. Back row, from left: Rick Carrera, University of Texas-Pan American Small Business Development Center; Dr. John Thomas, MHCC board of directors; Mark Winchester, UTPA’s Director of the Rio South Texas Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO; Letty Flores with Gov. Rick Perry’s office; Margie Treviño, Southern Minority Supplier Development Council; and María Juárez, UTPA Director of the Small Business Development Center. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Punch @ Lunch on Wednesday, June 24 at the Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive, sponsored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR). The business community of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley are invited to attend the free networking luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Persons who attend are being asked to bring their business cards to distribute during the chamber’s most notable social-networking luncheon, which includes food, door prizes and fun. Area residents interested in attending should RSVP by calling 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Joanna Álvarez, DHR Assistant Director for Marketing; McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who serves as DHR’s legal counsel; Mario Lizcano, DHR Director for Marketing; Marissa Castañeda, DHR’s Chief Operations Officer; and Frank Lara, Membership Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  

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Disabled veterans’ home property tax breaks, Valley VA Hospital plan, posting big victories in Legislature

Paul Cowen, longtime chief-of-staff for Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and an alumni of then Pan American University, on Monday, June 1, was honored by the Senate for his legislative work on behalf of the Valley and Texas. Cowen will be leaving his Senate post on August 31. “Paul has been the most loyal employee and friend. His enormous contributions to state government and to the people of District 27 will never be forgotten,” said Lucio. “His work has been exemplary and of the highest quality, and as one of the Texas Senate’s most valuable employees, he will be greatly missed by all of us.” See story later in this posting.

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“Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott once said, “helping one another is part of the religion of sisterhood.” No need to tell that to the “Trigo sisters” of Edinburg, as they have come to be known in the College of Education at The University of Texas-Pan American. The three siblings – featured from left, Elda Trigo, Armidia Trigo Ríos, and Iliana Trigo – all celebrated earning their master’s degrees at the same time in the same field – bilingual education – at one of three UTPA commencement ceremonies held May 9 at the McAllen Convention Center. See story later in this posting.

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Julissa Barrera, shown second from left, learned over her years as a student at The University of Texas-Pan American that leadership requires creativity, determination and perseverance. For her final project as a member of the four-year Student Leadership Program at the university, Barrera created, researched and implemented a drive in which she successfully collected nearly 8,000 diapers to give to clients of AVANCE Rio Grande Valley, a local nonprofit agency providing services to lower income Valley families. Featured at a recent ceremony to present diapers to AVANCE RGV collected as a part of a UTPA Student Leadership Program senior project are, from left: Noelia Telles, family service coordinator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; Julissa Barrera, who graduated this spring; Cecilia Quiroga, parent educator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; and Teresa González, supervisor of family programs, AVANCE RGV. See story later in this posting.

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Top leaders with South Texas College and Texas A&M-Kingsville recently signed an agreement to ease the transfer of students studying education. Featured, seated from left, are: Steven Tallant, TAMUK president; Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs; and Ali Emaeili, STC dean for bachelor programs and university relations. Standing, from left, are: Marilyn J Bartlett, TAMUK dean of the College of Education; Art Montiel, chair of STC’s Education Department; and Mike F. Desiderio, TAMUK chair for education. See story later in this posting.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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