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City Council approves incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, were in McAllen on Friday, February 23, to present a $5.1 million grant for the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative to South Texas College and The University of Texas-Pan American. The grant, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) program, will go toward workforce development and the creation of a sustainable manufacturing infrastructure in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley region. The plan includes the development of a rapid response manufacturing facility as well as integrated educational initiatives to produce skilled workers and managers. The event was held Friday afternoon at STC’s Technology Center at 3100 W. Military Highway. Featured in the photograph, from left, are: Hinojosa; STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed; Wanda F. Garza, STC’s Executive Director for Workforce and Resource Development; Cuellar; and Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, president of UT-Pan American.

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Joaquín A. Rodríguez was honored by the Edinburg City Council on February 6 for his selection on January 9 as the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg Youth of the Year 2007. The Edinburg High School senior, currently ranked sixth out of 610 students in his class, has been publicly recognized by both the the city’s elected leadership and the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg for his superior leadership skills, academic achievements, obstacles overcome, and his service to the three-time All-America City. Featured, from right, are Mayor Joe Ochoa; Joaquín; his father, Carlos Rodríguez; his mother, Nancy Rodríguez; and his brother.

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City Council approves economic incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center

As part of the city’s efforts to bring an 800,000 square foot shopping center, valued at about $80 million and representing hundreds of jobs, the Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, February 20, approved a proposed package of economic incentives that would help the mall developer pay for a portion of the costs of making the retail complex a reality.

The proposed incentives, which will be soon be presented to First Hartford Realty Corporation, Inc., of Connecticut, have been in the works for months by local government leaders, including the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The planned retail mecca would be the latest big addition to the city’s continuing economic growth.

Plans for the shopping center were first announced about a year ago by then Mayor Richard García, who now serves as president of the board of directors of the EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the city council.

Mayor Joe Ochoa, who also sits on the EEDC board of directors, is leading the city council’s efforts to package an incentives deal to move the project forward.

“Those involved in the development agreement that is currently being negotiated, and hopefully will be finalized very shortly, with the developers of the proposed mall project to provide an incentives- based economic development package,” said City Attorney Dan Ríos. “If First Hartford meets certain specific goals throughout the development of the project, the city, in accordance with state laws, will provide for certain incentives for that development.”

He said some of those incentives to be offered by the city include “reimbursements for public improvements that would be dedicated for public use, and also involve certain levels of sales tax incentives and reimbursements, provided they meet construction of square footage. It is a phased-in incentive package.”

The city council and the EEDC since last year have been developing the economic incentives for the planned mall, which would be similar to The Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio.

“If they (First Hartford) meet additional goals, they would be able to seek additional economic incentives,” Ríos said. “Those items that have been negotiated over the past several months would bring a major impact in terms of development and growth that would benefit the city and its citizens. We are pleased with a developer that is contemplating making that type of investment in the area, and that investment, in the council’s view, justified serious consideration of this economic package.”

Ochoa noted that the agreement “states that First Hartford will be building a facility at least 800,000 square feet in size in multiple buildings to be located on approximately 128 acres of land at the northeast corner of the intersection of Business 281 and Trenton Road in Edinburg.

“First Hartford has advised the city that a significant contributing factor that would induce First Hartford to locate and construct the facility in the city is the ability to obtain certain economic development incentives to would assist First Hartford in being able to finance to facility,” the mayor added.

One component of the economic development incentives being provided to the shopping center’s developer, under the development agreement by the city, is a commitment from the city to grant to the First Hartford a portion of the city’s one percent sales tax revenues collected within the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone to be created by the city, said García.

The city is authorized under Texas law to grant public funds for economic development purposes pursuant to a “program” established under Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code. A resolution approved Tuesday, February 20, by the city council authorizes the establishment of such programs, which must occur before the city grants public funds for economic development purposes.

As a result of the passage of that resolution that evening, the city is able to provide a one percent city sales tax grant detailed in the development agreement.

As part of its economic development strategies, the city council previously authorized the creation of the Local Government Finance Corporation (LGC) to assist with financing and constructing economic development projects within the city in order to promote economic development and to stimulate business and commercial activity in the city, all at the request of the city council.

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com

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United League Baseball, Edinburg Coyotes make pitch for improvements at city baseball stadium

The city-owned Edinburg Baseball Stadium, home of the Edinburg Coyotes professional baseball club and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs baseball team, would benefit from the addition of a covered picnic area, an outdoor bar and grill, a large advertising video monitor, and other modifications, leaders of United League Baseball said Tuesday, February 23.

The Edinburg Coyotes are part of the six-member ULB.

Addressing the Edinburg City Council, ULB and Coyotes officials asked the elected leaders to consider approving the proposed capital construction projects, valued at about $100,000, which would be paid for by the league and team.

“This capital improvement project reflects our commitment to the community and the team to provide the best affordable family fun entertainment around,” said Gary Wendt, the principal owner of the Coyotes. “We hope that you approve it – it is a substantial investment by ourselves, and I think it is in everyone’s best interest to support it.”

In exchange for their investment, which must be approved by the city council, the Coyotes asked the city to repair or replace the baseball stadium sound system, to provide additional lighting for security purposes, and to add architectural barriers to prevent cars from parking on the outside concourse of the stadium.

Since the proposal by the ULB and the team came during the public presentation portion of the city council’s meeting, there could be no action taken. However, City Attorney Dan Ríos said the league and team soon would be receiving a written response from the city.

Craig Brasfield, ULB President and Executive General Manager, said the planned improvements are needed to enhance the entertainment value of the stadium, not only for baseball games, but for other outdoor events at the city-owned facility, which opened almost six years ago.

“One thing we recognize is that there is very little that has been done, on a large scale, since its opening in 2001,” Brasfield said. “We just need to do some things that will get the ‘wow’ back. Nowadays, in minor league baseball, if you don’t reinvent yourself, you kind of get stale. We have come up with some ideas we feel will give our organization a better chance for success, as well as offer a much more affordable family entertainment venue for the citizens of this region.”

The $5.6 million complex, which has hosted outdoor gatherings with more than 10,000 people, can continue to reach its potential with the added improvements, Brasfield explained.

“We want to build on the first base side of the stadium, overlooking the home side dugout, an outdoor cantina, or outdoor bar and grill, that will have upscale food, and the ability to serve mixed drinks, beers, soft drinks, and food that will make the experience of coming to an outdoor event much more pleasurable, and give us the chance to draw a day crowd,” Brasfield said. “It will also give us the opportunity to put on other off-game events that will be another reason to come to this facility.”

A second venue in the stadium is also being recommended by the team.

“We want to build a covered picnic pavilion. This is a must for an outdoor facility. We didn’t do very well last year in group outings and picnics because of the summer heat and the lack of cover,” he continued.

“Our idea is to build a 30 foot by 35 foot covered pavilion with ceiling fans and televisions, so now, when we go out to a major corporation to ask them to bring their employees and their families to an event, they can go to a nice covered area with catered meals,” Brasfield revealed. “This pavilion will also offer a great opportunity for the citizens for family reunions, wedding reception, and on and on.”

Both proposed additions would be consistent with the decor of the existing facility, he reassured the council.

The team also wants to build a new ticket booth at the stadium that would eliminate the long wait that many fans now endure.

“The existing ticket system is really tough for the fans,” he acknowledged. “Our idea is to build a ticket booth out in front that would service four to five windows.”

Out in the front of the stadium, facing traffic coming by and to the stadium, the team wants to add a $45,000 video monitor which would allow sponsors to advertise to the thousands of cars that travel by the stadium on a daily basis, much of that flow fed by the ever-expanding UTPA campus.

In addition to its baseball field matching or exceeding the size of many fields in Major League Baseball stadiums, the Edinburg Baseball Stadium also includes a diamond vision scoreboard and luxury boxes.

It is located at the intersection of Sugar Road and Schunior Street, immediately northwest of the University of Texas-Pan American.

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com

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Luis M. Ríos, Sr., M.D., a pioneer among Hispanic plastic surgeons in Texas, remembered for his contributions to Edinburg and the nation

Luis M. Ríos, M.D., Sr. entered into eternal rest on February 18, 2007. He was born on February 12, 1935 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Dr. Ríos’ father passed away when Dr. Ríos was eight years old, leaving his mother as the sole provider as he grew up in Mexico City. Through the inspired devotion of his beloved mother, María Luisa de Ríos Pastrana, Dr. Ríos excelled in all of his educational pursuits, and graduated from college and medical school in Mexico with honor and distinction.

In 1960, Dr. Ríos was accepted to an internship program at the St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago, Illinois where he met his wife, Mary Ann Mungovan. They were married in 1962. They were to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary on June 23rd of this year.

Soon after their marriage, Dr. Ríos accepted a position as a resident in general surgery at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He became chief resident of that program. During their time in Nebraska, Dr. Ríos and Mary Ann brought three boys into this world, Luis M. Ríos, Jr., M.D., Daniel G. Ríos and Edward X. Ríos. After the passing of his mother, the family moved to Mexico City in 1966, where Dr. Ríos practiced medicine until 1969. During that time, Jennifer Ann was born.

In 1969, Dr. Ríos entered the plastic surgery residency program at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He completed that program in 1971. Though heavily recruited from established plastic surgery programs from San Antonio and other large cities, Dr. Ríos made the decision to move to the Rio Grande Valley in 1971. He became one of the first Hispanic plastic and reconstructive surgeons in Texas, and was the first plastic and reconstructive surgeon in the Rio Grande Valley, where he treated patients from Starr County to Brownsville.

As his colleagues and thousands of patients can attest, Dr. Ríos dedicated himself to providing incomparable medical care to his patients. Whether destitute or of considerable means, Dr. Ríos never distinguished between his patients, and passionately strove to provide each with the best of care.

These virtues were perhaps best illustrated through his work as the founding member of the Rio Grande Valley Cranial-Facial Anamolies Advisory Group, where he, Dr. Phil Hunke, Dr. David Reed and others donated their time and skills to those, young and old, suffering from debilitating facial deformities. Dr. Ríos felt this group most exemplified the reasons why he became a doctor, and in 1993, the Valley Association of Speech Pathologists and Audiologists awarded him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

In keeping with his calling, Dr. Ríos served his profession and community humbly, and with great dedication and distinction. He involved himself in many international, national, state, and local organizations, which included the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, RGV Cranial-Facial Anamolies Advisory Group, American Cleft Lip and Palate Association, Royal Society of Medicine, Association of Military Plastic Surgeons, Texas Board of Medical Examiners, International Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society, Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation, American Board of Plastic Surgery, American College of Surgeons, Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates, Creighton Surgical Society, American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Maliniac Circle. While he was honored to dedicate much of his time to these organizations, Dr. Ríos never looked beyond the needs of his patients, whom always remained the most important priority of his professional life.

In 2005, the National Endowment for Plastic Surgery awarded Dr. Ríos with its prestigious “Citation for Excellence in Humanitarian Service”, formally recognizing his technical excellence and unwavering devotion to the medical needs of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. While he could not attend the ceremony, his son, Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Jr., also a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, proudly accepted this honor on his behalf.

Dr. Ríos also served his country as an officer in the United States Army where he achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel. He took great pride in applying his surgical skills for the benefit of the men and women serving in the United States Armed Services. He felt this was but a small token of his appreciation for the privilege of obtaining his United States citizenship and for the privilege of living in this country.

Dr. Ríos retired in 2002 and succumbed to a progressive and physically debilitating disease, the onset of which began shortly after his retirement. Throughout his long battle, he remained fully cognizant of his condition and surroundings. He enjoyed spending his last years with his family and grandchildren, Christopher Ríos, Emily Ríos, Nicole Childress, Alyssa Childress, Sydney Childress, Steven Childress, Edward Ríos and Sophia Ríos. During his difficult times, he especially enjoyed all of those friends and patients who visited him.

The family hopes that those, whose lives Dr. Ríos touched, remember him as a humble and skilled servant of his profession, a person who dedicated his heart and soul to the healing of his patients, no matter their circumstances.

Dr. Ríos was blessed to have wonderful doctors who attended to him faithfully, as he would have to them. For this, his family thanks Dr. Jetta Marie Brown, Dr. Tommy Yee, Dr. Roger Vitko, Dr. Ramiro Verdooren, and his beloved dentist, Dr. Joe Villarreal. The family also wishes to thank his caregivers who dedicated themselves to his well-being and comfort during his difficult times. They are Nick Bustamente, Olivia Rodríguez, Lisa Salazar of Innovative Home Health, and Scott Henderson of the Sandy Jo Funk Hospice.

A visitation was held at Kreidler Funeral Home at 314 N. 10th St., McAllen, between noon and 8 p.m. on Friday, February 23, 2007. The family received visitors between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. There was a prayer service at 7:30 p.m on February 23. The funeral service began at 10 a.m., February 24, 2007, at St. Joseph’s Church in Edinburg.

Dr. Ríos is survived by his loving wife, Mary Ann, his children and grandchildren and Mrs. Luis M. Ríos, Jr., M.D. (Lisa), Mrs. Daniel G. Ríos (Mónica) and Mr. Brett Childress (Jennifer). The pallbearers honoring Dr. Ríos were Mr. David O. Rogers, Jr., José Luis Aliseda, M.D., Joe Villarreal, D.D.S., Mr. Gilbert García, Mr. Joel Huerta, Mr. Albert Bergh, Ali Seif, M.D. (in absentia), Mr. Bill Reynolds and Antonio Ulloa, D.D.S.

The family encourages memorial donations to the World Cranio-Facial Foundation, P.O. Box 515838, Dallas, Texas 75251, or the Parkinson’s Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic, Dept. of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, 6550 Fannin, Suite 1801, Houston, Texas 77030, or the Society for PSP, Executive Plaza III, 11350 McCormick Road, Suite 906, Hunt Valley, Maryland, 21031 (800)457-4777 or to a charity of one’s choice.

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Sen. Hinojosa, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announce filing of legislation to require defibrillators in public schools

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday, February 19, announced legislation to put Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in all Texas public schools.

The bill is set for a public hearing on Tuesday, February 27, by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

Hinojosa and Dewhurst provided details on Senate Bill 7, which will be carried by Hinojosa, during a Capitol news conference.

SB 7 would require every Texas public school to be equipped with a minimum of one AED and a staff member trained in its use.

“I don’t want a family to have to endure the loss of a child when it could have easily been prevented,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst thanked Hinojosa for sponsoring SB 7, a key component of the Dewhurst’s comprehensive Texas Children First plan.

“It’s clear that defibrillators save lives, and if we can save even one life by placing a defibrillator in every school, then the state’s investment has been well spent,” Hinojosa said.

Joining Hinojosa as co-authors of SB 7 are Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville; Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio; Sen. Bob Deuell, M.D., R-Greenville; and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.

According to the Texas Education Agency, almost 4,000 of the state’s nearly 8,000 public school campuses in Texas do not have these critical lifesaving devices. Funding options for acquiring the AEDs include public/private partnerships, donations, grant funding and state general revenue.

“With a solution to save young lives this simple, I can’t think of any reason why AEDs should not be in all public schools,” Dewhurst said.

Also joining Hinojosa and Dewhurst at the Capitol press conference was Laura Friend, co-founder of Parent Heart Watch, a nationwide advocacy organization dedicated to reducing Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in children.

Friend’s 12 year-old daughter, Sarah, died of SCA in 2004.

“This is an important public policy issue. Most occurrences of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in young people happen in public places like schools. Immediate response with an AED can literally mean the difference between life and death,” Friend said.

Parent Heart Watch supports placing AEDs in all Texas public schools.

Currently only five other states (New York, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) have laws specifically regarding the placement of AEDs in public schools, school districts or athletic events. The estimated average cost of a portable AED is approximately $2,000.

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ECISD among leading districts in Texas to place defibrillators in every school

The Edinburg Consolidated ISD is among a handful of school districts who have made it their goal to place an automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in all 35 of its schools.

While many school districts in the Valley and the state already have AEDs in place in some of their schools through the help of a grant or partial donations to purchase limited amounts, the ECISD school board decided to budget them into their budget to ensure that every school will have one in place within 45 days.

The ECISD school board approved the purchase of AEDs for every campus at last week’s board meetings. The AEDs have been ordered and should be in place within 45-days.

The school district, which spans over a 945-sq. mile area, has 13 school campuses that are out of the Edinburg city limits. At least eight of those schools are located several miles from town where emergency medical services are readily available.

Albert López, coordinator of Health Services for the ECISD, said that placing AEDs in these schools (as well as in all schools) will provide valuable assistance in the event help is needed in these rural schools and an ambulance is several minutes away.

López said the district already has about 200 individuals who have been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use of the AEDs and will bring these individuals together for additional training before the AEDs are put in place at the schools. Lopez said there will be yearly trainings as well to make sure that the AED operators are up-to-date on information and usage.

“The purchase of the AEDs for every campus is another effort by the school board to show the community just how valuable the lives of their students and staff are,” said Gilberto Garza, Jr., interim superintendent of schools. “It wasn’t hard to sell the need for AEDs in all of our schools to the board. They didn’t want to wait for the state to provide funding for them. The board moved quickly to budget the funds and make them available as soon as possible.”

López said AEDs are self-contained, portable medical devices that look somewhat like a briefcase and are easily carried by a handle. The AEDs contain a battery, a control computer and electrodes.

López said when the electrodes are placed on a person, the computer will determine the type of rhythm or arrhythmia present. The control computer will then set necessary power levels and signal whether or not a shock is needed, said López..

AEDs will not allow a shock to be delivered if the person does not require defibrillation. Once the signal is given to administer a shock to the person, the AED operator must be certain no one is touching the person and then manually press a button to deploy the shock, said López.

As more people begin to understand the importance of AEDs in addressing unexpected episodes of cardiac arrest, AEDs are being put into corporate offices, shopping malls, sports stadiums, college campuses, airports, community centers, schools and other places where large groups of people gather daily.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 250,000 Americans die every year of sudden cardiac arrest. The AHA says the chances of a person surviving an unexpected cardiac arrest increases dramatically if defibrillation is available to the person suffering the attack within a few minutes.

Last October, the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the organization that provides educational extracurricular activity guidance for schools, made it a requirement that all public schools in Texas install at least one AED by Aug. 1, 2007. The UIL made this decision following the sudden death of several student athletes in Texas and the successful resuscitation of an athlete at a school equipped with an AED.

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ECISD board approves turf makeover for Cats Stadium to enhance safety for players and others

Come this fall season, the football field at Cats Stadium will have a new look that both the district’s football teams and bands can use as necessary.

The Edinburg CISD school board approved the installation of a synthetic turf to replace the Greg Norman Grass Turf during a January session in which both the Athletic Department and the Fine Arts Department joined forces to ask the board for a new field.

Coach Robert Alaníz, athletic director, said the wear and tear on the present grass turf field does not make for a healthy field. Alaníz said that the use of the field by three high school football teams two to three times a week during the fall can create a situation where it becomes unsafe for a football player and even a member of the band marching on the field.

“Even the best turf cannot withstand the traffic and sustain a safe condition for the use of the field,” said Alaníz.

Alaníz said the new granular infill synthetic turf will be able to sustain daily sports use without any significant deterioration or danger. He said the school district’s sports teams and school bands will be able to use the synthetic turf without damaging the surface.

Alaníz explained that natural grass fields typically cannot be kept in good condition under heavy sports use, and with wet weather, the situation is made worse. The synthetic turf approved by the school board, on the other hand, is a durable product that can handle considerable wear and tear without field deterioration.

“The middle part of a grass football field experiences the worst deterioration,” said Alaníz. “The synthetic turf has the ability to remain uniformly safe across the entire playing surface regardless of the amount of play or weather conditions.”

Alaníz said the likelihood of head-to-ground impact injuries is greatly increased as the condition of a field deteriorates. Additionally, Alaníz said the possibility of rotational leg injuries due to a shoe or cleat binding in the turf are nearly eliminated by using a synthetic field.

He said that last year there 20 football games played at Cats Stadium with the school bands performing at halftime. The football teams and bands did not, however, practice on the field because it would deteriorate the field and create an unsafe playing field.

ECISD Fine Arts Director, Willie Pérez, said that marching bands, which have a reputation as being “grass killers,” can damage a grass field very quickly. The present stadium field, said Pérez, cannot be used because of safety issues for the band students.

Pérez said a synthetic turf will enable the three high school bands to practice and perform on the football field with a turf that is similar to the turf where competitions like the Pigskin Jubilee at McAllen Memorial Stadium, the Bands of America competitions at Rice Stadium and the UIL State Competitions at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

“The band department would be able to host competitions on a local, state and national level,” said Pérez. “These kinds of events here in Edinburg would draw the community together and help to boost the local economy.”

Alaníz said the present cost to maintain the grass field at the stadium is $66,400 per year or $3,320 per game for 20 games. The cost to maintain a synthetic turf for 40 games will be $59,000 per year or $1,475 per game.

Estimated construction costs for the new synthetic turf are $708,000 ($655,600 for the turf with $52,400 for engineering, project management and inspection).

The cost for the new turf is being funded through a budget amendment approved by the school board. Gilberto Garza Jr., interim superintendent of schools, said that the budget amendment allows the district to use budgeted monies from the both the current Athletic Department and the Fine Arts Department budgets. Garza said both departments have been very careful this year in their spending and that the cost for the new turf will be absorbed by the nearly $800,000 in cost savings realized by the departments.

Garza said the economic impact of Cats Stadium having a synthetic turf will greatly benefit the school district. The new turf would allow the district the option of hosting events like play-off games, band competitions and semi-pro games without the worry of damaging the field. He said that last year athletic ticket sales from all sports generated $320,000, of which $273,000 was from football ticket sales.

Construction of the new turf is anticipated to begin in mid-May with completion by August.

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Edinburg Public Library to close down March 4 to prepare for move to Dustin Sekula Memorial Library

The Edinburg Public Library will officially close its doors on Sunday, March 4, at 5 p.m. in preparation of its move to 1906 S. Closner, across the street from the ECHO.

The public library will open as the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library. The opening date of the new library will soon be finalized and announced

The new library will bear the name of local hero Lance Corporal Dustin Michael Sekula, who was the first Hidalgo County casualty of the Iraqi Freedom War. Sekula was an avid reader, cowboy and a brave Marine. The library seeks to reflect some of his outstanding qualities in hopes of inspiring the youth of our community.

This almost 36,000 sq. ft. library will include an expanded children’s area, a built in puppet stage, activity room and garden. Study rooms and a computer training room will also be available.

Materials may still be placed in the book drops at the current library until the opening of the new library. An amnesty period will be scheduled from March 5, 2007 through April 30, 2007 to ensure that all outstanding materials are returned without overdue fines. Patrons are encouraged to bring in any overdue materials during this time.

Library staff will work diligently to ensure that the move is done swiftly so that library services can resume as quickly as possible.

“We look forward to serving the community at our new library where we look forward to hold true to our new motto: ‘The Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library … Empowering Our Community,” said Head Librarian Letty Leija.

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Dr. Alejo Salinas, South Texas College trustee and former Edinburg city commissioner, honored for public service

As part of Board Appreciation Month, South Texas College took the opportunity to honor Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr. and Roy de Le?n, as well as the entire Board of Trustees, recognizing their ongoing support of the college’s construction expansion and continued growth.

Salinas was an Edinburg city commissioner during the 1990s before being elected in 1996 as the District 5 trustee, which includes the three-time All-America City, on the community college governing board.

Salinas also is a former superintendent of Hidalgo ISD.

Salinas has served STC since 1996. He is superintendent emeritus for and a clinical lecturer at The University of Texas – Pan American. Roy de Le?n, representing District 7 that includes north east Edinburg, has served the board for 10 years. He was appointed by former Governor Ann Richards to fill the unexpired term of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa and was subsequently elected to the board in May 2002 to a six year term and serves as a vice president for Laredo National Bank.

“Of the many responsibilities the board members have had, none have been as demanding as the construction program implemented by the college since the passage of the $98.7 million bond issue on September 29, 2001,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College. “Sixteen buildings in 16 months at five locations, with three more being completed, is no easy undertaking! The property owned by South Texas College has almost doubled in acreage and state-of-the-art facilities for students, faculty, and staff have now expanded to over 1.3 million square feet. Their commitment is steadfast, their integrity is above reproach, and their expectations for the highest standards and quality are firm. The board’s dedication to providing public accountability for the construction projects serves as a model for community colleges and school districts across this great state of Texas.”

In appreciation of their hard work, each board member was given a scrapbook highlighting the stages and completion of the construction project at the January 2007 Board meeting.

District 2 representative and education icon in the Rio Grande Valley, Irene García, serves as the chair of the board and has been a member of the board for more than six years. Jesse Villarreal, vice chair of the board, has represented District 6 for six years and works as a parent specialist for the Weslaco ISD. Mike Allen, widely known member of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, serves as the secretary for the board and has been a member of the board since May 2004.

Atlas and Hall managing partner Gary Gurwitz, District 4 representative, and director of transportation for the Rio Grande City ISD Manuel Benavidez Jr., District 1 representative, were both hand-selected by former Governor Richards to serve on the board in 1993 with the inception of the college.

“These are the hardest working people in higher education in the Valley, donating their time supporting and developing new opportunities and initiatives for South Texas College and the citizens of Hidalgo and Starr Counties,” added Reed. “Words alone cannot substitute for the many hours they have taken away from their own profession and family to address the many challenges and opportunities placed before the college. The administration, faculty, staff and students at STC extend our deepest appreciation for their tireless support, dedication and commitment to serving the best interests of our college and the communities of Hidalgo and Starr Counties.”

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Senate committee to investigate claims of abuses of youths in Texas Youth Commission

The Criminal Justice Committee of the Texas Senate on Tuesday, September 27, will delve into allegations of abuse at the state’s troubled Texas Youth Commission (TYC) during a public hearing in Austin scheduled to consider a comprehensive reform bill by Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Hinojosa a member of the committee and longtime advocate for juvenile justice reform.

The hearing will be held in Room E1.016 (Hearing Room) in the State Capitol complex beginning at 1:30 p.m., or upon adjournment by the Senate.

Senate Bill 103 by Hinojosa would require TYC to provide 300 hours of training to guards before they begin duties at state facilities, increase staffing to at least one guard for every 12 youths in each facility, and prohibit the current practice of housing youth as young as 11 and 12 with those as old as 19.

Hinojosa’s bill would also authorize the Texas Rangers to make monthly unannounced visits to facilities and submit reports to the state’s Sunset Commission for inclusion in TYC’s review evaluations.

In addition, SB 103 would create a criminal investigations unit, reporting to TYC’s board of directors instead of the agency’s executive director. The investigators would be commissioned peace officers who would investigate criminal acts among TYC youth, guards, and other commission employees.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee consists of the following members: Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair; Hinojosa; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy.

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“Jessica’s Law” clears House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, now headed for debate on the House floor

The House Committee on Jurisprudence, chaired by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Wednesday, February 21, unanimously approved a measure that would deny parole to certain first-time sex offenders and put the death penalty in play for repeat offenders.

House Bill 8 by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, has also become known as “Jessica’s Law”, named in memory of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year old Florida girl who was murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005.

“I think Chairman Aaron Peña and the other members of the committee should be applauded for the leadership they have shown on this issue,” Riddle said. “This is a clear sign of bipartisan unity, and a positive message to the whole state that politics is not going to stand in the way of the safety of our children.”

Riddle serves on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

The act would also extend the current statute of limitations on sexually violent offenses committed against children by 10 years, and would mandate GPS monitoring of all civilly committed offenders.

Gov. Rick Perry placed “Jessica’s Law” on his list of emergency issues earlier this session, giving the house permission to hear the bill before the 60 day moratorium on floor debate has elapsed.

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Rep. Gonzáles votes for measure to extend school property tax cuts to senior, disabled homeowners

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen joined her Democratic colleagues on Tuesday, February 20, in unanimously voting for a constitutional amendment, (SJR 13) extending the tax cuts passed last year to include seniors and disabled persons.

Though the amendment passed unanimously, it had been endangered a week earlier when it was attached to a highly controversial and unprecedented amendment to bust the constitutional state spending limit. Had the issues remained attached, it is likely that the senior tax cut would have died in the Senate as a result, she said.

In addition to passing the tax cuts, Democrats offered three amendments to the bill appropriating the funding for the property tax reductions promised last year (House Bill 2). The amendments would not change the allocation for property tax cuts, rather they would direct leftover money to three specific purposes should the actual cost of the cuts be less than the $14.2 billion set aside in the bill.

“I am proud to stand with all of my Democratic colleagues today. At our urging, the House (Republican) leadership abandoned its plans to hold seniors hostage to the budget debate,” Gonzáles said of the property tax cut. “When it comes to protecting our seniors and the disabled, I am proud we did the right thing.”

Despite its support for the senior tax cut, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) came out strongly against the Republicans’ decision to link the heated debate about busting the spending limit to tax cuts for seniors and the disabled, she said.

Because linking the two issues together put the passage of the senior tax cuts in danger, the AARP said last week that the Republican leadership was holding seniors hostage and using them as “political human shields,” she contended.

Under current law, seniors (65 and older) and individuals with disabilities qualify to receive a freeze on the amount of school property tax that can be imposed on their homestead residence. At the same time, other Texas homeowners’ property tax rates were lowered by legislation passed last year.

Without the proportional tax cuts delivered today, many seniors would have received a smaller tax cut than their neighbors. Some seniors and disabled individuals would have received no property tax reduction at all.

Last year, the Legislature met in a special session and passed legislation to cut local school district property taxes for Texas homeowners. At that time, Gonzáles voted to provide a proportionate reduction in property taxes for those seniors and disabled Texans receiving the tax freeze, but it died in the Senate.

In another attempt to fix this problem, immediately following the 2006 general election, several representatives filed legislation to ensure that seniors and disabled Texans receive the same proportional property tax cuts as every other homeowner, she said.

On February 20, Gonzáles again voted to provide seniors and disabled Texans the relief they deserve and, pending the voters’ approval, the legislation will become law.

“The seniors in the Valley can finally rest assured that they will get the same tax cut as everybody else,” Gonzáles said. “The last thing seniors should have to worry about is their financial stability. They have worked hard and they have earned peace of mind. We helped provide that with this vote today.”

Gonzáles said that Democrats offered three amendments to the property tax cut appropriations bill (HB 2):

•Should the price tag for the tax cuts come in under the $14.2 billion allocated for that purpose, the bill initially set aside all remaining funds for future cuts.

•House Democrats proposed using the extra money to improve public schools by funding a teacher pay raise and purchasing new textbooks.

•A third amendment offered by House Democrats proposed to use the excess to increase the homestead exemption to $45,000, which homeowners are allowed to deduct from the taxable value of their home. Middle class homeowners (the vast majority of Texas homeowners) would benefit most from that change.

“Once we have fulfilled our promise for property tax rate cuts, it is time to start talking about other important priorities for educating our children and expanding opportunity for the middle class once again,” said Gonzáles. “It is entirely possible to provide for quality teachers and return money to hardworking middle class homeowners.”

Texas teachers are still paid $4,000 below the national average annually, despite a pay raise passed last year. The state comptroller estimates that more than 37,000 teachers leave the profession every year.

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Sen. Lucio: Teacher retirement pension fund needs upgrade

By Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

We repeatedly hear about the need to pay teachers what they are really worth and to increase their benefits, especially health insurance.

A quieter but just as important related topic is what retired teachers receive from their pension plans. The amounts are not only pitiful, but they fall behind in terms of cost-of-living and inflation adjustments.

To alleviate the financial distress many retired teachers and retired school personnel encounter, I have filed Senate Bill 492. This legislation would increase a retired teacher’s monthly retirement, disability or death benefit by a five percent cost-of-living adjustment. Retired teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2001.

One of the motivating factors that prompted me to file this bill came from a poignant message written in a letter sent to me by Ms. Sylvia G. Suárez from Brownsville. The retired teacher, who also serves as legislative chair of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) for District 1 wrote, “We have given many hours to promote the best education and now we have been forgotten.” Who would not be stirred by such a moving and true comment?

Ms. Suárez also reminded us that “with the higher taxes, increased healthcare cost, higher cost of gasoline, electricity and higher cost of living” their retirement annuities have not increased to meet and maintain a healthy living standard.

As a former educator and someone with many siblings and relatives involved in public education, I can sympathize with the neglect our retired teachers endure. It has been tremendously rewarding to receive hundreds of phone calls from retired teachers throughout the state thanking me just for filing the bill. They understand that this is the first step in a lengthy process that also involves compromise at the financial rung of this legislative ladder.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will work with my colleagues to make possible this cost of living adjustment, which will be based on the performance of investments of the Teacher Retirement System pension fund. I was glad to be approached the other day by Sen. Robert Duncan, a member of Finance and chair of the State Affairs Committee, who differs slightly on the amount of the increase. He indicated that he would like to join me at the table in finding solutions to this issue.

Mr. Tim Lee, executive director of the TRTA says, “Providing retired educators with a real cost of living raise will help ensure their quality of life during their retirement years.”

The increase would also include retired school paraprofessionals, many of whom live at poverty levels. Some are reported to be receiving pension checks of between $300 to $600 a month. I’ve heard accounts that a retired teacher’s spouse dies and the retiree must sell their home because mortgage payments and upkeep become unaffordable. Texas can do better than this in taking care of the people who have devoted their lives to instructing generations of youngsters. I for one am committed to doing so.

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Texas’ Permanent School Fund tops $25 billion

The Permanent School Fund, the state’s 153-year-old endowment for public schools, on Tuesday, February 20, topped the $25 billion mark for the first time in its history.

The Fund was originally created with a $2 million appropriation from the Texas Legislature in 1854.

“This is an important milestone for the Permanent School Fund. The Fund has consistently been one of the top funds in the world and has provided money for the public schoolchildren of Texas through both good and bad markets. Today, it is performing admirably under the leadership of Holland Timmins, executive administrator, and the prudent oversight of the State Board of Education,” said Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, chair of the State Board of Education.

The Permanent School Fund is the second largest education endowment in the country, trailing only the Harvard University endowment.

The Texas endowment fund experienced strong growth in 2006, earning a return of 14.98 percent, which outperformed the target policy return of 14.41 percent. In calendar year 2006 alone, the Fund grew from $21.9 billion to $24.4 billion.

Timmins said that “the Permanent School Fund is an extraordinary gem that benefits every person living in Texas from students to taxpayers. The Fund has crossed the $25 billion level now due to the very strong return that it experienced in 2006.”

Proceeds and sales from this perpetual fund are used to help finance Texas public schools. It expects to distribute about $1.7 billion to the schools during the 2006-2007 biennium.

The money available for distribution is used to fund the purchase of textbooks for the state’s 4.5 million schoolchildren. This function has earned the Fund the nickname “the children’s textbook fund.”

After paying for the books which are given free of charge to students, the remaining available money is distributed on a per capita basis.

For fiscal year 2006, the per capita distribution was $213 per student, up from 62 cents per student when first distributed in 1855. This is the only state revenue distributed to schools, regardless of the property wealth of a district.

Since 1983, the corpus of the Permanent School Fund has been used to guarantee school bonds. This strong backing means any bond guaranteed by the PSF has the equivalent of an AAA rating, the highest available, and that saves districts millions of dollars in interest and insurance costs.

During the past 24 years, the Bond Guarantee Program has guaranteed more than 3,347 school district bond issues. The amount of these issues is $64.5 billion.

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Sen. Zaffirini files bill to protect Texas children from Internet predators

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Wednesday, February 21, filed legislation to protect Texas children and families from internet predators and cyberstalkers. Part of Lt. Gov, David Dewhurst’s priority legislative package, Senate Bill 6 by Zaffirini significantly will strengthen laws aimed at preventing online child exploitation and cyberstalking, or the use of the internet as means to stalk and harass.

Protecting against internet crimes, exploitation and online solicitation of minors are top priorities outlined in the lieutenant governor’s Texas Children First plan, which promotes a safe and healthy environment for Texas children.

“This bill will protect children, improve public safety and ease concerned parents who want stronger laws to prevent and punish internet crimes in Texas,” Zaffirini said. “According to the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment, 45 percent of children nationwide are active online – more than 30 million who are younger than 18. With more than 560,000 sex offenders registered nationally, we must enhance the safety of our young internet users and punish online predators appropriately.”

SB 6 will require internet service providers (ISP) to comply fully with a uniform 48-hour time period to respond to subpoenas, search warrants or other court orders pertaining to the online solicitation of a minor. It will allow prosecutors to seek consecutive prison sentences for the online solicitation of a minor; make the penalty for a conviction of online sexual solicitation of a minor a second degree felony; increase penalties for sexually explicit online communication with a minor; use state rewards programs to emphasize reporting and apprehending predators and criminals; and create a clearinghouse of ISP contact information in the Attorney General’s office so prosecutors can access important information necessary to prevent online predatory behavior.

“I want to thank Sen. Zaffirini for her leadership and for her commitment to protecting our children,” Dewhurst said. “SB 6 is an important part of my Texas Children First plan and sends a strong message that Texas is serious about stopping child predators on the internet, as well as in our schools and neighborhoods.”

SB 6 builds on Zaffirini’s legislation that protects families from online crimes. In 2005 she authored and passed SB 327, the Consumer Protection Against Spyware Act, which made it unlawful for a person or entity to knowingly install spyware. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced last December that a lawsuit based on SB 327 resulted in a multimillion dollar settlement with Sony BMG Music, which installed harmful and problematic “spyware” on more than 100 compact discs sold to Texas consumers.

In 2005, Zaffirini also sponsored and passed HB 1098 by Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, which prohibited internet “phishing” or fraudulent websites and e-mails sent to induce victims to divulge personal financial information.

This year she also filed SB 120, which would protect children from internet predators by establishing a clearinghouse of educational resources related to on-line safety at the Attorney General’s office and directing school districts to update their discipline management program to prevent the use of the internet for sexual solicitation.

“Providing online users with safe internet services free from personal exploitation and protecting children and students from online predators are among my highest priorities. This is why I passed SB 327 and HB 1098 last session and filed SB 6 and SB 120 this year,” Zaffirini said. “I appreciate greatly Lt. Governor Dewhurst’s leadership in providing our families with effective and earnest solutions that will prevent our children from becoming victims of online exploitation and solicitation. I look forward to passing these essential bills that will increase public safety throughout Texas.”

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South Texas fugitive child sex offenders arrested in sweep by Attorney General’s Office

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Fugitive Unit has arrested 12 convicted child sex offenders and two Louisiana criminals during a one-week South Texas fugitive operation.

The Attorney General’s investigators, working with local law enforcement officers in several South Texas counties, arrested eight men for violating Texas sex offender registration requirements. Six parole or probation violators were also arrested in the sweep, including two Louisiana fugitives who went into hiding during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina evacuation.

“Texans expect law enforcement to closely monitor convicted sex offenders. Protecting children is our highest priority,” Abbott said. “The Fugitive Unit will continue aggressively pursuing violent felons and missing parolees who pose a threat to our children. We are grateful to the local police and county sheriff’s departments that helped us locate and arrest these dangerous criminals.”

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Gov. Perry joins leaders in cancer research and technology to champion cancer research initiative

At events in Houston and Dallas on Monday, February 22, Gov. Rick Perry joined leaders in cancer research and technology to champion a $3 billion research initiative focused on finding a cure for cancer. With the sale of the lottery, the state can dedicate $300 million annually toward research efforts. This funding will give stability to important scientific projects, while making Texas a national leader in cancer research.

“Steady funding is particularly important in research endeavors to ensure uninterrupted progression of scientists’ work,” Perry said. “This funding will unite today’s brightest minds in cancer research to work together with our universities and research institutions toward a common goal: curing cancer.”

Today, Texas is home to 400,000 cancer survivors. This year 95,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and 34,000 lose their battle with the disease. The resources made available through the cancer research initiative will be used to focus primarily on how cancer metastasizes and pharmaceutical development. Steady financial support also allows Texas to draw many esteemed researchers to the state to work together with universities and other research institutions.

In recent years, the lottery has yielded approximately $1 billion annually. However, this funding is an unstable source of revenue. Selling the lottery for a conservatively estimated $14 billion allows the state to invest in secure trust funds which would annually generate nearly $1.3 billion interest, $300 million more than yearly lottery returns. Gov. Perry proposes using the annual interest gained from the sale of the lottery to establish trust funds in perpetuity for cancer research efforts, public education, and a premium assistance program for the uninsured.

“How we finance cancer research is secondary to whether we do finance cancer research,” Perry said. “We have to reach for the stars today so we can promise a brighter future for the next generations of Texans.”

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Sen. Cornyn lobbies Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff on issues important to border region

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Ranking Member of the Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee, hosted a meeting in Laredo on Wednesday, February 21, with Texas border mayors, county judges and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff to discuss issues important to the border region.

“It’s critical that local officials along the border continue to have input as we work to secure the border, ensure legitimate trade and travel and address the many issues facing the region,” Cornyn said. “This meeting provided Secretary Chertoff a first-hand look at the border and allowed him to hear the needs and concerns directly from the local community.”

The meeting comes as a follow-up to a recent one in Washington, D.C. co-hosted by Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that brought together Texas border mayors and community leaders with Secretary Chertoff.

Cornyn said he continues working to bolster border security and implement broader reforms of the immigration system.

“Our nation’s security is paramount, but we must also ensure that any security measures adopted are balanced with the goal of facilitating legitimate trade and travel, which is so important to Texas communities along the border,” Cornyn said. “As we move forward on these critical issues, I’ll continue working closely with border leaders to make sure their voices are heard.”

Another topic discussed at the meeting was Cornyn’s work to bring about parity in the admission periods for Canadian and Mexican nationals. He recently introduced The Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007, S. 422, which extends the initial period Mexican laser visa holders (who already cleared security checks) can remain in the U.S. from 30 days to six months.

“Laser visa holders are fully screened before being issued secure travel documents and are checked again at the border,” Cornyn said. “Many of them come here to do business and spend money, which boosts the economy in South Texas and contributes to job creation. So this bill maintains security, grows the economy and promotes fairness.”

Implementation of the US-VISIT program was also addressed.

Cornyn said we must ensure the program targets those who may be a threat to national security but also facilitates legitimate travel.

“DHS must continue working hard to ensure that it continually receives the input of the public and interested stakeholders, including 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. 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.”

On a related note, Cornyn continues to fight against proposed funding cuts to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). Cornyn said reducing the critical funding will create unfunded mandates and cause border communities to pick up the tab for this law enforcement work.

“When the federal government fails to live up to its responsibilities on the border, states and counties shouldn’t—and in many cases can’t—pick up the tab,” Cornyn said. “They didn’t create this problem and local communities in Texas shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. As the budget and appropriations process moves forward this year, I will fight against funding cuts to this critical program.”

Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.

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Texas Senate approves memorial resolution honoring life and times of Valley music icon Freddy Fender

The late Valley music recording star Baldemar Huerta of San Benito, better known as Freddy Fender, has been honored by the Texas Senate with a memorial resolution chronicling some of the highlights of the internationally-renowned musician.

The resolution was authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. It was unanimously approved by the Texas Senate on Monday, February 19.

The resolution’s text follows:

SENATE RESOLUTION NO. 264

WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas commemorates the life of Freddy Fender, who died October 16, 2006, at the age of 69; and

WHEREAS, He was born Baldemar Huerta in 1937 in San Benito, where he was influenced by the Mexican-polka sound known as conjunto; the son of migrant workers, he worked alongside his

parents in the fields, and there picked up the melancholy sound of the blues in the songs of the black people he worked with; and

WHEREAS, While still just a boy, he was performing on radio and often won contests for his singing; he was proud of his Mexican-American heritage and sang popular tunes of the day in Spanish, including Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell,” which became big hits in Mexico and South America; and

WHEREAS, He took the name Freddy Fender after signing on with Imperial Records in 1959; the following year he recorded “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”; and

WHEREAS, In the 60s and early 70s, Freddy went through a time of adversity and disappointment, but he returned to prominence in 1974 with the hit, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”; in 1975, he

won best new artist award from the Academy of Country Music and a rerelease of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” topped the country music chart and landed in the top 10 on the pop music chart; and

WHEREAS, He appeared in movies and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999; he won a Grammy for the best Latin pop album in 2002 and shared two Grammy awards, one with the

Texas Tornados and one with Los Super Seven; and

WHEREAS, Freddy Fender was known for his unique sound and memorable music and he will long be remembered by his family and many fans; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 80th Legislature, hereby pay tribute to the life of Freddy Fender and extend sincere condolences to the members of his bereaved family; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution be prepared for his family as an expression of deepest sympathy from the Texas Senate, and that when the Senate adjourns this day, it do so in memory of Freddy Fender.

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Museum of South Texas History to offer Children’s class about Huastec culture on March 4

A new class about the Huastec culture in Mexico is being offered to children ages 6 through 12 at the Museum of South Texas History on Sunday, March 4.

There is no fee, other than general admission. Registration in advance is required by phoning 383-6911. Limited space is available. The class will hold 30 and meet two hours.

“The history of the Huastecos is a very complex and fascinating story,” said Melissa Tijerina, Programming Officer for the Museum of South Texas History. “The Huastec are an indigenous people of Mexico historically based in the states of Hidalgo, Vera Cruz, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas. The Huastec people call themselves ‘Teenek,’ also the name of their language, which means ‘those who live in the field.’ They were conquered by the Spanish between 1519 and 1530’s.

“The ancient Huastec culture is one of the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. According to archeological remains, they date back to about 10th Century B.C. The pre-Columbian Huastecs constructed temples, carved sculptures, made pottery and also were known for their musical abilities,” Tijerina added.

“Getting to Know the Huastecan Culture” will be presented by three teachers representing Language Success, a school where several languages are taught in McAllen.

Odette MacDonald, Maribel Nava and Araceli Rodríguez will present story-telling, water colors and pottery while explaining the vivid history of the Huastec Indians. The Huastecos are known for making beautiful pottery with intricate designs. The children who learn about them will learn to paint a sample of their designs.

The Sunday children’s program will teach them about many aspects of the ancient Huastec culture with hands-on activities.

The Museum of South Texas History is located in downtown Edinburg, where the entrance is one block north of the Hidalgo County Courthouse parking lot. Admission fees are $4 for adults, $3 for seniors 62 and over, $2.50 for students over 12 (with ID), and $1.50 for children 4 to 12. Children three and under are free.

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.

••••••

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.”

••••••

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

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.”

••••••

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.