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Hidalgo County RMA stresses it wants local firms, workers to benefit from new $643 million road contract

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Healthcare, workforce and education, transportation, immigration and border security issues crucial to all Texans – and representing hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds for more than two million residents – were successfully championed during the 2007 state legislative session by the Texas Border Coalition. Featured following TBC’s August 2 meeting in Brownsville are, from left, are the following TBC leaders: Blas Castañeda, chief development officer of Laredo Community College; Wanda Garza, executive officer for workforce development and external affairs for South Texas College; TBC chairman and Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster; and Eddie Aldrete, senior vice president for International Bancshares Corp. (IBC). See story later in this posting.

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Gerry E. Pate, P.E., managing partner for Hidalgo County Road Builders, outlines his vision for improving Hidalgo County’s major roadway system during the August 9 meeting of the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority. The RMA selected Hidalgo County Road Builders as the agent in charge of developing and designing an estimated $643 million highway loop for southern Hidalgo County. See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, (featured left), on August 1 received the 2007 Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers Award from Executive Director Jim Brown for his work in providing affordable housing to Texans during the organization’s Texas Housing Conference in Austin. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce was recognized as the 1st place winner in their division at the TCCE State conference held in July in Temple, Texas. Evana Vleck has been employed with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce for a year and a half, and since then has produced 8 Newsletters. Each bi-monthly publication focuses on Edinburg Chamber events or accomplishments, and is filled with community news covering the chamber, the city of Edinburg, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, local organizations, local business, and more. Vleck says “I feel that we have a down to earth approach with our Newsletter; we concentrate on stories that will reach the attention of businesses, but more overly reach the vast community; we cover expos, chamber nominees, special events, meetings and more. It’s a pleasure writing for Edinburg, and I feel honored to receive recognition for the chamber’s newsletter.” The Depot Express offers unique advertising opportunities that reach all Edinburg Chamber of Commerce members. For more information on the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, or to advertise in the Depot Express please contact Evana Vleck at 956-383-4974.

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Relocation of key Hidalgo County office to the “Old K-Mart building,” located at 2802 S. Business Hwy 281 (corner of Canton and Business 281), has already begun. On Thursday, August 9, Tax Assessor-Collector Armando Barrera saw his first customer, Julie Kracht, who said she once shopped at the old K-Mart building. It was interesting to see it renovated into the new Hidalgo County Administration Offices, she told Barrera. See story later in this posting.

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Mike Allen resigns from Texas Border Coalition to battle illness; will remain on STC Board of Trustees

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Mike A. Allen, featured right, founder and former chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, has announced he will resign from the organization in order to focus on medical treatments for an undisclosed illness. Allen is also stepping down from the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, but he will remain on the South Texas College Board of Trustees. Shown with Allen is Maverick County Judge José “Pepe” Aranda. See story later in this posting.

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Elva Jackson Garza, a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board of directors, has been honored for her community service by the Texas House of Representatives. House Resolution 1801, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, was unanimously approved by state lawmakers on Friday, May 18. Featured with her on Thursday, May 17, are, from left: Mayor Joe Ochoa; Letty Martínez, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Garza; Cris M. Torres, incoming chair of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; and Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas. See story later in this posting.

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El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez, chairman of Texas Border Coalition’s Committee on Border Health, has delivered a letter in behalf of TBC to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst requesting his supports to expand medical coverage for children under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Texas Border Coalition, an alliance of elected leaders and economic development officials from El Paso to Brownsville, support efforts to make it easier to qualify for, and remain on, the CHIP. Featured with Rodríguez during a recent legislative TBC update in Austin are, to his left, Veronica Cantú, legislative liaison for the city of Laredo, and Wanda F. Garza, Executive Director for Workforce and Resource Development at South Texas College. See story later in this posting.

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Alex Hernández, standing, is featured with State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, recently on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. Hernández has been in Austin since the beginning of the 80th Legislative Session in January as a legislative aide working with the local lawmaker. See story later in this posting.

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Mike Allen resigns from Texas Border Coalition to battle illness; will remain on STC Board of Trustees

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Mike Allen, a major player in the Texas political and economic development arenas, announced on Tuesday, May 15, that is resigning from the Texas Border Coalition in order to concentrate on medical treatments for an undisclosed illness.

The Texas Border Coalition, formerly known as the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition, is an alliance of elected leaders and economic development officials representing more than 2 million residents who live along the Texas-Mexico border.

Allen is the founder, former chairman, and the driving force for TBC, which lobbies Congress and the Texas Legislature for laws and policies that benefit the border region from El Paso to Brownsville.

Allen also will step down as Executive Vice President of Strategic Affairs and External Projects with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. He was the longtime president of the MEDC, but voluntarily reduced his oversight role in the jobs-creation non-profit entity when he first learned of his illness.

Both actions were effective Friday, May 18.

Allen later did say that he would remain a member of the South Texas Community College Board of Trustees, which is an elected governing body.

“Because of my health situation it has become necessary to resign in order to take some specialized treatments over the next several months,” said Allen. “I do not believe I can adequately handle some of the responsibilities that I currently have.”

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Allen has contributed in more ways than one to the improvement of his fellow man.

“In his remarkable career, Mike Allen has used his wonderful talents to inspire a huge number of people from all walks of life to seek and achieve a better way of life,” Hinojosa said. “There are a lot of people who will be praying for a very successful outcome for him.”

In his letter of resignation, Allen expressed confidence in the work of the Texas Border Coalition.

“I know that with the structure that we have now and the people that are involved with this organization, we will continue to be a driving force in supporting the Workforce, Healthcare, Transportation, and other Border Issues in our communities,” Allen said. “I appreciate the support everyone has provided me during my tenure with the Texas Border Coalition.

“I would like to thank (Eagle Pass) Mayor (Chad) Foster (chairman of TBC) and all of you, whom I had the opportunity to work with,” Allen wrote to his fellow TBC leaders. “It has been a great experience and I certainly think we have achieved many great things for the border. I hope that I can stay in touch with each and every one of you.”

Allen has been in the forefront of some of the most important legislative and economic developments for the Texas border region, ranging from helping lobby for more than $1 billion in new state money for border highway projects to participating in congressional hearings on matters ranging from transportation and international trucking to health care and infrastructure development.

His current work includes rallying border political and business leaders to oppose plans by the federal government to build reinforced fencing – characterized as a border wall by its critics – along more than 100 miles of the Texas boundary with Mexico. Opponents say the border wall, which is intended to help reduce illegal immigration from Mexico, will cause economic chaos in many border cities.

“For nearly two decades, Mike Allen has rendered extraordinary service to the people of the Rio Grande Valley as he has sought to address the development needs of one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, and for his tireless dedication and remarkable vision,” Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, stated in a resolution she authored honoring Allen in 2005.

Some of Allen’s many other accomplishments are noted in the House resolution honoring him. That resolution states:

WHEREAS, Michael A. Allen has long played an instrumental role in the economic development of McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley; and

WHEREAS, President and chief executive officer of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation since its inception in 1988, this esteemed Texan has led MEDC to repeated success in its mission to attract new industry, upgrade local infrastructure, and facilitate trade and commerce; and

WHEREAS, With Mr. Allen at the helm for the past 17 years, MEDC has recruited to the U.S. side of the border more than 215 companies, employing over 18,000 persons; the corporation has also

brought more than 250 companies to Reynosa, Mexico, thereby adding another 75,000 jobs to the area; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Allen and his staff have generously shared the knowledge and expertise of MEDC with their Mexican counterparts; at the invitation of Don Florencio Salazar, coordinator with Plan Puebla-Panama, Mr. Allen consulted on the economic development of a number of Mexican states and the city of Merida; during that trip, he and other MEDC staff met with various state governors and economic development teams and offered insights into how to attract industry to each of their regions; and

WHEREAS, Under Mr. Allen’s guidance, MEDC has also sought to forge international links by fostering sister-city relationships with more than 10 cities in Mexico, as well as with cities in Canada and China; and

WHEREAS, Mike Allen’s personal achievements include his contribution as a cofounder of the South Texas Border Partnership, a coalition of five cities in Hidalgo County, and as the founder and chairman of the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition, which has brought job training funds to the Valley and secured $1.1 billion in highway funds for the region stretching from El Paso to Brownsville; and

WHEREAS, In addition, he has campaigned for the Anzalduas International Crossing, a project jointly supported by the Cities of McAllen, Hidalgo, and Mission; he has also worked to unite customs brokers, truckers, and Mexican officials in efforts to expedite trucking, and he has coordinated those same groups, together with civic leaders in Hidalgo County, in developing

support for the construction of Interstate 69; and

WHEREAS, Mike Allen can take tremendous pride, moreover, in MEDC’s involvement in the creation of the Regional Academic Health Center, a Lower Rio Grande Valley extension of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; division campuses of the RAHC have been established in McAllen, Brownsville, Edinburg, and Harlingen; and

WHEREAS, Affiliated with numerous economic development organizations, Mr. Allen has further served as a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Management and Relations, as a board member of the Alliance for Security and Trade and of the Border Trade Alliance, as a director of the Rio Grande Valley Council of Governments, and as a trustee of South Texas College; the breadth of his knowledge is reflected in his participation in congressional hearings on matters ranging from transportation and international trucking to health care and infrastructure development; and

WHEREAS, For nearly two decades, Mike Allen has rendered extraordinary service to the people of the Rio Grande Valley as he has sought to address the development needs of one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, and for his tireless dedication and remarkable vision he is indeed deserving of warmest commendation; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 79th Texas Legislature hereby honor Michael A. Allen for his immeasurable contributions to expanding economic opportunity on both sides of the Rio Grande and extend to him sincere best wishes for continued success in all his endeavors; and, be it further

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

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Texas Border Coalition urges Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to support expansion of CHIP health insurance

By ELHIU DOMÍNGUEZ

and

DAVID A. DÍAZ

Efforts to make it easier to qualify for, and remain on, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is in the hands of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is being urged by the Texas Border Coalition to support House Bill 109, a measure that could help reverse the increase in the number of uninsured children in Texas.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is a joint author of HB 109, which also in co-authored by the majority of the Texas border legislative delegation in the House.

CHIP is health insurance designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private health insurance, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. CHIP enrollment fees and co-payments are based on the family’s income. Enrollment fees are $50 or less per family for each six-month term of eligibility and most co-payments for doctor visits and prescription drugs range from $3 to $10.

The Texas Border Coalition is an alliance of elected leaders and economic development officials representing more than 2.1 million residents who live on the Texas side of the border with Mexico.

El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez, chairman of TBC’s Committee on Border Health, has delivered a letter in behalf of TBC to Dewhurst requesting his support to expand medical coverage for children under the CHIP program.

In his letter, Rodríguez requested Dewhurst to “please lead the Texas Senate in passing comprehensive legislation this session that simplifies the CHIP enrollment process.”

The letter also suggest that, in exchange for the implementation of yearly renewals, a system could be set up to closely monitor those applicants with incomes near the limits imposed by the federal government, reducing the likehood of families with earnings 200 % above the poverty level from remaining enrolled in the program.

Rodríguez added that expanding coverage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”) is a wise decision, because “it saves local tax dollars, helps education and improves our state’s economy.”

TBC contends that only Dewhurst’s strong support can assure that a similar bill filed in the Senate is brought up for a vote before the legislative session comes to an end. In the past weeks, Dewhurst has expressed his opposition to any bill that would allow children to apply every year instead of every 6 months as it is currently required.

However that particular change is considered key to increase the number of children enrolled in the program.

Since September 2003, when the 6 month re-enrollment provision was adopted, the number of children covered under the program declined more than 35 % of the total. The decrease affects particularly border communities such as El Paso, who now have the highest rates of uninsured children among all Texas counties.

Besides negatively impacting children’s health, high rates of uninsured hurts local communities in many ways, Rodríguez said. It costs counties and hospitals millions of dollars in paying for unnecessary emergency room services; it costs the school districts millions in absenteeism, and the state misses the opportunity to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Dewhurst has expressed his willingness to work out a compromise to allow the annual renewals if a system is set in place to ensure that only eligible children are covered.

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Elva Jackson Garza, former EEDC board member, honored with resolution by House of Representatives

Elva Jackson Garza, a familiar face in Edinburg business and political circles, has been honored for her community service by the Texas House of Representatives. House Resolution 1801, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, was unanimously approved by state lawmakers on Friday, May 18.

Garza, a public relations expert, is a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board of directors, among her many achievements. Currently, she serves as Vice President and Marketing Officer with Edwards Abstract and Title Company.

According to the company, Jackson joined the Edwards Team in 2002 as Vice President and Marketing Officer. She has devoted almost 30 years to the marketing and public relations field. Her experience includes nine years as marketing officer in the banking industry and eleven years with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to her marketing and advertising duties, Elva also handles all of the employee and customer education programs for the company. She is recognized as a civic leader with an economic development background serving on various leadership positions such as chairman of the board of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; President of the Kiwanis Club of Edinburg; President of the Valley Chamber of Commerce Executives and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board of directors.

Garza’s achievements were also highlighted in the legislative resolution adopted in her honor:

RESOLUTION 1801

WHEREAS, Elva Jackson Garza has made a lasting impact on the Edinburg community through her active civic engagement, and her achievements are truly worthy of commendation; and

WHEREAS, Mrs. Garza has served the local chamber of commerce for nearly a quarter century; currently in her fifth term on the executive board, she was chair in 1999-2000, and her efforts have helped to shape a number of the organization’s programs, including the Edinburg Today Breakfast, membership campaigns, and Fiesta Edinburg; and

WHEREAS, In addition to her work with the chamber, Mrs. Garza has served on the board of directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and has been a valued member of the Valley Chamber of Commerce Executives and Edinburg Industrial Foundation; moreover, she has shared her time with such groups as the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, United Way, and Edinburg Citizens Against Graffiti, which she served as chair; and

WHEREAS, This notable Texan is also a leader in the Kiwanis Club, becoming the first female president of the Edinburg chapter;and

WHEREAS, Mrs. Garza has been vice president and marketing manager of Edwards Abstract and Title Co. since 2002; a number of professional organizations have benefited from her talents, including the Greater McAllen Association of Realtors, Rio Grande Valley Builders Association, Women’s Council of Realtors, and the Hidalgo County Bar Association; and

WHEREAS, Blessed with a loving family, Mrs. Garza credits much of her success to the guidance provided by her parents, the late Albert Jackson, Jr., and Maria Sidia Gracia Jackson, and to the encouragement of her husband, Alfredo Ruben Garza; and

WHEREAS, The strength of our communities depends on the commitment and dedication of civic leaders such as Elva Garza, whose contributions to Edinburg have produced results of lasting benefit to countless Texans; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby commend Elva Garza for her work in behalf of the citizens of Edinburg and extend to her sincere best wishes for the future; and, be it further

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

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Alex Hernández of Edinburg completing legislative internship in Austin with Rep. Aaron Peña

By ORLANDO SALINAS

Alex Hernández of Edinburg has taken advantage of the opportunity to work at the Texas Capitol through the Moreno/Rangel Legislative Leadership Program.

The Moreno/Rangel Legislative Leadership Program is an intense program which provides a unique opportunity for Latino undergraduate and graduate students from across Texas to gain first-hand governmental experience working in the Texas House of Representatives during a legislative session.

He is one of only 12 students to be selected this year to participate in the program.

Hernández is currently a senior at the University of Texas Pan American and will graduate this December with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Spanish. He then plans on attending law school.

He spent his high school years holding various jobs and being involved with numerous school organizations.

At 18, he was able to attain a home for his family with the small income he earned from multiple jobs and the guidance of many. While working, he managed to keep his grades high enough to graduate at the top of his class.

Hernández hopes to one day have a role in shaping policies that affect Latino families.

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Governor signs into law a bill by Rep. González to expedite property tax disputes in local district courts

BY NICK ALMANZA

Ad valorem tax disputes will be prioritized and given expedited status in local district courts of communities with populations of less than 175,000 persons, effective Sept. 1. More timely resolution of property tax disputes will provide appraisal districts and school districts with a clearer picture of their expected tax revenues.

Senate Bill 57 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Verónica González, D-McAllen, which authorizes this change, was signed by Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, May 11.

“Ad valorem tax disputes often take years to resolve and can result in costly delays of tax revenue receipts for small and rural counties that depend on this revenue to operate school districts and support their communities,” Zaffirini said. “This new law builds on my previous efforts to provide smaller communities and school districts with means to receive their tax revenue timely despite the occurrence of a dispute. I thank Rep. González for her hard work in passing this bill in the House and am delighted that Gov. Perry signed it into law.”

SB 57 is Zaffirini’s third effort to pass the bill suggested by Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff. Her SB 82 (2003) and SB 103 (2005) were passed by the Senate but died in the House of Representatives.

Currently property tax valuation disputes often take from two to three years to be resolved in the courts. Persons or entities who dispute a property tax valuation are required to pay only the amount of tax not in dispute. This adversely affects small and rural counties by causing costly delays in tax revenue receipts that may be crucial to operating a school district.

This new law will provide relief to small and rural counties by applying expedited status to tax disputes and ensuring small counties receive tax-related revenues without delays.

Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff and Gregory-Portland Independent School District (ISD) Superintendent Paul Clore testified in favor of SB 57 during its consideration in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee. The comptroller estimates that there are $39 billion worth of property valuations disputed statewide. Gregory-Portland ISD estimates an annual loss of $800,000 due to tax disputes and Three Rivers ISD estimates $350,000 to $400,000 of lost revenue.

The new law will increase county and ISD funding for education by reducing the turnaround time for appeals of property tax payments. San Patricio and Live Oak county ISDs anticipate that they could receive an estimated $1.2 million each year in property tax revenues if tax disputes are expedited.

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Construction activities in Edinburg pass $76 million in first quarter of 2007

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Total construction activities in Edinburg during the first quarter of the year totaled more than $76 million, with new construction of commercial businesses leading the way from January through March at more than $48.5 million.

The city’s construction level from January through March continued to outperform last year’s pace, which had reached more than $52.6 million during the first quarter of 2006.

For the month of March – the latest figures available from the city government – Edinburg generated almost $13.7 million in total construction, compared with more than for $18.7 million in March 2006.

The latest numbers, compiled by the city’s Code Enforcement Department, were released by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC is governed by a five-person board of directors, which includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former mayor Richard García, who is the EEDC board president, and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.

A breakdown of the major construction categories year-to-date and by month in Edinburg includes:

•Total new construction, January through March, was $76,665,481, compared with $52,640,845 during the same period in 2006;

•Total new commercial construction, January through March, was $46,584,375, compared with $24,789,000 during the same period in 2006.

•Total new construction of single-family homes, January through March, was $15,832,066, compared with $17,877,989 during the same period in 2006; and

•The construction of single-family homes in the first three months of 2007 totaled 154, compared with 204 from January through March 2006.

Two construction projects each passed the $1 million mark in March.

Johnson Brothers Construction was issued a building permit for work valued at $2 million on a commercial facility located at 4002 South Highway 281 in the Kelley-Pharr Tract Subdivision.

The Rio Grande Valley Bible Institute was issued a building permit, valued at $1,450,000, for additions/remodeling at its campus, located at 4651 South Expressway 281 in the ML Woods Tract No. 4 Subdivision.

A building permit is permission issued by a city’s planning department to oversee and approve any changes to structures.

They are documents designed to guarantee that any construction work, from remodeling to demolition to building a new home or business facility, meets the city’s building codes.

The value of construction projects is included when the city issues a building permit.

The building permits do not include the price of the lot.

Four other projects – all new commercial buildings – were each issued building permits for work valued in the half-million dollar range.

Auriel Investments received a building permit for work valued at $550,000 for a facility at 2224 W. Trenton Road in the Jackson Corner Subdivision.

Texas National Bank is building two facilities, each valued at $500,000, located at 4980 South Jackson Road in the Stoneworks Plaza Subdivision.

Auto Zone also received a building permit for work valued at $500,000 for a new commercial facility to be located at 112 W. Monte Cristo Road in the Juniors Business Plaza Subdivision.

Other significant construction projects in March included:

John Champion, new commercial facility, valued at $350,000, at 4901 S. McColl Road in the Plaza de Oro Subdivision;

Legacy Growers, commercial addition/repairs, valued at $331,000, at 9001 N. Expressway 281 in the Monte Cristo Heights Subdivision;

City of Edinburg, addition/remodeling, valued at $309,000, at 1313 N. Doolittle Road in the Tex-Mex Subdivision; and

The most valuable home built in March belongs to Óscar Cantú, valued at $200,000. That home is located at 3211 Page Avenue in the West Meadows Phase II Subdivision.

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Rep. Flores wants disabled veterans to be exempt from paying property taxes on their homesteads

By ED SERNA

Soldiers who are deemed 100 percent disabled would be exempt from taxation of the total appraised value of the veteran’s residence homestead under a bill sponsored by Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview.

Senate Bill 666, authored by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, on Tuesday, May 15, was explained in the Ways & Means Committee by Flores, and the measure received unanimous support.

The bill is now before the House Calendars Committee, which sets the dates for all bills to be considered by the full House.

“These soldiers answered the call and gave so much to our country and deserve as much assistance as they can get to retain their most important assets, especially their homes,” said Flores. “I am honored to work with Sen. Carona to get this important measure passed so that our state’s injured soldiers can began realizing additional relief.”

SB 666 will exempt persons who are 100 percent disabled as a result of a service-connected disability according to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) from all ad valorem property taxes on their homestead. Currently, soldiers returning from conflict due to injuries receive a grade from VA on the severity of their disability.

“Most disabled veterans now are only eligible for varying levels of property tax exemptions, which is based on a veteran’s disability rating,” said Flores. “This bill helps ensure that veterans who are severely injured fighting for our country are completely exempted from ad valorem property taxes.”

If passed, SB 666 would be taken to the voter of Texas for approval of the corresponding constitutional amendment. The elections would be held throughout Texas in November 2007.

Flores, an Army veteran, has been actively involved in honoring Rio Grande Valley veterans past and present. Flores played a critical role in securing funding for the Valley’s first state veterans cemetery. He also authored and passed the legislation in 2001 that created the Rio Grande Valley State Cemetery in Mission, which was officially dedicated in November 2006.

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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South Texas needs, deserves professional schools

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

Except for the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, South Texas has no other professional schools. It is a serious concern that needs to be addressed now or we will continue to shortchange the region.

The five-county area of Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr has seen a population growth of 39.4 percent from 1990 to 2000, compared to the state’s of 22.8 percent for that same time period. Many South Texans aspire to obtain professional licenses and degrees, but their financial situations prevent them from leaving home to study elsewhere.

A professional school would draw from a big pool of qualified applicants. Studies show that border college students tend to study closer to home; about three in four enroll in local universities. And local graduates would also have a higher tendency to stay and practice where they live, thus curbing the “brain drain” we suffer from.

South Texas has been improving its higher education infrastructure since a 1987 lawsuit drew the attention of state leaders from outside the border to the lack of funding for graduate and undergraduate degree programs. We have seen an increase in Master’s degree programs, Ph.D.s and of course, the implementation of the pharmacy school. But we still lack professional institutions, like a medical and law school.

To address these needs, I have proposed two bills this legislative session. Senate Bill 420 lays the foundation for a free-standing medical facility that would be called the University of Texas Health Science Center—Rio Grande Valley. Establishing the UTHSCRGV, a system to include a medical school and many health-related degree programs, will increase access to health care and supply a labor pool for jobs that are already becoming hard to fill. The current labor force can’t keep up with the health care needs of a burgeoning population, many of them experiencing serious illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and others.

According to state labor projections, by 2014 employment at public and private hospitals will have increased 44 percent and jobs at physicians’ offices by 46 percent over 2004 levels in Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. The story verified that hospital administrators agree our population growth is the main driver for the increasing number of health care jobs in the Valley.

The UTHSCRGV would serve Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy, Brooks, Jim Hogg, Kenedy and Zapata counties, which would expand health related services and provide a wide range of employment opportunities.

The counties designated for service by the health science center have been classified as “Medically Underserved Areas” by the Department of State Health Services. A medical school would help recruit doctors to improve the underserved area. Also, it is known that medical students from underserved areas are more likely to stay and practice in those areas.

Under my proposal, research and training facilities would be established within the existing infrastructure of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) at U.T. Brownsville, U.T. Pan American and at Harlingen, with an estimated cost of $28 million for startup. The primary goal for the upcoming sessions is to obtain the necessary funding to establish and expand such a health system. Currently, there are eight medical schools in other areas of Texas, with the southernmost in San Antonio.

Developing these facilities would increase the availability of physicians culturally sensitive to the area’s population. Fewer miscommunication problems occur when health care providers understand and are educated to work with the cultural composition of the population.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 2002 study on new medical schools designated the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso as potential sites for a new medical school. SB 420 passed in the full Senate but is awaiting House approval.

The other bill I filed (Senate Bill 1400) would establish the first public law school in South Texas at U.T. Brownsville. In 2002, the Coordinating Board determined that South Texas is the region of the state with the greatest need for a law school. It is also underrepresented for Texas attorneys. On average, there is one attorney for every 328 people. Cameron County has an attorney to population ratio of 1:788 and Hidalgo County of 1:821, more than twice the state average.

With the success of programs such as the Pharmacy School and the RAHC, it is evident that South Texans have a strong desire to pursue professional degrees for the betterment of the area. I welcome support from the community and the media so that our voices ring loud in Austin.

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Gov. Perry urges Texans to prepare for 2007 hurricane season

Gov. Rick Perry has proclaimed May 20-26, 2007, Hurricane Awareness Week. Perry, along with the National Weather Service and the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management, is urging all Texans to be prepared for the 2007 hurricane season, which officially starts June 1.

“I urge all Texans to be mindful of the dangers presented by hurricanes, to stay informed about current threats, and to take steps toward preparedness,” Perry said. “While residents along the coast are among the first impacted by a hurricane, we must keep in mind that these massive storms can cause flooding and tornadoes hundreds of miles from the coastal areas where they make landfall.”

Families should designate a place to go in case of evacuation, develop an emergency plan for communicating with relatives and friends in other areas, and put together a “readiness kit” of important supplies, including items such as a battery-operated radio and flashlight. Texans are also urged to heed all warnings, information and instructions provided by emergency management personnel.

In fall 2005, Perry appointed the Task Force on Evacuation, Transportation and Logistics to take testimony from local officials, emergency response personnel and citizens on lessons learned from Hurricane Rita. In March 2006, the governor issued an executive order implementing the task force recommendations, which focus on five key areas: the evacuation of people with special needs; command, control and communications; traffic management; fuel availability; and public awareness.

Two weeks ago, the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management hosted the 2007 State Hurricane Preparedness Conference in Galveston, where local, state and federal officials and the emergency response community joined to discuss preparations for the upcoming hurricane season. From June 4 – 7, the state will also conduct a multi-dimensional Hurricane Preparedness Exercise, involving local, state, federal and private sector partners.

“State officials and first responders have collaboratively enhanced the state’s hurricane preparedness and response plans following the recent devastating hurricane seasons,” said Perry. “But there is still more we must do. Advanced planning and preparation by officials and residents are essential to protecting property, reducing risk and ultimately, saving lives.”

For more information about hurricane preparedness, please visit the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management website at http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/

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Texas Task Force Two created to help in times of hurricanes, other emergencies in state

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, May 17, praised the recent addition to Texas’ urban search and rescue capabilities, Texas Task Force 2 (TTF2). TTF2 was developed by the City of Dallas and received training and developmental support provided by Texas Engineering Extension Service Texas Task Force 1. TTF2 will be activated and deployed by the governor with the concurrence of the City of Dallas city manager.

“Texas Task Force 2 will play a vital role in search and rescue missions throughout the state in times of disaster,” Perry said. “Texas is uniquely prepared for disaster situations with the skilled emergency personnel of Texas Task Force 1, and now, Texas Task Force 2, who are all trained to act swiftly to protect and save lives when Texans are most vulnerable.”

TTF2, a Type III Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, is located in Dallas and is administered by the Dallas Fire Department. With more than 160 members trained in multiple disciplines, the task force is capable of deploying to areas across the state with one of three 42 member platoons. TTF2 emergency response includes the capability to perform technical searches, technical rescues, canine searches, address medical needs, respond to hazmat incidents, provide logistical support and planning, and provide a sophisticated, interoperable communications platform.

Texas Task Force 1 is a 300-member force that is nationally recognized for its unique search and rescue capabilities. It was deployed to New York City following the terrorist attack on 9/11, to New Orleans following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, and most recently, the full Task Force was deployed to assist in search and rescue operations in Maverick County as a result of the tragic tornado that struck that area April 24. Texas Task Force 1’s urban search and rescue and water rescue teams have expertise in responding to both man-made and natural disasters. Members include firefighters, medical specialists, canines and handlers, heavy equipment operators, structural engineers and other specialty emergency responders.

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Legislature approves constitutional amendment to provide $250 million for water/wastewater services

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

The Texas Legislature on Wednesday, May 16, provided final approval of Senate Joint Resolution 20 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, that would allow the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to issue an additional $250 million in general obligation bonds for economically distressed areas to obtain water and wastewater services statewide if approved by Texas voters.

Lucio is the Chairman of the International Relations and Trade Committee (IRT),

“As Chairman of IRT, for the last four years, I’ve been working with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to address the water and wastewater needs of distressed areas of our state. SJR 20 will be part of the November 6, 2007, Constitutional Amendment Ballot, he said. “Between now and the November election, I will be meeting with different communities across this state to inform them of the importance of this Constitutional Amendment in order to bring essential water and wastewater services to the most economically distressed areas in Texas.”

“On behalf of the communities impacted by the IRT Committee, I want to thank Lt. Gov, Dewhurst for appointing me to the powerful Senate Finance Committee,” said Lucio. “This appointment enabled me to work with Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Kip Averitt to address a number of issues outlined in our IRT Interim Report, including acquiring the necessary funding to finish out the original Economically Distressed Areas Program — EDAP I — and setting aside the necessary debt service revenue in the base state budget to support the newly expanded statewide EDAP II program, which would be funded by SJR 20.”

SJR 20 is the accompanying joint resolution of the bill Lucio amended last session with the help of Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, and Rep. Kevin Bailey, which took the Economically Distressed Areas Program statewide. SJR 20 provides for a constitutional amendment that if approved would give the TWDB up to $250 million in Bonding Authority to address the estimated $5.4 billion in water & wastewater needs for distressed areas of the state.

Lucio added, “Throughout the last four years, my committee, along with the Texas Water Development Board, identified communities statewide during the interim that are in dire need of water and wastewater services, and SJR 20 will afford them an opportunity to apply for critical EDAP funding.”

“I want to commend Rep. Norma Chavez (D-El Paso), Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Rep. Tracy King (D-Eagle Pass), Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III (D-San Benito) for their leadership and for working together with their House counterparts to ensure passage of SJR 20 in the Texas House of Representatives. Their understanding of the water/wastewater needs of Texas ensure that SJR 20 made it to the overnor’s desk,” added Lucio.

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Senate endorses bill by Sen. Lucio to require lap and shoulder seat belts in school all new school buses

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

The Senate on Thursday, May 17, unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, that requires lap and shoulder seat belts in all new school buses. The bill applies to new buses purchased by a school district on or after Sept. 1, 2010, and all school chartered buses operated after Sept. 1, 2011.

“Today we purchase cars with no thought to the cost of seat belts. Eventually that will also hold true for the purchase of school buses in this state,” said Lucio. “It’s time we stop giving our children mixed messages by requiring them to buckle up in a car but not in a school bus. This law is just common sense.”

The legislation is partly in response to an accident occurring March 29 of last year in which a chartered bus carrying 23 soccer players from West Brook High School in Beaumont was involved in an accident en route to a playoff game. The bus overturned and two players — Ashley Brown and Alicia Bonura — were killed and others severely injured. Despite their grief, parents of the students actively campaigned for change. Their advocacy led to Beaumont I.S.D. becoming the first Texas school district to require all new buses to be equipped with seat belts and to passage of the legislation.

Brad Brown, Ashley’s father, said, “The families of the Brown’s and the Bonura’s are ecstatic over the passage of House Bill 223 sponsored by Lucio. We feel this is a wonderful legacy to the memory of our two girls, and a legacy of hope and safety for all Texas school children.”

“The West Brook bus crash families are thrilled and overwhelmed by the unanimous support of the Senate and their decision that this seat belt legislation is the right thing to do to protect our children in Texas,” said Mr. Steve Forman, Allison Forman’s father, who was critically injured in the wreck.

Under this new bill, each new bus transporting school children in the state must be equipped with three-point (lap and shoulder) seat belts for the driver and each passenger. The bill will take effect only if the Legislature appropriates the necessary funds to reimburse school districts that comply with the Act. However, individuals who want to donate the safety belts for individual buses can do so at the discretion of the school board. If approved, the board may acknowledge the donation by recognizing the donor with a small sign on the side or back of the bus.

To install lap-shoulder three-point restraint seat systems on a new bus, it costs from $7,000 to $10,000. “That’s less than 10 percent of the total cost of a new bus,” explained Lucio. “It’s about two to three cents per student rider per day. Compare this to the staggering cost of even one accident.”

Since 2002, new technology lap-shoulder belt restraint seating for school buses has been available from several manufacturers at a reasonable price. Although built safely, current technology of school buses is 30-years-old. They are designed for frontal impacts, and not for accidents involving side impact or rollover collisions. With nothing restraining students in their seats, they can be thrown around the inside of the bus, collide with hard surfaces, or ejected from the bus.

Lucio is deeply grateful to the families of the children involved in the West Brook bus accident, as well as to his co-authors, Sens. John Carona, R-Dallas; Robert Deuell, R-Mesquite; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Mario Gallegos, D-Houston; Eliott Shapleigh, D-El Paso;Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio; Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and the House author, Rep. Mike Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

After the House concurs with the changes, the bill will be sent to the governor.

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Task force will work with educators, local law enforcement to examine school safety protocols

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and several state attorneys general on Wednesday, May 16, launched a coordinated effort to improve school safety. The Task Force on School Safety will examine how states can ensure their children have safe learning environments.

“Children are the future of our great state,” Abbott said. “Texas must ensure that its children attend safe, secure schools. The Office of the Attorney General is committed to working with educators, local law enforcement and school safety experts to ensure that our children are free from fear and violence.”

The task force will identify innovative programs, policies, and legislative initiatives that would improve school safety. The attorneys general will cultivate relationships and seek input from educators, law enforcement, and public and private educational advocacy groups across the nation.

“There are a number of critical areas this task force must address, including examining strategies for improving inter-agency communication and training to strengthen response by law enforcement to crisis situations that occur in the educational environment,” said Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, a co-chairman of the task force. “Attorneys general are well-equipped to assist local law enforcement authorities and make recommendations on where our jurisdictions stand in terms of crisis preparedness.”

Abbott has made protecting children a top priority of his administration. In 2003, he created the Cyber Crimes Unit, which protects children from online sexual exploitation. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators have traveled to schools and communities across the state to offer educational cyber safety programs. The Cyber Crimes Unit, a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of Texas, and the Fugitive Unit, which locates sex offenders who have violated the terms of their parole and could be stalking children, have combined to arrest more than 500 sex offenders.

In addition to protecting children from sex predators, Abbott has overseen the collection of more than $7 billion in child support for Texas families. In 2006 alone, the Child Support Division handled nearly one million cases and collected $2 billion.

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Congressman Hinojosa votes to restore COPS law enforcement program originally created during Clinton Administration

By ELIZABETH ESFANANI

Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, May 15, joined a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives to pass H.R. 1700, the COPS Reauthorization Act.

COPS is a program created under the Bill Clinton Administration; it means Community Oriented. Policing Services.

This measure relaunches the COPS hiring grants program and will help local law enforcement agencies hire an additional 50,000 police officers over the next six years. In Texas alone, an additional 2,567 officers will likely be hired over the course of the next six years.

“This legislation will once again give our local law enforcement agencies the tools they need to bring crime rates back down,” said Hinojosa. “Independent studies have confirmed that the COPS hiring grants program played a substantial role in the drop in crime rates. We are making our nation safer by reviving this effective program.”

The COPS hiring grants program was created under the Clinton Administration in 1994. From 1995 to 2005, this program enabled local law enforcement agencies to hire 117,000 additional police officers, which helped to significantly reduce crime across the country. Over those 10 years, Texas received over $450 million in COPS hiring grants funding, which made it possible for the state to hire 6,000 police officers. According to nonpartisan GAO study, between 1998 and 2000, the grants were responsible for reducing crimes by about 200,000 to 225,000 crimes – one third of which were violent.

Under President Bush, funding for COPS hiring grants was sharply reduced – funding declined from more than $1 billion a year in the late 1990s to $198 million in 2003 and $10 million in 2005. In 2006, the Republican-led Congress completely eliminated the program.

At the same time, violent crime has spiked across the nation. Earlier this year, the Police Executive Research Forum, a prominent law enforcement association, released a report which found that violent crimes rose by double digit percentages over the last two years.

Among the cities surveyed, since 2005, 71 percent had an increase in homicides, 80 percent saw robberies rise and 67 percent reported an increase in aggravated assaults with guns.

This legislation has been endorsed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National League of Cities.

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New law to provide greater access to state resources for film and television production companies

By NICK ALMANZA

The Texas Legislature recently passed legislation to ensure Texas retains more jobs and generates more in-state spending by enhancing access to state resources for film and television production companies. House Bill 374, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and authored by Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, creates an essential framework to help film and production companies coordinate efficiently their use of Texas building and land resources.

Effective Sept. 1, the bill authorizes the Texas Music, Film, Television and Multimedia Office to administer cost-effective and accountable procedures for using state buildings and grounds in film productions. Currently there are no coordinated efforts or procedures in Texas that provide film and production companies with easy access to state resources, a standardized fee schedule for use of resources or a state supported entity to help schedule production efforts. HB 374 will provide this.

“Texas certainly has the potential as a successful marketplace for the film and television industry,” Zaffirini said. “This new law is a positive first step in creating much needed incentives and standard rate-guidelines for the use of state resources in films. I thank Rep. Pickett for his leadership in authoring this bill that greatly will help Texas’ film industry thrive and provide valuable jobs and revenue.”

“Texas now has one more incentive to attract film producers to Texas,” Pickett said. “We are opening our state properties and park sites to the movie business. We have diverse, historic and beautiful sites to offer the imagination of the film industry.”

According to the Texas Film Commission, Texas lost approximately $306 million of in-state spending and more than 4,100 jobs to states that provide basic incentives to film and television production companies.

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Sen. Zaffirini receives communication awards from Press Women of Texas for speech, newsletter

By NICK ALMANZA

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has received six awards in the 2006-07 Press Women of Texas Communications contest. She received two first-place awards for her motivational children’s book, If Judy Pappas Can Do It, Anybody Can! and for her 2006 University of Texas at Austin Law School commencement speech titled “Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides?”

Senator Judith Zaffirini Reports to the Families of District 21, an annual newsletter for constituents, won third place. News releases announcing her pre-filed legislation for the 2007 legislative session and her appointment as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Capital Funding for Higher Education won second and third places, respectively. A media advertisement wishing her constituents a happy holiday season won honorable mention.

The Press Women of Texas and the National Federation of Press Women hold an annual competition to recognize excellence in writing and communications. Award categories range from news reporting to books.

Sweepstakes and group awards are given to top winners from newspaper, university and individual or “other” participant classifications. Zaffirini placed fourth overall and first in the individual grouping.

“I am delighted and honored to receive these awards from the Press Women of Texas, of which I have been a member since 1973,” Zaffirini said. “I especially am pleased that If Judy Pappas Can and my senatorial district newsletter won these coveted awards.”

If Judy Pappas Can Do It, Anybody Can! was published by the Laredo National Bank/BBVA, for students at Zaffirini Elementary School. It highlights milestones from her first memory of learning to read at the age of three to her accomplishments as a state senator.

Last May, Zaffirini delivered the commencement address to the 2006 class of UT Law Students. Her speech impressed upon the new attorneys their responsibility for answering the critical questions of our day, particularly: Who lives? Who dies? Who decides? Her son, Carlos Zaffirini Jr., was among the graduates.

Zaffirini has won more than 560 awards for her professional and public service work, including more than 100 for communication projects. This year she received the 2007 Leadership Award from the Arc of Texas for outstanding support and advocacy for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and received a gavel from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for casting her 35,000th consecutive vote in the Senate.

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Congressman Cuellar announces $292,189 grant for Upward Bound program at South Texas College

By LAUREN SMITH

The U.S. Department of Education on Monday, May 14, awarded $292,189 to South Texas College under the Upward Bound Program. Upward Bound projects are designed to help young adults develop the skills and motivation necessary for success in education beyond secondary school. The grant awarded to South Texas College will support approximately 75 participants in Upward Bound programs.

“I congratulate (STC president Dr.) Shirley Reed and her colleagues at South Texas College on receiving this grant. With the work of dedicated people in our education system, we will see continued success and increased education opportunities for our young people,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen.

Upward Bound provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. The program provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their pre-college performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. The goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from colleges and universities.

The projects provided by Upward Bound serve high school students from low-income families, high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree, and low-income, first-generation military veterans who are preparing for post-secondary education. These projects provide academic instruction in math, laboratory sciences, composition, literature and foreign languages. Tutoring, counseling, mentoring, cultural enrichment and work-study programs are also supported by Upward Bound.

“Ensuring that every person who wants to pursue a college education is able to is a top priority of mine. Programs like Upward Bound help to give students the tools, resources and motivation they need to be successful in reaching their academic goals,” said Cuellar.

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AG Abbott helps shut down alleged real estate scam in Austin that targeted Hispanic home buyers

An enforcement action brought by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Friday, May 18, shut down an Austin real estate scam that targeted Hispanic home buyers.

A permanent injunction issued by the 126th Judicial Court prohibits Roberto Flores and his Galindo Trust from selling homes to consumers without disclosing that the property is encumbered by pre-existing liens. The court also ordered the defendants to pay more than $1.4 million in civil penalties for violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Flores must provide restitution to consumers who were harmed by the defendants’ unlawful scheme.

“Home ownership lies at the heart of the American dream,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Texans will not tolerate those who exploit the dream of home ownership for their own unlawful gain. We must aggressively protect those who aspire to own a home.”

Flores sold homes to consumers without disclosing that the properties were encumbered by pre-existing liens. Shriners Hospital, the original owner of the properties, sold and financed the homes to Flores, who made mortgage payments through Galindo Trust. Flores re-sold the properties, but subsequently stopped making payments to Shriners Hospital, putting the homes at risk of foreclosure. When some consumers who financed their homes through Galindo Trust tried to sell their property, they were unable to do so because of Shriners’ pre-existing liens.

Shriners Hospital, which was unaware of the fraudulent arrangement, is working with the Office of the Attorney General and Volunteer Legal Services of Travis County to help consumers get proper titles to their properties.

Flores also misrepresented to consumers that property taxes and homeowners’ insurance payments were being made on their behalf. In fact, Flores stopped paying insurers and taxes, causing insurance policies to lapse and consumers to become delinquent on their property taxes.

Abbott offered consumers the following tips when buying a home:

• Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics and sellers who press for an immediate decision to buy a home or sign documents.

• Review all documents carefully before signing; take them to a trusted, independent person, such as a lawyer, to help review the terms if they are unclear.

• Involve a title search company in the transaction to determine who the owner of the property is and whether there are liens or outstanding debts for which the buyer could be held liable.

• Never make cash payments. Use checks or money orders. Avoid making large cash deposits upfront before closing.

• If monthly payments to the seller or financing institution include homeowners’ insurance and property taxes, check periodically with the county tax assessor and with the insurance company to ensure that accounts are current.

Consumers who believe they have been deceived in the purchase of real estate should report it to the Office of the Attorney General by calling 1-800-252-8011 or by filing a complaint online at http://www.oag.state.tx.us.

Key border leaders pull no punches in condemning planned wall in Texas

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Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, center, on Wednesday, May 2, emphasized opposition from border leaders to plans by the federal government to build a border wall that could disrupt commerce between Texas and Mexico without increasing homeland security. Salinas was joined at a State Capitol news conference by numerous political and business officials, including, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Salinas; Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Tracy King, D-Eagle Pass.  Hinojosa, a U.S. Marine combat squad leader during the Vietnam War, called the proposed barrier “The Wall of Shame”.

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McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz emphasizes the strong opposition to a planned border wall in deep South Texas that is being considered by the federal government as a way to curb illegal immigration. The wall would hurt the economies of the border region and Texas, Cortéz said during a May 2 press conference in Austin by the Texas Border Coalition. Featured with Cortéz are Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of TBC. “No one wants border security more than we do. However, we support security that is smart, takes advantage of our natural geographic barrier – The Rio Grande River – and doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” Foster said. “Building a wall along the Rio Grande River accomplishes none of these goals.”

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Former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa (center) proudly displays the Senate Resolution honoring him for his years in public service presented on Tuesday, May 1 in the Texas Senate Chamber by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville (left). Joining Judge Hinojosa are Gina Hinojosa-Donisi (daughter) with her son Mateo, Xochitl Hinojosa (daughter) and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen (no relation to judge’s family).

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Bert Ogden RGV breaks ground for Fiesta Chevrolet in east Edinburg

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Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas, who also serves on the Texas Border Coalition, on Friday, April 13, helped honor law enforcement officers and firefighters in his hometown during the city’s Second Annual Law Enforcement and Firefighters Appreciation Day, sponsored by the Mission Housing Authority. Featured in this photo at the event with the mayor, whose work with TBC includes efforts to improve homeland security and economic growth for the border region, are, from left: Romeo de la Garza, MHA board member; his wife, Norma de la Garza; José Garza, Chairman of the Board of the Mission Housing Authority; the mayor; Rolando Pérez of Edinburg, owner of Keys and Hardware; and Joel González, executive director of the Mission Housing Authority. For more information on the Texas Border Coalition, see story later in this posting.

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Eddie Aldrete, Senior Vice President for International Bank of Commerce in Laredo, focuses on major immigration issues of importance to the Texas Border Coalition during a recent TBC legislative strategy session in Austin. TBC, an alliance of elected leaders and economic development officials from the Texas border region, is supporting legislation in Austin that could help stem the flow of undocumented immigration and help the border and state economies. See story later in this posting.

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Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin on Tuesday, April 10, donated 50 computers to the Hidalgo County government to help train county employees in the use of software that will improve their work production and help serve more residents. On hand for the dedication were, from left: Mike Robledo, Hidalgo County Information Systems Administrator; JD Salinas, Hidalgo County Judge; Steve Hawkins, Lockheed Martin; Rusty Boone, Lockheed Martin; Renan Ramírez, Hidalgo County Chief Information Officer. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, featured center, joined Bob and Janet Vackar, featured to his left, and other dignitaries on Tuesday, April 10, for the groundbreaking of a new, multi-million dollar Fiesta Chevrolet dealership that is being built along U.S. Expressway 281 near Trenton Road in east Edinburg. Up to 150 people will eventually be employed at the facility, which is set to open for business on July 1. City leaders predict other major businesses will soon locate along that stretch of prime real estate as part of the continuing economic boom in Edinburg. See story later in this posting.

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Mayor Joe Ochoa and the City of Edinburg proclaimed Thursday, May 3, as National Day of Prayer (NDP). As part of the NDP, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is inviting the community to join the mayor for a prayer breakfast to be held at The Social Club, located on 205 Conquest Blvd in Edinburg. The event begins at 7 a.m. The cost to attend is $10 and includes breakfast along with a chorale, invocation, the presentation of colors, and other custom activities that take place on this special day. The intention of the National Day of Prayer is to have a day where members of all faiths can pray together. In 1952, a bill unanimously passed by both houses of congress proclaiming an annual National Day of Prayer. President Truman signed the bill into law. The bill required the President to select a day for national prayer each year; and in 1988, a bill was introduced to Congress which fixed the annual National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May; and on May 05, 1988, the bill was signed into law by President Reagan. “We are very lucky to have the freedoms to celebrate such an important proclamation” said Ochoa. More information is available through the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.

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Bert Ogden RGV breaks ground for Fiesta Chevrolet in east Edinburg

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Bert Ogden Rio Grande Valley, one of the premier vehicle dealerships in the nation, on Tuesday, April 10, broke ground along the U.S. Expressway 281 frontage road in east Edinburg for its latest addition – Fiesta Chevrolet, a multi-million dollar facility that will showcase, sell, and service the American-made passenger vehicles.

The complex, located immediately north of the U.S. Border Patrol Headquarters near the intersection of Trenton Road and U.S. Expressway 281, is the first phase of development on the 17-acre tract of land, which was purchased by the Valleywide dealership, which has deep roots in the three-time All-America City.

Fiesta Chevrolet will employ up to 150 people, and represent an investment of $2.5 million, company leaders confirmed. It will occupy about six acres of the site, which is currently vacant.

The late Bert Ogden of Edinburg opened his first car dealership more than a generation ago, and his vision – following his and his wife’s untimely passing 15 years ago – was proudly carried on by their son-in-law and daughter, Bob and Janet Vackar, said Richard García, president of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board of directors.

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

In addition to García, the EEDC governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.

“From those local beginnings, the Ogden/Vackar families have become a major economic force and employer in deep South Texas, with state-of-the-art facilities in McAllen, Mission, Harlingen and Edinburg – which will now open this latest complex as early as July 1,” added García.

Ochoa, who was one of dozens of company officials and local dignitaries on hand for the Tuesday morning ground breaking ceremony, said the east Edinburg site will be a major boon for that part of the community.

“The vision always has been to improve the development of infrastructure in these areas because we knew they would be huge attractions for commercial development, and this is exactly what is transpiring,” Ochoa said. “It will bring opportunities for the expansion of Trenton Road to the east side, and be able to connect to the feeder of I-Road. This is one of the first businesses that will be going up in this area, and we look forward to seeing many, many more.”

Bob Vackar, who serves as CEO for the Bert Ogden dealerships, shared the bright economic forecasts of the city leaders.

“We are sitting right here on the bypass of U.S. 281, which will be Interstate Highway 69 in the future,” Vackar said. “You have to be proud of Edinburg and what has been been going on in the last 10 years.”

He said Fiesta Chevrolet will carry the honored tradition not only of the Odgen/Vackar families, but also of Roberts Chevrolet, which was purchased by Bert Ogden Rio Grande Valley.

“We acquired Roberts Chevrolet, which has now been renamed Fiesta Chevrolet, and we are building it on this six-acre site here,” he said. “We are looking to take this facility to about 100 new Chevrolets a month, 50 to 60 used cars, maybe 200 retail units a month. By the end of 2008, we will have to move the Bert Ogden Buick/Pontiac/GMC out here (from its current location at Trenton and Business 281). We will have a major facility here with six acres reserved for any future dealerships or future development.”

The former Roberts Chevrolet, located north of the downtown square, was bought in March by Hidalgo County for $5.7 million. The former Roberts Chevrolet will become the site of the county courthouse’s new parking lot by next fall.

Meanwhile, when Bert Ogden Buick/Pontiac/GMC comes online at the new location, Vackar said the company will have invested about $7 to $8 million on the two dealerships.

“We are looking at a 32,000-square-foot facility, with a parts department, a service department, and a showroom (for Fiesta Chevrolet). When we build the Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealership, Fiesta

Chevrolet will feature a Chevrolet showroom only, and they will share the service facility,” Vackar added.

As for the current Buick/Pontiac/GMC complex in Edinburg, Vackar said the latest plans call for it to eventually be transformed into a Mazda dealership.

Initially, Bert Ogden RGV officials were considering relocating its existing Edinburg dealership to the new site, but once news broke of an $80 million shopping center to be built near the current facility, their plans changed for the better.

“Unbeknown to us, when we first bought this property, we wanted to make a move (from its current Edinburg location). But now that there will be a new mall, there is going to be a retail boom in the area,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of traffic coming into Edinburg.”

That renovation of its existing dealership will occur as the planned Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley begins to materialize.

“We will bring the General Motors products over here, and when the shopping center comes in, we will build a new Mazda dealership,” he said. “We will tear down the north end of the current structure down, and we will build a new Mazda Revolution architecture.”

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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa secures $49.2 million for Regional DPS Facility

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Wednesday, April 11, announced that he has succeeded in securing $49.2 million in the Senate budget bill for a new DPS regional office to be located in Hidalgo County.

The facility will help accommodate the growth in the region and give DPS officers a new crime lab and an expansion of office and storage space, Hinojosa said, as well as enough resources for necessary construction of new buildings.

“Our DPS officers are working hard to deal with rapid growth in a region that faces such serious challenges as the prevention of drug smuggling and ensuring public safety,” Hinojosa said. “Officers covering the 13 counties along our section of the border are long overdue for a facility that can accommodate the growing number of employees we have at the regional office.”

Senate Bill 1, the appropriations bill for the Senate, passed out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, April 9. Hinojosa is a member of the committee.

“My fellow senators realize that the border region is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation,” said Hinojosa. “South Texans appreciate their cooperation with me to secure the funding for this important facility.”

The $49.2 million will be financed through General Obligation bonds and general revenue.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, said he would work with House members to secure matching funds for the DPS complex.

“South Texas is the fastest growing region in the state,” said Peña. “The Department of Public Safety must keep up with that growth. We have some unique border security issues that troopers don’t see in other parts of the state and we need to ensure that we provide them the resources they need to keep doing their outstanding work. This funding request is similar to a rider we filed in last session’s budget and I am going to continue to work with my colleagues to fight for this important state appropriation.”

Orlando Salinas contributed to this report.

••••••

Texas Border Coalition wants Legislature to help Mexico reduce flow of undocumented immigration

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Texas Border Coalition is supporting a plan that would establish a joint interim legislative study to look at programs that can contribute to increased economic prosperity in the home countries of incoming immigrants.

The study, according to a bill analysis provided by the House Border and International Affairs Committee, would examine opportunities to encourage business and economic development, both in Texas communities that receive immigrants, and in the countries and states from which they come, as a way to stem the tide of undocumented immigration and ensure prosperity in Texas communities.

It is one of the top legislative priorities of the Texas Border Coalition. TBC is an alliance of elected officials and economic development leaders from the 14 Texas counties which border Mexico. They represent an estimated 2.1 million residents.

Members of TBC are: Chad Foster, TBC chairman and Eagle Pass mayor; Mike Allen, TBC vice-chairman and representing the McAllen Economic Development Corporation; Pat Townsend, Jr., TBC treasurer representing the Mission Economic Development Agency; Brownsville Mayor Eddie Treviño, Jr.; Cameron County Judge Carlos Casco; Del Rio Mayor Efraín Valdéz; Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa; El Paso Mayor John F. Cook; Harlingen Mayor Richard Rodríguez; Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas; Mayor Raúl G. Salinas of Laredo; Mayor Richard Cortéz of McAllen; County Judge José Aranda of Maverick County; Mayor Norberto Salinas of Mission; Mayor Leopoldo Palacios, Jr. of Pharr; Mayor Fernando Peña of Roma; and Mayor Joe V. Sánchez of Weslaco.

The goals are contained in House Bill 2717, jointly-authored by Rep. Tracy King, D-Eagle Pass, who is chairman of the House Border and International Affairs Committee, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen. An identical measure – known as a companion bill – is Senate Bill 1139 by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

HB 2717 was unanimously approved on Tuesday, April 11, and is now before the House General Calendars Committee, awaiting a scheduled date for action before the full House. If approved by the Texas Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry, HB 2717 would become effective on September 1, 2007.

According to the bill analysis:

Texas has experienced a large influx of immigrants over the past 15 years. Along with the large number of legal immigrants, there are also many undocumented immigrants, often from Latin America. Some of the root causes of this immigration are the lack of job, education, and business opportunities in the immigrants’ home countries.

HB 2717 would require the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, the House Committee on Border and International Affairs, and the House Committee on Financial Institutions to conduct a joint interim study to investigate current programs in Texas or in other states and possible new programs, that would provide opportunities for immigrants to voluntarily invest in development efforts in their home states or countries, or offer certain exchange programs between Texas, Mexico, or other Latin American countries.

The bill requires the study include an assessment of the viability and capacity of the State of Texas to facilitate such programs.

The bill requires the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, the House Committee on Border and International Affairs, and the House Committee on Financial Institutions to report the results of the joint interim study, along with recommendations for statutory changes, to the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house of representatives, and members of the 80th Legislature on or before September 1, 2008.

The bill provides that this Act would expire October 1, 2008.

Joe García, one of the legislative consultants for the Texas Border Coalition, represented the group’s support for the measure during the House committee hearing. Other individuals/groups registering in support of HB 2717 were: John Guerra, representing the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce; Rebecca Bernhardt, representing the America Civil Liberties Union of Texas; Ann Baddour, representing Texas Appleseed; and Luis Figueroa, representing the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

TBC maintains a web site at http://www.texasbordercoalition.org

House Bill 2717, as approved by the House committee, follows verbatim:

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED

AN ACT

relating to a joint interim study of ways to promote economic development in nations that are a primary source of undocumented immigrants in Texas.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1.

(a) The Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, the House Committee on Border and International Affairs, and the House Committee on Financial Institutions shall conduct a joint interim study to investigate:

(1) current programs operating in Texas or in other parts of the United States that:

(A) provide opportunities for immigrants to voluntarily invest in development efforts in their home states or countries; or

(B) offer exchange programs between teachers, medical professionals, business people, or local government officials from the United States and professionals in Mexico or other Latin American countries;

(2) possible new programs that would:

(A) provide opportunities for immigrants to voluntarily invest in development efforts in their home states or countries; or

(B) offer exchange programs between teachers, medical professionals, business people, or local government officials from the United States and professionals in Mexico or other Latin American

countries; and

(3) the viability of programs described by Subdivisions (1) and (2) of this subsection and the capacity of the State of Texas to facilitate such programs.

(b) The Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, the House Committee on Border and International Affairs, and the House Committee on Financial Institutions shall report the results of the joint interim study conducted under Subsection (a) of this section, together with recommendations for statutory changes, to the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house of representatives, and the members of the 80th Legislature on or before September 1, 2008.

SECTION 2. This Act expires October 1, 2008.

SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2007.

••••••

Senate panel approves TYC reform bill championed by Sen. Hinojosa

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

After two years of comprehensive work on youth corrections reform, Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa’s omnibus Texas Youth Commission reform bill, Senate Bill 103, was approved Wednesday, April 11, by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

“The young people in state care, their parents and loved ones, and the taxpayers who foot the bill deserve a system that rehabilitates our youth, not a system that systematically abuses them and then throws away the key,” said Hinojosa. “My intent with SB 103 is to rebuild the commission from the ground up so that we have a humane system for rehabilitating youth that is accountable to the people of Texas,”

Hinojosa and his staff began looking into the juvenile justice system two years ago when riots broke out at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg in Hidalgo County. Hinojosa pre-filed his comprehensive reform legislation and has continued to work with stakeholders since the TYC scandal erupted to rebuild the scandal-wracked commission.

Hinojosa’s bill calls for improved security by requiring TYC guards and other staff to undergo at least 300 hours of training before being assigned to guard duty; caps the guard-to-youth ratio at no more than 12 to 1 to maintain order and safety; and requires fingerprint and national criminal history checks for employees.

SB 103 also creates a Parents Bill of Rights to guarantee swift and accurate access to information about caseworkers’ duties and the agency’s grievance policies.

In addition, Hinojosa’s reforms call for the establishment of a panel within TYC to review sentencing guidelines bringing strict accountability to the process. His bill features structural improvements to TYC’s governing board and strengthens the agency’s emphasis on community rehabilitation instead of automatic incarceration.

The senator’s bill also provides for the creation of a criminal investigation unit to look into crimes committed by TYC youth, or against them by guards and other juvenile justice employees.

Hinojosa’s legislation ends the practice of housing 10- or 11-year-olds with 19- or 20-year-olds; creates an independent authority and law enforcement trained personnel from the Inspector General’s Office to ensure safety in TYC facilities; and authorizes child advocacy groups to visit facilities and work with youth.

“The current problems in the Texas Youth Commission demand short-term and longer-term challenges to improve security, provide more training, and enforce strict accountability measures so that the mistakes that led to recent scandals never happen again,” Hinojosa said.

••••••

Criminal Justice Committee approves Sen. Zaffirini’s bills protecting Texans from sexual offenses

By NICK ALMANZA

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, April 11, recommended passage of Senate Bill 120 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and House Bill 76 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin and Zaffirini, which would strengthen laws to prevent sexual offenses, including the online solicitation of a minor, and require state law enforcement agencies to collect pertinent information from victims of sexual assault.

HB 76 by Naishtat and Zaffirini would require the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Bureau of Identification and Records to collect comprehensive information regarding sexual assault for the purposes of statewide statistical reporting. Current law requires DPS to collect data regarding family violence offenses, but not for sexual assault offenses, and does not require local law enforcement agencies to report sexual assault statistics to DPS for statewide data collection. HB 76 changes that.

“The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) reports that 13 percent of Texans are sexually assaulted during their lifetime, but only 18 percent of those assaults are reported,” Zaffirini said. “This bill would increase required reporting to enhance agencies’ ability to prevent sexual offenses.”

SB 120 by Zaffirini would help protect children from internet predators by establishing a clearinghouse of educational resources related to on-line safety at the Texas School Safety Center and directing school districts to update their discipline management program to prevent the use of the internet for sexual solicitation.

These bills build on Zaffirini’s legislation that protect persons and families from sexual offenses and sexual exploitation. Last month the Senate unanimously passed SB 6 by Zaffirini, which would protect Texas children and families from sexual communication and solicitation via the internet.

“As legislators we have an obligation to protect persons, families and communities from sexual crimes,” Zaffirini said. “These bills greatly would improve procedures for preventing and prosecuting sexual offenses. I look forward to passing these bills.”

••••••

Work at Doctors Hospital, five schools helps power construction in Edinburg

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Total construction activities in Edinburg during the first two months of the year totaled more than $63 million, readily outpacing the $34 million level reached during the same period last year, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

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

It is governed by a five-person board of directors, which includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former mayor Richard García, who is the EEDC board president, and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.

For the month of February, total construction activities in the city were more than $20.2 million, compared with almost $14.9 million in February 2006.

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance again achieved top billing for the most valuable construction project in the latest monthly report, for work valued at almost $6.1 million for a medical facility being built at 5501 Raphael Drive in the Doctor’s Center Phase II Subdivision.

The major medical complex is undergoing an estimated $150 million expansion in southwest Edinburg.

A building permit is permission issued by a city’s planning department to oversee and approve any changes to structures.

They are documents designed to guarantee that any construction work, from remodeling to demolition to building a new home or business facility, meets the city’s building codes.

The value of construction projects is included when the city issues a building permit.

The building permits do not include the price of the lot.

Building permits for new construction in February 2007 also included other major commercial projects.

The Edinburg school district was issued building permits for work on four of its campuses: Edinburg CISD at 3615 W. Rogers Road; Truman Elementary at 701 Rogers Road; Cantterbury Elementary at 2821 Canton Road; and Escandon Elementary at 1100 E. Trenton Road.

The value of work for each of the school district projects is $933,000.

Meanwhile, the private Discovery School, located at 1711 W. Alberta Road, in February also began work, valued at $800,000, for additions/remodeling of its facility.

Steve Heb Da was issued a building permit for work, valued at $882,000, for a commercial facility being built at 2137 W. Trenton Road in the Trenton Crossroads Plaza Subdivision.

Ector Casas was issued a building permit for work, valued at $500,000, for a commercial facility being built at 303 Conquest in the Sheaval Subdivision.

••••••

Edinburg’s jobless rate in February lowest in the Valley at 4.8 percent

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s jobless rate, which is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy, remained the lowest in the Valley for the second consecutive month in 2007, averaging 4.8 percent in February.

The city’s unemployment rate was keeping pace with the statewide average of 4.5 percent and the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.

In 2006, the annual jobless rate for Edinburg was 5.3 percent, while in 2005, the annual jobless rate for Edinburg was 4.7 percent.

In 2006, the city’s jobless rate was the lowest in the Valley during five months, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and Edinburg registered the second-best showing for most of the other months last year, edged out only by McAllen.

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

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García,

who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.

As of February, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, 1,370 Edinburg residents were looking for jobs, while 26,920 local residents were employed.

The jobless rate, also known as the unemployment rate, is the number of persons unemployed,

expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

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

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

The jobless rate for Hidalgo County was 7.4 percent in February, down from 7.7 percent in January.

The February jobless rate for Hidalgo County represented 20,199 area residents without jobs, while 254,041 residents were employed during the second month of 2007.

McAllen had the second lowest monthly unemployment rate in February – 5 percent, or 2,952 of their citizens out of work, while 55,761 residents of the City of Palms were employed that month. In January, McAllen’s jobless rate of 5.1 percent.

Harlingen’s unemployment rate in February was 5.5 percent, while Pharr posted a 5.8 percent jobless rate.

Mission came in with a 6.1 percent unemployment rate in February, followed by Weslaco at 6.9 percent.

In Cameron County, Brownsville’s unemployment rate in February came in at 6.7 percent, while Harlingen reported a 5.5 percent jobless rate that month.

Cameron County’s jobless rate in February was 6.6 percent, the same as in January. In February, 9,525 residents of Cameron County were looking for work, while 134,719 residents were holding down jobs.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment in Texas increased by 14,300 jobs in February – almost double the five-year average February job gain. With an annual job growth rate at 2.3 percent, the Texas economy gained 231,200 jobs over the past 12 months.

The February seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 4.5 percent, down from 5.1 percent a year ago.

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.2 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Amarillo and Odessa MSAs followed at 3.7 percent.

“The Texas labor market continues to grow at a rapid pace across many different industries,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Diane Rath. “Broad-based job growth and an unemployment rate in line with the national rate of 4.5 percent are clear signs of our state’s robust economy.”

Professional & Business Services gained 5,500 jobs, posting a seventh consecutive month of over-the month increases. Trade, Transportation & Utilities added 4,400 positions, for a year over year gain of 25,900 jobs.

“The Texas business outlook continues to show sustained job growth,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “Over the past year, Texas employers have posted widespread industry job gains which benefit employers, workers and communities alike.”

The Construction industry recorded a gain of 3,700 positions in February for a strong annual job growth rate of 4.4 percent. Mining employment gained 1,800 jobs, following an increase of 1,400 positions in January. In the past 12 months, Mining gained 20,700 jobs.

“More jobs mean more opportunities for Texans to find work,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “Continued job growth in 10 of 11 sectors the past year creates more opportunities for workers of all skill levels.”

Initial claims for Unemployment Compensation in February 2007 were 43,908, down 25.8 percent from January 2007 and 1.6 percent since February 2006.

••••••

Rep. Gonzáles wants Texas to provide Spanish translation services to help treat medical patients

By DAVID A. DIAZ

A measure filed by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, which would set up Spanish language interpreter services for physicians, hospitals, and health care professionals to help them communicate with Spanish-speaking patients, continues to move through the legislative process.

Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville/Willacy County, is a joint author of the measure, House Bill 161.

According to a bill analysis of the measure, HB 161 would require the Texas Department of State Health Services to provide oral language interpreter services for certain health care providers via a toll-free telephone number. Interpreter services would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

HB 161 received widespread support during its public hearing in late March, when it cleared the

House Public Health Committee, and is now before the House General Calendars Committee.

The House General Calendars Committee sets the dates for which all major legislation is debated by the full House.

No date for a House vote had been set as of Sunday, April 15.

The plan, is enacted into law, would go into effect on September 1, 2008.

According to the bill analysis:

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

Currently, no statewide oral interpreter service is available to our physicians, hospital employees or other healthcare providers in the event that an onsite interpreter is unavailable to patients whose primary language is Spanish.

HB 161 establishes a toll-free number for healthcare providers to assist them in supplying expedient healthcare services to persons with limited English proficiency and ultimately reduces medical liability associated with miscommunication. The toll-free number will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be answered by a healthcare interpreter trained to orally communicate with physicians, hospital employees and other healthcare providers attempting to administer medical services to individuals whose primary language is Spanish.

ANALYSIS

HB 161 defines a health care interpreter (interpreter) as a person who is trained to orally communicate with a person whose primary language is Spanish by accurately conveying the meaning or oral health care related statements in English and Spanish. The bill requires the Department of State Health Services (department) to establish a telephone number that is answered by an interpreter 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The interpreter shall provide certain services to physicians, hospital employees, and other health care providers to assist those individuals in communicating with patients whose primary language is Spanish. The bill requires the executive commission to adopt rules to implement the bill, including establishing qualifications required for interpreters who answer the toll-free telephone number.

The bill would require the executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to adopt rules to implement the provisions of the bill. HHSC indicates rules could be developed and adopted within the agency’s existing budget.

The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) indicates 5 full-time-equivalent positions would be needed to provide interpreter services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is assumed salaries and associated operating costs would total $283,233 in General Revenue in fiscal year 2008 and $277,548 in General Revenue in each subsequent fiscal year.

Technology

DSHS estimates information technology costs of $6,740 per fiscal year for computer hardware and software.

Local Government Impact

No fiscal implication to units of local government is anticipated.

No one testified against the measure when it was considered by the House Public Health Committee. According to the committe minutes, the following individuals were present for the public hearing:

For:

Adams, Gordon Lee (Texas Academy of Physician Assistants)

Courtney, Skip (Universal Health Services)

Díaz, Esther (Self and Austin Area Translators & Interpreters Assn. & Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters & Translators)

On:

Jourdan, Laura (Tx Health & Human Services Commission)

Registering, but not testifying:

For:

Banda, Jennifer (Texas Hospital Association)

Capelo, Jaime (Texas Academy of Physician Assistants)

Ellis, Randall (Legacy Community Health)

Figuevoa, Luis (Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF))

Finch, Dan (Tx Medical Assn)

Hernández, Benny (American Civil Liberties Union of Texas)

Jamison, Mazie (Children’s Medical Center Dallas)

Parker Coburn, Katie (Texas Association of Community Health Centers)

Trolin, Brenda (Catholic Health Assn of Texas)

Wilkes, Catherine (Christus Health)

On:

Patrick, Donald (Self and Texas Medical Board)

••••••

Senate budget includes $6 million for UT-Pan American’s Starr County Upper Level Center

By NICK ALMANZA

The Texas Senate on Thursday, April 12, passed CSHB 1, which would allocate $152.9 billion to fund state programs.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, secured funding for several top priority projects and institutions throughout Texas and within her senatorial district.

CSHB 1 includes $313 millionfor the debt service for $1.9 billion in tuition revenue bonds authorized by Zaffirini’s HB 153 (2006), including $37.6 million for A&M International and $6 million for UT-Pan American’s Starr County Upper Level Center. The bill authorized 63 projects at 48 higher education institutions, the largest investment in higher education ever made in Texas.

CSHB 1 includes more than a six percent increase in spending, compared with the previous (2005) legislative session’s budget. The Senate’s version of the budget, however, spends approximately $2.1 billion more than the House version.

“Working with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Finance Committee members, I am committed to developing a budget that prioritizes the needs of Texas families,” Zaffirini said. “Communities in my senatorial district and throughout the state greatly will benefit from the funding we worked hard to secure in this budget.”

Included in CSHB 1 is a $21.3 million increase compared with current level spending for the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio (UTHSCSA) and a $13.8 million increase for Texas A&M International University in Laredo. Funding includes $3 million for expanding programs at the Laredo campus of UTHSCSA and $2 million for the Student Success Program and a PhD program in business at A&M International. Included in Article XI of CSHB 1 is $6 million for the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute — a joint program between UT San Antonio and the UTHSCSA.

Zaffirini also secured $100 million in new grants for the Instructional Facility Allotment (IFA), which helps poor school districts with facility construction; $1.5 million for the Surplus Agricultural Product Grant Program, which offsets the costs of harvesting, gleaning and transporting agricultural products to Texas food banks; and $8.4 million for debt service for interest on $87.5 million for the Economically Distressed Areas Program, contingent upon passage of a statewide bond election.

CSHB 1 also includes $120 million above the bill as filed for state parks; $448.5 million for State Water Plan programs; $1 million for a new independent living center that could be established in Laredo; $5 million to help compete for a wind turbine contract located largely in Senate District 21; $5 million for waste tire remidiation; and $800,000 to combat zebra chip disease threatening Texas potato crops.

“Although proud of much of what we have accomplished in this budget, more must be done to ensure Texas appropriately funds our priorities,” Zaffirini said. “I look forward to working under the leadership of Lt. Governor Dewhurst and our colleagues in the legislature to ensure that we continue to serve persons most in need.”

The House version of the budget was passed on March 30, and members from both the House and Senate soon will be appointed to the Appropriations Conference Committee so differences in both budget versions may be reconciled.

••••••

Statue of César Chávez to be unveiled October 9 at The University of Texas at Austin

The unveiling of a statue of civil rights leader César Chávez at The University of Texas at Austin has been scheduled for Oct. 9 as part of a celebration honoring his legacy for social justice. It will become the first statue of a Hispanic person on the 123-year-old campus.

Stacy Torres, chair of the university’s César Chávez Statue Committee, said the artist, Pablo Eduardo of Gloucester, Mass., plans to complete the sculpture this spring. Work on the site preparation and foundation are expected to begin in early summer. The statue will be placed on the West Mall between Battle Hall and the West Mall Office Building.

“Our committee is excited to move forward with plans for this historic event,” said Torres, a senior majoring in government and one of the Student Government leaders instrumental in moving the statue project forward in recent years. “The unveiling ceremony will be a day of great joy as we honor the life and legacy of Mr. Chávez and celebrate the contributions of students as the driving force of this project since its inception.”

Dr. Juan González, vice president for student affairs, said, “We are proud of the students of The University of Texas at Austin for conceiving and bringing this concept to fruition on the campus. We also want to recognize the significant achievement of the committee in the realization of this long-time dream of the students.”

For many years, members of the university community have discussed the need for ethnic and gender diversity represented by statues and other works of art prominently displayed on campus. The ideas for the statue of Chávez and also a statue of Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman from the South to serve in the U.S. Congress, came from students. The committee for the Jordan statue project is in the process of selecting an artist.

Chávez, who fought for the rights of farm laborers and minorities, was chosen by the We Are Texas Too student organization, which prompted the formation of the César Chávez Statue Committee.

The issue was taken to a campus-wide student referendum during the spring 2003 semester and was approved by the University of Texas System Board of Regents that summer. During the 78th legislative session, the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate approved House Bill 1537 supporting a student fee to pay for the statues. Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law on June 20, 2003.

Collection of the student fees began in the spring 2004 semester and will conclude with the summer session of 2007. Leftover money will go toward a scholarship fund.

••••••

Mexican American Legislative Caucus elects Rep. González to executive committee

By RICARDO LÓPEZ -GUERRA

The Texas House Mexican America Legislative Caucus has elected Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, as Secretary for the 80th Legislative Session. MALC addresses legislative issues affecting Latinos across the State.

Gonzáles expressed her enthusiasm to being elected to the Caucus’s Executive Committee.

“MALC has been instrumental this session in advocating legislation that impacts the Latino population positively and in fighting legislation that is harmful to our constituents. MALC remains committed to championing legislation to decrease the number of uninsured children in Texas and to serve as the clearinghouse to provide analysis on potentially divisive immigration bills,” said Gonzáles. “Since the State Affairs Committee is not representative of border Texans, it is vital for MALC to serve as advocate on this immigration issues and ensure the State makes the federal government accountable in enacting comprehensive immigration reform.”

Gonzáles is the only member from the Rio Grande Valley to hold an officer position in both the House Democratic Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, of which she also serves as Chair of the Immigration Task Force.

“I value the confidence of my fellow Caucus members and look forward to the opportunity to further contribute to MALC,” said Gonzáles.

••••••

Reporters’ “Shield Law,” co-authored by Sen. Hinojosa, approved by Senate committee

By JEREMY WARREN

The Senate Jurisprudence Committee on Wednesday, April 11, passed Senate Bill 966, the Free Flow of Information Act, by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose confidential sources.

The “Free Flow of Information Act” is also commonly referred to as a “shield law” for journalists because it offers protections from prosecution for news media reporters who, under certain circumstances, refuse to reveal the identify of their confidential sources.

Senate Bill 966, co-authored by Senator Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and sponsored in the House by Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, passed 4-0 and will now be considered by the full Senate.

“This effort is about the public’s right to the free flow of information,” said Peña. “Information regarding corruption from whistleblowers should be encouraged. The legislation I championed seeks to strike a delicate balance that allows information to be gathered while at the same time allowing prosecutors to seek justice.”

In 2003, Peña filed House Bill 188, a similar bill that would have created a privilege for journalists.

“The press plays a vitally important role in our democracy and must be protected from government intimidation,” said Ellis. “With the face of journalism and law enforcement rapidly changing in the 21st century, it is time for Texas to pass the Free Flow of Information Act to ensure journalists and their sources are protected in their jobs of keeping the public informed.”

Thirty-two other states and the District of Columbia currently have some form of law protecting journalists and their sources, including California, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and every single state bordering Texas. Similar legislation is on its way to Washington Governor Christine Gregoire’s desk; the United States Congress is also currently debating legislation — offered by two Republicans – to enact a federal free flow of information law.

There is currently no state or federal constitutional protection for journalists who are called to testify, turn over reporters notes or otherwise participate in a criminal case in the state of Texas. Ideally the First Amendment would be such a shield, but the courts have largely taken away the understood privilege of the press to protect whistleblowers. The need to protect the confidentiality of sources is often fundamental to a reporter’s job.

“Senate Bill 966 strikes the delicate balance between preserving the public’s right to know the truth from an independent press, and the state’s ability to uphold justice,” said Ellis. “It ensures journalists can keep their sources and notes confidential, while still allowing law enforcement the ability to acquire truly necessary material. It is not an unbreakable shield, but simply a limited privilege for journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources.”

“Today marks the furthest advancement of this bill,” said Representative Peña. “This is a result of intense negotiations and is an attempted compromise between the competing interests. I will continue to advocate for its passage.”

Orlando Salinas contributed to this report.

••••••

Congressman Hinojosa applauds report calling for higher education policy reform for immigrants

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness, on Wednesday, April 11, urged the expansion of access to higher education in light of a groundbreaking study released today by the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

The report, Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants, found that immigrants have lower college enrollment and graduation rates because of multiple barriers that prevent them from accessing and succeeding in higher education. The report is the most comprehensive examination to date of one of the nation’s largest but unrecognized student populations.

“The immigrant population is growing faster than it ever has; this country will be at a very serious disadvantage if it does not extend higher education to the whole of its population,” said Hinojosa. “Equity of college opportunity is one of the most important ways we can ensure that our workforce remains competitive and our nation is at the forefront of global economic and social development.”

The report found that legal immigrants are more likely to experience risk factors linked to dropping out of college, such as family and work responsibilities, financial need, and lack of university-level English skills. It also states that while legal immigrants currently comprise 12 percent of the undergraduate population, a percentage that puts them on par with other minority student groups in the United States, only 23 percent of those who enroll actually graduate.

To combat these troubling statistics, the study recommends that legal permanent residents be eligible for all forms of state and federal financial aid, including the Academic Competitiveness Grants and the National Science and Math Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants, which are currently limited to U.S. citizens. It also advocates increasing the availability of English as a Second Language classes for both teenage and adult immigrants, as well as developing programs designed to assist Latino immigrants and those who immigrate as teenagers–the two immigrant groups least likely to enroll in college. It further endorses a more transparent financial aid and college application process, including widespread dissemination of information, resources, and contacts in immigrant communities.

“Higher education is an integral part of the American Dream and we must make certain that all our nation’s students have the opportunity to attend and graduate from college,” said Hinojosa. “The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act gives us our opportunity to do that. I want to thank IHEP for its timely contribution to our deliberations.”

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Gov. Perry joins state legislators in support of the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, April 10, joined by state legislators and Texas families, stood in support of House Bill 3678, the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act. The bill, authored by Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, does not expand religious expression in schools, but reiterates a student’s existing right to expression. The bill offers clarity for teachers and administrators who may be confused about what religious rhetoric is permitted.

“Freedom of religion should not be mistaken for freedom from religion. It is one thing to prevent government from sponsoring or endorsing a particular religious view. It is quite another for government to sanitize all dialogue from religious viewpoints in a public setting,” said Perry. “The constitution prohibits the former, but was never meant to prohibit the latter.”

The United States Supreme Court holds religious discussion in schools legal. However, some schools have found to be misapplying the law and restricting legal expression. In an effort to promote a neutral learning environment, some schools are unintentionally suppressing religious expression.

Isolated instances in Texas public schools led to the creation of HB 3678. In one case, a school prohibited students from wishing troops serving overseas a “Merry Christmas.” Another school reprimanded a first grader for invoking the name and image of Jesus when she was asked what she thinks of when she thinks of Easter.

“We don’t need to shield our children from religious expression and allow them to only be exposed to the religion of secularism in our schools,” said Perry. “Discussion does not lead to indoctrination. Rather, it leads to open-mindedness and personal and educational betterment.”

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Hidalgo County accepts donation of 50 computers from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Corporation on Tuesday, April 10, donated 50 personal computers to Hidalgo County during a ceremony at the Hidalgo County Courthouse in Edinburg.

The computer systems will be used by county employees to learn software applications used by the county and to enhance their computer skills to better serve the residents of Hidalgo County.

The ceremony took place at the weekly commissioner’s court meeting at 1100 Closner Blvd in Edinburg.

County Judge J.D. Salinas, and Precinct Commissioners Sylvia S. Handy, Héctor ‘Tito’ Palacios, Joe M. Flores, and Óscar L. Garza, Jr. were all on hand to receive the donation. The effort was spearheaded by Mike Robledo, Information Systems Administrator of Hidalgo County and Stephen Hawkins, Director of State & Local Information Technology Solutions for Lockheed Martin.

“This donation by Lockheed Martin is a great example of the type of partnerships with the private sector that benefit our employees and also saved taxpayers $42,000 in computer costs,” Salinas. “We hope this partnership opens the door for discussions about how we can work with Lockheed Martin and other similar companies to expand technology education and employment opportunities in this region.”

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Rep. Eddie Lucio pushing legislation to help secure health insurance for children with Down’s Syndrome

By RUBEN O’BELL

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, has laid out a bill in the House Human Services Committee that could provide affordable health insurance to children with disabilities.

The measure, House Bill 1738, received the House committee public hearing on Thursday, April 5. It was left pending for further action.

HB 1738, also known as Zariah’s Bill, would create a Medicaid buy-in program for families with disabled children. Often times these families have incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but must still pay the high costs of medical care for their disabled child with no assistance.

“Hearing stories about families who move to lower paying jobs, refuse promotions, and even file for divorce just so they can qualify for Medicaid is heartbreaking,” said Lucio. “These hardworking families are doing everything they can to meet the special needs of their children, and the State should do its best to provide them with affordable healthcare.”

The bill would allow these families to receive coverage under Medicaid by paying a small monthly premium that is based on their income. Currently, children with disabilities whose families have incomes above the Medicaid guidelines can only receive coverage through special waiver programs.

“The waiting lists for these waivers in Texas can be incredibly long,” said Lucio. “Children can sometimes spend years on a waiting list and never even receive coverage. I feel blessed to be in a position where I can help to change this. Children are the future of our state, and we need to do everything that we can to help those who are most needy.”

Special guests from Lucio’s legislative district attended the hearing to testify in favor of the bill, including the family of Zariah Zarate, a young girl with Down Syndrome, and representatives from several children’s advocacy groups, including Down By the Border and the San Antonio Down’s Syndrome Association.

Down’s syndrome is the most common cause of mental retardation and malformation in newborns. It occurs because of the presence of an extra chromosome.

“For me the committee hearing was a very emotional time,” admitted Lucio, “seeing how much these families have gone through and how hard they are working to care for their children is extremely humbling. Their bravery and faith is a constant inspiration to me, and I hope to do everything I can this session to fight for them.”

Lucio and his staff are working closely with various health care agencies and advocacy groups, and will continue to collaborate with other Representatives on this very important bill.

Other highlights of Lucio’s bill, contained in a bill analysis provided to the committee, include:

The bill would add Section 32.02491, Medical Assistance for Children with Down Syndrome, to Subchapter B, Chapter 32 of the Human Resources Code.

It would require the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), regardless of the availability of federal matching funds, to provide medical services to a person younger than 18 who has a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, and who is not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The bill would require HHSC to adopt rules that require the agency to provide services only to the extent that the person has no other health insurance or other plan under which services are available.

The bill requires HHSC to actively pursue federal authorization for Medicaid matching funds to provide services under this section. The bill would take effect September 1, 2007.

Methodology

For the purposes of this cost estimate, it is assumed that medical services include both acute and long-term care services. Therefore, the cost of acute care, vendor drug and community-based care are included above. The cost is allocated to General Revenue; however, under the provisions of the bill the agency is directed to seek federal financial participation. Should this occur, approximately 60 percent of the cost could be funded with Federal Funds.

HHSC states that there are approximately 7,500 instances of Down Syndrome children per year. It is assumed that 40 percent are not currently on Medicaid and that 46 percent of this sub-set are people without private insurance. It is assumed that private insurance may cover some long-term care services.

The first year impact is assumed to be one-third, due to time required to implement the program. This provides a caseload impact of 460 in FY 08 and 1,380 in fiscal years 2009 through 2012. No growth in caseload is assumed from FY 09 forward.

Cost estimates are assumed to be $12,906 per year for acute care services through HHSC and $34,407 per year for community-based care at the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS). The cost for acute care services is based on the cost to serve disabled and blind individuals in the Medicaid program currently. DADS’ estimate of cost is the same as that for the CLASS waiver.

Multiplying caseload times cost results in a total of $21.7 million in fiscal year 2008 and $65.3 million in fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2012.

In addition, HHSC states they would require 1 FTE in fiscal year 2008 at a cost of $95,364 and 3 FTEs in fiscal year 2009 and beyond, costing $286,092 per year. Professional services costs, travel, cost pool and start up costs add $201,291 in fiscal year 2008. These costs going forward are $159,936 per year.

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Texas House votes to support cost savings on certain energy efficiency products used in home

By ORLANDO SALINAS

Texans may be able to enjoy additional tax free weekends if legislation joint-authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, becomes law.

Peña joined House colleague Lon Burnam, D-Ft. Worth, as a primary joint-author of the legislation.

On Wednesday, April 11, the Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved Pena’s bill for the creation of two tax free weekends for energy efficient appliances. House Bill 1000 would exempt certain energy efficient products from sales taxes on two weekends per year.

“This simple piece of legislation will allow the people of our communities an additional tax free weekend to purchase energy efficient products for their homes,” said Peña. “This bill is good for our people and good for our state.”

HB 1000 would create a sales tax exemption during the Memorial Day weekend and the weekend closest to the Fourth of July, beginning in 2008, on certain Energy Star products and appliances.

The products must be purchased for noncommercial home or personal use in order to be tax exempt.

The bill exempts the following energy efficient products from sales tax: air conditioners, a split system ducted residential air conditioning system with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) at least two point higher than that required by federal law, clothes washers, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, compact fluorescent light bulbs, programmable thermostats, and refrigerators whose sales price does not exceed $2,000 in 2007, with an increase of $100 until 2016 and does not exceed $3,000.00 in and after 2017.

“Every year our state adds more demands to the electric grid,” said Peña. “HB 1000 not only promotes energy efficiency, potentially providing real savings to homeowners, but it also provides consumers with a tax break and helps lessen our impact on the environment.”

The bill received broad support from both consumer organizations and the business community. That broad based support was reflected in the unanimous vote. Wednesday’s vote effectively sends the bill to the Senate for approval.

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Gov. Perry reiterates need for border security funding, praises radio communications plan

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, April 11, praised the progress of the state’s radio communications capabilities. At the governor’s direction, local officials have worked with the state’s 24 regional councils of government to help Texas reach a key milestone in radio communications interoperability.

Perry also reiterated his support for HB 13 and Rep. David Swinford’s effort to dedicate $100 million to Texas border security efforts.

One of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission is to ensure that when disaster strikes, first responders are able to communicate. A network of interoperable radio systems is a vital component to a swift, coordinated disaster response strategy. Two years ago, Perry set forth an ambitious priority objective to achieve level four radio interoperability throughout Texas by January 2007.

“Radio interoperability in Texas is particularly challenging because of its size and geographic diversity,” Perry said. “As a result of local leadership, I am proud to report to you today that Texas has achieved level four radio interoperability throughout the state, and in some areas, it is as high as level six.”

Level four radio interoperability allows fire fighters, emergency medical responders, police officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers to go anywhere in the state and have immediate radio communications with each other using their own equipment on established channels.

“The importance of achieving this goal was demonstrated last year when first responders from around the state battled devastating wildfires and floods, and for the first time, were able to communicate with one another using their own radios to coordinate their efforts,” Perry said.

Perry also reiterated his support for HB 13 by Rep. Swinford which will increase border security funding by $100 million. Texas has launched several major border security operations, beginning with Operation Linebacker in 2005, Operation Rio Grande in 2006, and most recently and still ongoing, Operation Wrangler. These surge operations have a proven record of significantly reducing crime, and Perry will continue to urge the Texas Legislature to approve funding to sustain border security efforts for the next two years.

“In Texas, we have a border security strategy that works,” Perry said. “When we substantially increase law enforcement personnel and resources, we see a significant disruption of criminal and illegal activity. I urge the Texas legislature to fully fund these proven strategies and pass HB 13.”

Perry was joined at the news conference by U. S. Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, Congressman Michael McCaul, Austin Mayor Will Wynn and members of the Texas Radio Coalition.

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Congressman Cuellar, TXDot’s Jorge, meet to discuss Starr County highway projects

By LAUREN SMITH

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Monday, April 9, met with Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) district engineer Mario Jorge and other county and city officials to discuss upcoming projects that will affect Starr County.

Among the numerous issues discussed were the implementation of new traffic lights along U.S. Highway 83, improvements to FM 755 and the refurbishing of rest areas.

“These projects represent significant improvements to the infrastructure in Starr County,” said Cuellar. “Starr County has provided an example of how a community can benefit by partnering with the federal government, and I want to thank Mario Jorge for all of his hard work.”

The design work for the traffic lights is in the early stages and is expected to be completed this summer. The Texas Department of Transportation expects to begin work in late July and complete the work by the end of August.

The realignment of FM 755 will occur at the Starr/Camargo Bridge and will improve the flow of traffic to and from the international border crossing. Also along FM 755, drainage will be improved by the construction of a one-way curb and gutter section.

TXDoT is currently working with the Rio Grande City Maintenance foreman to upgrade the current rest areas in Zapata and Starr Counties. The refurbishing of the rest areas will include re-roofing and re-painting of existing facilities.

“I am glad to see these projects moving forward. By communicating with TXDoT, local officials and Starr County residents, we have been able to bring much-needed assistance to our local communities. As a Member of Congress, I will continue working with community leaders to ensure that the people of South Texas experience further progress and improvements to our transportation systems,” said Cuellar.

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Film documenting modern-day slavery of women, children premieres Thursday at Cine El Rey theater

By VAHE MANSOURIAN

Slavery thrives!

Inspired by a true story, a new generation of filmmakers portrays the modern global slave trade, which is larger than slave trade in 19th century.

This intense and inspiring film depicts an innocent woman who is recruited by traffickers with promises of prosperity in America. Upon arrival to New York City, not only does she find herself trapped in slave prostitution, but also her child is sold to the highest bidder. Refusing to give up hope, this severely abused victim fights against the traffickers despite the odds of saving her child and herself.

Dedicated executive producer Scott Elliot Mann has put his money where his mouth is. He has exposed an elapsed age-old human evil—sex slavery. “Fighting this scourge successfully will take more than another United Nations treaty—we must use our artistic might!” protests Mann.

Your attendance will be a tremendous support for all victims of human trafficking and crucial step toward abolition of slavery.

The screening location is at Cine El Rey theater, 311 S. 17th, McAllen, TX 78501 at 7:30 p.m. The tickets are $7 apiece. For more information, please, call 213-926-2987 or email at email@LucineDistribution.com

All proceeds from the screening will go directly to the Human Trafficking Project at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

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Sen. Cornyn to file legislation to streamline federal agencies

By SEN. JOHN CORNYN

R-Texas

Congress recently passed a five-year, $15 trillion federal budget just as many Americans were looking up from calculating their federal income tax bills.

Taxpayers probably didn’t like what they saw, and I don’t blame them. One trillion is one thousand billion. By any standard, $15 trillion is an unimaginable amount of money.

What troubles me is that in this budget Congress is not proposing to eliminate a single program or government agency. Though the administration budget process includes an annual review of ongoing programs, Congress isn’t doing its part.

Many accounts are funded year after year because there are small — but vocal — interest groups backing them — and no effective congressional oversight to determine when ideas have run their course.

In an effort to correct these problems, I’m introducing legislation that would create a federal “sunset” commission to identify federal agencies and programs that should be reviewed — and perhaps trimmed or even eliminated.

Many of our best ideas for the federal government “bubble up” from individual states. That’s the case here. In Texas, the sunset process has led to elimination of dozens of agencies and has saved Texas taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Most federal programs are authorized by Congress only for a certain number of years. My bill would establish a commission to scrutinize carefully all unauthorized (technically expired) programs that the federal government continues to fund.

There will be plenty of candidates. A recent 83-page report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that Congress spent just under $160 billion in 2006 on programs and activities — even though their authorization had expired.

The list included hundreds of accounts, big and small, ranging from the Coast Guard ($8 billion) to the Administration on Aging ($1.5 billion) to Section 8 tenant-based housing ($15.6 billion) to foreign relations programs ($9.5 billion). Many of these programs — perhaps most — deserve reauthorization. But Congress should determine whether they’re working as intended.

The bipartisan sunset commission I am proposing would ask a question similar to one the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission asks: “Is an agency or program still needed?”

It would then evaluate each unauthorized agency or program and recommend to Congress whether it should be abolished, streamlined, consolidated or reauthorized with recommendations for improvements. It would also require congressional action on each report.

About half of our states now have a similar process. It’s time the federal government provided equivalent oversight of our massive and growing federal bureaucracy.

I’m also co-sponsoring the Fair Tax Act again, which would eliminate income, capital gains, payroll, estate, gift, corporate and self-employment taxes, and would replace them with a national retail sales tax. The move would have the net effect of “sunsetting” a good part of the Internal Revenue Service as well.

The Fair Tax Act would apply only to the sale of new goods and services made to consumers. To eliminate hardship, it would provide every household with a monthly rebate check to offset the tax imposed on essential goods and services.

We spend an estimated $300 billion filling out forms in our 67,204-page tax code. The simplifications in the Fair Tax Act would eliminate much of that wasted time and reduce a significant drag on our national economy.

Unfortunately, inertia often becomes the rule in Washington. Inefficient agencies, outdated programs and increasingly complicated taxes can attain the status of immortality. And it’s all augmented by a congressional addiction to increased spending.

From property taxes to income taxes, the overall tax burden continues to rise. This year, Texans will have to work from Jan. 1 through April 19 just to pay their combined taxes for the year.

The United States remains a great place to innovate and do business. Our country has prospered because the Founding Fathers provided for limited government and maximum personal freedom. But keeping that legacy requires our constant vigilance.