Featured: A recent U.S. Air Force poster, part of an ongoing campaign by the American military in support of Airmen and their families who have been a victim of sexual assault. In Texas, a statewide effort led by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is underway to develop strategies to reduce sexual assault by equipping the public with knowledge and awareness of this serious crime by designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Photograph Courtesy of U.S. AIR FORCE
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has proposed that April would be designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Texas in order to increase knowledge that leads to more prevention of sexual assault and punishment of criminals, and to authorize the regular observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month through appropriate activities in public schools and other places. Sexual assault, according to FindLaw.com, occurs when a defendant – intentionally and knowingly – commits any of a number of prohibited sexual activities listed under Texas’ sexual assault law without the victim’s consent. Canales’ proposal, as illustrated in House Bill 822, was overwhelmingly approved by the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday, April 2o, 2017. The bill will now go to the Texas Senate for their action. “Today, I passed legislation out of the House to officially designate the month of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in an effort to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual assault,” Canales said. “We need everyone’s help to reduce sexual assault, and I believe that officially designating this month is a step in the right direction towards proactively reducing sexual assault.” Sexual assault is a serious criminal violation. Canales’ measure stems from a study conducted by UT Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, whose findings were released on Friday, March 24, 2017. The report titled Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments showed that sexual assault is an ongoing problem throughout society, including in the halls of higher education. According to the study, almost 200 out of the more than 3,800 students who participated in the anonymous online survey reported to have been sexually assaulted since they have been enrolled at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s campuses. Nine percent of those students who participated in the anonymous online survey – almost 350 individuals – said they had been victims of unwanted sexual touching since they have been enrolled at UTRGV’s campuses. “These figures are shocking, to say the least,” said Canales, an attorney who also serves on the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, which shapes state laws to protect Texans, especially from violent criminals. “But through this legislation, and another major bill I am working on, we are going to help remove the shroud of secrecy over sexual assault, family violence, and stalking policies at our public universities and colleges.” House Bill 1096, coauthored by Canales and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, would require public universities and colleges in Texas to provide students and organizations with information about these crimes. “If HB 1096 becomes law, but a public university or college fails to provide that information, that university or college would not receive any state funding,” Canales said.
In certain situations, active duty members and veterans of the U.S. military who suffer from a brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, or was a victim of military sexual trauma that occurred during or resulted from the defendant’s military services – and who are convicted of their first criminal offense in Texas – would be able to have that conviction wiped off their record automatically and for free, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has proposed. His measure, House Bill 322, which was approved on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 by the Texas House of Representatives on a vote of 146 to 0, now goes to the Texas Senate for its action. HB 322 also would extend these protections to eligible members of the reserves, national guard, or state guard. Having a court order the destruction of records of the conviction is known as an expungement. An expungement is currently available for certain Texans, but the costs nationwide can start around $400 and go up to $4,000, plus court costs, depending on the nature of the charge, according to CostHelper.com. Texas veterans “are being failed by current law because in many cases these wounded warriors do not get their record expunged because it requires hiring a lawyer and paying additional court fees,” added the House District 40 state lawmaker, who is an attorney. “Such costs prevent many veterans eligible for an expungement from doing so.” But under HB 332, U.S. military personnel and veterans who successfully complete a rigorous and effective series of rehabilitative programs offered through veterans courts in Texas would be able to have their record cleared of a first offense, saving them thousands of dollars and precious time. “Criminal records are like scarlet letters that a person carries for the rest of their lives,” Canales said. “Our active military personnel and veterans fight and die for us, and I believe if they mess up, they should be given special consideration under the law.” HB 322 was requested by judges statewide who oversee the state’s veterans treatment courts.
Graphic Courtesy U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Featured, from left: Elías Longoria, Jr., Secretary/Treasurer, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Edinburg Mayor Richard García, on Friday, March 17, 2017, during groundbreaking ceremonies for the Department of Public Safety Mega Driver License Center in north Edinburg. The multi-million dollar, 25,000 square foot facility, located at the corner of Davis Road and I69C, is one of the many examples of economic growth in the city. The public safety complex, which will bring almost 70 jobs, also represents the state government’s confidence in locating in Edinburg, in part because the city excels in promoting and protecting public funds at all levels.
Photograph By ALEX RÍOS
Edinburg’s municipal government, led by the Mayor and Edinburg City Council, meets the highest standards for U.S., state and local governments on how it handles its financial activities, according to a state-required annual audit that was presented during a public meeting at Edinburg City Hall on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The Edinburg EDC, whose Executive Director is Agustín García, Jr., is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. The Edinburg EDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mayor Richard García as President, Harvey Rodríguez, Jr. as Vice President, Elías Longoria, Jr., as Secretary/Treasurer, and Richard Ruppert and Dr. Peter Dabrowski as Members. As part of its mission to help create jobs, the Edinburg EDC uses key information from independent, reliable, and authoritative sources, such as the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, released on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, to inform residents, and to maintain and increase confidence in the ethical practices of its city government, promote the expansion of existing businesses, and recruit new businesses to the community. At that meeting, held in the Council Chamber, Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC delivered an Unmodified Opinion, the best rating possible, following its examination of three aspects of the city’s financial operations: (1) internal controls; (2) statements, records, and accounting transactions; and (3) compliance with statutory and budgetary requirements. Ruben Moreno, CPA (Certified Public Accountant), Partner with Carr, Riggs and Ingram, LLC , and Aaron Ríos, CPA, Manager with Carr, Riggs and Ingram, LLC, presented the audit to Mayor Pro Tem J.R. Betancourt, himself a CPA, who was representing the mayor and fellow city councilmembers at the public session. The Unmodified Opinion, which covers the 12-month period that ended September 30, 2016, and other financial highlights by Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC send out a favorable message, locally and beyond, that Edinburg’s economy continues to be strong, and the city is a good place to call home, said Betancourt. Key financial statements by the city directly reflected positive growth in Edinburg’s economy that came without any increase in the city’s property tax rate or the local sales tax rate, Betancourt noted. “One of the great things about the audit is that is shows how well the city is doing, that we have a very fiscally strong budget, we have reserves in the bank to provide public services through emergencies,” the mayor pro tem continued. “The economy is doing well here and in the Valley. Edinburg has not been so fiscally strong in the last 10 to 15 years.”
Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, addresses fellow lawmakers from the front podium in the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives during the first half of the 140-day 85th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which began in mid-January 2017.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
The long-standing practice statewide of jailing tens of thousands of Texans who are too poor to pay expensive fines for Class C misdemeanors, such as traffic tickets, could soon come to an end under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which has been strongly approved by the Texas House of Representatives. “In Texas, tens of thousands of people are being sent to jail each year for failure to pay tickets, fines and fees arising from court cases,” said Canales, an attorney. “We have too many Texans statewide who are struggling to pay rent and groceries, then they wind up getting ticketed for the most minor offenses, such as traffic violations. In the effort by government to squeeze money out of indigent Texans, taxpayers end up paying to jail these minor offenders.” House Bill 351, which received final approval on Thursday, March 23, 2017 from the House of Representatives, would clear up confusion in existing state law so local judges, including justices of the peace, can allow the defendant to perform community service instead of being thrown into jail when they are found indigent. “At the time of sentencing, judges should also be making judgments on whether defendants can even pay the fines that are levied,” Canales said. “Low-income Texans are being set up to fail by the way fines and fees are handled, and they are often driven deeper into poverty.” A defendant who has the money to pay the fine, but refuses to pay it, would still face the risk of being jailed by a judge, he added. HB 351 would also help save taxpayers’ money because of the hidden costs, such as the expenses and legal responsibilities involved in holding a person in jail. “The valuable resources of our judicial and law enforcement professionals, and especially our jails, should remain focused on putting violent criminals, thieves and robbers behind bars, not on poor people charged with an offense whose only punishment is a fine,” said the House District 40 state representative.
Featured: Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, wearing their traditional “Texas Tan” uniforms and cowboy hats with their patent leather gun belts, showed up on Friday, March 3, 2017, along with other South Texas law enforcement professionals for the groundbreaking of the multi-million dollar Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, located at 4300 S. Cage Boulevard in Pharr. The upcoming campus is a collaboration between South Texas College, the City of Pharr, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District, and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). “The facility will benefit the region by adding additional programs in public safety, law enforcement, border security, and fire science. These programs provide college level certificates and degrees for public safety and law enforcement professionals in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Mario Reyna, Dean for Business and Technology at STC. “Furthermore, this center will be able to accommodate the professional continuing education courses required by all law enforcement officers. The spectrum of courses offered will cover all the needs of our region. Traveling to College Station or San Antonio for specialized training will be a thing of the past.”
Photograph By ALEX RÍOS
Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers and other DPS commissioned officers, such as Criminal Investigations Division Special Agents, Texas Capitol Security, and other personnel within the Texas Highway Patrol, would earn overtime pay on a daily basis under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. House Bill 483 by Miller/Canales and Senate Bill 297 by Hinojosa, which are identical in language, would change Section 411.016, Government Code, to allow DPS, which is a state police force, to calculate overtime for eligible staff – including its Homeland Security Division and Counterterrorism Division – based on working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, according to the bill analysis of both measures. The two bills would benefit officers because it would allow them to take sick leave or other types of leave without risking the loss of earned overtime. As DPS officers move to a standard 50-hour work week, they will develop a reasonable expectation of paid overtime based on the standard schedule. “In order to increase protection for our citizens, DPS often has its troopers on duty for up to 12 hours a day, which is 48 hours during four days of a five-day, eight hour a day, workweek. ” Canales explained. “But currently, if for whatever reason, any trooper who has worked more than 40 hours in four days is not available or not needed on the fifth day, he or she would not receive any overtime pay. That’s not fair. Our law enforcement professionals put their lives on the line for us every day.”