Featured, seated from left: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, fields questions on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives from Steve Taylor, the publisher and editor of the online publication, The Rio Grande Guardian.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Children who are victims of sexual assault now have 15 years instead of five years to bring civil lawsuits against alleged sex offenders or others who are liable for the injuries sustained as a result of such crimes, said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, who supported House Bill 189, which became state law on September 1, 2015. House Bill 189, which was approved by the Legislature late last spring, also removed any statute of limitations on the criminal prosecution of suspected serial rapists, whether their victim is a child or an adult. “I have a proven record in the Texas Legislature of supporting the creation of laws, policies, and new funding that protect crime victims and prosecute criminals,” said Muñoz. “I have no pity for rapists, child molesters, or other sexual predators, and I never place the blame of these victims because it is never their fault.” Prior to the passage of HB 189, there was a 10-year statute of limitations in the criminal prosecution of sex offenders who were considered serial rapists. A statute of limitations is generally defined as a law that sets a time limit for bringing certain kinds of legal action. Sexual assault is generally defined as any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact against any individual by another. In 2014, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 18,756 sexual assaults in the state, an increase of 5.1 percent over 2013. House Bill 189, effective September 1, 2015, was needed because of the seriousness of these crimes and the special circumstances that can limit when these victims are ready to speak out about the crime, according to the bill analysis by the House Research Organization. Despite these circumstances, a measure of justice always should be available to victims of these crimes, the HRO report stated. “The significance of HB 189 removing the statute of limitations for serial rape cases is well-documented in the bill analysis,” Muñoz emphasized. “The House Research Organization noted that his vital new protection is tremendously important for fighting sexual assault and violence against women because it encourages survivors to come forward to report their cases, preventing those convicted from attacking again.” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the author of HB 189, provided some of her key perspectives soon after she first filed the legislation on November 10, 2014, which was approved by the Legislature on June 1, 2015, and signed into law by the governor on June 18, 2015. “Rape is a horrible crime that is not only physical but mental,” said Thompson. “According to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, sexual assault is a crime in which the assailant uses sexual contact to inflict humiliation or to exert power and control over the victim. Currently, there are 1.8 million survivors of sexual assault in Texas.” As for the civil lawsuit aspects of HB 189, Muñoz, an attorney, said any crime victim may be able to seek monetary damages against people who caused them harm. Muñoz, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which heavily influences the shaping of the $200+ billion state budget, was a coauthor of another new state law, enacted as a result of House Bill 10, that gives law enforcement in Texas more power to fight human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that preys most fiercely on women and children. “Human trafficking is modern day slavery, which also exposes their victims to sexual exploitation,” said Muñoz, who in 2012 was named to the groundbreaking Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking, which also included Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “One of the results of HB 10 is that even if a victim is an undocumented immigrant, the power of Texas shall be brought to bear to protect the powerless who are forced into the illegal sex trade,” said Muñoz. Muñoz, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which heavily influences the shaping of the $200+ billion state budget, was a coauthor of another new state law, enacted as a result of House Bill 10, that gives law enforcement in Texas more power to fight human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that preys most fiercely on women and children. “Human trafficking is defined as a crime against humanity, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them,” said Muñoz. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad, according to the United Nations. Every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.
Featured: Darryl S. Johnson, Democrat for Waller County Commissioner, Precinct 3.
Photograph By PARIS KINCAID
Darryl S. Johnson, a legislative consultant with more than 30 years experience in the Texas Legislature and in Congress, says that as Waller County Commissioner, he would use his leadership skills and influential friends in the business and political corridors of power to benefit all voters in his precinct. Johnson, a Prairie View businessman, has filed for Precinct 3 Waller County Commissioner, calling himself “the only true Democrat” with a proven record of working for small business owners, university students, working families – people from all-walks-of-life. “Waller County, and especially Precinct 3, are blessed with the brainpower, willpower, and staying power to become a regional and statewide leader in higher education, economic development, tourism, and job creation,” said Johnson. “But we need someone with know-how, vision, and abilities to help us achieve a higher level of greatness.” The father of two daughters, Johnson said his campaign slogan reflects his honest approach to the challenges and opportunities in Waller County: “We have a lot of work to do.” Among his many strategies, Johnson said he would work closely with state and federal lawmakers to identify sources of funding from Austin and Washington, D.C., and secure millions of dollars for vital programs in Precinct 3, ranging from more money for transportation needs to filing state legislation to expand Prairie View A&M University. “I know where to look at our state capitol and our nation’s capitol for the financial resources we deserve in order to improve our economy, to create more jobs, to serve and protect our families and our future,” he said. “I know how the complicated systems work in the Texas Legislature and in Congress, and I will make them work for all of us in Precinct 3. No other candidate can deliver for us like I will.” Johnson said that he also would fight for programs that would provide needed financial and health care resources for senior citizens. “Older Texans have made a lifetime of contributions to our nation, and it is a sacred obligation of our society to help those who need it in their retirement years,” he said. “One of the actions I will take as a Waller County Commissioner is to set up town hall meetings with all constituents, including sessions specifically with senior citizens, not only to hear their concerns, but especially to learn from their wisdom what I can do to better serve them.” He also pledged to continue building the public’s trust in the Precinct 3 office by always meeting with constituents and being accessible and visible. “I will be the type of county commissioner who not only has an open door policy to my constituents, but more than that, I will always be out in my precinct visiting with residents,” said Johnson. “I won’t be a politician who you only see and hear around election time.” During his career, Johnson has worked for elected leaders in the U.S. Congress, Texas Governor’s Office, and Texas Legislature, and was a key consultant in 2010 for the Texas gubernatorial campaign of multi-billionaire Farouk Shami of Houston. He has also worked with state agencies such as the Secretary of State, Texas Department of Insurance, Texas Water Development Board, and Texas Water Commission. Among his community service roles, Johnson served as a Waller County representative to the Houston- Galveston Area Council, a regional organization through which local governments consider issues and cooperate in solving area wide problems, and served on the Waller County Airport Commission when the region was developing the idea for an airport in Katy. “Precinct 3 deserves someone with the abilities to address the Captains of Industry and the Titans of Politics, and partner with them to shape the laws, policies, and business decisions that will lead to prosperity for our region,” Johnson said. “What I have learned from decades of working with the Powers-that-Be is to always let them know that we have what it takes for them and us to succeed.”
Featured: Sandra Bland (Undated photograph posted on her Facebook)
The tragic death of Sandra Bland on Monday, July 13, 2o15, while confined in the Waller County Jail, requires decisive and landmark action by the Texas Legislature to guarantee that every jail cell in Texas is being monitored by a video surveillance system. Bland, 28, a graduate of Prairie View A&M who had come back after accepting a new job at her alma mater, was reportedly alone in a Waller County Jail cell, out-of-sight of a nearby county jail video camera, when she allegedly committed suicide by hanging. Darryl Johnson, a legislative consultant with more than 35 years experience in the Texas Legislature, who resides in Prairie View, is proposing legislation, to be known as “The Sandra Bland Justice for All Act”, be filed when the Texas Legislature begins its regular session in January 2017. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Houston and Speaker of the House Joe Straus of San Antonio should immediately appoint a joint Senate-House legislative committee to come up with ways to require all jails in Texas to maintain an effective video monitoring system so that no one who is being held in a cell is hidden from the protective and unbiased view of a video camera, he recommended. “In light of the terrible controversy and negative worldwide image of Texas that is resulting from this sorrow, now is the time to show the world that we in Waller County will help lead the way on what would be a major improvement of our state’s criminal justice system,” said Johnson. “More important, it is right and just that Sandra Bland, whose life calling courageously revolved around battling injustice, should have her honorable name, through ‘The Sandra Bland Justice for All Act’, be forever linked to protecting the innocent.”
Featured, from left: Mario Lizcano, Marketing Director, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Robert Martínez, M.D., Chief Physician Executive, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel in McAllen for the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-up Luncheon.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
Five Valley representatives are among 28 state lawmakers who have called on the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to look elsewhere in their massive budget rather than reduce Medicaid funding for medically necessary therapy services for an estimated 60,000 pediatric and elderly Texans. According to information from the Health and Human Services Commission requested by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, more than 26,000 residents in the Rio Grande Valley would be affected by the planned rate reductions, which could go into effect on September 1. Canales, Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, were among the authors of a July 22, 2015 letter delivered to Chris Traylor, Executive Commissioner of that powerful agency, which administers Medicaid, among other major health and human service programs. “We write today in opposition to the rates proposed by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) for physical, occupational, and speech therapy provided by Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities/Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (CORF/ORF), Home Health Agencies (HHA), and Independent Therapists,” the 28 state representatives stated. “We fear the proposed reductions will severely limit access to medically-necessary services for the most vulnerable in our state.” The legislative intervention is part of a statewide effort to protect Medicaid funding for those vital services for deserving Texans. Those cuts could involve up to $350 million in federal and state moneys for the therapy programs controlled by the HHSC. That $350 million estimate reflects the total potential impact if both rate reductions and policy changes directed in Rider 50 of the state budget are implemented. For only the rate reductions ($100 million in state funds), the total impact would be approximately $233 million. Public comment is closed, but the Health and Human Services Council will consider testimony and make the final recommendation by the time the new state budget goes into effect in about a month. Canales and the 27 other lawmakers who signed the July 22 letter to Traylor contend that the two-year state budget approved by the majority of the Texas Legislature allows the Health and Human Services Commission to come up with revenue from other sources or develop alternative financing plans to keep the funding at the same level. “Individuals to be most impacted by this proposal include children receiving services for birth defects, genetic disorders, and/or physical or cognitive disabilities,” the legislative correspondence added. “(We) think you would agree that, rather than subject them to additional barriers, we have a duty to safeguard these fragile young Texans.” Canales, Guillén, Lucio, III, Martínez, and Muñoz concluded their letter by urging the HHSC leadership “to comprehensively study the effect this level of reductions could have on access to care prior to the implementation of any cost-reduction strategy. While short-term cost containment may be possible using this methodology, the longer term cost to our state and to those most in need is potentially catastrophic.” Earlier in the spring, state legislators, led by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, along with pediatric and elderly patients, parents, patient advocates and members of therapy provider associations, gathered at the State Capitol to begin raising awareness of those pending budget cuts, which had been included in the Senate version of the state budget, according to the Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice.
Featured from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Agustín “Gus” García, Jr., Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Carlton Schwab, President and CEO, Texas Economic Development Council, earlier in the spring in the Extension of the Texas Capitol.
Photograph By DIEGO REYNA
A last-minute parliamentary move by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, will result in the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in property tax payments that will now be invested into jobs-creation and business development in the city, Mayor Richard García has announced. Although the number is not immediately available of the economic development corporations in Texas which had been paying property taxes, as of Fiscal Year 2013, there are more than 700 nonprofit corporations in Texas which collect and administer their respective one-half cent economic development sales tax, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The new law goes into effect on September 1. The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, governed by a five-member board of directors which features the mayor as president, is led by EEDC Executive Director Agustín “Gus” García, Jr. (no relation to the mayor). “When Gus came on board as EEDC executive director, one of the first projects he brought to the city council and the EEDC Board of Directors was the need to remove the EEDC, which is a public entity, from having to unfairly pay property taxes to other local governments,” the mayor said. “The state law that required the EEDC to pay property taxes was vague, so we supported Gus’ decision to have legislation filed to clear up that confusion. One government entity should not be paying property taxes to another government entity.” The payoff for the EEDC, which derives much of its revenue from the local one-half cent economic development sales tax, will be significant, said Gus García. “In 2012, the EEDC was paying more than $440,000 in local property taxes. This immediately triggered the question, ‘Why’?” Gus García explained. “I made some inquiries, and quickly discovered the law wasn’t clear on whether we – a government entity – should be paying property taxes.” The EEDC executive director took his findings to the city’s top elected and appointed leadership, seeking their support to have state legislation filed to resolve the controversy. “I visited with everyone of our board members, the city council and city manager,” Gus García said. “We make it a point to keep lines of communication open so that we are all on the same page when it comes to the legislative needs of the community.” The Hidalgo County Appraisal District, the government entity headquartered in Edinburg, whose powers include determining the market value of taxable property, has the authority to rule on exemptions and special valuations authorized by local entities and the State of Texas. Rather than wait until legislation could be filed, Gus García convinced the Hidalgo County Appraisal District to determine that the EEDC did not have to pay property taxes after all. “We visited with the appraisal district last year, and they were very interested in helping us. They, too, understood the contradiction of paying taxes with taxes,” he said. “As a result, in 2014, we saved approximately $330,000 because we did not have to pay property taxes.” But the uncertainty of the language in state law meant that legal challenges could still be filed against the appraisal district’s action favoring the EEDC, so the Canales’ legislation – House Bill 2305 – would still be needed, Gus García contended. With the help of René A. Ramírez, owner of Pathfinders Public Affairs, which is the EEDC’s and Edinburg City Council’s state legislative consulting team, the Canales’ measure was coordinated for drafting and filing for action by the Texas Legislature in early spring. But the measure remained stalled before the House Ways & Means Committee, with the necessary committee public hearing never being scheduled because that House panel was overwhelmed with 394 other bills requesting action. As Canales worked on dozens of other major issues, ranging from setting up a branch campus of South Texas College in the Delta Region to helping secure almost $100 million in new funding for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine in Edinburg, the state lawmaker kept a sharp eye on amending other state legislation to include the goals of HB 2305. An amendment involves adding new language to a bill, which is an especially difficult challenge on the House or Senate floors during the final days and hours of the legislative session. But Canales was tracking House Bill 1905 by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Gainesville, which proposed eliminating certain other state and local taxes, and HB 1905 was almost certain to beat the legislative deadlines. “I went to Rep. Springer, explained the goals of HB 2305, he agreed with us, and he allowed me to add the key language of HB 2305 to his HB 1905,” Canales reported. “The need for change that was brought up by the EEDC, specifically by Gus García, drew overwhelming support in the Texas Legislature, and on Saturday, June 20, this very important piece of legislation, with statewide impact, was signed into law by the governor.”