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House passes bill by Rep. Martínez to protect Texas’ $159 million citrus industry from new plant plague

 

Hidalgo County leaders on Friday, May 1, commemorated the historic infusion of about $300 million in federal funds for the Hidalgo County Levee Rehabilitation Project during a special recognition ceremony and press conference at the Hidalgo Pump House Museum and World Birding Center Nature Park.  Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured first on right, released an economic impact study, commissioned by his office and conducted by Sai Mullapudi of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Data and Information Systems Center Division of Community Engagement, that highlighted the economic impact of the levee upgrades.  The study indicates that the entire levee rehabilitation project, when completed, will produce nearly 5,000 local jobs and generate $508 million in economic impact. From left, in this photograph, are: Ron Vitiello, chief for the Rio Grand Valley Border Patrol sector; Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; and Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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May marks National Mental Health Month and to recognize the month-long health campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, the South Texas Behavioral Health Center hosted an advocacy reception for community leaders on Friday, May 1. Area leaders spanning from law enforcement, military, elected officials, health care practitioners and social service providers attended the event in recognition of the advancements and challenges of mental health care in the Valley. Standing, from left, are: Solomon Torres, District Director for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Doug Matney, Vice President of Acute Care and Group Director for South Texas Health System; César Matos, MD; Joe Rodríguez, CEO for South Texas Behavioral Health Center and Michael Sauceda, Business Development Director for South Texas Behavioral Health Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Manuel Garcia and Johnny Rodriguez, two of the board members for Edinburg Child Care, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to providing nutrition and education services to children in day care homes, display a cake that helped mark the 25th anniversary of the local entity.  The local firm, which helps generate a multi-million dollar economic impact for the region, hosted a celebration in the Edinburg/San Manuel region on April 25, 2009, as a treat for many of its participants. Operations consist of reimbursements to day care homes and day care centers for meals served to children under their care and administrative costs.  All seed funds/startup costs were provided by Romeo Villarreal, a local businessman and educator. The policy-making board of directors oversees the program, which is administered by an executive director. Since 1991, this program has generated between $2 million to $2.3 million dollars annually and disbursed to providers from Corpus Christi to Laredo, to Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. Three hundred to 500 small business owners of day care centers are being supplemented annually through this agency. Edinburg Child Care, Inc. is located 2002 West University, Suite 3, Edinburg, 78539. They may also be contacted by telephone at 956/383-6789; by fax at 956/383-6888; and toll-free at 1/800-281-6780. Mary Villarreal, the company’s executive director, may also be reached via Internet mvillarrealmmv@sbcglobal.net or edinburgchildcare@hotmail.com. 

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The Texas Senate on Monday, May 4, unanimously voted for Senate Bill 1443 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee,  that would provide financial relief to students and their families, while recognizing the shared responsibility of the legislature and higher education institutions to keep college affordable and accessible without sacrificing excellence. The bill focuses on total academic costs, not simply on tuition; caps increases and links them to formula funding; offers an optional 4-year guaranteed tuition rate; includes additional cost-cutting measures; and establishes legislative oversight. See story later in this posting. 

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Asian citrus psyllid nymphs, shown here in their development stages by a U.S. Department of Agriculture photograph, can live on citrus trees that are infected with the Citrus Greening Disease and can acquire that plague just before reaching the adult stage. Once that happens, those insects can immediately transmit the disease to uninfected trees, which ruin the trees and citrus.  The greening disease, which has not yet been detected in Texas, could devastate the state’s $159 million citrus industry, most of which is located in Hidalgo County. A bill by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has been passed by the House of Representatives. The measure would give the Texas Department of Agriculture the needed policy powers to help citrus growers prevent a potentially-devastating outbreak of this plant disease. See lead story later in this posting. 

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City Council on Tuesday, March 3, to consider recommending state incentives for proposed $14 million Edinburg Medical Conference Center

Area leaders are calling on South Texans to join Valley veterans in Edinburg on Saturday, March 14, to help kick off a march to San Antonio designed to continue rallying support for a Veterans Affairs Hospital for deep South Texas. The march, which will include Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, will begin at 9 a.m. at the Sekula Memorial Library, 1906 S. Closner Boulevard, in Edinburg. The march will end on Friday, March 20, at the Audie Murphy Memorial VA Hospital, 7400 Merton Minter Street, in San Antonio. For more information, residents may contact Jesús Bocanegra at 956/246-8342 or Rey Leal at 949/292-7185. For sponsorship, persons may contact Chris Treviño at 956/720-2381.

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Edinburg Home Buyers Expo organizational and planning committee will address the Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, March 3, with an update on the 2nd Annual Edinburg Home Buyers Expo, scheduled for Saturday, April 18, at the ECHO Hotel. The committee’s main goal is to educate and inform Edinburg residents and others interested about many topics regarding the housing market. “This is an opportune time to invest in real estate. If you are one who has been saving and waiting to grab a good deal, the time is now," said Edna Peña, realtor with Horizon Properties. Featured, from left: Verónica Guerrero, City of Edinburg; Edna Peña, Horizon Properties; Elva Jackson Garza, Edwards Abstract and Title Co. and Expo Chair; Flo Prater, Rio Valley Realty; Marty Martin, Rio Valley Realty; Michelle Mendoza, County of Hidalgo; Steve de la Garza, County of Hidalgo; Anna L. Casares, International Bank of Commerce; María (Charo) Mann, Southwest Community Investment Corporation Women’s Business Center; Letty Reyes, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Irene Del Toro, Texas Valley Communities Foundation. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce along with the Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau will host the 3rd Annual Community Health Fair & Edinburg on Wheels, Saturday, March 7 from 8 a.m until noon. The event will be held at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, 602 W. University Drive. The Health Fair is currently accepting participants. Booth entries cost $75 for non-profit organizations, $100 for chamber members or $150 for future chamber members. All businesses and organizations in the health and medical field are encouraged to participate. The Edinburg on Wheels is a six-mile bike ride along Edinburg’s “Hike & Bike” trails, promoting health and wellness for people of all ages. Bike ride registration will be from 8 – 8:45 a.m., and the ride begins promptly at 9 a.m. T-shirts for the first 100 registrants will be given out for free. Snacks, water and drinks will also be provided. Families are greatly encouraged to participate. The event is sponsored by Stonebridge Injury Accident Clinic. For more information, please call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974. Featured, promoting the event, are, from left: Johnny Rodríguez, Melissa Rodríguez, Cristal Cavazos, Frank Lara, Evana Vleck, Kimberly Rodríguez, Imelda Rodríguez, Letty González, and John Paul Rodríguez.

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South Texas College and The University of Texas-Pan American have developed the Start Here, Finish There Student Transfer Success Action Plan to ensure students have an easier time completing their degrees through a partnership between both higher education institutions. “The plan includes strategies to develop a seamless transition for STC graduates transferring to UTPA,” said Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs. “The more than 25 strategies included in the plan have clear timelines for implementation and accountability for completion.” Featured, from left at the UTPA campus, are: Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president for academic affairs, sporting an STC cap and Mejia, wearing a UTPA cap to symbolize a deepening partnership between the two higher ed institutions. See story later in this posting.

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Regional Mobility Authorities would post their full agenda packets on the Internet under legislation being developed by Rep. Flores

 

State Farm Insurance Company on Thursday, January 29, awarded $50,000 to The University of Texas-Pan American toward a project to promote service learning and safety awareness among South Texas educators and students. The twofold initiative, titled Project SELS (Service Learning and Safety), will incorporate workshops and other communication tools to engage more faculty, teachers and students in service learning activities related to their studied disciplines as well as opportunities for State Farm agents to promote safety awareness practices to create safer neighborhoods in South Texas. Area lawmakers, company officials, and university leaders were joined by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, during a press conference to announce the grant award. Featured, from left:  Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa; James Langabeer, UTPA Vice President for Business Affairs; Janice Odom, UTPA Vice President for University Advancement;  Congressman Rubén Hinojosa; Lyra Vela-Salazar, State Farm agent; and Amelia Folkes, State Farm public affairs specialist. 

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Community leaders from the City of Edinburg, including the majority of the Edinburg City Council, will be in Austin on Tuesday, February 10 to observe Edinburg Day at the Capitol, according to Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured center. The group will participate in legislative meetings with state leaders, visit with key lawmakers, and receive a special recognition in the House and Senate chambers. "Edinburg has much to be proud of and I am honored to once again host my hometown at our state Capitol," said Peña. "I want to thank those city leaders who will travel to Austin to help make this day a great success. It is important that other legislators hear about the great things happening in our community." With Peña, during a gathering last fall at Edinburg City Hall are, from left: Councilmember Alma Garza; Mayor Joe Ochoa; Peña; Councilmember Noé Garza; and Councilmember Gus García. The four city officials are part of the delegation scheduled to travel to the Capitol. See story later in this posting. 

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Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured during a reception in October at Edinburg City Hall, on Wednesday, February 4, voted to approve the final version of legislation that will provide health care to 11 million children in modest-income families. The bill was immediately sent to President Obama, who signed the legislation into law late that Wednesday afternoon. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Reauthorization Act becomes the second bill that President Obama has signed into law since he became President. "We have a duty as a nation to protect those who cannot protect themselves. This SCHIP legislation does just that by providing health care to millions of children whose families otherwise would not be able to afford private insurance,” Hinojosa said. “It is simply unacceptable that America continues to be the world’s only developed nation that does not provide health care coverage to all children.” See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, featured here with Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., the new chancellor of the University of Texas System, was recently appointed chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, which will have jurisdiction over many major issues facing public universities, medical schools, law schools, and community colleges in Texas. That and other Senate committee appointments were made on Friday, January 30, by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He reappointed her to the Senate Finance, Health and Human Services, and Administration committees and to the upgraded Economic Development Committee. "Because higher education issues are so important and timely, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst empowered us to address them more swiftly, efficiently, effectively and fairly," said Zaffirini. Her higher education committee will process legislation addressing pressing issues facing colleges and universities, including tuition deregulation, the top ten rule and the need for additional tier one universities. See story later in this posting. 

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for December remains at 5.5 percent, again best in the Valley, better than Texas and U.S. unemployment levels

With Bucky the Bronco, the mascot for the University of Texas-Pan American, helping lead the cheers in June 2004, Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas was welcomed during a public ceremony on her first day as president by Rodolfo Arévalo, Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs. Citing health reasons, Cárdenas retired as president of one of the largest public universities in Texas effective Friday, January 30. Under her leadership, UT-Pan American continued its successful transformation into a research-oriented institution of higher education, with a top faculty and state-of-the-art facilities and resources. On Tuesday, January 27, Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, said he would work closely with new UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to inform and involve South Texans on the appointment, deliberations, and actions of a presidential search advisory committee which will undertake a national search for a successor to Cárdenas. "We will make sure the public is fully informed on how these major steps are taken, and how people from all walks of life from South Texas can participate in selecting the new leadership of our great university," Flores said. Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT-Arlington, will serve as interim president effective February 23. See story later in this posting.

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Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT- Arlington, will serve as interim president of the University of Texas-Pan American effective February 23 while a national search begins for a permanent successor to former president Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, the UT System announced on Tuesday, January 27. “Dr. Sorber’s expertise and vast background have earned him a rock-solid reputation of service in a variety of administrative positions, and we are extremely fortunate to have him help guide UT-Pan American in this important time of transition," said David B. Prior, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. "UT-Pan American is tremendously important to the region and to the UT System. We believe that the students, faculty and staff will enjoy getting to know Dr. Sorber as your combined efforts continue to move the institution to even greater distinction. The quick action by UT System administrators is crucial to maintaining stability at the university, said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "I am happy to see that the UT System is moving quickly to search for the best candidate to lead UT-Pan American," said Hinojosa. "Dr. Cárdenas set a high standard and I expect the presidential search advisory committee to seek out an outstanding academic and administrator to guide UT-Pan American." See story later in this posting.

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In an effort to rouse up funding and support for local projects in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured left, on Monday, January 26, met with Congressman James Oberstar, D-MN, featured right, who is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Hinojosa, along with Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi (center), highlighted South Texas’ many infrastructure projects that are “shovel-ready” and needed for long-term growth. These projects include the Hidalgo County Loop, the Donna Bridge access road, North Rail Relocation project, and U.S. Highway 281 at Falfurrias and Ben Bolt. See story later in this posting.

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Former McAllen Mayor Othal E. Brand Sr., featured left, was recognized on Monday, January 26, for his years of service to the community, and he was presented a proclamation from Mayor Richard Cortéz, on behalf of the city commission. In 1973, Brand was elected city commissioner and in 1977 was elected mayor, where he served continuously for 20 years until 1997. Through his leadership and vision, he was instrumental in establishing the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of McAllen and planned for McAllen’s future by acquiring land for future growth. Brand served on numerous boards and committees both on the local and state levels. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg High School graduate Aurora Casas was already a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) when she started her college career at South Texas College. At the age of 58, she didn’t let a simple number keep her from her achieving her goals. “It was always my dream to be an office worker,” she said. “I would go to renew my driver’s license or to the bank and I would see the young ladies and gentlemen behind their desks; I always dreamt that I could be in their shoes one day. I wanted it to be me as the professional helping others.” But it took a pink slip to put her back on the college path. Prior to STC, she spent 30 of her years as a seamstress with Haggar Clothing Co. She took the job to help her family make ends meet, but ultimately wasn’t doing what she really hoped with her life. And in the end, the Haggar plant closed and her long-term commitment to her employer only earned her a pink slip. Now, the South Texas College alum Aurora Casas of Edinburg uses her college knowledge to help mature adults find work in a high-tech, fast-paced, global marketplace. See story later in this posting.

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The Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office on Thursday, January 22, presented a check totaling $2,500 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign to benefit local charitable organizations. The program allows department staff to wear jeans every Friday in exchange for a $5 donation. “I am extremely proud of our staff for their support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and their willingness to give back to their community. They are extremely elated to see their efforts going towards a cause that helps grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions,” said Hinojosa. Featured, first row, from left: María Barrera; Mary Alonzo; Prescilla López; Ava Sandlin, area Executive Director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; María Elva Garza; Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa; and Nilda Van Hook. Back row, from left: Aída Ríos; Ángela García; Lonnie De León; Eric Rodríguez; Irene Casares; Ireneo Razo; Pedro Navarro; Josue Palomo, and Lorena De La Garza. See story later in this posting.

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In break from majority, Councilmember García rolled the dice and won big with President Obama

 

When then-Sen. Barack Obama came to the University of Texas-Pan American in late February, you could literally count on one hand the number of elected officials who endorsed the man who would be President – and three of them were from Edinburg. Edinburg Councilmember Gus García, Jr., featured here with his wife, Tonya, publicly supported Obama during his February 22 visit to the University of Texas-Pan American. Also endorsing Obama were Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Edinburg school board trustee Robert Peña, Jr.  The South Texas leaders astonished the Rio Grande Valley Democratic power brokers when they backed Obama against a hugely popular Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Almost a year later, their public support of Obama could help Edinburg and South Texas keep their presence and issues known to the newly-elected President, says the local councilmember. See lead story later in this posting. 

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Key legislators, featured in this file photo during the opening of South Texas College Technology Campus in McAllen in 2006, could soon be joining forces again to bring another higher education crown jewel to the Rio Grande Valley. Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview (third from left), says he is coordinating a public meeting with the City of McAllen, the University of Texas-Pan American, and South Texas College so McAllen officials, led by Mayor Richard Cortéz, may lay out their vision to bring graduate-level university courses to the City of Palms. "For some time now, the leadership of McAllen has been working on ways to continue bringing additional higher education opportunities for the people of South Texas," Flores said. "Under a state law I authored four years ago, the way has been paved for helping do just that." Joining the Palmview Democrat in this shot were, from left: Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Flores; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Cortéz.  Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, carried the Flores legislation in the Senate. See story later in this posting. 

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The University of Texas-Pan American has now made it easier for students to transfer from a two-year college to the University through the help of the newly opened UTPA Transfer Center. A grand opening was held Tuesday, January 13 at the center, which is located at Pecan Boulevard and 29th Street in McAllen. “It is this sort of partnership and teamwork that will pay off ‘en grande’ for the students of STC and most importantly for the economy and prosperity of the Rio Grande Valley,” UTPA President Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas said. “It has become far more urgent that we make sure students have the information they need in order to make efficient decisions in their college pathway.” Featured at the ceremony, from left: Mike Allen, board of trustees, South Texas College;  Dr. Magdalena Hinojosa, UTPA associate vice president and dean of admissions and enrollment services; Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president; Cárdenas; Dr. Shirley Reed, STC president; Alejo Salinas, board of trustees, South Texas College; and Mike Pérez, McAllen city manager. See story later in this posting. 

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Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, featured right, will be in Weslaco on Thursday, January 22, as part of a major legislative tour coordinated by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, according to Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured left. Straus will be joined by dozens of other state lawmakers for the only scheduled visit into Hidalgo County, according to the tentative schedule that has been distributed to state senators and representatives by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. The speaker and the legislators will meet for a reception with mayors of Hidalgo County at 7 p.m. at the home of Patti and Larry Dittburner at 2912 S. International Boulevard, according to Peña. Later in the week, the legislative delegation will primarily visit key points in Cameron County. The Rio Grande Valley Partnership is hosting the tour for dozens of legislators from across the state from Thursday, January 22 through Sunday, January 25. "Joe Straus is a good friend and I congratulate him on his unanimous election as our new speaker," said Peña. "We have been able to succeed in the past because of our willingness to work with members on both sides of the aisle. In these dire economic circumstances and with our state facing a grim budget outlook it becomes so much more important to put aside partisanship and do what is best for the state of Texas. That is why I invited Speaker Straus to join our colleagues in a tour of the Rio Grande Valley." Featured, from left: Peña; Straus; Aaron Peña III; and Aaron Austin Peña. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, featured third from right, on Tuesday, January 13, was sworn in for another four-year term representing Senate District 21, which includes Starr County.  Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst presided during Opening Day Ceremonies, officially gaveling to order the 81st Texas Legislative Session. "I truly am delighted to renew my unwavering support for all families in our district," Zaffirini said. "I especially look forward to prioritizing education and health and human services and to ensuring the health and welfare of Texans, especially those whom I represent."  She returns as the highest-ranking senator for Bexar County and the border region. including Starr County. Featured, from left: Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston; and Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio. See story later in this posting.

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