Select Page

Edinburg’s May 2011 retail economy registers best improvement among key Valley cities

McAllen’s state legislation on Thursday, July 7, pose for news photographers following their presentations before the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on how the Valley made out during the five-month regular session of the Texas Legislature, which ended May 31, and the special session, which wrapped up in late June. “The $27 billion budget shortfall and the current political environment set the theme from the start and it was not pretty,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured second from left. “Still, aside the difficulties we faced, we were able to shine a positive light on several important issues.” As one example, the Texas Legislature approved almost $66 million in additional funding for border security, among some of the victories secured by South Texas state lawmakers. From left are: Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; Sen. Hinojosa; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission. See editorial later in this posting by Sen. Hinojosa on his view of the sessions’ negative and positive impact on the Valley.

••••••

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, June 23, welcomed Edinburg North High School student Felipe Gaitán, his family and his teacher to Washington, D.C. Felipe is the 1st Place winner of the 2011 Artistic Discovery Congressional Art Competition for Texas’ 15th Congressional District. He earned the top spot for his pencil drawing entitled Hey Good Looking. “It was a pleasure meeting Felipe and his family here in Washington, D.C.,” said Hinojosa. “He’s a fine young man and obviously a very talented artist. Our district will be very well represented here on Capitol Hill throughout the year.” The annual art competition, coordinated by members of the U.S. House of Representatives, takes all of the winning art work from throughout the country and displays them for one year as part of the national exhibition in the Cannon Tunnel of the U.S. House of Representatives, which leads to the U.S. Capitol building. For winning 1st Place, Felipe received a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, plus he and his family were flown to the nation’s capital. This is the Gaitáns’ family first visit to Washington, D.C., and the first time, for the children to fly on an airplane. High School students from throughout Texas’ District 15 submitted 26 entries for the annual competition. A total of 12 high schools from Harlingen to Three Rivers participated in the competition. Featured, from left: Lorenzo Gaitán (father); Christian Gaitán (brother); Felipe Gaitán (art winner); Elena Gaitán (mother); Congressman Hinojosa; Terry Viña (art teacher); and Rubén Gonzáles, Jr. (brother)

••••••

A research and education park for the deep South Texas is becoming a reality now that the master planning process is well underway. Broaddus Planning of Austin expects to have the plan completed by Fall 2011, and gave a preview of the plan to regional stakeholders, including leaders with the University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College, during a reception at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 22. The park will be located on 400 acres of public and private land near the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone.  The driving force behind the park is a subcommittee comprised of affiliates of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI). Sixty business, education, economic development, industry and government partners form the initiative, which was launched as a result of a U.S. Department of Labor investment. NAAMREI partners are focused on transforming the region into a world leader for advanced and rapid response manufacturing. Featured during the June 22 update are, from left: Wanda Garza, executive director, NAAMREI; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president, South Texas College; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president, the University of Texas-Pan American; Rose Benavidez, vice-chair, STC Board of Trustees; Gary Gurwitz, chair, STC Board of Trustees, and Juan E. Mejía, chief academic officer, STC. See story later in this posting.

••••••

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host Workforce Solutions at their next Business Luncheon, set for Thursday, July 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Edinburg Depot, located at 602 West University Drive. Topics being discussed will include: Workforce Solutions services and support to businesses; the do’s and don’ts of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); employing those with disabilities, and how Workforce Solutions can help businesses save money, support human resource needs; and hiring, pre-screening and training of employees. More information is available at the chamber’s website at http://www.Edinburg.com. Featured, from left: John Hershey, business development specialist, Workforce Solutions; Katherine Filut, disability program navigator, Workforce Solutions; Letty González, president, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Evana Vleck, marketing director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Sonia Quintero, deafness resource specialist, Texas Department of Assistive & Rehabilitative Services; and Víctor Martín de León, public information officer, Workforce Solutions.

Hobos around Edinburg are packing up and on the trail to the historic Edinburg Depot, the home of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. They are hopping on board to support the Depot Restoration Project and getting spiffed up to participate in the Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion, scheduled on Saturday, September 17 at the Edinburg Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive. “We are inviting all past presidents, board members, volunteers and the current chamber investors to join us in September as we host the Hobo Hap’nin’ Reunion,” said Elva Jackson Garza, chairman of the Depot Restoration Committee. “This will be a very special event as it will bring civic and business leaders who were instrumental in the original renovation project that started in 1994. It’s time we come together again for a very important cause as we restore one of Edinburg’s most important treasures built in 1927.” Members of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Depot Restoration Committee, featured here promoting the event, are, from left: Vivian Martin, Maggie Kent, Flo Prater, Edna Peña, Letty González, Marty Martin and Elva Jackson Garza. See story later in this posting.

••••••

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, featured July 7 at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s legislative update, is criticizing the state’s Republican leadership for what he fears will be almost a $1 billion reduction in state funds for key programs and services, including public education and medical care for the poor, in deep South Texas. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you, as mayor of this city, as great as we have done in the past, there is a storm brewing out there,” Cortéz said. “When they tell me we’re not going to get almost a billion dollars of funds from the state to the Rio Grande Valley, if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. How do we make up a billion dollars in our economy?” See story later in this posting.

••••••

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose legislative district also includes Starr County, recently marked her 47,550th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate. Featured here earlier this year presiding over the Texas Senate, her unique, career-long 100 percent voting record extends from January, 1987, when she first took office.  “Every vote I cast in the Texas Senate reflects my commitment to balance the needs of my Senate District 21 constituents with those of our great state,” Zaffirini said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference, especially for the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities.” See story later in this posting.

(more…)

Rep. Peña reportedly leaning against reelection bid

 jobcreationpriority.jpg

Some of the major economic development leaders in Edinburg and Hidalgo County discussed their strategies for continuing the growth, which has lead to record-low jobless rates in Edinburg, during a May 17 luncheon at the ECHO sponsored by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. The meeting, which featured a presentation on key initiatives by Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, included local elected and appointed political and business officials. Salinas, featured center, seated, along with Mayor Joe Ochoa, featured to the judge’s left, was also joined for this portrait by Ramiro Garza, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Dennis Burleson of Mission, chairman of the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority; J.J. Rodríguez, city manager; Mike Govind, member of the EEDC board of directors; Mayor Pro Tem Gene Espinoza; Fred Palacios, member of the EEDC board of directors; and former Edinburg Mayor Richard García, who also serves as the president of the EEDC board of directors. The judge’s presentation is available on the internet (http://www.cityofedinburg.com/) or on the Edinburg Cable Network, which is on Time Warner Cable channel 12. See story later in this posting.

••••••

skillfundsapproved.jpg

Diana Rath, chair of the Texas Workforce Commission, has praised the legislative passage of a bill supported by the Texas Border Coalition, which will protect more than $12 million in state funds to help businesses and community colleges train employees. Rath, shown here during a visit to South Texas College in February, said thousands of workers along the Texas border region will benefit from the legislation, which is awaiting anticipated approval from Gov. Rick Perry. See story later in this posting.

••••••

robertpenaswornin.jpg

Robert Peña, Jr., 39, is the newest member of the Edinburg school board, winning in his inaugural bid for public office. Peña, former executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, now owns a small business in the community. The Edinburg native, a former U.S. Army Sergeant, also served in the first Persian Gulf War. Peña succeeds former ECISD school board president Melba González. Hidalgo County County Court No. 1 Judge Rodolfo González (no relation to Melba González) administered the oath of office to Peña during swearing-in ceremonies at the Edinburg School Administration Building a few days after his election.

•••••

Rep. Peña reportedly leaning against reelection bid

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is reportedly leaning against a bid for a fourth two-year term, a move that would cost his hometown powerful seniority in the Texas House of Representatives, where a bitter political struggle during the waning days of the legislative session was underway to replace his friend, Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

The five-month regular session was scheduled to end at midnight on Monday, May 28.

Following reports in the Valley news media on Saturday, May 26, that quoted Peña expressing serious reservations about running for reelection in the March 2008 Democratic Party primary, the veteran legislator has not issued any additional public statements nor has he denied the news reports being carried in Valley news outlets.

A top staff members with his Capitol office on Sunday said Peña would provide more details on his published comments, most likely after the legislative session wraps up.

His first scheduled public appearance in Edinburg is set for Thursday, May 31, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. during grand opening ceremonies of Edwards Abstract & Title Company, 3111 W. Freddy González Drive, in Edinburg.

As of late Monday evening, Peña had not addressed the news article on his website, http://www.acapitolblog.com/. During his posting on his website on Sunday, May 27, he focused on the House passage of legislation to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program to potentially more than 120,000 additional children of working families.

Late Friday evening, May 25, Peña expressed great dismay with an unprecedented political battle in the House of Representatives that on Saturday, May 26, made national news.

CBS News described the chaos Friday evening as a “five-hour rebellion on the House floor that included a bold attempt to boot him from office, the physical restraint of insurgent lawmakers trying to overtake the speaker’s podium, and the House parliamentarian nearly pushed to tears before resigning.”

Peña, who seconded Craddick’s nomination for Speaker of the House in January, was clearly disheartened by the political meltdown that is historic in nature.

“Words alone can not begin to communicate the troubling events at your Texas capitol,” Peña reported on his website, even posting a photo of a dark and angry sky descending upon the Texas Capitol. “We are but two days away from completion of the 80th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature and a conflict over who will be the occupant of the chair of the body has erupted.

Peña added, “Last night (Friday) every seat in the gallery was filled. The tensions and rhetoric were high. Each side of the argument has made their positions known to the body the only question that remains is the forum to decide the ultimate question. I still expect that forum to be the brutal primaries of March. For now, the passage of the budget is the last remaining necessity this Texas House must pass. I would hope that the anarchy we are presently observing does not interfere with our responsibility to pass the only bill we are required to pass each session.”

Craddick was still in control late Monday evening, the last day of the regular session, presiding over the House debate over the state budget and other major legislation.

If Peña chooses not to seek reelection – he has handily won three challenges – the political landscape in the city is sure to change with an open seat suddenly and unexpectedly coming available in the spring 2008 Democratic and Republican party primaries.

If both parties field candidates in March, then the November general elections in the city will include a campaign to represent House District 40, which includes all but southwest Edinburg, the Delta Area, La Joya, Sullivan City and smaller communities in northern Hidalgo County.

On Monday evening, Peña repeated his concerns about the political turmoil in the House of Representatives in his latest posting on his website, but again stated nothing to dispel the published reports that he may not seek reelection.

“As I have repeatedly noted before the bitterness and uber-partisanship that poisons Washington now infects the Texas State Capitol,” Peña chastised Craddick’s opponents. “Like the fall of ancient Rome when its generals put personal ambitions over their responsibility to the people of their state, our great state is poisoned by those who fail in their responsibilities to the governed. My hope is that today we, the elected officials of this state, will rise to the responsibility entrusted to us by the governed and get on with finishing the business of the state.”

••••••

“Ronald Reagan Republicans” form PAC to counter alleged retaliation by Speaker Craddick

In a move to redirect the Republican leadership of the Texas House of Representatives, Republicans opposing the reelection of Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, have filed paperwork at the Texas Ethics Commission to form a political action committee to protect Republican legislative incumbents and candidates from attack in the upcoming 2008 primary.

The new PAC is titled “Ronald Reagan Republicans for Local Community Control and Speaker Term Limits.” The new PAC’s Board of decision makers will include the four House Republicans running for Speaker against Craddick (Jim Keffer, Jim Pitts, Brian McCall and Fred Hill) and the new PAC’s treasurer will be State Representative Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).

According the Ethics Commission filing, the new PAC will use the acronym: “3 R PAC.”

“The 3 R PAC will promote speaker term limits to make sure that the office of Speaker is dedicated to following the rules of procedure for the benefit of all 150 House districts, rather than twisting the rules of procedure to perpetuate the personal power of one member,” said Cook.

“The is a battle between Republicans over whether our party will follow the current path of infighting and self-destruction which has resulted in a loss of seven seats in the Texas House since Craddick took over or to follow the path of leadership through integrity exemplified by former Republican President Reagan,” Cook added.

Cook said the purpose of this PAC is to raise money to protect Republican incumbents and legislative candidates from vindictive acts and retaliation by Speaker Craddick and his supporters.

Over the past two weeks Craddick supporters have actively sought to recruit primary opponents for some of the Republicans opposing Craddick including Keffer and Cook.

“President Reagan’s11th Commandment was to not attack fellow Republicans,” Cook added.

“This PAC will be a watchdog to condemn any attempt by Craddick or his supporters to usurp decisions which should made by local Republican primary voters and not outside special interest agendas.”

••••••

Sen. Hinojosa says funding for key projects in Edinburg, county, to be included in final state budget

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, announced on Friday, May 25, that millions of dollars in new appropriations will go to Hidalgo County in the next biennium for important issues such as water and health.

Hinojosa said a new substance abuse and primary care facility will be constructed in Edinburg.

“I worked very closely with the chair and members of finance to bring a substance abuse and primary care facility to Hidalgo County,” Hinojosa said. “Our communities are very much in need of substance abuse services and primary care. I want to also thank Rep. Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg) for his commitment and work on this issue.”

In addition, Hinojosa also worked to get $2 million to relocate the Boeye Reservoir in McAllen. That money will be used to relocate the reservoir and expand its capacity.

“McAllen and the region are growing so fast that we need to think ahead about our water supply and plan for the future,” Hinojosa said. “This will allow us to move the reservoir away from the McAllen Airport to a more secure location where the reservoir can be expanded and improved.”

••••••

Texas Border Coalition scores big victory with protection of Skills Development Fund

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Legislation designed to protect over the next two years more than $12 million in the state’s Skills Development Fund, which helps provide customized workforce training to thousands of border residents, has been approved by the Texas Legislature.

House Bill 48 by Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, preserves a funding formula that dedicates money to the Skills Development Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund, two major economic development programs used by the state to create thousands of jobs.

The Skills Development Fund is an important part of the Texas Border Coalition’s efforts to bring higher paying jobs to the border areas by providing a trained workforce.

TBC is an alliance of elected leaders and economic development officials representing more than 2 million residents who live Texas counties that border Mexico.

More than $40 million dollars was appropriated by the Texas Legislature for the 2006-2007 biennium, and grant applications are accepted year round, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Since the inception of the Skills Development Fund in 1996, more than 168,110 Texas workers have received training. Through collaborations between private industry and training providers, the Skills Development Fund is designed to assist employers meeting the demands of the ever-advancing marketplace and to help workers acquire new skills or upgrade existing skills, the TWC reports.

On Friday, May 18, HB 48 was approved by the Senate, and has been sent to Gov. Rick Perry for his approval. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was the Senate sponsor for HB 48.

“I am delighted that the Texas Senate unanimously passed HB 48,” said Zaffirini. “This bill ensures continued state funding for skills development programs that greatly benefit Texas’ workforce. Retaining the current funding ratio allows the state workforce to remain competitive by providing sufficient resources for skills training. This results in additional training for more than 5,000 Texas workers per year.”

Under current law, 1/10th of 1 percent of Unemployment Insurance Fund, paid into by all employers, is used to fund the Skills Development Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund. From the Unemployment Insurance Fund, 33 percent goes to the Skills Development Fund and 66 percent goes to the Skills Development Fund.

Without HB 48, the funding formula was going to change on September 1, 2007, which would have resulted in a $6.4 million a year decrease in the Skills Development Fund.

“House Bill 48 keeps the ‘split’ of funding between the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Skills Development Fund at its current and original level,” said Chávez. “Maintaining the current split will allow 10,240 more workers to be trained by the TWC over the next two years.”

In 2005, Chávez and Zaffirini also sponsored House Bill 2421, which established the Employment and Training Investment Assessment (ETIA) that allocated funding to the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) and the skills development program. It was HB 2421 that directed 67 percent of the ETIA holding fund to the TEF and the remaining 33 percent to the skills development fund.

Diane D. Rath, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry and chair of the Texas Workforce Commission who represents the public, said HB 48 is important to the state.

“By developing skills training to meet the specific needs of employers, the Skills Development Fund has proven to be a well-structured formula for workforce development success,” said Rath. “We are grateful for the ongoing support of the Legislature for Texas’ premier job-training program.”

On May 16, TBC and other border leaders testified in support of HB 48 when it went before the Senate Finance Committee, which includes border lawmakers Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Zaffirini.

Among those witnesses were TBC members Wanda F. Garza with South Texas Community College, who also serves as chair of the TBC Workforce Development Committee; Ricardo Pérez of Mission; and Pat Townsend, Jr., President and CEO of the Mission Economic Development Authority and TBC treasurer.

“The passage of HB48 was a landmark decision of the Texas Legislative that will invest the Unemployment Insurance Funds to increase the Skills Development Fund to $52 million. These funds will provide job training opportunities for thousands of new and incumbent workers. Sen. Zaffirini, Rep. Chávez and the Texas Legislature are to be applauded for their commitment to raising the skill levels of our workforce,” said TBC’s Garza. “Building a skilled workforce will provide the state with the competitive edge needed to compete in a global market. Gov. Perry kept his promise to support increasing the Skills Development Fund to $50 million. We thank them.”

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio are joint authors of the measure.

“This is a great bill,” said Peña.”Workforce training is such an important economic development tool.”

Members of TBC also include: Eagle Pass Mayor and TBC Chairman Chad Foster; Brownsville Mayor Eddie Treviño, Jr.; Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos; Del Rio Mayor Efraín Valdéz; Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa; El Paso Mayor John F. Cook; El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez; Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell; Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas; Laredo Mayor Raúl G. Salinas; McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz; Maverick County Judge José “Pepe” Aranda, Jr.; Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas; Pharr Mayor Leopoldo Palacios, Jr.; Roma Mayor Rogelio Ybarra; and Weslaco Mayor Joe V. Sánchez.

The Texas Border Coalition maintains a web site at http://www.texasbordercoalition.org.

••••••

County Judge Salinas, regional leaders call for Veterans’ Hospital for the Valley

By CARI LAMBRECHT

As we honor the brave men and women who have passed away defending this nation and standing up for its principals of liberty, independence and justice this Memorial Day, let us not forget to also protect and provide for those veterans who come back to us, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said Friday, May 25, in recognition of Memorial Day.

American citizens owe all veterans a debt of gratitude, Salinas said. And this is exactly why the judge and the region’s leadership have pledged not to give up the fight for a Veterans’ Hospital in Deep South Texas. In fact, Salinas said, the fight is just beginning.

On Monday, May 21, more than 60 veterans from numerous organizations gathered with Salinas, Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos and Refugio County Judge René Mascorro for the second of two town hall meetings at Weslaco City Hall to address the health care needs of approximately 114,000 area veterans — as estimated by the Veterans’ Administration.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, were also represented at the meeting by local staff members.

Salinas vowed that he would convince all 24 county judges south of San Antonio to pass a resolution in support of U.S. House Resolution 538 — a bill sponsored by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, calling for the construction of a veterans’ hospital in the 24 county area. Salinas will call on his fellow county judges at an upcoming meeting of the South Texas County Judges’ and Commissioners’ conference. The group on Monday, May 25, also discussed with Hutchison’s representative how to get a sister bill sponsored in the U.S. Senate. Information was passed out regarding a fierce letter writing campaign, too.

“We’ve had plenty of studies. We don’t need to wait for any more ‘magic studies’ to tell us what we already know — that veterans’ health care in deep south Texas is not on par with that in the rest of the state or the nation,” Salinas said. “The reason why doesn’t matter as much as how much we need to fix its sorry state.”

“The veterans’ population here continues to grow, and the Rio Grande Valley contributes more men and women per capita than nearly any other area in the United States to our armed services. We will not be forgotten for our valiant efforts,” added the Hidalgo County judge.

Salinas, with the help of Cascos, is organizing a summer trip to Washington D.C. with many of the veterans to lobby face-to -ace with key members of the Veterans’ Administration Committees in both sides of Congress. They plan on educating Congress that Texas doesn’t end in San Antonio, which has the closest VA hospital to the Valley, yet still requires area veterans to travel eight hours round-trip for 15 minutes appointments.

Emilio de los Santos, Hidalgo County veterans’ service officer, said it is essential that the region continues to speak as one voice as it strives toward achieving the ultimate goal in building a VA hospital in Deep South Texas.

“Our leaders understand that this resolution will provide the best health care needs for veterans and their families in South Texas,” de los Santos said.

The VSO said he is reminded of a quote by Theodore Roosevelt when reflecting on this situation: “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.”

••••••

Congressman Hinojosa criticizes plans by Iraqi government to take vacation during wartime

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

On Thursday, May 24, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, released the following statement on the passage of the new Iraq Supplemental Appropriations bill.

“The war in Iraq is the most critical issue facing our nation, not only because of the human and financial resources it is consuming, but because of its effect on our nation’s reputation globally and our domestic security.

“Congress has cast a critical vote that will impact our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring about a new direction in Iraq. While the bill does not have specific timelines for troop withdrawal, it is a realistic compromise that addresses the political realities we face here in Washington. This responsible piece of legislation fully funds our troops. It also calls for real accountability by requiring the Iraqi government to meet the 18 benchmarks established by Sen. Warner or face losing funds for Iraqi reconstruction. The Iraqi government must realize that America will not continue to sacrifice our young men and women while they go on vacation and fail to make the necessary political changes.

“The funding for the Iraq war will expire at the end of September. At that time, my Democrat and Republicans colleagues agree that we must reassess the progress that has been made over the summer before providing any additional funding for the war.

“For far too long, President Bush has received a blank check from Congress to do as he pleases without accountability. With this vote, we will finally hold the Administration responsible and insist on real progress in Iraq.”

••••••

$3 million drug treatment center to be located in Edinburg included in state budget by Rep. Peña

By ORLANDO SALINAS

Negotiations over the state’s biennial budget has yielded a drug treatment center to be located in Edinburg. The proposed $3 million facility was approved by the House and Senate conference committee on House Bill 1.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, continued to work with the negotiators in the last few weeks to ensure that the drug treatment center stayed in the budget after adding a rider to the bill during debate in the Texas House.

“The realization of this drug treatment center in Edinburg fulfills one of my primary goals in becoming a state legislator,” said Peña “Treatment and rehabilitation are important strategies in combating the terrible effects that illegal drugs have in our community.”

The treatment center is part of a broader state-wide strategy to address substance abuse and rehabilitation issues in our communities before they become issues in the criminal justice system. The state budget includes more funding for substance abuse treatment and diversion programs for low level, non-violent offenders at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

It adds treatment and capacity dollars at the local level to give judges and the parole board an alternative to sentencing offenders and considering probation and parole options.

The exact location, size and capacity of the center have yet to be formalized. The drug treatment facility would compliment the existing Mental Health and Mental Retardation operations in Edinburg.

“There needs to be a three prong approach to combating the devastating effects of substance abuse in our communities,” said Peña.

“We have to keep educating children and adults about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. This session we’ve allocated more funding for law enforcement to stem the flow of drugs through our borders and we are now investing more in treatment and rehabilitation.”

The Texas Legislature has allocated over $100 million for border security.

As the five-month regular session approached its conclusion at midnight on Monday, May 28, the House and Senate were negotiating the exact details of the border security bill. The negotiations on the budget bill needs to be agreed upon by the House and Senate before being sent to the Governor.

“The entire Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation needs to be applauded for working together to get these important programs for South Texas,” said Peña. “Rep. Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) fought hard on the conference committee to keep this drug treatment center funded. Senators (Juan ‘Chuy’) Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and (Eddie) Lucio (Jr., D-Brownsville) were instrumental in taking care of business over in the Senate.”

Peña is the Chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means. He is serving his third term in the Texas House.

******

Sweeping legislation by Sen. Hinojosa approved by lawmakers, will reform Texas Youth Commission

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

After more than two years of tackling the myriad problems plaguing the Texas Youth Commission, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, passed his sweeping legislation on Friday, May 25, to reform the troubled commission.

Following several days of negotiations in conference committee between the House and Senate, Senate Bill 103 passed both the Senate and the House and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, and chairman of the House Committee on Corrections, was the House sponsor of the bill. Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, was a co-sponsor of SB 103.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was a co-author of the measure.

“Overall, the negotiations made SB 103 a better bill for the state and the people of Texas,” Hinojosa said. “It’s been a long road, and Rep. Madden was a pleasure to work with in serving Texas’ families. With the passage of this bill today, I am confident that the children in the state’s care will receive the rehabilitation they need, and that the people of Texas will have a Commission worthy of them.”

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

Hinojosa’s bill calls for improved security by requiring TYC guards to undergo at least 300 hours of training before being assigned to guard duty, and it caps the guard-to-youth ratio at no more than 12 to 1 to maintain order and safety. It also requires fingerprint and national criminal history checks for employees, volunteers, and advocates working within TYC facilities.

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 extensions, thus 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.

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

To ensure that these and other improvements are properly implemented, extensive reporting measures were put into place so that parents and the public can access information regarding investigations, extensions of youth’s sentences, and prosecutions of crimes occurring within TYC. The bill also requires TYC develop a plan to move towards acquiring national accreditation of their facilities.

“SB 103 will make tremendous changes to the Texas Youth Commission, and we will continue to work with the agency and evaluate its progress through the Sunset Commission.” said Hinojosa. “We have appropriated $525 million for the TYC to give them the necessary resources to implement the SB 103 reforms. The Texas Legislature has made improving this agency a top priority, and we expect success.”

••••••

South Texas College receives legislative approval to permanently offer university-level degree

By ED SERNA

The House of Representatives on Friday, May 25, today passed House Bill 2198 by Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, that will make the baccalaureate programs at three junior colleges, including South Texas College, permanent.

The measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, has gone to the governor for his approval.

“This bill provides an affordable and accessible college education opportunity for local citizens and helps meet the local workforce needs of the surrounding communities,” Flores said. “Students wishing to get a baccalaureate in Applied Science and Technology will be able to pursue a degree closer to home. This is great news for the Valley.”

In 2005, the Legislature authorized a pilot project allowing three public junior colleges, including South Texas College, Brazosport College, and Midland College, to offer limited baccalaureate degrees in Applied Science and Technology.

The pilot program provided the opportunity to examine the effectiveness and feasibility of a permanent program. The three pilot institutions have made long-term financial investments in preparation for offering the baccalaureate degree, including the expansion of library resources and adding doctorate-level faculty to teach in these programs.

“This project is a tremendous success and has been met with great enthusiasm and support by students and local businesses. My bill enhances educational opportunities in the region and will promote economic development that ultimately improves the lives of many,” said Flores. “The importance of education can’t be overstated, for not only the students and their families, but also for the Valley’s prosperity.”

Flores represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.

••••••

Sen. Hinojosa passes legislation to require heart defibrillators on every Texas school campus

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, May 22, passed Senate Bill 7, which will put an automatic external defibrillator (AED) in every public and private school campus across the state and provide for training in CPR and defibrillator use for school staff and high school students.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was a co-author of the bill. Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, was the House sponsor of the measure.

According to the American Heart Association, which supported the Hinojosa bill, an automated external defibrillator (AED) is a computerized medical device. An AED can check a person’s heart rhythm. It can recognize a rhythm that requires a shock. And it can advise the rescuer when a shock is needed. The AED uses voice prompts, lights and text messages to tell the rescuer the steps to take.

AEDs are very accurate and easy to use. With a few hours of training, anyone can learn to operate an AED safely. There are many different brands of AEDs, but the same basic steps apply to all of them. The AHA does not recommend a specific model.

SB 7 was a priority for Hinojosa during the 80th Legislative session.

“Requiring defibrillators in our schools is a positive and responsible move. There’s wide agreement that we should have AED’s in all of our Texas schools, not only to save students’ lives, but to save the lives of educators and school personnel,” Hinojosa said.

The American Heart Association commended the senator on the passage of the bill.

“This important piece of legislation helps to make our schools safer for the children of this state. The bill is an extraordinary effort to move the state forward in Emergency Cardiac Care,” said Dr. Henry Lucid, American Heart Association State Advocacy Committee member.

SB 17 has also been part of the Lt. Governor David Dewhurst’s priority legislation for the 80th session.

“I want to thank the Lt. Governor for his leadership and support in passing this bill,” Hinojosa said. “This is something the state can provide schools that will save students, educators, and families a lot of heartache.”

••••••

Bill by Sen. Lucio, Rep. Gonzáles, Rep. Guillen to protect family violence victims sent to governor

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

The Texas Legislature on Friday, May 25, sent a bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to the governor that creates an address confidentiality program to assist eligible victims of family violence, sexual assault or stalking. The bill was amended to include the use of pseudonyms to further assist victims.

Rep Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, were joint sponsors of the bill.

“I want to thank all the supporters of this bill, and my colleagues in the House, Rep. Gonzáles and Rep. Guillen, for their work on Senate Bill 74,” said Lucio.

Gonzáles, who provided great leadership to this issue, said, “A victim of abuse should not have to go underground to escape his or her assailant. This legislation allows a victim to receive mail, register to vote and blend back into society without having his or her location discovered.”

SB 74 directs the Attorney General to designate a substitute post office box address that a victim of these crimes can use in lieu of a physical address. There is currently no mechanism in Texas to help victims of family violence, sexual assault or stalking keep where they reside confidential. Now qualified applicants will have this measure of protection, plus the ability to use pseudonyms when filling out forms for law enforcement officers or agencies in domestic violence cases. The pseudonym would be confidential and disclosed only to the defendant or the defendant’s attorney, except when a court order is issued for other matters.

Without this program, certain victims live in constant fear of being located.

“I think about the address confidentiality program as something which could have saved my grandmother’s life if it had been available to her,” said Donna Bloom of the Texas Advocacy Project, whose grandmother was killed in her home by her grandfather after she had ended the relationship.

In cases of family violence, the abuse often escalates when victims leave the relationship and seek a new address. According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, 143 Texas women were killed by their male intimate partners in 2005. Sixteen of those victims were killed as they were leaving the relationship or after they had already left.

More than a million women and nearly 400,000 men are stalked annually, and one in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetimes. The majority of victims are stalked by someone they know. Of those women who have been killed by an intimate partner, 76 percent were stalked by that partner in the year before their deaths, and 81 percent of women stalked by a current or former intimate partner are eventually physically assaulted by that individual.

••••••

Edinburg, McAllen share lowest jobless rates in Valley for April, posting 4.3 percent unemployment

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s jobless rate, which is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy, and McAllen in April posted the lowest jobless rates in the Valley, with each city reporting a 4.3 percent unemployment rate, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

The latest figures also means the three-time All-America City had the lowest jobless rate for the fourth consecutive month in 2007, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

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.

In March, Edinburg’s jobless rate was 4.4 percent, in February it was 4.8 percent, and in January it was 4.9 percent. Those figures were the best in deep South Texas for their respective months.

The city’s unemployment rate was keeping pace with the statewide average in April of 4.2 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.

In April, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, 1,207 Edinburg residents were looking for jobs, while 26,965 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 6.1 percent in April, an improvement from 6.5 percent in March, 7.4 percent in February, and 7.7 percent in January.

The April jobless rate for Hidalgo County represented 16,453 area residents without jobs, while 254,466 residents were employed during the fourth month of 2007.

McAllen top showing in April of 4.3 percent represented 2,498 of their citizens out of work that month, while 55,855 residents of the City of Palms were employment. In March, McAllen reported a 4.6 percent jobless rate, 5 percent in February, and 5.1 percent in January.

Cameron County’s jobless rate in April was 5.5 percent, down from the March level of 5.8 percent. In April, 7,896 residents of Cameron County were looking for work, while 135,384 residents were holding down jobs.

Harlingen’s unemployment rate in April was 4.6 percent, down from 4.9 percent in March, while Pharr in April posted a 5 percent jobless rate, down from 5.3 percent jobless rate in March.

Mission came in with a 5.2 percent jobless rate in April, down from its 5.4 percent unemployment rate in March, followed by Weslaco at 5.3 percent in April, down from 5.9 percent in March.

In Cameron County, Brownsville’s unemployment rate in April was 5.6 percent, down from 5.9 percent in March.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment in Texas grew by 23,500 jobs in April for a total of 240,800 jobs in the past year.

The state’s annual job growth rate rose slightly in April to 2.4 percent from last month’s 2.3 percent.

The April seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.2 percent, down from 4.3 percent in March and 5.0 percent a year ago.

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.7 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Odessa MSA was second at 3.0 percent, followed by the Lubbock MSA at 3.1 percent.

“Our sustained job gains and falling unemployment rate exemplify the underlying strength of the Texas economy,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Diane Rath. “The Texas unemployment rate dropped to 4.2 percent, well below the national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.”

Professional & Business Services gained jobs for the ninth consecutive month, adding 11,700 jobs in April. The industry has gained 61,100 jobs in the past year. The Leisure & Hospitality sector followed with an increase of 5,000 jobs in April, for a year-over-year gain of 39,400 positions.

“Texas employers continue to create jobs at a tremendous pace, benefiting our regional economies and communities,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “With expansion in 10 of 11 industries, we’re seeing significant annual job growth rates such as 5.0 percent for Business & Professional Services, and 10.0 percent for Mining.”

Trade, Transportation & Utilities added 3,600 jobs in April, with 26,300 jobs created since last year. Education & Health Services increased by 2,500 jobs in April for a total of 24,700 since April 2006.

“It’s always a great sign when the ranks of the unemployed are declining and more Texans are back to work,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “It’s rewarding to know that in the past four weeks we’ve added more than 23,000 jobs.”

••••••

Hidalgo County District Clerk Hinojosa unveils vision for 2007 in Quarterly Progress Report

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

Hidalgo County District Clerk, Laura Hinojosa, commemorated her 100th day in office on Thursday, May 24, by unveiling the mission and vision for the District Clerk’s Office for 2007. Hinojosa presented her “Quarterly Progress Report” which highlights some of her administration’s achievements, organizational changes and things to come.

“One hundred days ago I outlined my priorities for the Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office and committed to maintaining an open government in a firm, fair and consistent manner,” said Hinojosa. “I can proudly say that we’ve been able to accomplish this. However, I can also acknowledge that we still have a lot of work to do.”

The Quarterly Progress Report was initiated by the office in an effort to keep the public informed on the most up-to-date activity in the office. The report outlines the office’s accomplishments which consist of simplified processes, new and enhanced policies and procedures, randomization of court assignments, ongoing professional development, new and reliable office systems, and implemented emergency safety plans. The report also includes a newly created mission statement, the office’s organizational chart and information regarding the different departments within the District Clerk’s Office. Those departments include Administrative Services, the Civil and Criminal Bureau, the Financial Bureau, Tax and Jury, and Registry of the Court.

“These are exciting times for the District Clerk’s Office,” said Hinojosa. “I am more committed than ever to improving customer service, developing our staff and organization, and continuing to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the District Clerk’s Office.”

The office staff will observe this day by spending their lunch hour at a staff development luncheon on County grounds.

Laura Hinojosa was elected Hidalgo County District Clerk in November 2006. She was inaugurated on January 1, 2007. Her father is U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.

******

Congressman Hinojosa votes for new tools to fight record high gasoline prices as summer approaches

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

As Americans approach the summer driving season, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress and voted to approve new tools to fight record high gas prices. On Tuesday, May 22, and Wednesday, May 23, Hinojosa voted for legislation to crack down on gas price gouging and OPEC state-controlled entities average of $3.09 per gallon of regular gas, which is 132 percent higher than the average in 2001.

“Families in Texas are suffering each time they go to the gas station,” said Hinojosa. “This legislation will help crack down on price gouging and fight against those who attempt to fix the price of oil and stick the American people with the bill.”

On Tuesday, May 22, the House approved H.R. 2264 to authorize the Justice Department to take legal action against OPEC state-controlled entities that participate in conspiracies to limit the supply, or fix the price, of oil. Nations or organizations that limit oil supply can artificially inflate the cost of gas and hurt American consumers.

On Wednesday, May 23, the House approved The Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act, H.R. 1252, which would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to investigate and punish companies that artificially inflate the price of gas. The bill sets criminal penalties for price gouging, and permits states to bring lawsuits against wholesalers or retailers who engage in such practices.

While a bipartisan majority in Congress supports these bills, President Bush has threatened to veto both pieces of legislation.

“As the summer driving season approaches, families can barely afford to drive to the local pool, much less go on vacation,” Hinojosa said. “President Bush is wrong to oppose these bills and I urge him to join our efforts to bring down the cost of gasoline.”

Nationwide, families are paying $3.22 a gallon on average for regular gasoline – more than double the cost when Bush took office, up 89 cents from the beginning of the year. Last year, families paid $1,000 more on average for gasoline than in 2001, and each additional 10 cents per gallon of gasoline adds $14 billion to America’s annual gasoline bill.

The high cost for families come as oil companies continue to prosper. The six largest oil companies announced $30 billion in profits for the first quarter of 2007. This is on top of the $125 billion in record profits they made in 2006.

In addition to the legislation approved this week, the Democratic Congress has already voted to roll back $14 billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil companies and reinvest the money in clean, alternative fuels, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Democrats are also developing an Independence Day package to boldly address energy independence and global warming by rapidly expanding the production of clean, alternative fuels and increasing energy efficiency, which will help protect our environment and bring down the cost of fuel for American consumers.

••••••

Let’s do immigration reform right negotiated in private, bill deserves a full public airing

By U.S. SENS.

KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON

and JOHN CORNYN

As your U.S. senators, we have been heavily involved in the congressional debate on immigration reform for several years. We have taken a leadership role on this issue because we represent a state that uniquely benefits from the contributions of legal immigrants, but is also uniquely vulnerable to the dangers of illegal immigration. Throughout this process, our principles have been clear and consistent: We must secure our borders, and we cannot encourage illegal behavior through amnesty.

Two weeks ago, the Bush administration, along with a small group of senators, announced a compromise immigration bill that would take a necessary first step in improving border security. We did not join in the announcement. While our efforts had a positive influence, we were not convinced the announced proposal guarantees repair of our current broken system. We are particularly concerned that we may be repeating the mistakes of the failed 1986 national amnesty.

As of late Friday, May 18, the actual text of the “grand compromise” had not yet been published. Major questions remain about details of the plan, and how it would work. We believe the bill, which was negotiated privately, deserves a full public airing before it’s considered.

The bill promises some long-term positive changes, including significant border security measures, an end to chain migration and a switch to green card distribution based on merit.

But many problems have not been satisfactorily addressed. For example, we must make certain that convicted criminals are not eligible for any legalization, and if these individuals attempt to stay here, that they are arrested and promptly deported.

We must ensure that only those who have played by the rules and not those engaged in identity theft receive Social Security benefits. This proposal would enable illegal immigrants to collect Social Security benefits for the time they were unlawfully in our country. At a time when we are already facing major shortfalls in our ability to pay benefits for future retirees, this represents an unfair burden on the American taxpayer. We must end the rampant document fraud that plagues our workplaces today, and do it in a way that is legally enforceable.

Some of our colleagues, sensing the fragile nature of the proposed compromise, want to rush it through the Congress immediately. This would be a major mistake. It is too important and too complicated to rush. The legislation requires extended Senate debate, with full opportunity for public input and criticism, and an open process for amendments to strengthen its provisions.

In 1986, the Congress approved a similar compromise plan that, in return for amnesty for most immigrants here illegally, promised an end to porous borders and disregard for our laws. Those promises were not honored. The amnesty legislation instead actually encouraged further disrespect for our laws, and led directly to the situation we face today.

As the bill reaches the Senate floor this week, our goal will be restoring the integrity of our borders, providing guest workers with opportunity, not amnesty, and preserving our Social Security for all who legally qualify. Our contributions to the debate will continue to be positive and constructive.

Our country needs immigration reform. We must ensure that it’s done, and done correctly.

Hutchison and Cornyn, both Republicans, represent Texas.

••••••

Texas House passes legislation by Rep. Peña, Sen. Zaffirini targeting online sexual child predators

By ORLANDO SALINAS

The Texas House of Representatives approved legislation on Friday, May 25, making the Internet safer for children from online sexual predators. Senate Bill 6 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is on the way to the governor.

SB 6 increases the penalty for sexually explicit online communication with a minor who is 14 to 16 years old from a state jail felony to a third degree felony. It increases the penalty for online sexual solicitation of a minor who is 14 to 16 years old from a third degree felony to a second degree felony and provides that sentences for certain offenses arising out of the same criminal offense may run concurrently or consecutively.

“Online solicitation and sexually explicit communication with a minor are serious and dangerous offenses,” said Peña. “Sexual predators are using the Internet and other technology to prey upon our children. The legislation we passed today gives law enforcement more tools to apprehend and prosecute these offenders.”

SB 6 instructs the Attorney General to establish an Internet Service Provider (ISP) database and require the preservation of certain records and information. The bill establishes a timeline for ISPs to respond to subpoenas, search warrants and other court orders. This bill also directs the Crime Stoppers Advisory Council to emphasize programs targeted at detecting unregistered sex offenders.

“Internet Service Providers, citing privacy concerns, have sometimes been reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement authorities,” said Peña. “We need to have the opportunity to quickly obtain information to combat and stop these online threats. If one of these predators has made contact with a child we need to verify his identity and find him.”

NBC’s Dateline program, To Catch a Predator, has shown the public the opportunity and ease in which these child predators operate in our communities. The Dateline program has identified over 200 child predators in its televised stings. Local, state and federal officials also continue to operate stings designed to catch these people engaged in online solicitation of minors.

SB 6 will now face one more procedural vote before being sent to the Governor’s desk. Peña is the Chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means. He is serving his third term in the Texas House.

••••••

MySpace.com to turn over information on sex offender profiles to Texas Attorney General Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, May 21, ordered MySpace.com to release the names of all convicted sex offenders who have set up online member profiles.

MySpace.com agreed to turn over first and last names of its online users that are registered sex offenders in Texas. MySpace.com will also provide IP addresses, E-mail addresses, and their online profile information. This data will help the attorney general crack down on sex predators who use the Internet to prey on children.

“By providing this information, MySpace.com is helping law enforcement crack down on online sex predators,” Abbott said. “Social networking sites must continue to make their Web sites and content safer for our children. We urge all social networking Web sites to take all necessary steps to keep children safe from the unwanted advances of online predators.”

Abbott, a nationally recognized leader with more than 500 sex predator arrests, has repeatedly pressed MySpace.com and other social networking sites to implement definitive safety measures to protect young users of their Web sites from sexually explicit images and unwanted solicitations. Since the push from Attorney General Abbott and other attorneys general, MySpace.com has taken steps to improving safety on its site, including screening profiles for inappropriate content and making certain profiles private.

“The incorrigible nature of sex predators requires public officials, law enforcement, industry leaders and parents across Texas to join together to make the Internet a safer place,” Attorney General Abbott added. “Without meaningful safeguards in place, no child is safe from the unwanted advances of chat room predators.”

The Attorney General, along with state leaders, has also fought to make Texas the toughest state in the nation, creating one of the nation’s toughest versions of “Jessica’s Law”, tightening penalties for Internet predators and providing district attorneys more tools to prosecute child sex crimes.

Last March, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 6, which provides additional tools that will improve law enforcement’s ability to investigate cyber crimes. Under SB 6, authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are required to promptly respond to court orders and subpoenas issued by law enforcement. Today, when the Texas House of Representatives debates SB 6, legislators will consider an amendment that would amend SB 6 by expanding its applicability to entities such as MySpace.com. If passed, this provision would further improve the Attorney General’s ability to quickly obtain critical information about cyber predators from ISPs, social networking sites, and other online resources.

Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting online child predators. In 2003, he created the Cyber Crimes Unit, which protects children from online sexual exploitation. The Cyber Crimes Unit 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. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators also have traveled to schools and communities statewide to offer educational cyber safety programs.

In May 2006, Abbott’s Cyber Crimes Unit was awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention to establish an ICAC Task Force. The Texas Attorney General’s ICAC Task Force is one of almost 50 federally funded task forces across the country dedicated to this project.

In July 2006, Abbott was invited by U.S. Congressman Joe Barton to testify at a congressional hearing in Washington on federal legislation limiting access to commercial social networking sites at publicly funded schools and libraries.

To find out more about Abbott’s efforts to crack down on sex predators, visit the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.oag.state.tx.us or call (800) 252-8011.

••••••

Expert on birding warns of dire consequences to environment, economy if border wall is built in area

By KEITH HACKLAND

When I moved to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in 1997 I did not have the knowledge to appreciate the richness of our birds and wildlife here. After nine years of exploring, photographing, guiding, reading, listening, teaching, writing, and marketing our area to birders, I am just beginning to grasp what makes this the richest, most diverse birding spot in United States and Canada. As I continue to observe and explore this amazing place, I have discovered that the forest along the river is the richest of all.

During the past 100 years of border economic growth, Texas and Mexico cleared and ploughed the Lower Rio Grande floodplain, destroying over 95 percent of the river forest. The dams (Falcon in 1953) and levees built to stop annual floods have caused our floodplain to become drier, resulting in shrinkage of remaining river forest. “Periodic droughts are probably the factor triggering death of many large trees. In these areas, a “reverse succession” allows thorny trees and shrubs – retama, huisache, prickly pear, granjeno, and others – to invade,”(Page 35, Timothy Brush, Nesting Birds of a Tropical Frontier).

Since the 1940s samples of river forest have been saved, and we are replanting corridors of trees along the river, to connect these survivors. The best samples can be seen at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, and Bentsen RGV State Park, around seasonally filled resacas (oxbow lakes) that keep the earth damp. At Santa Ana NWR follow “A Trail” to Willow Lake. Starting out in thorn forest with prickly pear and lacy mesquite, retama and huisache, there is an abrupt transition to river (riparian) forest, containing “. . . taller trees and more luxuriant vegetation than do other wooded habitats. Mexican ash, black willow, sugar hackberry, and cedar elm are common in moister sites, while Texas ebony, anacua, and coma grow on higher, drier terraces.” (Page 34, Timothy Bush).

The tall, damp “. . .riparian forests support some of the rarest breeding birds in the United States: Muscovy Duck, Gray Hawk, Red-billed Pigeon, Rose-throated Becard, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Brown Jay, Clay-colored Robin, Altamira Oriole, and Tropical Parula,” (page 35, Timothy Brush). Spanish moss and ball moss, amazing butterflies, rare dragonflies, amphibians and reptiles flourish.

The unique birds in our river forest bring birders from across United States, Canada and Europe. Birders spend hundreds of millions of dollars, paying for the jobs of thousands in the Valley. Here in Alamo, the Gateway to Santa Ana NWR, at Alamo Inn I make my living providing services to birders, and our city restaurants, motels, and shops all serve them too. At El Dorado restaurant they recognize the many birders eating there. Alamo’s Casa Santa Ana is a birder’s B&B located adjacent to Santa Ana NWR. The birding industry is big not only in Alamo, but in cities all across the Valley.

Remove the Valley’s river forest, and 100,000 to 200,000 birders a year, including thousands of long stay Winter Texan birders, would not visit us. That would be an economic disaster for thousands of Valley workers, costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Furthermore, it would dramatically reduce birding and nature tourism across the Texas Coastal Region, Texas Hill Country, West Texas, and North East Mexico, where birders attracted to the Lower Rio Grande extend their tours and spend additional hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Yet that is literally the plan, starting this summer. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) distributed maps indicating they have plans that will have to include bulldozing and clearing the Texas banks of the Rio Grande to install river patrol roads and river fencing. DHS is a protected part of the Federal Government that can operate without being sued and without consulting residents. The Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, has the power to wave any and all federal laws in the name of homeland security. He can authorize the construction of river fences and any other structure on federal and private lands without the landowner’s consent. This is supported in Section 102 of the 2005 REAL ID Act which states: “…the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.”

The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge includes property along 80 miles of the Lower Rio Grande’s last 240 miles (Boca Chica to Falcon Dam) and it protects a significant part of what little river forest remains (less than five percent of the historic river forest). DHS plans could clear-cut much of our remaining river forest. DHS river fences could cut us off from access to our drinking water, and leave it and the adjoining land under the control of Mexico. DHS plans could cut ranchers and farmers and their livestock off from water. DHS river fences could prevent birding and fishing the river. DHS plans could destroy our rarest and most valuable birds and butterflies, amphibians and plants. The critical Rio Grande river forest grows adjacent to the Rio Grande from Boca Chica (its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico) through Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties, to Falcon Dam. Some of our most rare river forest birds (Brown Jay, Muscovy Duck, Red-billed Pigeon) now occur chiefly along the river in Starr County where it is quieter with less river forest disturbance, but where the river forest is thinnest and most fragile.

DHS river fence plans could close down our top birding sites and destroy our thriving birding tourism industry. Look at a detailed map of the Lower Rio Grande. Our three top river forest refuges, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Santa Ana NWR, and Bentsen RGV State Park all occupy bends in the Rio Grande, peninsulas pointing into Mexico. A straight fence could cut off the peninsula refuges from Texas and birders, abandoning that land and our river to Mexico. That would devastate our Texas birding industry because Santa Ana NWR is number one, our most visited refuge, and Sabal Palm and Bentsen RGV State Park are in the top ten refuges.

The Rio Grande is already a barrier to illegal immigrants. No one drives across it, so we don’t need a fence adjoining it, because those who swim or boat the river will simply use ladders. Furthermore, a twisting and curving river fence system following the river bank would be very unsafe, allowing border patrol units to be trapped, possibly between two fences, out of sight of other units.

The million people living in the Valley do not support the river fence plan. There are workable alternatives to a river wall, river fence, or river road. A virtual (electronic) fence could be deployed to track people. Control mechanisms, whether virtual or physical, could follow the extensive existing infrastructure, building them alongside the existing levee road system, and next to military highway, thereby minimizing the effect on river forest. Also, if we make legal immigration to United States easier and faster, the legitimate majority will cross at bridges and submit to thorough background checks, screening, and documentation, reducing the volume of illegal crossings, and documenting all residents.

Please visit birding sites on the Rio Grande to show your support. It could be your last chance. Join Friends of Santa Ana NWR (956-784-7500). Join Valley Nature Center, which educates 80,000 Valley children, adults and visitors annually about Valley birds and nature, because it needs your support to extend its work (956-969-2475). Talk to people and share this information about the river fence and its threat to birding tourism across the state of Texas.

Most important of all, please write your politicians at every level this week and ask for help to change the DHS Rio Grande river fence plan. The best way to change it is through the same political process that launched it. You could make a difference.

References:

1. Nesting Birds of a Tropical Frontier, The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, by Timothy Brush, 2005. Dr Brush is an ornithologist who teaches at UTPA, Edinburg, TX

2. Numerous TexBirds list serve discussions

3. Numerous articles in Advance News Journal (Pharr, TX), The Monitor (McAllen, TX), Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX)

4. Updates from Martin Hagne, Executive Director of Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, TX http://www.valleynaturecenter.org

5. http://www.southtexasnature.com

Keith Hackland is an innkeeper from Alamo, Texas. He writes extensively on birding in the Rio Grande Valley.

••••••

Former Dallas Cowboys Walls honored by House for donating a kidney to teammate Springs

Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, on Friday, May 25, honored her constituent, former Dallas Cowboys football player Everson Walls, on the House floor. In February, 2007, Walls selflessly gave one of his kidneys to his former Cowboys teammate and close friend, Ron Springs.

While many individuals struggle with becoming organ donors for a family member much less a stranger or a friend, Walls generously gave his friend what he so desperately needed, a kidney.

Springs has experienced serious health problems as a result of diabetes yet as a result of the transplant surgery his prognosis has increased dramatically. As a result of this remarkable gift, Springs is expected to regain the use of his hands, to walk again on his own, and to be able to end his dialysis treatments.

“Everson Walls and Ron Springs are a shining example of the power of love and lifelong friendship. Mr. Walls is an inspiration. Recognition on the House and the Senate floor are the least the state of Texas could do to recognize such a compassionate and upstanding citizen. Many people have stood where Mr. Walls stood today, and few have been more deserving of this recognition. He reminds us all that one of God’s greatest gifts to man kind is the gift of friendship – a gift that really does keep on giving,” Giddings said.

The bond between these former athletes was forged in the early 1980s when both were members of the Cowboys. Walls began his NFL career in Dallas in 1981 after starring as an All-American defensive back for Grambling State University. In his 13 seasons as a professional he was named to four Pro Bowl teams, led the league in interceptions in 1981, 1982, and 1985, and was recognized as one of the top cornerbacks in the game. He has been inducted into the Grambling State University Athletic Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame, and the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame.

A Dallas native who continues to reside in the Metroplex, Everson Walls hopes that his compassionate action in helping his friend will also work toward a greater good as he and Ron Springs plan to create a foundation that will encourage organ donation. The publicity surrounding the transplant has already focused attention on this important medical issue.

“It is my hope that the bond between Mr. Walls and Mr. Springs inspires each of us to do what we can to help our fellow man. Furthermore, I commend the two gentlemen for having the initiative to begin a foundation to encourage organ donation for both living and deceased donors. With death can spring life, and with compassion spring hope,” Giddings explained.

Bert Ogden RGV breaks ground for Fiesta Chevrolet in east Edinburg

supportingpublicsafety.jpg

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.

••••••

immigrationandeconomy.jpg

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.

••••••

hitechdonations.jpg

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.

••••••

fiestachevrolet.jpg

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.

••••••

mayorsprayerbreakfast.jpg

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.

••••••

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.”

••••••

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.”

••••••

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.”

••••••

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.”

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

Robert Peña, Jr. bringing proven track record of successes in bid for ECISD Place 4 trustee slot

missedinburg.jpg

Laura Danielle González, Miss Edinburg 2007, has been honored by the Texas Legislature with congratulatory resolutions approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Miss González is a freshman honor roll student at Edinburg North High School who competed against 14 other outstanding local young women between the ages of 14 and 19 to capture the coveted crown. She stays on the A honor roll while participating in a wide variety of activities in school, including: dancing with the Golden Spurs; competing in University Interscholastic League events; is involved with the freshman student council; and is a part of the drama club. Miss González also was nominated to attend the 2007 Lead America Conference and was selected for the Duke University Talent Identification Program. She also is active in community affairs and she volunteers at local walks, including Relay for Life, and she is an altar server at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church. “Laura is a source of great pride to her family, friends, school, and community, and the poise, grace, and commitment to excellence she has shown will serve her well during her reign as Miss Edinburg and throughout her life,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, author of the Senate congratulatory resolution. Featured with her during her recent visit to the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol are, from left: Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Hinojosa; Elizabeth Anguiano with the Edinburg Cable Network; Miss Edinburg Laura Danielle González; and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

••••••

bordertexan.jpgSouth Texas College President Dr. Shirley A. Reed was honored at the Border Texan of the Year Celebration Dinner on Wednesday, February 28 at Dodge Arena in Hidalgo. Reed, the founding president of STC, officially accepted the Border Texan of the Year award during the event, which is an annual tradition attracting more than 1,000 of the area’s business, professional and government leaders.

••••••

advocatesdisabled.jpgSen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, recipient of the 2007 “Outstanding Legislator Award” by the Texas State Independent Council, congratulates Víctor Álvarez from McAllen, who was named “Consumer of the Year” by the organization. The 20-year-old, who requires round-the-clock care for spinal muscular atrophy, is a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar at the University of Texas-Pan American and writes a weekly column appearing in The Monitor.

••••••

ranchgala.jpgHeritage Ranch Gala Co-Chairmen Reba Showers and June Corso enjoy previewing El Canelo Ranch in preparation for March 24 event. See story later in this posting.

••••••

Robert Peña, Jr., bringing proven track record of successes in bid for ECISD Place 4 trustee slot

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Robert Peña, Jr., 39, says if he is elected this spring to the Edinburg school board, the most important qualities of leadership he will bring to the community will be fairness, high goals, and common sense.

Peña, a native son, product of the Edinburg schools, and local businessman, said he decided to seek the Place 4 trustee slot in order to help raise the levels of expectations and community participation in the crucial arena of public education.

“We have an excellent school district, probably the best in South Texas,” Peña said. “I want to do whatever it takes to help our students, educators and staff get the well-deserved recognition as one of the best school districts in all of Texas.”

The former U.S. Marines platoon sergeant, whose nine-year military career included service in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War, is owner of Development Consultants and Construction, an Edinburg residential and commercial builder, which he founded in 2001.

His immediate family includes his wife, the former Dora Denise González, a banker with Wells Fargo; his parents, Roberto and María Teresa Peña; sister and brother-in-law Norma and Óscar Villarreal; nephews Anthony and Joseph; niece Elizabeth; sister Anabelle Garza; nephew Steven; sister Nelda Iris Peña; and sister Genoveva Peña.

Many people already know him from his time spent as the executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council – which saw him work with political and business leaders to help usher a new age of economic prosperity and improved quality of life for the three-time All-America City.

He wants to apply the knowledge gained from, and discipline required by, his military, public service, and private sector experiences to provide what he says is a much-needed blueprint to effectively handle the district’s enrollment growth, now averaging more than 1,000 additional students per year.

“I feel our district lacks the efforts in planning for the future,” Peña said. “Although we have unsuccessfully attempted some (school facility) bond elections, I don’t believe we have a long-range plan in place that will help us address the growth of the services and needs of the district.”

If the school district has such a plan in place, “the public would be more aware of what our actual needs are, and then they could help the school board in developing a bond issue for our true needs,” Peña said. “But without a plan, without a vision, without direction, the public is not going to write a blank check for a bond issue.”

Using his expertise in construction, Peña said he would implement a facilities plan to address short-term and long-term needs of the Edinburg school district.

He said the district could utilize other resources, such as the University of Texas-Pan American, to help develop such a needs assessment and identify outside sources of grant funding.

Securing other governmental and private funding for facilities, technology, or other programs frees up more local funds for improved benefits and increased pay for teachers and staff, he suggested.

“I believe our school district has incorporated some tremendous improvements, but I want to take the challenge to the next level,” he said.

Rising to the occasion is nothing new for Peña.

As the point man for the EEDC from 1994 to 2001, Peña’s leadership and organizational skills helped the city’s elected leadership land huge economic development prizes, from the combined $500 million privately-owned power plants in north Edinburg to multi-million dollar entertainment venues, such as Carmike Cinemas 20, the city-owned Edinburg Baseball Stadium, and a professional baseball team.

Almost 30 projects were brought into Edinburg under his watch as EEDC director, a position he said gave him the opportunities to meet and work with people from all walks of life and political persuasions.

Such exposure, he said, taught him the valuable lessons of keeping an open mind, listening to new ideas, and setting the highest standards for himself and his hometown.

“The public can be assured they would be electing an independent voice with leadership qualities who will help our community to develop short-term and long-term vision for the district,” said Peña.

Leadership without accessibility is of little value, Peña believes, so he encourages residents to share their concerns and ideas with him, either by calling him at 956/318-1000, or by writing to him at his e-mail address, which is Rpena4EDCISD@aol.com.

“Sen. Juan Hinojosa, a fellow Marine, says it best about people who are elected,” Peña said. “‘He said public office is a public trust, it belongs to the people. I agree with him 100 percent – and no one will need money, influence, or power to talk to me because I will be working with everyone.”

••••••

Edinburg OKs most stadium upgrades proposed, and to be paid for, by Coyotes professional baseball team

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Edinburg Coyotes on Tuesday, March 6, received approval from the Edinburg City Council that will allow the professional baseball team to invest almost $95,000 for key improvements to the city-owned, $5.6 million baseball complex.

The Edinburg Baseball Stadium serves as home of the Edinburg Coyotes minor league baseball squad, which is part of the six-team United League Baseball, and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs NCAA Division 1 baseball team.

In exchange for the private investment, the city will repair the sound system, valued at about $5,000, but decided to wait on a request from the team owners for the city to build a three-foot retaining wall at the concourse, which would cost about $8,900.

The city council instead opted to monitor pedestrian traffic along the concourse in front of the stadium before making any moves to build a wall, which club officials said would help prevent cars from parking too close to the facility.

The deal, sought by Edinburg Equities, L.L.C., which owns the team, will result in some key new attractions to the stadium, according to officials with the team and its league, the United League Baseball.

Team and league representatives will soon begin work on building a covered picnic area valued at $15,000, an outdoor bar and grill, valued at $18,310, a large advertising video monitor, valued at $45,000, and a new ticket booth/modifications, valued at $16,430.

The improvements are scheduled to be ready for fans to enjoy on opening day later this spring.

Craig Brasfield, president/executive general manager of the six-member United League Baseball, in a memorandum delivered to the city council also provided updates on other key issues, including noting that naming rights for the stadium were currently under negotiations.

“The Coyotes are in conversation with several prominent and interested partners that are considering the possibility of becoming the naming rights sponsor for Edinburg Baseball Stadium,” he stated. “The City of Edinburg received 25 percent of all naming rights fees a sold by the Coyotes. Thus, I felt it necessary to let the Coyotes’ partner, the City of Edinburg, know the progress being made.”

Brasfield did not identify the prospective naming rights partners.

The most expensive addition, the video monitor, will serve as a stadium marquee sign, he added.

“The Coyotes are seeking to install a state-of=the art message center marque that will be placed in front of the stadium,” Brasfield continued. “Various messages promoting the Edinburg Coyotes and the City of Edinburg will run on this message center for anyone coming to a ball game or special events at the stadium, or simply by driving by. Also, the Coyotes see the marquee sign as a major professional upgrade to Edinburg Baseball Stadium with its perception as a preeminent facility.”

••••••

Edinburg’s jobless rate in January lowest in the Valley at 4.9 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 at 4.9 percent in January, keeping pace with the statewide average of 4.5 percent and the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.6 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 January, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, 1,372 Edinburg residents were looking for jobs, while 28,120 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 7.7 percent in January, up from 6.9 percent in December. The January jobless rate for Hidalgo County represented 21,051 area residents without jobs, while 273,471 residents were employed during the first month of 2007.

McAllen had the second lowest monthly unemployment rate in January – 5.1 percent, or 2,065 of their citizens out of work, while 55,406 residents of the City of Palms were employed that month. In December, McAllen’s jobless rate of 4.4 percent.

Harlingen’s unemployment rate in January was 5.3 percent, while Pharr and Mission both reported a 6.2 percent jobless rate during the same month.

Brownsville’s unemployment rate in January came in at 6.8 percent, followed by Weslaco, which reported a 7.5 percent jobless rate during that same month.

Cameron County’s jobless rate in January was 6.6 percent, up from December’s 5.7 percent unemployment rate. In January, 9,603 residents of Cameron County were looking for work, while 135,343 residents were holding down jobs.

Harlingen had the third-best showing among major Valley cities in January, reporting a 4.7 percent jobless rate, followed by Mission and Pharr, which each registered 5 percent unemployment rates for that month.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent in January from a revised 4.7 percent in December 2006 and down from 5.2 percent in January a year ago.

During the past 12 months, the Texas economy grew by 243,700 jobs for a growth rate of 2.5 percent, outpacing the nation as a whole.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) annually revises the Total Nonagricultural employment and the Civilian Labor Force statistics, which includes the unemployment rate, under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Eight Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) reported unemployment rates of 4.0 percent or lower.

The Midland MSA experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.2 percent (not seasonally adjusted), and the Amarillo and Odessa MSAs followed at 3.6 percent.

“Our falling unemployment rate highlights the state’s healthy economic climate,” said TWC Chair Diane Rath. “Coupled with year-over-year, sustained job gains, these lower unemployment rates signify strength in the Texas labor market.”

In the past 12 months, the Professional & Business Services industry saw gains of nearly 50,000 jobs, followed by Leisure & Hospitality, which grew by 40,000 positions.

“Employers in the Lone Star State continue to set a tremendous pace with record job growth,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “Ten industries spurred statewide job growth over the past year, with Manufacturing gaining 16,200 jobs and Construction growing by 26,600 positions.”

The Mining industry has added jobs every month since November 2003. In January, Mining gained another 1,800 positions, reaching an annual growth rate of 12.7 percent. Financial Activities grew for the third straight month, adding 1,500 jobs in January and 12,800 positions since January 2006.

“We’ve made great strides, with a record number of workers – 11,063,400 – in the labor force today,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “It’s always good news when more Texans find work.”

Initial claims for unemployment compensation in January 2007 were 59,196, down 2.6 percent from January 2006.

••••••

Sen. Hinojosa files bill to give Texans more control over their own health care

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

Saying Texans deserve more control over their own health care, Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, March 6, filed Senate Bill 1170 to increase fairness, transparency, and competition in the contracts that managed care organizations offer family physicians.

“Most of us know how time consuming and frustrating it is to fight with our health insurance company, imagine doing this every day, all day long. For most of our physicians, this is a painful reality,” Hinojosa said. “Our families need to know that their doctors are spending their time healing them, not hiring lawyers to decipher the contracts they are forced to sign with HMOs.”

Hinojosa said because managed care plans control a significant part of most physicians’ practices, they force physicians to sign take-it-or-leave-it contracts that are not only bad for the physician, but can be detrimental to patient care.

“It’s time to modernize our state statutes to reward fairness and transparency,” Hinojosa said. “This legislation is an effort to restore balance in the contracts between physicians and the large commercial, investor-owned health plans.”

SB 1170 would require full disclosure by health plans of payment terms so that physicians can make informed business decisions. It would also mandate that all contracts be written in plain language so that doctors no longer have to retain lawyers to deal with their correspondence with HMOs.

In addition, Hinojosa’s bill would prohibit the current practice of managed care organizations imposing new categories of coverage on doctors without their knowledge and require managed care organizations to notify doctors before unilaterally changing the terms of contracts.

“Giving family doctors more leverage to negotiate their contracts with managed care organizations will allow them to act in the best interest of their patients,” Hinojosa said.

••••••

Eight fallen Rio Grande Valley soldiers and their families honored at the Capitol

By ED SERNA

The Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 6, honored eight Rio Grande Valley soldiers who lost their lives during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, filed memorial resolutions to pay tribute to the soldiers and their families, who were recognized on the House floor.

“It’s an honor to pay tribute to our brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country,” said Flores. “It’s also important that we extend our appreciation, thoughts, and prayers to the soldiers’ families who have been profoundly impacted by their loses.”

Memorial resolutions were filed and read honoring the following soldiers:

•HR 678- U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Benito A. Ramírez of Edinburg

•HR 679- U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Julio C. Cisneros Álvarez of Pharr

•HR 680- U.S. Marine Sergeant Juan Calderón, Jr. of Weslaco

•HR 681- U.S. Army Sergeant Daniel Galván of Mercedes

•HR 682- U.S. Army Sergeant Javier Marín, Jr. of Mission

•HR 683- U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant Tomás Garcés of Weslaco

•HR 684- U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Omar D. Flores of Mission

•HR 74- U.S. Army Specialist James C. Kesinger of Orange Grove/Pharr (resolution filed by Rep.

González-Toureilles)

Eleven Rio Grande Valley soldiers have died serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition to the eight soldiers honored on March 6, three soldiers, including Marine Private First Class Dustin Michael Sekula, Army Sergeant Christopher Ramírez, and Army Specialist Mark Zapata were honored at the Capitol earlier this year.

Flores represents District 36, which includes parts or all of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.

••••••

DPS trooper Eduardo Chávez of Edinburg, who died in the line of duty, honored by Sen. Hinojosa

The late Eduardo Chávez, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper from Edinburg who was killed last spring in the line of duty, was honored by the Texas Senate on Tuesday, March 6.

His bravery and sacrifice was highlighted in Senate Resolution No. 387, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

The memorial resolution follows verbatim:

SENATE RESOLUTION NO. 387

WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas honors and commemorates the life of Eduardo Chávez, who died May 2, 2006, at the age of 30; and

WHEREAS, A highway patrolman with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Trooper Chávez died while responding to a call to assist his brother, Trooper Enrique Chávez, on a narcotics arrest; he had joined the Texas Department of Public Safety in 2003 and was stationed in Palmview; and

WHEREAS, He had formerly served as a deputy with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department; in September of 2001, he risked his own life to save the life of a drowning child and to help a firefighter who was close to drowning; and

WHEREAS, Eduardo Chávez was born on December 1, 1975, in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico; he was a resident of Edinburg, Texas, for most of his life; a graduate of Edinburg High School, he attended South Texas Community College and The University of Texas-Pan American; and

WHEREAS, Eduardo Chávez had a special dedication to duty and strived for excellence in all of his endeavors; he had achieved a high level of expertise in the field of drug enforcement and was considered a true leader in his district; and

WHEREAS, State Trooper Eduardo Chávez was a courageous young man with spirit and enthusiasm who was dedicated to his work as a trooper and to protecting the citizens of this state; for his service and his sacrifice, Texas citizens are eternally grateful; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 80th Legislature, hereby pay tribute to the life of State Trooper Eduardo Chávez and extend sincere condolences to his bereaved family: his wife, Iliana Chávez; his son, Eduardo Chávez, Jr.; his parents, Enrique Chávez, Sr., and Isabel Chávez; his brothers, Enrique Chávez and Germán Chávez; and his sister, Mónica Chávez; and, be it further

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

••••••

Valley congressional delegation meets with Hidalgo County leaders to discuss levees, flood insurance

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen on Wednesday, March 7, met with several Hidalgo County leaders to discuss the status of the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project as well as the impact of FEMA’s digital Flood Insurance Rate Map for Hidalgo County.

Among the officials present Tuesday were Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, Drainage District Director Godfrey Garza, as well as Louis Jones of Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation and Gume Ybarra of Dos Logistics Inc.

Specifically, the Hidalgo County delegation discussed arrangements with the International Border and Water Commission to recover $10 million in bond money raised from citizens of Hidalgo County for levee improvements. The officials also briefed the congressmen on the anticipated impact following the completion of the Hidalgo County Flood Map Modernization Project set for completion by late 2008. When finished, the modeling will identify the areas in Hidalgo County that are significant Flood Hazard Zones.

Funding for the Raymondville Drain Project was also addressed. This year, Hinojosa again requested that language be inserted into the Water Resources Development Act that would reimburse the county for work done to expedite the project.

“I truly appreciate the tireless work of my colleagues from Hidalgo County. Their efforts are integral in making sure the region is adequately protected from an unforeseeable natural disaster,” said Hinojosa. “The critical condition of the levees is of the utmost concern and rest assured that I will continue to push for levee repair that could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Over the past several years, Hinojosa has worked with his colleagues from the Congressional Border Caucus to obtain additional federal money to repair and raise the levees to avoid potential catastrophic flooding in the Valley. The International Boundary and Water Commission recently completed a study with the Army Corps of Engineers that concluded that many sections of the levees are sub-standard and would not hold up under severe rain events. The IBWC’s Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project’s placed the total cost of repair at $125 million.

“The mistakes of Hurricane Katrina must not and cannot be repeated,” said Hinojosa. “It is essential that we be as proactive as we can now in order to ensure that similar devastation doesn’t happen again.”

••••••

Congressman Hinojosa votes for clean water legislation, help for South Texas colonias

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Congressional Rural Housing Caucus, on Wednesday, March 7, hailed passage of legislation reauthorizing $14 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund over the next four years.

The program is the primary source of federal funding for clean water projects and provides low-interest loans to local communities for the construction of wastewater treatment facilities and other water pollution abatement projects. The 110th Congress marks the first time in 13 years that the fund has been reauthorized.

“With 20 percent of the country’s population living in rural communities, it’s critical that we address their infrastructure needs including access to clean water, working sewers, electricity, and other necessities. For more than a decade, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund has been an integral element in state and local efforts to deal with critical clean water infrastructure needs,” said Hinojosa.

“As a community, our progress must be judged not by the status of our most fortunate members of society, but by that of our most challenged members. That is why I am committed to fighting for the resources needed to ensure a better standard of living for all Colonia residents and why I voted in favor of H.R. 720,” said Hinojosa.

“There are more than 350,000 people who struggle in the unacceptable living conditions of the colonias every day,” said Hinojosa. “Today’s legislation addresses one of the fundamental goals of the Rural Housing Caucus and will go a long way toward improving the quality of life of those residents.”

In addition to H.R. 720, The House of Representatives passed the following bills on the House Floor this week on clean water:

• H.R. 569, The Water Quality Investment Act. There is an increasing problem in many local communities across the country that, after heavy rainfall, sewer systems can overflow – in some cases due to aging sewer systems. This bill is a second bill to improve water quality – by authorizing $1.8 billion in grants to local communities over the next five years to construct treatment works to deal with sewer overflows. This bill is crucial because sewer overflows represent a major public health hazard. It will aid cities and states that find building or improving sewer infrastructure financially impossible without help from the federal government.

• H.R. 700, the Healthy Communities Water Supply Act. This bill is a third bill to improve
water quality. It authorizes $125 million for pilot projects to increase an area’s usable water supply– by encouraging innovation in water reclamation, reuse and conservation. The bill will provide

funding for new technologies, including ideas like aquifer storage and retrieval and membrane
filtering technologies that have the potential to greatly increase our ability to use water more
effectively and efficiently. The bill will enhance usable water supplies in such areas as California
and parts of the Southwest that have long faced chronic water supply shortages amid continuing
population booms.

••••••

Congressman Cuellar secures commitment to help residents of colonias

By RUBÉN BAZÁN

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, March 9, passed H.R. 720, the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007. The bill will provide $14 billion in federal loan guarantees to help cities and towns finance water and sewer improvements.

During the floor debate, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, secured an official commitment from Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James L. Oberstar to help colonias and surrounding communities receive the help they need to improve living standards.“Colonias lack the basic infrastructure that most Americans take for granted,” said Cuellar. “With the negative impact on the health of residents, one of the greatest challenges facing colonias is access to water and sewer service.”H.R. 720 ensures clean water and fosters economic development in local communities by helping pay for the building and improving of wastewater treatment facilities.

The bill will help colonias through a provision that requires states to set aside 15% of the money to communities with less than 10,000 people.
“I assure the gentleman [Mr. Cuellar] that this bill will go a long way to help states target additional support to the colonias,” said Chairman Oberstar. “And we will work with the gentleman [Mr. Cuellar] to provide such language in the future.” Cuellar continued, “I believe it is important that our communities are heard in Congress, and I will continue working with my colleagues in Washington to solve this increasing problem.”

••••••

Sen. Lucio receives Outstanding Legislator Award for efforts on behalf of disabled persons in Texas

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

For his support of expanding opportunities for independent living to disabled individuals, the Texas State Independent Council (SILC) on Monday, March 5, honored Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, with the Outstanding Legislator Award in Austin.Lucio, who was also singled out for his voting record in support of disabled people, said, “I am extremely flattered to be selected as the recipient of this award. I know there are some incredible Texans here tonight and I am honored to be in your presence.”

“We selected Sen. Lucio because he has been so concerned about human needs and health issues, and he knows from his own personal experience what recovering from a disability is all about,” said McAllen resident Morgan Talbot, vice chair of the Texas State Independent Living Council. “It is from his background that he understands the need for helping people with disabilities and he has been very supportive.” Lucio was dragged by a bus he tried to board when he was in kindergarten.

He was in a cast for months and began crawling to re-learn how to walk.SILC advocates for the 21 statewide centers that facilitate programs providing the support, tools and encouragement necessary to enable people with disabilities to live on their own in the community, rather than in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

The agency also promotes expansion of these independent living centers to other areas of the state.In the Rio Grande Valley, the Valley Association for Independent Living (VAIL) served 732 people in 2005 and 811 in 2006. VAIL headquarters is in McAllen with an office also in Harlingen.
“Independent living services are extremely important, not only for the individuals they directly serve, but for society as a whole,” explained the senator. “The work the Council performs benefits not only the clients, but their families, communities, employers and friends as well.
“I support independent living efforts because if it means getting some recipients back to work and giving others the ability to hug their kids again, these services make a difference,” added Lucio. “The admirable achievements of Víctor Álvarez, who was named Consumer of the Year, can be partially attributed to the efforts of SILC and VAIL, but especially to his determination to succeed by utilizing the resources they make available to him.” For more information, the Texas State Independent Living Council maintains a website (www.texsilc.org).

••••••

Emergency hotline numbers, Email addresses posted for abuse allegations at Texas Youth Commission

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

A special command center has been set up to field complaints of abuse or exploitation at the Texas Youth Commission, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Thursday, March 8.

“It’s important that families and youth know that 24-hour phone hotlines and email addresses have been set up to field complaints of abuse at the Texas Youth Commission,” Hinojosa said. “These are numbers where Texans can share confidential information that will help us reform the commission so that these horrible cases of abuse and exploitation never happen again.”

To report abuse, neglect or exploitation of youth call the Command Center at:

1(866)-477-8354 or email oigspecialops@tdcj.state.tx.us

Families and youth can also call the Texas State Auditor’s Office to make a complaint:

1(800) 892-8348 or email tycparentfeedback@sao.state.tx.us

••••••

Gov. Perry gives TYC legislation emergency status

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, March 5 designated legislation addressing systemic failures at the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) as emergency items for the Texas Legislature. Perry also met with TYC special master Jay Kimbrough, TYC acting executive director Ed Owens and newly appointed TYC Chairman Don Bethel on Monday morning.

The emergency legislation would:

• Expand the jurisdiction for prosecution over crimes committed at TYC facilities to allow the current TDCJ special prosecution unit to handle such cases.

• Create a new TYC Inspector General with greater authority and independence of commission bureaucracy.

• Empower the Attorney General to have concurrent jurisdiction with the local county or district attorney for the prosecution of offenses involving TYC.

“If a local district attorney does not prosecute suspected child molesters, the state must have the authority to step in and enforce the law,” Perry said. “With an Inspector General that reports directly to the Commission Board, we can ensure that administrative investigations are conducted with greater authority, the power of subpoena and independence from the bureaucracy.”

On Friday, March 2, Perry appointed Jay Kimbrough as TYC Special Master and charged him with leading a commission-wide investigation of the commission’s policies and procedures, reports of failures and wrong-doings by commission staff and specific instances of abuse.

Kimbrough has since coordinated his activities with Acting Executive Director Ed Owens; Attorney General Greg Abbott; key staff members for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, Speaker Craddick and lawmakers; State Auditor John Keel; Texas Rangers Chief Ray Coffman; and Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inspector General John Moriarty.

“Every agency and officeholder I’ve spoken with has offered complete support for this investigation,” Kimbrough said. “We have marshaled our resources, made assignments and have begun to execute our strategy. For the vast majority of youth commission workers who love their jobs and are committed to the mission, help is on the way.”

Kimbrough said that the State Auditor’s Office has agreed to provide an existing toll-free phone number, (800) TX-AUDIT, to report suspected criminal activity at TYC facilities.

••••••

Rep. Dunnam, House Democratic leader, calls on governor to fire TYC board

By KEVIN VICKERS

House Democratic Leader and Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, on Thursday, March 8, released the following statement in response to today’s meeting of the House and Senate’s Select Committee on Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission:

“Today, I am calling on Gov, Perry to fire the Board of the Texas Youth Commission.

“It is clear from the board members’ testimony today, that they are totally incapable of reforming the TYC and protecting vulnerable Texas youth. Unfortunately, the Board members have refused to resign. However, Governor Perry has the responsibility and authority under the Texas Constitution to remove the Board immediately. Nothing short of the complete removal of the TYC Board is acceptable; and the committee’s vote of no-confidence in the Board demonstrates that many of my colleagues agree.

“In spite of revealing testimony demonstrating the incompetence of the TYC Board, today’s hearing did not give us a definitive answer to the most crucial questions: who knew what, and when did they know it? I am glad that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle will help us get to the bottom of this story by aggressively investigating and prosecuting the destruction or alteration of government records in this case. This is not about politics — it is about demanding government accountability and doing what is right.

“I was also deeply moved by the testimony of the Texas Ranger who investigated the original cases of abuse at the TYC West Texas school. Ranger Brian Burzynski’s dedication and commitment reflect the long and proud traditions of the Texas Rangers.

“Any Texas family who has experienced the horrible betrayal of sex abuse in TYC should come forward. It is now clear that sex abuse in TYC was not isolated to one facility in West Texas; instead it is a far too common occurrence at TYC facilities around the state.”

••••••

Rep. Dutton, chairman of key House committee, files legislation calling for sweeping reforms at TYC

By NICOLE R. BATES

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, Chair of the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, on Tuesday, March 6, filed House Bill 2512. The bill calls for sweeping reforms in the Texas Youth Commission’s (TYC) facilities in response to the recent allegations of abuse and mismanagement within the commission.

“It is imperative that we immediately restore public trust in our handling of juvenile offenders,” Dutton said. “Parents and the courts need to have confidence that we are doing our best to protect these children while giving them another chance.”

HB 2512 calls for limiting the total number of juvenile offenders detained by the TYC to a maximum of 3000 juveniles. This would ensure a more scrutinizing selection process so that only the most extreme offenders are detained by the TYC. Juvenile offenders of lesser crimes could be placed under the auspices of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission or local community programs.

In an effort to remedy the myriad of problems caused by placing juvenile facilities in remote Texas locations and to make the detention facilities more accessible to offenders’ families and local community support, the bill also requires the establishment of one or more community-based residential facilities in any county with a population of 600,000 or more. This would mean that more offenders could serve their sentence in their county of residence, since many juvenile delinquents come from urban or heavily populated areas.

In addition, the bill would limit future TYC facilities to house no more than 100 juveniles at a time and all current TYC facilities would be transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to be used for drug rehabilitation programs for adult offenders..

“House Bill 2512 begins the structural and cultural changes that will strengthen our juvenile justice system and ensure the safety of Texas juveniles,” said Dutton.

••••••

House approves amendment to legislation that would punish alleged cover-ups at TYC facilities

By KEVIN VICKERS

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, the House Democratic Leader, on Monday, March 5, offered an amendment to House Bill 8, also known as Jessica’s Law, to make it a second degree felony for a state employee or a contract employee working for the state to cover-up an offense of “Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Young Child or Children.”

The offense is punishable by two to twenty years in prison. The amendment was adopted on a vote of 135 to 7.

“In light of the abuses that have occurred at the Texas Youth Commission, this is a step in the right direction. I hope this legislation will help prevent future sexual abuse against Texas youth in state facilities.

“We must ensure that children in the state’s custody are safe. And in order to do that we must ensure that no one attempts to cover-up these abuses.”

Dunnam also on March 4 asked Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to recognize him on a motion to bring House Bill 2340 to the House floor. HB 2340 would do several things to immediately help protect the youth in the care of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

Craddick’s response to Dunnam’s inquiry was “no.”

“Speaker Craddick’s disappointing and unfortunate action today speaks for itself. Apparently, neither Speaker Craddick nor Gov. Perry are willing to immediately address this sexual abuse scandal in a meaningful way.

“With all due respect, dispatching a couple of mini-vans of accountants to investigate serious allegations of criminal child sexual abuse in a state agency and a criminal cover-up of that abuse is like asking H&R Block to investigate a serial killer. Send in the Texas Rangers now. The safety of our children is at stake.”

With bipartisan support, Dunnam and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, filed HB 2340 that would immediately place TYC into conservatorship and strengthen the power of the conservator to address the sexual abuse scandals and subsequent cover-ups.

The bill would ensure that a conservator may legally be appointed over the TYC and require the conservator to station a Texas Ranger at every TYC facility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the children in TYC’s custody. It would also provide whistleblower protection for TYC employees who come forward with incriminating information.

The Dunnam-Merritt legislation would also create a specific toll-free number at the Texas Department of Public Safety to report information of improper behavior within TYC.

••••••Texas Senate approves measure by Sen. Lucio proclaiming “Desalination Day”

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr, D-Brownsville, has introduced Senate Resolution 413 in the Senate Chamber that designated March 7, 2007, Texas Desalination Day to encourage ongoing investment in practical applications of desalination technology in the state.

Five years ago, Gov. Rick Perry launched an initiative to turn sea water into potable water. In late February, the Brownsville seawater desalination pilot was officially inaugurated, and soon the country’s largest inland brackish groundwater desalination facility will begin operations in El Paso.

“As a state, we need to continue supporting desal technology and initiatives. The same technology that is being used on our Gulf waters is also helping our inland communities turn brackish groundwater into drinking water,” said Lucio.

The idea for a desalination observance was developed jointly by members of the Texas Conservation Association and the South Central Membrane Association to raise awareness of the opportunities for this technology that exist in the state.

The senator explained, “I, for one, have seen—and tasted—the promise of desalinated water. I think no member of the Texas Legislature would argue when I say that of the many pressing demands on limited state resources, none is more important than water.”

The population of Texas is projected to more than double from 2000 to 2060, increasing from 21 million to 46 million inhabitants. This growth will boost water demand by 27 percent; however, water supplies are expected to decrease by 18 percent, primarily because of accumulating sediments in reservoirs and depletion of fresh water aquifers. Desalination of seawater is a proven technology providing water supply solutions for countries worldwide and to communities across Texas, from Cameron County to San Angelo.

Major funding for seawater desalination studies has been provided by the Texas Water Development Board through a legislative initiative proposed by Gov. Perry in 2002. Further appropriations by the Legislature has allowed the Texas Water Development Board to fund numerous brackish groundwater desalination studies with the goal of accelerating development of new water supplies in rural communities.

••••••

Sen. Zaffirini files legislation promoting higher education excellence

By NICK ALMANZA

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed legislation on Thursday, March 1, aimed at ensuring access, affordability and excellence in Texas higher education.

The six bills address multiple issues regarding higher education, from work-study mentorships to strengthening regulations banning hazing, and build on Zaffirini’s highest legislative priority of supporting and advancing higher education throughout the state.

“Higher education, its practices and policies are of immense importance to our state’s future because our growth, both economic and cultural, is coupled fundamentally with the success of our students and institutions,” Zaffirini said. “These bills would enrich higher education practices and policies and help our students and institutions succeed.”

SB 1050 would create new work-study opportunities by developing a program through which students could serve as peer mentors and tutors as part of their work-study financial aid program.

SB 1051 would provide waivers to the core curriculum for foreign students enrolled in international institutions in a joint-degree program with Texas colleges and universities.

SB 1052 would address higher education affordability by developing financial incentives to encourage students to complete the core curriculum at a community college and transfer to a four-year institution.

SB 1053 would require the Higher Education Coordinating Board, advising professionals and higher education representatives to develop an assessment of advisors at institutions of higher education to improve the quality of advising.

SB 1054 significantly would strengthen and clarify provisions of existing statutes banning hazing in schools.

SB 1055 would establish a commission to study and report on the projected need for faculty at public and private institutions of higher education.

Zaffirini is chair of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee and a member of the Senate Education Committee. Prior to the 2007 legislative session she pre-filed SB 49, which provides financial relief to college students by allowing them to purchase textbooks tax-free during the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. Senator Zaffirini has filed a total of 49 bills for this year’s 80th legislative session.

••••••

Sen. Lucio files bill to return power to set tuition rates back to the Legislature, away from colleges

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Monday, March 5, filed Senate Bill 1131 that would repeal tuition deregulation for higher education institutions in Texas and return control of setting tuition rates to the Legislature.

“In essence, my bill would freeze current college and university tuition rates at the 2006-07 levels,” said Lucio, who opposed the tuition deregulation bill that passed during the 78th Regular Legislative Session. “We cannot continue in the path we are headed. Students are being priced out of a college education.”

The statewide average for designated tuition for 15 credit hours in fall 2003, the last semester before tuition deregulation was implemented, was $625, and by fall 2006 it had risen to $1,125 according to estimates provided by the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Since 2004, institutions have increased the total designated tuition charged to students from $51.8 million per year to $318.1 million for the 2006 year.

“I have been a college student for more than three years now, and I have never seen such an increase as the one we face today. With this increase, together with the high gas prices, it is making it even more difficult for students to continue with their higher education goal,” said Carlos A. Martínez, a student at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

“This bill truly attempts to make college more affordable not just for today’s students, but also for tomorrow’s students,” added Lucio.

Because most students will soon be pre-registered for fall classes, the bill would take effect immediately if it receives the necessary two-thirds vote in each chamber.

••••••

South Texas College President Dr. Shirley A. Reed honored at 2007 Border Texan of Year Dinner

By HELEN ESCOBAR

It was a night to remember for South Texas College President Dr. Shirley A. Reed, who was honored at the Border Texan of the Year Celebration Dinner on Wednesday, February 28 at Dodge Arena in Hidalgo.

Reed officially accepted the Border Texan of the Year award during the event, which is an annual tradition attracting more than 1,000 of the area’s business, professional and government leaders.

The award is given by the BorderFest Association, the Hidalgo Chamber of Commerce and the City of Hidalgo.

“I was very touched by the recognition from old and new friends from education, business, government and the community at large from across the Valley,” said Reed. “I have been so lucky in my career, coming to such a wonderful, thriving area with spirited, ambitious people. Yes, I have worked hard, but none of my accomplishments would have been possible without the support of every member of the Hidalgo and Starr county communities. I want to thank every single person that lives in the area. Your dedication to STC has been the cornerstone of my success. I accept this award on your behalf, as well as any woman struggling to reach for the stars. As I tell our students, anything is possible if you believe in yourself and give it 110%!”

Gary Gurwitz, founding member of STC’s Board of Trustees, provided a unique look at Reed’s personal life and biography, which moved many in the crowd.

“A number of the past recipients of this award have been national or statewide personalities,” said Gurwitz during his speech. “Our homegrown recipients have lived and worked in the Valley most of their careers and have been outstanding in law, banking, business, education and other disciplines over many years. By contrast, this year’s recipient is a relative newcomer to our Valley and our state and has achieved enormous results in just 13 short years. Just think of the tens of thousands of Valley people who have been positively impacted by what she has done in these few years and the best is yet to come.”

Reed joins a prestigious list of former honorees including Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, former Senator Phil Gramm, and Ambassador Tony Garza.

Reed was the founding president of South Texas College. Under her leadership, STC has flourished rapidly, growing to serve more than 18,000 students. In 2006, STC was named #2 in the nation of community colleges awarding associates degree to Hispanics and #3 in the nation of community colleges for enrollment of Hispanic students. She has expanded STC from one location to three campuses and two centers.

She has led STC to offers more than 90 degree and certification program options spanning an array of fields and opportunities. Because of her vision, dual enrollment programs are offered with high schools throughout Hidalgo and Starr Counties, providing opportunities for students to earn free college credits. Additionally STC reached a new milestone in fall 2005 as it began offering a Bachelor of Applied Technology degree in Technology Management. The college was granted accreditation, as one of only three schools in Texas, from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), to offer the four-year degree.

••••••

GOP Chairman Benkiser applauds House GOP leadership for taking child predators off the streets

By HANS KLINGLER

Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tina Benkiser applauded Republican leaders in the Texas House of Representatives for passing the “Jessica’s Law” legislation. This legislation would strongly expand the criminal penalties for sexually assaulting a child.

“The Republican leadership in the Texas Legislature put sexual predators in this state on notice today. If you hurt our kids, you could suffer the ultimate penalty, the loss of your life,” she said.

In 2005, 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was abducted from her Florida home, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a convicted sex offender. States across the nation have been enacting stricter penalties for sex crimes against children. House Bill 8 authored by Debbie Riddle (R-Houston) and supported in a bipartisan manner would enact very strict penalties when dealing with persons who are convicted of sexually violent offenses against children.

“We must send a zero-tolerance message to predators that prey on our kids. The children of Texas are too important. Don’t mess with them.” Benkiser warned.

House Bill 8 will now go over to the Texas Senate where it will be considered along with the legislative efforts by Republican state senators to address “Jessica’s Law”.

••••••

Pew Hispanic Center to release report on Internet use among Latinos

The Pew Hispanic Center, in partnership with the Pew Internet & American Life Project, will release a report on internet use among Latinos Wednesday, March 14.

The report describes internet use within the diverse segments of the Hispanic population. It finds, for example, that Latino internet users are more likely to speak and read English, to have a high school degree and to have been born in the U.S. Only about one-third of Spanish-dominant Latino adults go online, compared with about eight-in-ten English-dominant Latino adults.

The report will be available on the Center’s website, at 4:00 p.m., Wednesday, March 14, 2007.

The Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Internet & American Life Project are non-partisan research organizations. They are part of the Pew Research Center and are funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

••••••

Texas Legislature Online offers wealth of information

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

For those of you with a little computer savvy and a big interest in the legislative process, information has just been made easier to access.

The Texas Legislature Online (TLO) web site (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/ or http://www.legis.state.tx.us/ ) is considered one of the country’s leading internet applications. It was first introduced in 1996 and has gradually been enhanced since then. Designed for the casual user, this system is easy to use and even contains a glossary for the “lingo” we use in the Legislature.

“TLO is an important Internet tool because it allows all Texans, regardless of how close or how far they live from the state Capitol, access to current information about the actions of their legislature,” notes Linda Pittsford, manager of the Texas Legislative Council’s Computer Support Center.

Although this virtual marvel is equipped with hundreds of capabilities, one of its most attractive features is the ability to tune into live broadcasts of the proceedings, as well as archived real video.

It allows you to track a bill from its infancy to its success or demise, and for the novice or someone needing a quick refresher course, it teaches you how to follow a bill.

The system is so “high-tech” that you can set up bill alerts and receive emails on the status and movement of a bill through the process. But these alerts aren’t confined to email on your desktop computer; they are also available for email alerts through your cell phone or personal digital assistant (PDA). So you can be shopping at the grocery store, and that alert will go off telling you that the bill you’re concerned about just passed out of the committee to which it was assigned. The system is so well-designed, it walks you through the steps needed to create the alerts.

There is another option that permits you to subscribe to RSS feeds, sort of like on the CNN web page. The feeds let subscribers know that new information is available on-line and sends these feeds to your home computer. And TLO also walks you through this function and how to install the necessary software for it as well.

Another attractive component of TLO is that it allows a bill’s vote information to be accessed via several options, and House votes are posted within an hour. Before the House journal in which votes are recorded for the day is available, an unofficial vote report displays if it is a record vote and if the vote is not a record vote, a message that the journal is not available appears. Senate votes are available once the Senate Journal is published. However, all vote information for both the House and Senate prior to the 79th legislative session can be accessed only in the journals, also online.

One of the most talked-about abilities TLO provides is that of letting you create your own bill list, as simple or as elaborate as you need.

Another brand new feature is one that allows you to view the language of a House amendment while it is being discussed in the House Chamber. Amendments are provisions that are added to bills.

Committee reports are updated throughout the day on TLO. It also provides quick links to calendars that let you know what bills are up for consideration. This site includes links to the Texas statutes and committee reports on bills once they are heard.

Many people appreciate how interactive this system can be. It provides an area that allows you to ask questions or submit comments. With another click of the mouse or touch of the keypad, you can check and see who represents you not only in the House and Senate, but also in the U.S. Congress.

Remember, all it takes to access this and much more information is to log onto http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/ or http://www.legis.state.tx.us/.Online registration to receive emails and alerts is quick and simple.

Whether you live in a town near Austin, or as far away from the Capital City as Brownsville or El Paso, you can stay abreast of government in action. I highly recommend the Texas Legislature Online.

••••••

El Canelo Ranch hosts 2007 Heritage Ranch Gala

Heritage Associate FRIENDS and other guests to the Museum of South Texas History’s Heritage Ranch Gala will be treated to a “high ol’ time” at El Canelo Ranch in Kenedy County. Gourmet “grazing” and dancing under bright stars in a beautiful South Texas setting will make Saturday, March 24 an evening not to be missed.Stella García Zárate and her six children, Cecelia Dismukes of Houston, Laura Scanlan of Indianapolis,Mónica Burdette of El Canelo Ranch, Mike Zárate of Edinburg, Ricky Zárate of McAllen, and Vicky Adkins of Bainbridge Island, Washington will graciously open their family ranch for one evening to the Museum’s guests.

The Gala will be set up in a meadow of wildflowers at the site of the original ranch headquarters of Isabel Yturria García’s El Devisadero Ranch. Translated from Spanish, the name means overseer and was inspired by the fact that it sits on the highest elevation in Kenedy County and for hundreds of miles around. Isabel was the adopted daughter of Don Francisco Yturria (1830-1912), a prominent entrepreneur in South Texas and Northeastern Mexico.

To read more about the ranch history, visit the Museum’s website, http://www.mosthistory.org.

Beginning at 6:30 p.m., guests will arrive and enter the ranch driving past the El Canelo headquarters and on to El Canelo II where the Gala will take place. Spotting wildlife along the way is highly likely as the Zarate Family is a good steward of natural habitat. Arriving at the Gala site, guests will enter and walk through the charming hacienda-style house which is home to Monica & Ray Burdette and the Inn at El Canelo, the Rio Grande Valley’s first Bed & Breakfast. Leaving the house, guests will find themselves in a beautifully landscaped ranch garden where beverages will be available before making their way to the party site. There guests will mingle, enjoy hearty fare such as cabrito served on pan de campo cooked up by Don Strange of Texas, Inc., and kick up their heels to the tunes of Scott Randolph and White Lightening.

The Gala is the culmination of the Annual Heritage Associate Drive which raises a significant portion of the Museum’s annual operating funds. Heritage Associates are donors whose gifts of $1,000 or more support the operation of the Museum each year. These donors will be honored guests.

Reservations for the Heritage Ranch Gala may be made by calling the Museum with a credit card. Current FRIENDS of the Museum may make a reservation for $150 per person and those who are potential FRIENDS may make a reservation for $165 per person. One can also become a FRIEND or renew your FRIENDship while making your reservations and take advantage of the special price. For security reasons, no one may be admitted to the event without an advance reservation.

Reservations are limited and should be made by March 16 For more information, call 383-6911 or go to http://www.mosthistory.org .