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City Council approves incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center

City Council approves incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, were in McAllen on Friday, February 23, to present a $5.1 million grant for the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative to South Texas College and The University of Texas-Pan American. The grant, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) program, will go toward workforce development and the creation of a sustainable manufacturing infrastructure in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley region. The plan includes the development of a rapid response manufacturing facility as well as integrated educational initiatives to produce skilled workers and managers. The event was held Friday afternoon at STC’s Technology Center at 3100 W. Military Highway. Featured in the photograph, from left, are: Hinojosa; STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed; Wanda F. Garza, STC’s Executive Director for Workforce and Resource Development; Cuellar; and Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, president of UT-Pan American.


City Council approves incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Joaquín A. Rodríguez was honored by the Edinburg City Council on February 6 for his selection on January 9 as the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg Youth of the Year 2007. The Edinburg High School senior, currently ranked sixth out of 610 students in his class, has been publicly recognized by both the the city’s elected leadership and the Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg for his superior leadership skills, academic achievements, obstacles overcome, and his service to the three-time All-America City. Featured, from right, are Mayor Joe Ochoa; Joaquín; his father, Carlos Rodríguez; his mother, Nancy Rodríguez; and his brother.


City Council approves economic incentives for developer of $80 million shopping center

As part of the city’s efforts to bring an 800,000 square foot shopping center, valued at about $80 million and representing hundreds of jobs, the Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, February 20, approved a proposed package of economic incentives that would help the mall developer pay for a portion of the costs of making the retail complex a reality.

The proposed incentives, which will be soon be presented to First Hartford Realty Corporation, Inc., of Connecticut, have been in the works for months by local government leaders, including the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The planned retail mecca would be the latest big addition to the city’s continuing economic growth.

Plans for the shopping center were first announced about a year ago by then Mayor Richard García, who now serves as president of the board of directors of the EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the city council.

Mayor Joe Ochoa, who also sits on the EEDC board of directors, is leading the city council’s efforts to package an incentives deal to move the project forward.

“Those involved in the development agreement that is currently being negotiated, and hopefully will be finalized very shortly, with the developers of the proposed mall project to provide an incentives- based economic development package,” said City Attorney Dan Ríos. “If First Hartford meets certain specific goals throughout the development of the project, the city, in accordance with state laws, will provide for certain incentives for that development.”

He said some of those incentives to be offered by the city include “reimbursements for public improvements that would be dedicated for public use, and also involve certain levels of sales tax incentives and reimbursements, provided they meet construction of square footage. It is a phased-in incentive package.”

The city council and the EEDC since last year have been developing the economic incentives for the planned mall, which would be similar to The Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio.

“If they (First Hartford) meet additional goals, they would be able to seek additional economic incentives,” Ríos said. “Those items that have been negotiated over the past several months would bring a major impact in terms of development and growth that would benefit the city and its citizens. We are pleased with a developer that is contemplating making that type of investment in the area, and that investment, in the council’s view, justified serious consideration of this economic package.”

Ochoa noted that the agreement “states that First Hartford will be building a facility at least 800,000 square feet in size in multiple buildings to be located on approximately 128 acres of land at the northeast corner of the intersection of Business 281 and Trenton Road in Edinburg.

“First Hartford has advised the city that a significant contributing factor that would induce First Hartford to locate and construct the facility in the city is the ability to obtain certain economic development incentives to would assist First Hartford in being able to finance to facility,” the mayor added.

One component of the economic development incentives being provided to the shopping center’s developer, under the development agreement by the city, is a commitment from the city to grant to the First Hartford a portion of the city’s one percent sales tax revenues collected within the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone to be created by the city, said García.

The city is authorized under Texas law to grant public funds for economic development purposes pursuant to a “program” established under Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code. A resolution approved Tuesday, February 20, by the city council authorizes the establishment of such programs, which must occur before the city grants public funds for economic development purposes.

As a result of the passage of that resolution that evening, the city is able to provide a one percent city sales tax grant detailed in the development agreement.

As part of its economic development strategies, the city council previously authorized the creation of the Local Government Finance Corporation (LGC) to assist with financing and constructing economic development projects within the city in order to promote economic development and to stimulate business and commercial activity in the city, all at the request of the city council.


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United League Baseball, Edinburg Coyotes make pitch for improvements at city baseball stadium

The city-owned Edinburg Baseball Stadium, home of the Edinburg Coyotes professional baseball club and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs baseball team, would benefit from the addition of a covered picnic area, an outdoor bar and grill, a large advertising video monitor, and other modifications, leaders of United League Baseball said Tuesday, February 23.

The Edinburg Coyotes are part of the six-member ULB.

Addressing the Edinburg City Council, ULB and Coyotes officials asked the elected leaders to consider approving the proposed capital construction projects, valued at about $100,000, which would be paid for by the league and team.

“This capital improvement project reflects our commitment to the community and the team to provide the best affordable family fun entertainment around,” said Gary Wendt, the principal owner of the Coyotes. “We hope that you approve it – it is a substantial investment by ourselves, and I think it is in everyone’s best interest to support it.”

In exchange for their investment, which must be approved by the city council, the Coyotes asked the city to repair or replace the baseball stadium sound system, to provide additional lighting for security purposes, and to add architectural barriers to prevent cars from parking on the outside concourse of the stadium.

Since the proposal by the ULB and the team came during the public presentation portion of the city council’s meeting, there could be no action taken. However, City Attorney Dan Ríos said the league and team soon would be receiving a written response from the city.

Craig Brasfield, ULB President and Executive General Manager, said the planned improvements are needed to enhance the entertainment value of the stadium, not only for baseball games, but for other outdoor events at the city-owned facility, which opened almost six years ago.

“One thing we recognize is that there is very little that has been done, on a large scale, since its opening in 2001,” Brasfield said. “We just need to do some things that will get the ‘wow’ back. Nowadays, in minor league baseball, if you don’t reinvent yourself, you kind of get stale. We have come up with some ideas we feel will give our organization a better chance for success, as well as offer a much more affordable family entertainment venue for the citizens of this region.”

The $5.6 million complex, which has hosted outdoor gatherings with more than 10,000 people, can continue to reach its potential with the added improvements, Brasfield explained.

“We want to build on the first base side of the stadium, overlooking the home side dugout, an outdoor cantina, or outdoor bar and grill, that will have upscale food, and the ability to serve mixed drinks, beers, soft drinks, and food that will make the experience of coming to an outdoor event much more pleasurable, and give us the chance to draw a day crowd,” Brasfield said. “It will also give us the opportunity to put on other off-game events that will be another reason to come to this facility.”

A second venue in the stadium is also being recommended by the team.

“We want to build a covered picnic pavilion. This is a must for an outdoor facility. We didn’t do very well last year in group outings and picnics because of the summer heat and the lack of cover,” he continued.

“Our idea is to build a 30 foot by 35 foot covered pavilion with ceiling fans and televisions, so now, when we go out to a major corporation to ask them to bring their employees and their families to an event, they can go to a nice covered area with catered meals,” Brasfield revealed. “This pavilion will also offer a great opportunity for the citizens for family reunions, wedding reception, and on and on.”

Both proposed additions would be consistent with the decor of the existing facility, he reassured the council.

The team also wants to build a new ticket booth at the stadium that would eliminate the long wait that many fans now endure.

“The existing ticket system is really tough for the fans,” he acknowledged. “Our idea is to build a ticket booth out in front that would service four to five windows.”

Out in the front of the stadium, facing traffic coming by and to the stadium, the team wants to add a $45,000 video monitor which would allow sponsors to advertise to the thousands of cars that travel by the stadium on a daily basis, much of that flow fed by the ever-expanding UTPA campus.

In addition to its baseball field matching or exceeding the size of many fields in Major League Baseball stadiums, the Edinburg Baseball Stadium also includes a diamond vision scoreboard and luxury boxes.

It is located at the intersection of Sugar Road and Schunior Street, immediately northwest of the University of Texas-Pan American.


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Luis M. Ríos, Sr., M.D., a pioneer among Hispanic plastic surgeons in Texas, remembered for his contributions to Edinburg and the nation

Luis M. Ríos, M.D., Sr. entered into eternal rest on February 18, 2007. He was born on February 12, 1935 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Dr. Ríos’ father passed away when Dr. Ríos was eight years old, leaving his mother as the sole provider as he grew up in Mexico City. Through the inspired devotion of his beloved mother, María Luisa de Ríos Pastrana, Dr. Ríos excelled in all of his educational pursuits, and graduated from college and medical school in Mexico with honor and distinction.

In 1960, Dr. Ríos was accepted to an internship program at the St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago, Illinois where he met his wife, Mary Ann Mungovan. They were married in 1962. They were to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary on June 23rd of this year.

Soon after their marriage, Dr. Ríos accepted a position as a resident in general surgery at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He became chief resident of that program. During their time in Nebraska, Dr. Ríos and Mary Ann brought three boys into this world, Luis M. Ríos, Jr., M.D., Daniel G. Ríos and Edward X. Ríos. After the passing of his mother, the family moved to Mexico City in 1966, where Dr. Ríos practiced medicine until 1969. During that time, Jennifer Ann was born.

In 1969, Dr. Ríos entered the plastic surgery residency program at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He completed that program in 1971. Though heavily recruited from established plastic surgery programs from San Antonio and other large cities, Dr. Ríos made the decision to move to the Rio Grande Valley in 1971. He became one of the first Hispanic plastic and reconstructive surgeons in Texas, and was the first plastic and reconstructive surgeon in the Rio Grande Valley, where he treated patients from Starr County to Brownsville.

As his colleagues and thousands of patients can attest, Dr. Ríos dedicated himself to providing incomparable medical care to his patients. Whether destitute or of considerable means, Dr. Ríos never distinguished between his patients, and passionately strove to provide each with the best of care.

These virtues were perhaps best illustrated through his work as the founding member of the Rio Grande Valley Cranial-Facial Anamolies Advisory Group, where he, Dr. Phil Hunke, Dr. David Reed and others donated their time and skills to those, young and old, suffering from debilitating facial deformities. Dr. Ríos felt this group most exemplified the reasons why he became a doctor, and in 1993, the Valley Association of Speech Pathologists and Audiologists awarded him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

In keeping with his calling, Dr. Ríos served his profession and community humbly, and with great dedication and distinction. He involved himself in many international, national, state, and local organizations, which included the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, RGV Cranial-Facial Anamolies Advisory Group, American Cleft Lip and Palate Association, Royal Society of Medicine, Association of Military Plastic Surgeons, Texas Board of Medical Examiners, International Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society, Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation, American Board of Plastic Surgery, American College of Surgeons, Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates, Creighton Surgical Society, American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Maliniac Circle. While he was honored to dedicate much of his time to these organizations, Dr. Ríos never looked beyond the needs of his patients, whom always remained the most important priority of his professional life.

In 2005, the National Endowment for Plastic Surgery awarded Dr. Ríos with its prestigious “Citation for Excellence in Humanitarian Service”, formally recognizing his technical excellence and unwavering devotion to the medical needs of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. While he could not attend the ceremony, his son, Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Jr., also a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, proudly accepted this honor on his behalf.

Dr. Ríos also served his country as an officer in the United States Army where he achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel. He took great pride in applying his surgical skills for the benefit of the men and women serving in the United States Armed Services. He felt this was but a small token of his appreciation for the privilege of obtaining his United States citizenship and for the privilege of living in this country.

Dr. Ríos retired in 2002 and succumbed to a progressive and physically debilitating disease, the onset of which began shortly after his retirement. Throughout his long battle, he remained fully cognizant of his condition and surroundings. He enjoyed spending his last years with his family and grandchildren, Christopher Ríos, Emily Ríos, Nicole Childress, Alyssa Childress, Sydney Childress, Steven Childress, Edward Ríos and Sophia Ríos. During his difficult times, he especially enjoyed all of those friends and patients who visited him.

The family hopes that those, whose lives Dr. Ríos touched, remember him as a humble and skilled servant of his profession, a person who dedicated his heart and soul to the healing of his patients, no matter their circumstances.

Dr. Ríos was blessed to have wonderful doctors who attended to him faithfully, as he would have to them. For this, his family thanks Dr. Jetta Marie Brown, Dr. Tommy Yee, Dr. Roger Vitko, Dr. Ramiro Verdooren, and his beloved dentist, Dr. Joe Villarreal. The family also wishes to thank his caregivers who dedicated themselves to his well-being and comfort during his difficult times. They are Nick Bustamente, Olivia Rodríguez, Lisa Salazar of Innovative Home Health, and Scott Henderson of the Sandy Jo Funk Hospice.

A visitation was held at Kreidler Funeral Home at 314 N. 10th St., McAllen, between noon and 8 p.m. on Friday, February 23, 2007. The family received visitors between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. There was a prayer service at 7:30 p.m on February 23. The funeral service began at 10 a.m., February 24, 2007, at St. Joseph’s Church in Edinburg.

Dr. Ríos is survived by his loving wife, Mary Ann, his children and grandchildren and Mrs. Luis M. Ríos, Jr., M.D. (Lisa), Mrs. Daniel G. Ríos (Mónica) and Mr. Brett Childress (Jennifer). The pallbearers honoring Dr. Ríos were Mr. David O. Rogers, Jr., José Luis Aliseda, M.D., Joe Villarreal, D.D.S., Mr. Gilbert García, Mr. Joel Huerta, Mr. Albert Bergh, Ali Seif, M.D. (in absentia), Mr. Bill Reynolds and Antonio Ulloa, D.D.S.

The family encourages memorial donations to the World Cranio-Facial Foundation, P.O. Box 515838, Dallas, Texas 75251, or the Parkinson’s Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic, Dept. of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, 6550 Fannin, Suite 1801, Houston, Texas 77030, or the Society for PSP, Executive Plaza III, 11350 McCormick Road, Suite 906, Hunt Valley, Maryland, 21031 (800)457-4777 or to a charity of one’s choice.


Sen. Hinojosa, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announce filing of legislation to require defibrillators in public schools

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday, February 19, announced legislation to put Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in all Texas public schools.

The bill is set for a public hearing on Tuesday, February 27, by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

Hinojosa and Dewhurst provided details on Senate Bill 7, which will be carried by Hinojosa, during a Capitol news conference.

SB 7 would require every Texas public school to be equipped with a minimum of one AED and a staff member trained in its use.

“I don’t want a family to have to endure the loss of a child when it could have easily been prevented,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst thanked Hinojosa for sponsoring SB 7, a key component of the Dewhurst’s comprehensive Texas Children First plan.

“It’s clear that defibrillators save lives, and if we can save even one life by placing a defibrillator in every school, then the state’s investment has been well spent,” Hinojosa said.

Joining Hinojosa as co-authors of SB 7 are Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville; Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio; Sen. Bob Deuell, M.D., R-Greenville; and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.

According to the Texas Education Agency, almost 4,000 of the state’s nearly 8,000 public school campuses in Texas do not have these critical lifesaving devices. Funding options for acquiring the AEDs include public/private partnerships, donations, grant funding and state general revenue.

“With a solution to save young lives this simple, I can’t think of any reason why AEDs should not be in all public schools,” Dewhurst said.

Also joining Hinojosa and Dewhurst at the Capitol press conference was Laura Friend, co-founder of Parent Heart Watch, a nationwide advocacy organization dedicated to reducing Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in children.

Friend’s 12 year-old daughter, Sarah, died of SCA in 2004.

“This is an important public policy issue. Most occurrences of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in young people happen in public places like schools. Immediate response with an AED can literally mean the difference between life and death,” Friend said.

Parent Heart Watch supports placing AEDs in all Texas public schools.

Currently only five other states (New York, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) have laws specifically regarding the placement of AEDs in public schools, school districts or athletic events. The estimated average cost of a portable AED is approximately $2,000.


ECISD among leading districts in Texas to place defibrillators in every school

The Edinburg Consolidated ISD is among a handful of school districts who have made it their goal to place an automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in all 35 of its schools.

While many school districts in the Valley and the state already have AEDs in place in some of their schools through the help of a grant or partial donations to purchase limited amounts, the ECISD school board decided to budget them into their budget to ensure that every school will have one in place within 45 days.

The ECISD school board approved the purchase of AEDs for every campus at last week’s board meetings. The AEDs have been ordered and should be in place within 45-days.

The school district, which spans over a 945-sq. mile area, has 13 school campuses that are out of the Edinburg city limits. At least eight of those schools are located several miles from town where emergency medical services are readily available.

Albert López, coordinator of Health Services for the ECISD, said that placing AEDs in these schools (as well as in all schools) will provide valuable assistance in the event help is needed in these rural schools and an ambulance is several minutes away.

López said the district already has about 200 individuals who have been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use of the AEDs and will bring these individuals together for additional training before the AEDs are put in place at the schools. Lopez said there will be yearly trainings as well to make sure that the AED operators are up-to-date on information and usage.

“The purchase of the AEDs for every campus is another effort by the school board to show the community just how valuable the lives of their students and staff are,” said Gilberto Garza, Jr., interim superintendent of schools. “It wasn’t hard to sell the need for AEDs in all of our schools to the board. They didn’t want to wait for the state to provide funding for them. The board moved quickly to budget the funds and make them available as soon as possible.”

López said AEDs are self-contained, portable medical devices that look somewhat like a briefcase and are easily carried by a handle. The AEDs contain a battery, a control computer and electrodes.

López said when the electrodes are placed on a person, the computer will determine the type of rhythm or arrhythmia present. The control computer will then set necessary power levels and signal whether or not a shock is needed, said López..

AEDs will not allow a shock to be delivered if the person does not require defibrillation. Once the signal is given to administer a shock to the person, the AED operator must be certain no one is touching the person and then manually press a button to deploy the shock, said López.

As more people begin to understand the importance of AEDs in addressing unexpected episodes of cardiac arrest, AEDs are being put into corporate offices, shopping malls, sports stadiums, college campuses, airports, community centers, schools and other places where large groups of people gather daily.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 250,000 Americans die every year of sudden cardiac arrest. The AHA says the chances of a person surviving an unexpected cardiac arrest increases dramatically if defibrillation is available to the person suffering the attack within a few minutes.

Last October, the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the organization that provides educational extracurricular activity guidance for schools, made it a requirement that all public schools in Texas install at least one AED by Aug. 1, 2007. The UIL made this decision following the sudden death of several student athletes in Texas and the successful resuscitation of an athlete at a school equipped with an AED.


ECISD board approves turf makeover for Cats Stadium to enhance safety for players and others

Come this fall season, the football field at Cats Stadium will have a new look that both the district’s football teams and bands can use as necessary.

The Edinburg CISD school board approved the installation of a synthetic turf to replace the Greg Norman Grass Turf during a January session in which both the Athletic Department and the Fine Arts Department joined forces to ask the board for a new field.

Coach Robert Alaníz, athletic director, said the wear and tear on the present grass turf field does not make for a healthy field. Alaníz said that the use of the field by three high school football teams two to three times a week during the fall can create a situation where it becomes unsafe for a football player and even a member of the band marching on the field.

“Even the best turf cannot withstand the traffic and sustain a safe condition for the use of the field,” said Alaníz.

Alaníz said the new granular infill synthetic turf will be able to sustain daily sports use without any significant deterioration or danger. He said the school district’s sports teams and school bands will be able to use the synthetic turf without damaging the surface.

Alaníz explained that natural grass fields typically cannot be kept in good condition under heavy sports use, and with wet weather, the situation is made worse. The synthetic turf approved by the school board, on the other hand, is a durable product that can handle considerable wear and tear without field deterioration.

“The middle part of a grass football field experiences the worst deterioration,” said Alaníz. “The synthetic turf has the ability to remain uniformly safe across the entire playing surface regardless of the amount of play or weather conditions.”

Alaníz said the likelihood of head-to-ground impact injuries is greatly increased as the condition of a field deteriorates. Additionally, Alaníz said the possibility of rotational leg injuries due to a shoe or cleat binding in the turf are nearly eliminated by using a synthetic field.

He said that last year there 20 football games played at Cats Stadium with the school bands performing at halftime. The football teams and bands did not, however, practice on the field because it would deteriorate the field and create an unsafe playing field.

ECISD Fine Arts Director, Willie Pérez, said that marching bands, which have a reputation as being “grass killers,” can damage a grass field very quickly. The present stadium field, said Pérez, cannot be used because of safety issues for the band students.

Pérez said a synthetic turf will enable the three high school bands to practice and perform on the football field with a turf that is similar to the turf where competitions like the Pigskin Jubilee at McAllen Memorial Stadium, the Bands of America competitions at Rice Stadium and the UIL State Competitions at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

“The band department would be able to host competitions on a local, state and national level,” said Pérez. “These kinds of events here in Edinburg would draw the community together and help to boost the local economy.”

Alaníz said the present cost to maintain the grass field at the stadium is $66,400 per year or $3,320 per game for 20 games. The cost to maintain a synthetic turf for 40 games will be $59,000 per year or $1,475 per game.

Estimated construction costs for the new synthetic turf are $708,000 ($655,600 for the turf with $52,400 for engineering, project management and inspection).

The cost for the new turf is being funded through a budget amendment approved by the school board. Gilberto Garza Jr., interim superintendent of schools, said that the budget amendment allows the district to use budgeted monies from the both the current Athletic Department and the Fine Arts Department budgets. Garza said both departments have been very careful this year in their spending and that the cost for the new turf will be absorbed by the nearly $800,000 in cost savings realized by the departments.

Garza said the economic impact of Cats Stadium having a synthetic turf will greatly benefit the school district. The new turf would allow the district the option of hosting events like play-off games, band competitions and semi-pro games without the worry of damaging the field. He said that last year athletic ticket sales from all sports generated $320,000, of which $273,000 was from football ticket sales.

Construction of the new turf is anticipated to begin in mid-May with completion by August.


Edinburg Public Library to close down March 4 to prepare for move to Dustin Sekula Memorial Library

The Edinburg Public Library will officially close its doors on Sunday, March 4, at 5 p.m. in preparation of its move to 1906 S. Closner, across the street from the ECHO.

The public library will open as the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library. The opening date of the new library will soon be finalized and announced

The new library will bear the name of local hero Lance Corporal Dustin Michael Sekula, who was the first Hidalgo County casualty of the Iraqi Freedom War. Sekula was an avid reader, cowboy and a brave Marine. The library seeks to reflect some of his outstanding qualities in hopes of inspiring the youth of our community.

This almost 36,000 sq. ft. library will include an expanded children’s area, a built in puppet stage, activity room and garden. Study rooms and a computer training room will also be available.

Materials may still be placed in the book drops at the current library until the opening of the new library. An amnesty period will be scheduled from March 5, 2007 through April 30, 2007 to ensure that all outstanding materials are returned without overdue fines. Patrons are encouraged to bring in any overdue materials during this time.

Library staff will work diligently to ensure that the move is done swiftly so that library services can resume as quickly as possible.

“We look forward to serving the community at our new library where we look forward to hold true to our new motto: ‘The Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library … Empowering Our Community,” said Head Librarian Letty Leija.


Dr. Alejo Salinas, South Texas College trustee and former Edinburg city commissioner, honored for public service

As part of Board Appreciation Month, South Texas College took the opportunity to honor Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr. and Roy de Le?n, as well as the entire Board of Trustees, recognizing their ongoing support of the college’s construction expansion and continued growth.

Salinas was an Edinburg city commissioner during the 1990s before being elected in 1996 as the District 5 trustee, which includes the three-time All-America City, on the community college governing board.

Salinas also is a former superintendent of Hidalgo ISD.

Salinas has served STC since 1996. He is superintendent emeritus for and a clinical lecturer at The University of Texas – Pan American. Roy de Le?n, representing District 7 that includes north east Edinburg, has served the board for 10 years. He was appointed by former Governor Ann Richards to fill the unexpired term of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa and was subsequently elected to the board in May 2002 to a six year term and serves as a vice president for Laredo National Bank.

“Of the many responsibilities the board members have had, none have been as demanding as the construction program implemented by the college since the passage of the $98.7 million bond issue on September 29, 2001,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College. “Sixteen buildings in 16 months at five locations, with three more being completed, is no easy undertaking! The property owned by South Texas College has almost doubled in acreage and state-of-the-art facilities for students, faculty, and staff have now expanded to over 1.3 million square feet. Their commitment is steadfast, their integrity is above reproach, and their expectations for the highest standards and quality are firm. The board’s dedication to providing public accountability for the construction projects serves as a model for community colleges and school districts across this great state of Texas.”

In appreciation of their hard work, each board member was given a scrapbook highlighting the stages and completion of the construction project at the January 2007 Board meeting.

District 2 representative and education icon in the Rio Grande Valley, Irene García, serves as the chair of the board and has been a member of the board for more than six years. Jesse Villarreal, vice chair of the board, has represented District 6 for six years and works as a parent specialist for the Weslaco ISD. Mike Allen, widely known member of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, serves as the secretary for the board and has been a member of the board since May 2004.

Atlas and Hall managing partner Gary Gurwitz, District 4 representative, and director of transportation for the Rio Grande City ISD Manuel Benavidez Jr., District 1 representative, were both hand-selected by former Governor Richards to serve on the board in 1993 with the inception of the college.

“These are the hardest working people in higher education in the Valley, donating their time supporting and developing new opportunities and initiatives for South Texas College and the citizens of Hidalgo and Starr Counties,” added Reed. “Words alone cannot substitute for the many hours they have taken away from their own profession and family to address the many challenges and opportunities placed before the college. The administration, faculty, staff and students at STC extend our deepest appreciation for their tireless support, dedication and commitment to serving the best interests of our college and the communities of Hidalgo and Starr Counties.”


Senate committee to investigate claims of abuses of youths in Texas Youth Commission

The Criminal Justice Committee of the Texas Senate on Tuesday, September 27, will delve into allegations of abuse at the state’s troubled Texas Youth Commission (TYC) during a public hearing in Austin scheduled to consider a comprehensive reform bill by Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Hinojosa a member of the committee and longtime advocate for juvenile justice reform.

The hearing will be held in Room E1.016 (Hearing Room) in the State Capitol complex beginning at 1:30 p.m., or upon adjournment by the Senate.

Senate Bill 103 by Hinojosa would require TYC to provide 300 hours of training to guards before they begin duties at state facilities, increase staffing to at least one guard for every 12 youths in each facility, and prohibit the current practice of housing youth as young as 11 and 12 with those as old as 19.

Hinojosa’s bill would also authorize the Texas Rangers to make monthly unannounced visits to facilities and submit reports to the state’s Sunset Commission for inclusion in TYC’s review evaluations.

In addition, SB 103 would create a criminal investigations unit, reporting to TYC’s board of directors instead of the agency’s executive director. The investigators would be commissioned peace officers who would investigate criminal acts among TYC youth, guards, and other commission employees.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee consists of the following members: Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair; Hinojosa; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy.


“Jessica’s Law” clears House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, now headed for debate on the House floor

The House Committee on Jurisprudence, chaired by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Wednesday, February 21, unanimously approved a measure that would deny parole to certain first-time sex offenders and put the death penalty in play for repeat offenders.

House Bill 8 by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, has also become known as “Jessica’s Law”, named in memory of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year old Florida girl who was murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005.

“I think Chairman Aaron Peña and the other members of the committee should be applauded for the leadership they have shown on this issue,” Riddle said. “This is a clear sign of bipartisan unity, and a positive message to the whole state that politics is not going to stand in the way of the safety of our children.”

Riddle serves on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

The act would also extend the current statute of limitations on sexually violent offenses committed against children by 10 years, and would mandate GPS monitoring of all civilly committed offenders.

Gov. Rick Perry placed “Jessica’s Law” on his list of emergency issues earlier this session, giving the house permission to hear the bill before the 60 day moratorium on floor debate has elapsed.


Rep. Gonzáles votes for measure to extend school property tax cuts to senior, disabled homeowners

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen joined her Democratic colleagues on Tuesday, February 20, in unanimously voting for a constitutional amendment, (SJR 13) extending the tax cuts passed last year to include seniors and disabled persons.

Though the amendment passed unanimously, it had been endangered a week earlier when it was attached to a highly controversial and unprecedented amendment to bust the constitutional state spending limit. Had the issues remained attached, it is likely that the senior tax cut would have died in the Senate as a result, she said.

In addition to passing the tax cuts, Democrats offered three amendments to the bill appropriating the funding for the property tax reductions promised last year (House Bill 2). The amendments would not change the allocation for property tax cuts, rather they would direct leftover money to three specific purposes should the actual cost of the cuts be less than the $14.2 billion set aside in the bill.

“I am proud to stand with all of my Democratic colleagues today. At our urging, the House (Republican) leadership abandoned its plans to hold seniors hostage to the budget debate,” Gonzáles said of the property tax cut. “When it comes to protecting our seniors and the disabled, I am proud we did the right thing.”

Despite its support for the senior tax cut, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) came out strongly against the Republicans’ decision to link the heated debate about busting the spending limit to tax cuts for seniors and the disabled, she said.

Because linking the two issues together put the passage of the senior tax cuts in danger, the AARP said last week that the Republican leadership was holding seniors hostage and using them as “political human shields,” she contended.

Under current law, seniors (65 and older) and individuals with disabilities qualify to receive a freeze on the amount of school property tax that can be imposed on their homestead residence. At the same time, other Texas homeowners’ property tax rates were lowered by legislation passed last year.

Without the proportional tax cuts delivered today, many seniors would have received a smaller tax cut than their neighbors. Some seniors and disabled individuals would have received no property tax reduction at all.

Last year, the Legislature met in a special session and passed legislation to cut local school district property taxes for Texas homeowners. At that time, Gonzáles voted to provide a proportionate reduction in property taxes for those seniors and disabled Texans receiving the tax freeze, but it died in the Senate.

In another attempt to fix this problem, immediately following the 2006 general election, several representatives filed legislation to ensure that seniors and disabled Texans receive the same proportional property tax cuts as every other homeowner, she said.

On February 20, Gonzáles again voted to provide seniors and disabled Texans the relief they deserve and, pending the voters’ approval, the legislation will become law.

“The seniors in the Valley can finally rest assured that they will get the same tax cut as everybody else,” Gonzáles said. “The last thing seniors should have to worry about is their financial stability. They have worked hard and they have earned peace of mind. We helped provide that with this vote today.”

Gonzáles said that Democrats offered three amendments to the property tax cut appropriations bill (HB 2):

•Should the price tag for the tax cuts come in under the $14.2 billion allocated for that purpose, the bill initially set aside all remaining funds for future cuts.

•House Democrats proposed using the extra money to improve public schools by funding a teacher pay raise and purchasing new textbooks.

•A third amendment offered by House Democrats proposed to use the excess to increase the homestead exemption to $45,000, which homeowners are allowed to deduct from the taxable value of their home. Middle class homeowners (the vast majority of Texas homeowners) would benefit most from that change.

“Once we have fulfilled our promise for property tax rate cuts, it is time to start talking about other important priorities for educating our children and expanding opportunity for the middle class once again,” said Gonzáles. “It is entirely possible to provide for quality teachers and return money to hardworking middle class homeowners.”

Texas teachers are still paid $4,000 below the national average annually, despite a pay raise passed last year. The state comptroller estimates that more than 37,000 teachers leave the profession every year.


Sen. Lucio: Teacher retirement pension fund needs upgrade

By Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

We repeatedly hear about the need to pay teachers what they are really worth and to increase their benefits, especially health insurance.

A quieter but just as important related topic is what retired teachers receive from their pension plans. The amounts are not only pitiful, but they fall behind in terms of cost-of-living and inflation adjustments.

To alleviate the financial distress many retired teachers and retired school personnel encounter, I have filed Senate Bill 492. This legislation would increase a retired teacher’s monthly retirement, disability or death benefit by a five percent cost-of-living adjustment. Retired teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2001.

One of the motivating factors that prompted me to file this bill came from a poignant message written in a letter sent to me by Ms. Sylvia G. Suárez from Brownsville. The retired teacher, who also serves as legislative chair of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) for District 1 wrote, “We have given many hours to promote the best education and now we have been forgotten.” Who would not be stirred by such a moving and true comment?

Ms. Suárez also reminded us that “with the higher taxes, increased healthcare cost, higher cost of gasoline, electricity and higher cost of living” their retirement annuities have not increased to meet and maintain a healthy living standard.

As a former educator and someone with many siblings and relatives involved in public education, I can sympathize with the neglect our retired teachers endure. It has been tremendously rewarding to receive hundreds of phone calls from retired teachers throughout the state thanking me just for filing the bill. They understand that this is the first step in a lengthy process that also involves compromise at the financial rung of this legislative ladder.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will work with my colleagues to make possible this cost of living adjustment, which will be based on the performance of investments of the Teacher Retirement System pension fund. I was glad to be approached the other day by Sen. Robert Duncan, a member of Finance and chair of the State Affairs Committee, who differs slightly on the amount of the increase. He indicated that he would like to join me at the table in finding solutions to this issue.

Mr. Tim Lee, executive director of the TRTA says, “Providing retired educators with a real cost of living raise will help ensure their quality of life during their retirement years.”

The increase would also include retired school paraprofessionals, many of whom live at poverty levels. Some are reported to be receiving pension checks of between $300 to $600 a month. I’ve heard accounts that a retired teacher’s spouse dies and the retiree must sell their home because mortgage payments and upkeep become unaffordable. Texas can do better than this in taking care of the people who have devoted their lives to instructing generations of youngsters. I for one am committed to doing so.


Texas’ Permanent School Fund tops $25 billion

The Permanent School Fund, the state’s 153-year-old endowment for public schools, on Tuesday, February 20, topped the $25 billion mark for the first time in its history.

The Fund was originally created with a $2 million appropriation from the Texas Legislature in 1854.

“This is an important milestone for the Permanent School Fund. The Fund has consistently been one of the top funds in the world and has provided money for the public schoolchildren of Texas through both good and bad markets. Today, it is performing admirably under the leadership of Holland Timmins, executive administrator, and the prudent oversight of the State Board of Education,” said Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, chair of the State Board of Education.

The Permanent School Fund is the second largest education endowment in the country, trailing only the Harvard University endowment.

The Texas endowment fund experienced strong growth in 2006, earning a return of 14.98 percent, which outperformed the target policy return of 14.41 percent. In calendar year 2006 alone, the Fund grew from $21.9 billion to $24.4 billion.

Timmins said that “the Permanent School Fund is an extraordinary gem that benefits every person living in Texas from students to taxpayers. The Fund has crossed the $25 billion level now due to the very strong return that it experienced in 2006.”

Proceeds and sales from this perpetual fund are used to help finance Texas public schools. It expects to distribute about $1.7 billion to the schools during the 2006-2007 biennium.

The money available for distribution is used to fund the purchase of textbooks for the state’s 4.5 million schoolchildren. This function has earned the Fund the nickname “the children’s textbook fund.”

After paying for the books which are given free of charge to students, the remaining available money is distributed on a per capita basis.

For fiscal year 2006, the per capita distribution was $213 per student, up from 62 cents per student when first distributed in 1855. This is the only state revenue distributed to schools, regardless of the property wealth of a district.

Since 1983, the corpus of the Permanent School Fund has been used to guarantee school bonds. This strong backing means any bond guaranteed by the PSF has the equivalent of an AAA rating, the highest available, and that saves districts millions of dollars in interest and insurance costs.

During the past 24 years, the Bond Guarantee Program has guaranteed more than 3,347 school district bond issues. The amount of these issues is $64.5 billion.


Sen. Zaffirini files bill to protect Texas children from Internet predators

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Wednesday, February 21, filed legislation to protect Texas children and families from internet predators and cyberstalkers. Part of Lt. Gov, David Dewhurst’s priority legislative package, Senate Bill 6 by Zaffirini significantly will strengthen laws aimed at preventing online child exploitation and cyberstalking, or the use of the internet as means to stalk and harass.

Protecting against internet crimes, exploitation and online solicitation of minors are top priorities outlined in the lieutenant governor’s Texas Children First plan, which promotes a safe and healthy environment for Texas children.

“This bill will protect children, improve public safety and ease concerned parents who want stronger laws to prevent and punish internet crimes in Texas,” Zaffirini said. “According to the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment, 45 percent of children nationwide are active online – more than 30 million who are younger than 18. With more than 560,000 sex offenders registered nationally, we must enhance the safety of our young internet users and punish online predators appropriately.”

SB 6 will require internet service providers (ISP) to comply fully with a uniform 48-hour time period to respond to subpoenas, search warrants or other court orders pertaining to the online solicitation of a minor. It will allow prosecutors to seek consecutive prison sentences for the online solicitation of a minor; make the penalty for a conviction of online sexual solicitation of a minor a second degree felony; increase penalties for sexually explicit online communication with a minor; use state rewards programs to emphasize reporting and apprehending predators and criminals; and create a clearinghouse of ISP contact information in the Attorney General’s office so prosecutors can access important information necessary to prevent online predatory behavior.

“I want to thank Sen. Zaffirini for her leadership and for her commitment to protecting our children,” Dewhurst said. “SB 6 is an important part of my Texas Children First plan and sends a strong message that Texas is serious about stopping child predators on the internet, as well as in our schools and neighborhoods.”

SB 6 builds on Zaffirini’s legislation that protects families from online crimes. In 2005 she authored and passed SB 327, the Consumer Protection Against Spyware Act, which made it unlawful for a person or entity to knowingly install spyware. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced last December that a lawsuit based on SB 327 resulted in a multimillion dollar settlement with Sony BMG Music, which installed harmful and problematic “spyware” on more than 100 compact discs sold to Texas consumers.

In 2005, Zaffirini also sponsored and passed HB 1098 by Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, which prohibited internet “phishing” or fraudulent websites and e-mails sent to induce victims to divulge personal financial information.

This year she also filed SB 120, which would protect children from internet predators by establishing a clearinghouse of educational resources related to on-line safety at the Attorney General’s office and directing school districts to update their discipline management program to prevent the use of the internet for sexual solicitation.

“Providing online users with safe internet services free from personal exploitation and protecting children and students from online predators are among my highest priorities. This is why I passed SB 327 and HB 1098 last session and filed SB 6 and SB 120 this year,” Zaffirini said. “I appreciate greatly Lt. Governor Dewhurst’s leadership in providing our families with effective and earnest solutions that will prevent our children from becoming victims of online exploitation and solicitation. I look forward to passing these essential bills that will increase public safety throughout Texas.”


South Texas fugitive child sex offenders arrested in sweep by Attorney General’s Office

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Fugitive Unit has arrested 12 convicted child sex offenders and two Louisiana criminals during a one-week South Texas fugitive operation.

The Attorney General’s investigators, working with local law enforcement officers in several South Texas counties, arrested eight men for violating Texas sex offender registration requirements. Six parole or probation violators were also arrested in the sweep, including two Louisiana fugitives who went into hiding during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina evacuation.

“Texans expect law enforcement to closely monitor convicted sex offenders. Protecting children is our highest priority,” Abbott said. “The Fugitive Unit will continue aggressively pursuing violent felons and missing parolees who pose a threat to our children. We are grateful to the local police and county sheriff’s departments that helped us locate and arrest these dangerous criminals.”


Gov. Perry joins leaders in cancer research and technology to champion cancer research initiative

At events in Houston and Dallas on Monday, February 22, Gov. Rick Perry joined leaders in cancer research and technology to champion a $3 billion research initiative focused on finding a cure for cancer. With the sale of the lottery, the state can dedicate $300 million annually toward research efforts. This funding will give stability to important scientific projects, while making Texas a national leader in cancer research.

“Steady funding is particularly important in research endeavors to ensure uninterrupted progression of scientists’ work,” Perry said. “This funding will unite today’s brightest minds in cancer research to work together with our universities and research institutions toward a common goal: curing cancer.”

Today, Texas is home to 400,000 cancer survivors. This year 95,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and 34,000 lose their battle with the disease. The resources made available through the cancer research initiative will be used to focus primarily on how cancer metastasizes and pharmaceutical development. Steady financial support also allows Texas to draw many esteemed researchers to the state to work together with universities and other research institutions.

In recent years, the lottery has yielded approximately $1 billion annually. However, this funding is an unstable source of revenue. Selling the lottery for a conservatively estimated $14 billion allows the state to invest in secure trust funds which would annually generate nearly $1.3 billion interest, $300 million more than yearly lottery returns. Gov. Perry proposes using the annual interest gained from the sale of the lottery to establish trust funds in perpetuity for cancer research efforts, public education, and a premium assistance program for the uninsured.

“How we finance cancer research is secondary to whether we do finance cancer research,” Perry said. “We have to reach for the stars today so we can promise a brighter future for the next generations of Texans.”


Sen. Cornyn lobbies Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff on issues important to border region

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Ranking Member of the Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee, hosted a meeting in Laredo on Wednesday, February 21, with Texas border mayors, county judges and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff to discuss issues important to the border region.

“It’s critical that local officials along the border continue to have input as we work to secure the border, ensure legitimate trade and travel and address the many issues facing the region,” Cornyn said. “This meeting provided Secretary Chertoff a first-hand look at the border and allowed him to hear the needs and concerns directly from the local community.”

The meeting comes as a follow-up to a recent one in Washington, D.C. co-hosted by Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that brought together Texas border mayors and community leaders with Secretary Chertoff.

Cornyn said he continues working to bolster border security and implement broader reforms of the immigration system.

“Our nation’s security is paramount, but we must also ensure that any security measures adopted are balanced with the goal of facilitating legitimate trade and travel, which is so important to Texas communities along the border,” Cornyn said. “As we move forward on these critical issues, I’ll continue working closely with border leaders to make sure their voices are heard.”

Another topic discussed at the meeting was Cornyn’s work to bring about parity in the admission periods for Canadian and Mexican nationals. He recently introduced The Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007, S. 422, which extends the initial period Mexican laser visa holders (who already cleared security checks) can remain in the U.S. from 30 days to six months.

“Laser visa holders are fully screened before being issued secure travel documents and are checked again at the border,” Cornyn said. “Many of them come here to do business and spend money, which boosts the economy in South Texas and contributes to job creation. So this bill maintains security, grows the economy and promotes fairness.”

Implementation of the US-VISIT program was also addressed.

Cornyn said we must ensure the program targets those who may be a threat to national security but also facilitates legitimate travel.

“DHS must continue working hard to ensure that it continually receives the input of the public and interested stakeholders, including officials along the Texas border, on any expansion efforts,” Cornyn said. “Southern border businesses and officials are concerned with the increased delays at border-crossing checkpoints and the impact of the delays on the local economy. We need to develop a quick and efficient process to identify those who may be a threat to national security while allowing legitimate, law-abiding travelers to enter and exit the U.S. in a timely manner.”

On a related note, Cornyn continues to fight against proposed funding cuts to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). Cornyn said reducing the critical funding will create unfunded mandates and cause border communities to pick up the tab for this law enforcement work.

“When the federal government fails to live up to its responsibilities on the border, states and counties shouldn’t—and in many cases can’t—pick up the tab,” Cornyn said. “They didn’t create this problem and local communities in Texas shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. As the budget and appropriations process moves forward this year, I will fight against funding cuts to this critical program.”

Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.


Texas Senate approves memorial resolution honoring life and times of Valley music icon Freddy Fender

The late Valley music recording star Baldemar Huerta of San Benito, better known as Freddy Fender, has been honored by the Texas Senate with a memorial resolution chronicling some of the highlights of the internationally-renowned musician.

The resolution was authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. It was unanimously approved by the Texas Senate on Monday, February 19.

The resolution’s text follows:


WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas commemorates the life of Freddy Fender, who died October 16, 2006, at the age of 69; and

WHEREAS, He was born Baldemar Huerta in 1937 in San Benito, where he was influenced by the Mexican-polka sound known as conjunto; the son of migrant workers, he worked alongside his

parents in the fields, and there picked up the melancholy sound of the blues in the songs of the black people he worked with; and

WHEREAS, While still just a boy, he was performing on radio and often won contests for his singing; he was proud of his Mexican-American heritage and sang popular tunes of the day in Spanish, including Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell,” which became big hits in Mexico and South America; and

WHEREAS, He took the name Freddy Fender after signing on with Imperial Records in 1959; the following year he recorded “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”; and

WHEREAS, In the 60s and early 70s, Freddy went through a time of adversity and disappointment, but he returned to prominence in 1974 with the hit, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”; in 1975, he

won best new artist award from the Academy of Country Music and a rerelease of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” topped the country music chart and landed in the top 10 on the pop music chart; and

WHEREAS, He appeared in movies and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999; he won a Grammy for the best Latin pop album in 2002 and shared two Grammy awards, one with the

Texas Tornados and one with Los Super Seven; and

WHEREAS, Freddy Fender was known for his unique sound and memorable music and he will long be remembered by his family and many fans; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 80th Legislature, hereby pay tribute to the life of Freddy Fender and extend sincere condolences to the members of his bereaved family; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution be prepared for 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 Freddy Fender.


Museum of South Texas History to offer Children’s class about Huastec culture on March 4

A new class about the Huastec culture in Mexico is being offered to children ages 6 through 12 at the Museum of South Texas History on Sunday, March 4.

There is no fee, other than general admission. Registration in advance is required by phoning 383-6911. Limited space is available. The class will hold 30 and meet two hours.

“The history of the Huastecos is a very complex and fascinating story,” said Melissa Tijerina, Programming Officer for the Museum of South Texas History. “The Huastec are an indigenous people of Mexico historically based in the states of Hidalgo, Vera Cruz, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas. The Huastec people call themselves ‘Teenek,’ also the name of their language, which means ‘those who live in the field.’ They were conquered by the Spanish between 1519 and 1530’s.

“The ancient Huastec culture is one of the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. According to archeological remains, they date back to about 10th Century B.C. The pre-Columbian Huastecs constructed temples, carved sculptures, made pottery and also were known for their musical abilities,” Tijerina added.

“Getting to Know the Huastecan Culture” will be presented by three teachers representing Language Success, a school where several languages are taught in McAllen.

Odette MacDonald, Maribel Nava and Araceli Rodríguez will present story-telling, water colors and pottery while explaining the vivid history of the Huastec Indians. The Huastecos are known for making beautiful pottery with intricate designs. The children who learn about them will learn to paint a sample of their designs.

The Sunday children’s program will teach them about many aspects of the ancient Huastec culture with hands-on activities.

The Museum of South Texas History is located in downtown Edinburg, where the entrance is one block north of the Hidalgo County Courthouse parking lot. Admission fees are $4 for adults, $3 for seniors 62 and over, $2.50 for students over 12 (with ID), and $1.50 for children 4 to 12. Children three and under are free.

Rep. Gonzáles back in the financial black


State Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has much to smile these days after finally paying off campaign loans that had helped finance her successful first run for elected office in the spring of 2004. The South Texas Democrat, featured her during a recent legislative session in McAllen at South Texas College, slowly but surely whittled away at $145,000 in campaign loans until she paid them off last fall. Her financial activities are detailed in her campaign finance report, released in mid-January, that covers the last six months of 2006. Details on her contributions and expenditures are provided later in this posting. Shown with her are from left: Jack Damonr, executive director of Region One Education Service Center in Edinburg; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Mario Reyna, Division Dean of Business, Science and Technology for STC and president of the Mission Chamber of Commerce.



Representatives from Amigos Del Valle, Incorporated, on Tuesday, February 13, were honored with a resolution in the Senate chamber by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for their work to improve the lives of seniors citizens in the Rio Grande Valley. Amigos Del Valle is a consortium of county and city governmental entities that provide nutrition, transportation and housing services to the senior citizens of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. “This agency assists and encourages senior citizens to live healthy, productive and self-sufficient lives,” said Lucio. “Their work is to be commended and supported.” Amigos Del Valle began offering services to seniors in 1975 with a budget of $375,000, and by 2005 the agency’s budget had increased to approximately $7 million. Thousands of senior citizens have used these services to maintain their health and to live their lives with dignity. The agency consists of an established network of employees and more than 500 volunteers, providing assistance through 32 senior centers, nine senior multifamily rental housing projects and a central kitchen facility. Organizations such as the National Council of La Raza, the Southwest Society on Aging and Hispanic Business Magazine have honored Amigos Del Valle for its outstanding services. Shown from left are: Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Hinojosa; Emilio Vera, Amigos Del Valle board vice president; former Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Fred Longoria, board member; José E. Garza, executive director; Luis González (King); Blanca Loya (Queen); Dewhurst; and Lucio.



Manuel Benavidez, Jr., featured center, a founding and current member of the South Texas College Board of Trustees, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his recent selection as the 2006 Western Region Trustee Leadership Award from the Association of Community Colleges. Benavidez, who represents Starr County on the STC Board of Trustees, is shown here during a separate event involving the community college system, which serves Starr and Hidalgo Counties. Shown in this photo with him are trustees Michael Allen and Irene García. The House resolution honoring Benavidez was authored by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City. The text of that resolution follows later in this posting.


Rep. Verónica Gonzáles pays off final $50,000 in campaign loans that once towered at $145K

With no opponents to worry about last year, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was able to raise enough money during the last six months of 2006 to finally pay off the final third of her campaign finance loans from a San Antonio bank that once found her $145,000 in debt.

Between July 1 and December 31, Gonzáles, whose House District 41 legislative district includes southwest Edinburg, the second-term lawmaker raised $78,560 in campaign contributions from scores of individuals and firms, which helped her pay off $49,999.90 in remaining campaign finance loans she originally drew in 2004 from Frost Bank in San Antonio.

Gonzáles used those loans, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional financial contributions from her many supporters, to defeat long-time incumbent Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen.

By not drawing any opponents last year – state representatives must run every two years –
Gonzáles was able to focus on raising money to get out of debt. Even after spending more than $63,000 during the last half of 2006 for political expenditures — much of that going to eliminate the bank loans balance – she wound up with more than a $25,000 surplus in her campaign account.

Her campaign finance reports are available online at:

Gonzáles’ campaign finance report, along with the campaign reports of all state lawmakers, cover the period between July 1 and December 31, 2006.

Her loans from the bank, which were also guaranteed by some of her law partners in her McAllen law office, peaked at $145,000 as of June 20, 2004, and she whittled away at that debt until she made a final $15,000 bank loan repayment on October 30.

On her campaign form, she listed her officeholder address as 605 Water Lilly in McAllen. Her campaign treasurer was identified as one of her law partners, Charles Wesley Kittleman, who listed his address at 301 Toucan in McAllen.

Gonzáles, who says she is a business attorney, is a partner in the firm of Kittleman, Thomas,

Gonzáles, LLP, located at 4900-B North 10th Street in McAllen. Recently, two attorneys linked with political office joined her 13-member firm: Ramón Rosales, Jr., the municipal judge with the City of Mission, and Tracy A. Spillman, former senior attorney to Justice Fred Hinojosa, formerly of the 13th Court of Appeals.

Whether she draws any opponents next year – she will be on the March Democratic Party primary ballot in March 2008 and would have to face any Republican in the November 2008 general election – remains to be seen.

But she and her supporters have demonstrated the willingness to dig deep into their pockets to win and hold on to the legislative seat, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in her successful rookie campaign against Gutiérrez in the 2004 Democratic Party primary and runoff.

Gonzáles campaign information

Like many well-financed candidates, Gonzáles is not without her share of generous/wealthy supporters, and she has effectively tapped into bankrolls of Austin-based lobbyists and political action committees which often represent the lion’s share of campaign finance contributions.

Her single largest contribution between July 1 and December 31 came from José González, Jr. of McAllen, an attorney with The Watts Law Firm, who gave her $5,000 on December 5.

The Watts Law Firm, a personal injury law firm based in Corpus Christi, is among the top political contributors to Democratic Party causes.

Other major contributors during the final six months of 2006 were:

•R.L. Glazer, chairman of the board of directors of Glazer’s Distributors of Dallas, gave her $3,000 on November 29;
•BG Distribution Partners of Houston, a beverage distributor, gave her $3,000 on November 29;
•Texas Association of Mortgage Attorneys PAC of Houston donated $2,500 on November 29;
•Farmers Employee and Agent PAC of Texas of Austin donated $2,500 on October 20;
•Advanced Orthopaedic Institute of McAllen on McAllen donated $2,500 on September 29;
•Eric Chin, owner of Dos Logistics of Weslaco donated $2,000 on December 5;
•Stanley and Linda Harper of Mansfield, cattle breeders with Harper Cattle Company, gave a total of $1,500 in $500 donations on July 24, August 6, and August 8; and
•Joe A. García of Austin, a lobbyist with The García Group who also represents the City of McAllen, gave a total of $1,500 with two donations – $1,000 on November 29 and $500 on July 24.

Twenty-one individuals or firms each gave her $1,000, one firm gave her $800, two individuals and two firms each donated $750, one individual donated $620, 33 individuals or firms each gave her $500, one individual donated $400, one individual gave her $350, and 30 individuals, firms, or couples each gave her between $100 and $250.

Her largest campaign expenditures were dominated by campaign finance loan repayment to Frost Bank. In addition to the $15,732.29 loan repayment on October 30, Gonzáles also made loan repayments to the bank of $15,000 on October 2, $10,000 on July 6, $5,000 on July 24, $3,062.85 on November 16, $2,000 on November 6, and $1,512.84 on July 13.

Other notable expenditures during the last half of 2006 included a $4,250 payment to Monte Cristo Golf and Country Club, Rt. 1, Box 985-D in Edinburg, for golf tournament fees relating to a campaign fundraiser on October 2, and a $1,000 payment to the House Democratic Caucus, P.O. Box 12453 in Austin, for the 2007 annual dues on December 13.


Four individuals, one couple, and 16 firms each donated $1,000 to Gonzáles:

•Valero PAC of San Antonio on December 7;
•Texas Automobile Dealers Association PAC of Austin on December 6;
•Texas Consumer Finance Association PAC of Austin donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (December 5 and July 24);
•Texas Dental Association PAC – DENPAC of Austin donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (November 6 and July 11);
•Alan and Patti Harper of Arlington, cattle breeders with Harper Cattle Company, donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (October 19 and July 24);
•Associated General Contractors of Texas – PAC of Austin on October 18;
•USA Logistics Carriers LLC of McAllen on October 9;
•Roerig Oliveira & Fisher of Brownsville, the law firm for which Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, is a partner, donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (October 2 and September 26);
•Texas Friends of Time Warner of Houston on September 30;
•Jeffrey Sern of Bellaire, an attorney with Stern Miller & Higdon, on September 29;
•Gilbert Enríquez, former Edinburg school board trustee, on September 28;
•Texas Medical Association PAC – TEXPAC of Austin on September 27;
•Maxxam Inc. Texas PAC of Houston on September 25;
•Burton McCumber & Cortéz LLP of Brownsville on September 14;
•Atlas & Hall, LLP of McAllen on September 13;
•Glen E. Roney of McAllen, chairman of the board of Texas State Bank, on September 7;
•International Bank of Commerce PAC STATE of McAllen on September 6;
•Joseph F. Phillip of Mission, an investor, on August 16;
•HILLCO PAC of Austin on July 24; and
•AT&T Texas PAC of Austin on July 5.

One firm, the Texas Optometric PAC of Austin, on November 6 donated $800 to Gonzáles.

Two individuals and two firms each donated $750 to Gonzáles:

•Greg LaMantia of McAllen, a beer distributor with L&F Distributors LTD, on October 30;
•Carlos C. Guerra of Linn gave her a leather hanging travel bank valued at $750 on October 7;
•Texas Association of Defense Counsel PAC of Austin on October 4; and
•Texas Apartment Association PAC of Austin on September 26.

One individual, José Guerra of Linn, a realtor with El Sendero Properties, on September 30 donated $620 to Gonzáles.

Three individuals, two couples, and 28 firms each donated $500 to Gonzáles:

•ACC Capital Holdings – PAC of Austin on December 9;
•Texas Gas Service PAC of Austin on December 9;
•Abbott Laboratories Employee PAC of Abbot Park, Illinois on December 8;
•Robert De Los Santos, a project manager/developer of New Braunfels, on December 8;
•Association of Texas Professional Educators PAC of Austin on December 8;
•La Joya Federation of Teachers of McAllen on December 7;
•HSBC North American PAC of Prospect Heights, Illinois, on December 6;
•Robert and Gordon Johnson of Austin, attorneys with Johnson & Johnson, on December 6;
•Target Texas of Austin on December 6;
•Ron Lewis and Associates of Austin on December 5;
•Professionals Political Action Committee of Omaha, Nebraska, on November 29;
•Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Raba-Kistner PAC of San Antonio on November 29;
•HCA Good Government Fund of Austin on October 26;
•Wells Fargo Bank Texas State PAC of San Antonio on October 23;
•James & Kathy Collins of McAllen, a broker/real estate developer with Rioco Corporation, on October 20;
•Halff Associates State PAC of Dallas on October 20;
•Texas State Teachers Association PAC of Austin on October 20;
•Independent Bankers Association of Texas PAC of Austin on October 17;
•John King of McAllen, an attorney, on October 13;
•Carrigan McCloskey & Roberson LLP of Houston on October 12;
•Texas Bankers Association BANKPAC of Austin on October 10;
•Sen. Eddie Lucio Campaign Candidate Office Holder Account of Brownsville on September 30;
•Salinas and Sahadi LLP of McAllen on September 29;
•R.I. Pecina of Mission, a broker/owner of The Pecina Real Estate Group, on September 29;
•Strong Structural Steel LTD of McAllen on September 29;
•Glen and Pat Jarvis of McAllen, with the Law Offices of Glen Jarvis, on September 28;
•Jason Eberlie, president of Eberlie Materials, Inc. of Donna on September 28;
•Law Office of Jacques Treviñõ of Edinburg on September 28;
•Law Offices of García, Quintanilla and Palacios of McAllen on September 27;
•Lewis, Monroe & Peña of Edinburg on September 27;
•González, Gaytan, Garza & Castillo, LLP of McAllen on September 27;
•Wilette & Guerra LLP of McAllen on September 27;
•Robert Elizalde, an agent for State Farm Insurance, of McAllen on September 26;
•David Alaniz, president of Southern Mechanical Air Conditioning of McAllen, on September 20;
•Alejos Sánchez of Edinburg, a contractor, on September 20;
•Arthur Benjamin, president of ATI Enterprises of Dallas, on September 18;
•Mark Wright of McAllen on September 14;
•Robert F. Boggus of McAllen on September 12;
•Keith Patridge of Mission, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, on September 8;
•Michael Toomey of Austin on July 23;
•The Texas Lobby Group LLP of Austin on July 23; and
•Russell Kelley of Austin, a lobbyist, on July 11;

One individual, Mario Martínez of Austin, on September 29, donated $400 to Gonzáles on September 29.

One firm, Trinity Industries Employee PAC of Dallas, on July 24 donated $350 to Gonzáles.

Four firms each donated $300 to Gonzáles:

•Cantey Hanger – PAC of Austin on November 7;
•Andy Brown for State Representative of Austin on November 1;
•Texas Credit Union League PAC of Dallas on August 16; and
•Fullbright & Jaworski LLP Texas Committee on Austin on July 24;

Seven individuals and 12 firms each donated $250 to Gonzáles:

•Chris Bell Campaign of Houston on December 9;
•Lloyd Gosselink Blevins Rochelle & Townsend, PC of Austin on December 9;
•Independent Insurance Agents of Texas PAC of Austin on December 8;
•Verizon Good Government Club of Austin on December 7;
•Caballero Governmental Affairs of Austin on November 29;
•Ch2M Hill Texas PAC of Dallas on November 29;
•Don Durden of Comfort on November 29;
•Hughes and Luce, LLP of Austin on November 29;
•TCB PAC of Houston on November 29;
•Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Neal F. Runnels of McAllen on September 26;
•Merck PAC of Washington, D.C. on September 28;
•Bickerstaff Heath Pollan and Caroom LLP of Austin on September 21;
•Edward Thomas of Austin on September 21;
•Robert Galligan of Mission on September 15;
•Judy Bruce of Manchaca on July 24;
•Bill Pewitt of Austin on July 24;
•Dan Shelley of Austin on July 24; and
•Texas Hospital Association PAC of Austin on July 21.

One individual and one firm each donated $200 to Gonzáles:

•Robert Ramírez of McAllen on December 6; and
•Homepac of Texas of Austin on July 24.

One individual, Rosalie Weisfeld of McAllen, on July 7, donated $180 to Gonzáles.

One couple, two individuals and one firm each donated $150 to Gonzáles:

•Mario Muñoz of Austin on November 29;
•Once Call Concepts PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Bill Summers of Weslaco on November 16;
•Mr. and Mrs. Adolfo Martínez of Mission on July 26;

One individual, Michael Ramey of Pharr, on September 30, donated $120 to Gonzáles.

One couple, two individuals, and four firms each donated $100 to Gonzáles.

•McAllen Federation of Teachers on December 7;
•Friends of Clint Hackney and Company PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Clint Hackney of Austin on November 29;
•Fred L. Kurth of Mission, president of Melden & Hunt, Inc., on September 30;
•Richard and Elizabeth Cantú of Palmhurst on September 27;
•Texas Chiropractic Association PAC of Austin on September 12; and
•Security 1st Federal Credit Union of McAllen on August 16;


•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on October 30.

•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on October 2.

•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on July 6.

•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on July 24.

•Monte Cristo Golf and Country Club, Rt. 1, Box 985-D in Edinburg, for golf tournament fees relating to a campaign fundraiser on October 2.

•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on November 16.

•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on November 6.

•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on July 13.

•House Democratic Caucus, P.O. Box 12453 in Austin, for the 2007 annual dues on December 13.

•Jones & Cook Stationers, 5001 N. McColl Road in McAllen, for stationary on September 27.

•HEB, 901 Trenton Road in McAllen, for turkeys donation reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on November 21.

•Palmer Drug Abuse Program, 115 North 9th Street in McAllen, for a donation on August 4.

•CopyZone, 4131 North 10th Street in McAllen, for brochure printing reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra, on August 17.

•Peak Performance, P.O. Box 427 in McAllen, for a benefit marathon sponsorship on November 2.

•Esperanza Chapa, P.O. Box 6792 in McAllen, for Chrismas Card design and print on December 7.

•McAllen Evening Lions Club, 205 N. 15th Street in McAllen, for a donation on August 3.

•Texas Department of Criminal Justice Manufacturing and Logistics, P.O. Box 4013 in Huntsville, for a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra for a constitutional chair on August 3.

•Creative Academic Achievement Pro-Success Learning Center, 205 North 15th, McAllen, for a donation on November 21.

•Muscular Dystrophy Association, 222 E. Van Buren in Harlingen, for a donation on August 14.

•Sam’s Club, 1400 E. Jackson Avenue in McAllen, for a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra for bottled water for a marathon sponsorship on November 28.

•Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Blvd in Austin, for gift baskets on July 28.

•Hobby Lobby, 7600 N. 10th Street in McAllen, for a framing reimbursement to Edna Dougherty on July 1.

•Hewlett-White, 212 North Main Street in McAllen, for a floral arrangement for a constituent on July 14.

$100 each
•Digital Graphics Concepts, P.O. Box 6792 in McAllen, for brochure design on August 15; and
Edinburg All-Stars Pinto Division, P.O. Box 3454 in Edinburg, for a donation of July 14.

•Kittleman Thomas & Gonzáles LLP, 4900 N. 10th Street, Suite B, in McAllen for telephone/copy/fax expenses on September 11.

•Kittleman Thomas & Gonzáles LLP, 4900 N. 10th Street, Suite B, in McAllen for telephone/copy/fax expenses on October 6.

•Quips ‘n’ Quotes Post Office, 5011 North 10th in McAllen, as a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on December 12.

•Quips ‘n’ Quotes Post Office, 5011 North 10th in McAllen, as a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on December 13.

•CopyZone, 4131 North 10th Street in McAllen, for presentation reimbursement to Ricardo Lopez-Guerra on October 19.

•Kittleman Thomas & Gonzáles LLP, 4900 N. 10th Street, Suite B, in McAllen for telephone/copy/fax expenses on December 5.

•Quips ‘n’ Quotes Post Office, 5011 North 10th in McAllen, as a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on December 12.

•HEB, 901 Trenton Road in McAllen, for a turkey donation reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on November 22.

[email protected]


Sen. Hinojosa files bill to allow greater access to state government documents

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Friday, February 16, filed Senate Bill 446 to implement an Open Document Format for all government documents in Texas to insure that documents in Texas are free and accessible to every Texan.

SB 446 levels the playing field for multiple software providers and saves money for Texans since they will not have to buy specific software to access government documents.

Hinojosa said his bill will ensure that public documents are accessible to everyone in the future, and that Texas can manage its government documents in the most cost affordable way.

“As a representative of the people of Texas, I want to insure that our historical documents and our future government documents are always accessible to the people they belong too,” Hinojosa said. “Senate bill 446 allows our documents to be presented in an open format. Most Texans don’t realize that the fine print in corporate licensing agreements is creating a legal barrier that could deny access for future generations down the road.”

Jake Knoblach, founder of Uptime Computing, based in Austin, said that he was pleased to hear that Texas will be among the first states to begin using an open document format.

“Texans can be proud today knowing that Sen. Hinojosa understands that our government cannot be truly open when the people’s documents are kept in closed digital formats,” Knoblach said.

Open Document Format (ODF) is available for free and compatible with several different software packages. Massachusetts has already adopted Open Document Format for all of its government documents.


Rep. Peña files bill seeking $5 million in state funding for UT RAHC in Edinburg

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has filed legislation which proposes to secure $5 million in state funding for the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center at Edinburg. Peña filed House Bill 1375, which would appropriate the funds beginning in September 2007.

“We have a first-class research facility next the campus of the University of Texas Pan American,” said Peña. “These $5 million will help recruit and staff the RAHC with first-class scientists to match.”

Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, President of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, lauded Peña’s efforts.

“The $5 million dollars is essential for the overall growth of the Regional Academic Health Center and the economic impact to the Rio Grande Valley and our great State of Texas.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio administers the RAHC’s medical education division in Harlingen and the medical research division in Edinburg. UTPA serves as a partner in providing faculty, administrative and research support for Edinburg’s facility. Research areas may include diabetes, emerging infectious diseases, aging, environmental health, mental health and health services.

“The RAHC not only serves as a medical research facility but it can spur economic development in our community,” said Peña. ‘”The influx of scientists, researchers and technology can have the effect of creating businesses to support their projects.”

The text of House Bill 1375 follows:



relating to making an appropriation to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for the purpose of supporting the Regional Academic Health Center.


SECTION 1. In addition to other amounts appropriated for the state fiscal biennium beginning September 1, 2007, the amount of $5 million is appropriated for that biennium out of the general
revenue fund to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for the purpose of supporting the Regional Academic Health Center established under Section 74.611, Education Code.

SECTION 2. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect on the 91st day after the last day of the legislative session.

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


Texas Daily Newspaper Association opposes public information restrictions proposed by some Valley lawmakers

The Texas Daily Newspaper Association, a membership service organization representing newspaper publishers and editors of Texas daily newspapers, is tracking state legislation that affects the media and the public. Included in the list of legislation it is tracking are several measures by Valley lawmakers.

Those bills, and the TDNA’s position on those measures as of February 19, follows:

•Senate Bill 74 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville
The Texas Press Association OPPOSES SB 74.

Relating to the creation of an address confidentiality program to assist victims of family violence, sexual assault, or stalking in maintaining confidential addresses.

Type: public information

Status: referred to State Affairs, 1/23

Comments: [SAME AS HB 569 by Verónica Gonzáles.] Would amend Code of Criminal Procedure chapter 56, so that victims could participate in an address confidentiality program. Requires attorney general to destroy all information relating to a participant on the third anniversary of the date of participation in the program.

•House Bill 569 by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen
The Texas Daily Newspaper Association OPPOSES HB 569

Relating to the creation of an address confidentiality program to assist victims of family violence, sexual assault, or stalking in maintaining confidential addresses.

Type: public information

Status: referred to Juvenile Justice, 2/6/07

Comments: [SAME AS SB 74 by Lucio.] Would amend Code of Criminal Procedure by adding Subchapter C titled ADDRESS CONFIDENTIALITY PROGRAM FOR VICTIMS OF FAMILY VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT, OR STALKING. This simply may be conforming language: substantial protections already in statute, under Public Information Act 552.138 titled FAMILY VIOLENCE SHELTER CENTER and SEXUAL ASSAULT PROGRAM INFORMATION.

•House Bill 597 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City

The Texas Daily Newspaper Association OPPOSES HB 597.

Relating to the creation of an address confidentiality program to assist victims of family violence or stalking in maintaining confidential addresses.

Type: public information

Status: referred to Juvenile Justice, 2/6/07

Comments: Would amend Code of Criminal Procedure by adding Subchapter C titled ADDRESS CONFIDENTIALITY PROGRAM FOR VICTIMS OF FAMILY VIOLENCE OR STALKING. This simply may be conforming language: substantial protections already in statute, under Public Information Act 552.138 titled FAMILY VIOLENCE SHELTER CENTER and SEXUAL ASSAULT PROGRAM INFORMATION. See similar bills, HB 172 by Raymond and HB 569 by Gonzáles.

•House Bill 1042 by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg

The Texas Daily Newspaper Association OPPOSES HB 1042..

Relating to excepting certain crime victim information from required disclosure under the public information law.

Type: public information

Status: referred to Criminal Jurisprudence, 2/12/07

Comments: [SAME AS SB 636 by Hegar.] Would amend Public Information Act, Section 552.132, Government Code, titled EXCEPTION: CONFIDENTIALITY OF CRIME VICTIM INFORMATION. Adds “claimant” to the exception.


TV news icon Dan Rather addresses students and public at the University of Texas-Pan American

Distinguished TV journalist Dan Rather described himself as lifetime reporter not only from Texas but “of Texas” to a packed house at The University of Texas-Pan American Fine Arts Auditorium on Tuesday, February 13.

Rather addressed students, faculty and community members as the third speaker in this academic year’s Distinguished Speakers Series.

Still looking fit and strong of voice at age 75, Rather reflected on his beginnings in a business where he called himself lucky and how journalism had changed over the years from his start at a small radio station in Huntsville, Texas while going to college at then Sam Houston State Teacher’s College.

My goal early on was to become a world-class reporter with quality, integrity and trustworthiness,” said Rather, who only 48 hours earlier had been in Kabul, Afghanistan preparing a story for his current weekly news show “Dan Rather Reports” on the new cable channel HDNet. Rather left CBS in 2005 after more than 40 years with the network.

“I am humbled that I have been so blessed and lucky to be in journalism for as long as I have and that I have been able to live my dream,” said Rather, who has won numerous accolades for his work including Emmy and Peabody awards.

Rather, who first went to Afghanistan in 1980 during the Soviet invasion of the country, told local reporters at a press conference that there are great differences between Iraq and Afghanistan and predicted that 2007 would be a particularly bloody and expensive year for Afghanistan.

“In the long sweep of history, what happens in Afghanistan may be even more important to U.S. national security and peace and stability in the world than what happens in Iraq,” he said.

Another situation, Rather said, that is especially threatening to U.S. national security is the increasing influence of the drug cartels in northern Mexico, calling it an underreported important story.

“There is a tendency to say ‘it’s Mexico, it’s down there.’ But, what happens in Mexico affects everyone in the United States,” he said.

To a question about his use over the years of colorful, often folksy analogies and descriptions during live broadcasts, that have come to be called “Ratherisms,” Rather said they stemmed from growing up in Texas around people who talked that way.

“My father worked with his back and his hands all his life in the oil fields. It made the day go easier if you didn’t describe things the same old way every time. For example, you can say ‘the boss is mad’ but it gives everyone a little smile if you say ‘the boss is as mad as a rained-on rooster,’” the Wharton, Texas native said.

The Distinguished Speaker Series is funded by student fees with the goal of bringing prestigious speakers offering different world view perspectives to help educate and inspire students. During a private dinner with a group of student leaders and University administrators, Rather was able to share a bit of his story on how he became a journalist and where the future of media is headed before fielding questions.

Rather discussed with students the role of journalism in politics. He said journalists are a part of the “system of checks and balances” for the country as well as its watchdog.

“What does a good watchdog do? A good watchdog barks at everything that is suspicious … A watchdog is not an attack dog,” he said. “Despite what some people will have you believe, this is my opinion, the greater danger is not that the press in its watchdog role will become an attack dog, the greater threat is that it will become a lapdog.”

He also touched on how the Internet has changed the way the public gets its news. While Rather said he was bullish on use of the Internet in news reporting, he worries about its lack of accountability and said as the world dives deeper into the Internet era, a new definition for “news” will have to be identified.

“We need to redefine who is and who isn’t a journalist, and what is a journalist,” he said. “I will come straight out at you and be candid and I would prefer that this not nail me as yesterday’s man, but about this I am a little old fashioned. Not everybody who has some information and puts it out is a journalist or at least in my opinion is worthy of the name journalist.”

Before his remarks and a question and answer session at his public presentation to an audience of more than 700, Rather asked for a moment of silence to honor the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather, who has covered combat at the front lines from Vietnam to Iraq, several times choked back emotion when talking about covering American troops and his other significant life experiences.

Rather said his career started in an institution very much like UTPA where a lot of students were the first in their families to attend college. His parents, he said, never got an education beyond the ninth grade but recalled that his father was an avid reader of newspapers, calling them a “poor man’s University” and instilled in Rather the idea that news was important. That coupled with growing up hearing world-renown journalist Edward R. Murrow’s “This is London” reports during the London blitz in World War II cemented his goal to be a great reporter.

“Radio became my best friend. His (Murrow’s) reports were not only known for their news value but also for their immediacy, for the way they took the listener right into the heart of what was happening,” said Rather, noting Murrow’s coverage helped changed the course of history and showed Rather the power of great journalism.

“The news is the raw material of democracy. It is the best and sometimes only way for citizens to assess whether our elected leaders, our laws and our policies are serving our interests or not,” he said.

Rather expressed concern about the greater concentration of ownership of news outlets in fewer hands, many by conglomerates where news is not their primary business and where an important news story might conflict with the interest of one of their other businesses and be suppressed or with reporters being told how to write the news.

“News of integrity often begins and ends with news owners who have guts,” he said.

Rather ended his talk by giving the audience the best definition of news that he has found and encouraging continued interest by people, especially young people in current events and public life.

“News is something that you the public needs; it is something that is important for the public to know which someone, somewhere, most often a powerful person doesn’t want you to know. That’s news, all the rest is advertising,” he said. “Consider your news sources with care. Demand accuracy and truth from your news and from your elected leaders. Don’t be afraid, as too many of us journalists have become, of asking the tough questions. In a democracy, questioning authority is the purest form of patriotism.”

For Elvis Cavazos, a senior majoring in chemistry, meeting Rather at the dinner was very exciting and something he will always remember. He said he was amazed at how someone of Rather’s stature was so down to earth and approachable.

“I really enjoyed the fact that he is from Texas and that he has not lost any of that Texan mentality and I really enjoyed learning that after traveling the world he still identifies himself as a Texan rather than a citizen of the world or a member of the global community,” Cavazos said.

The Weslaco native said he appreciated hearing Rather’s own personal stories and his views on journalism and the direction the country is heading.

“I guess the main lesson I learned was to do the things you want to do and to not let anyone, no matter their position or your position, affect your decision in life,” Cavazos said.


Edinburg school board moves to make campus safety a priority, hires 18 more officers for elementary schools

In keeping with its commitment to make school safety a high priority, the Edinburg school board in December approved the funding for 18 new Police Security Officers (PSOs) to serve the district’s elementary schools who have not had the presence of security on their campuses, announced Gilberto Garza, Jr. interim superintendent of schools.

After a recent successful job fair at the Central Administration building specifically to fill new security officer positions, the Edinburg school district hired 18 new PSOs from among 100 plus applicants, said Garza.

The school board voted to amend the budget by $256,626 to hire the PSOs effective January 4 through the remainder of the 2006-2007 school year. The budget amendment covered costs for officer salaries for 97 days; costs for employee uniforms and equipment; and costs for employee benefits. The costs for the PSOs for the 2007-2008 school year will be included in the new budget when it is prepared.

“The board of trustees and the school district are completely and totally committed to making school safety a high priority,” said Garza. “We want to make every effort possible to ensure that our students, faculty, staff and parent volunteers who attend school and/or work at our 35 campuses are safe and secure each and every day.”

The addition of 18 officers brings the number of PSOs the district has to 40. B Because PSOs are not certified police officers, they are not licensed to carry firearms, but they do provide a police presence nevertheless. The district also has 50 commissioned police officers who are armed.

Garza said that each of the middle schools have three police officers; three PSOs; and a truancy officer to help the principal and staff maintain order and provide security. Each of the high schools has three police officers; four PSOs; a truancy officer; and a camera monitor for the security cameras, said Garza.

Garza said the Edinburg CISD is also implementing other efforts to address campus safety. He said every school campus has its own Emergency Operations, a plan that custom fits their school and its needs.

Additionally, Garza said there are school guidance activities; enforcement of the Student Code of Conduct; Crisis Management training and procedures; mutual aid partnerships with local, county and state law enforcement agencies; safety and security drills; campus visitor check-in procedures; and Lockdown and Intruder procedures that are some of the everyday Standard Operating Procedures the district is using to address school safety.

“Our lockdown procedures are initiated whenever it is determined by our campus principals there is an immediate and/or potential threat to our students and campus staff,” said Garza. “The purpose of the lockdown is to protect students and staff by keeping them inside of building and separating them from any and all imminent danger by locking doors and avoiding window areas, closing curtains and turning off lights.”

“During a lockdown, no one is allowed to enter or exit a building until the all-clear signal is given,” said Garza. “Our campus staff and students are familiar with the lockdown process.”

Visitors to school campuses are asked to sign in and show identity if they are seeking to check out students, Garza said.

“Our procedures call for students to only be released to individuals who have been authorized to pick up or check out students,” said Garza. “If an issue were ever to arise, rest assured that the campus principal, staff, central administration and school district police will mobilize to address the issue and bring about as quick and immediate a resolution as possible.”


Bill to set up video lottery terminals is filed by Rep. Flores

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, on Tuesday, February 13, filed legislation that will bring video lottery terminals (VLTs) to Texas, helping to keep gaming dollars in the state and provide more than $1.2 billion in new annual revenue.

HB 1405 would also help save the Texas horseracing industry, which is struggling to compete with tracks in neighboring states that offer alternative forms of gaming, including VLTs.

“When it comes to spending gaming dollars, it’s clear that a vast majority of Texans would rather spend it inside state lines,” said Flores. “Authorizing VLTs at locations where gaming is already conducted, such as racetracks, will level the playing field with neighboring states, bring significant new revenue, and promote economic activity around racing and agribusiness.”

Under HB 1405, VLTs – electronically stimulated games of chance displayed on video terminals – connected to a state-selected and state-controlled video lottery central system are to be placed at locations determined in accordance with the law.

According to the bill, only state-controlled video lottery games would be authorized to be conducted in Texas and only in locations licensed as video lottery terminal establishments, including racetracks and locations on Native American lands. Ultimately, voters would have to approve authorizing VLTs in Texas if the constitutional amendment passes both chambers.

HB 1405 will also help the agribusiness sector, which would benefit from increased sales of feed and equipment such as travel trailers. The Texas Department of Agriculture states that the overall Texas horse industry represents more than $16 billion in total expenditures. Of that amount, more than 33 percent can be attributed to racing and related production. The Texas racing industry is currently struggling to compete with neighboring states, which offer legalized alternative forms of gaming at their racetracks, and thus higher purses. Many horse breeders and related businesses are leaving the state due to low purses.

“Each year, billions of dollars leave Texas for neighboring states that have VLTs, which, among other things, is hampering our racing and agriculture industries,” said Flores. “This bill will help save the horseracing and related industries in Texas and stop the export of a homegrown state resource.”

During the 79th Legislature, the Perryman Group, an economic analyst firm, reported that VLTs operating tracks in Texas would provide almost $1.5 billion in yearly state revenue and would create 72,000 jobs. Much of the revenue would come from the reported $2.8 billion that leaves Texas every year when citizens go across state lines for gaming.

Under Flores’ bill, the state would receive 35 percent of the net terminal income for each video lottery terminal. The retailer or manager would retain 65 percent. The state share would be deposited in the State Video Lottery Account, which is a special account in the general revenue fund.

Flores serves as Chairman of the Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures and represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the Cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.


Hidalgo County delegation courts legislators

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas and several officials were in Austin on Friday, February 14, to visit state legislators at the Texas Capital in hopes of winning more state funding for their constituents.

“We send letters and make phone calls, so we’re in constant contact with our state representatives and senators,” Salinas said. “And we know they’re fighting hard for Hidalgo County.

“But there’s nothing like showing up on the House floor or the Senate floor and having the rest of the state take a look at us and making the connection to our needs here,” Salinas added. “We want more attention from the state for South Texas—and not just for immigration concerns, either. The state needs to help us with health care, roads and infrastructure.”

The delegation’s scheduled included resolutions in honor of Hidalgo County’s history and achievements which were read on the House and Senate floors, where Salinas met Speaker of the House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.


Hidalgo County honored by state lawmakers during Hidalgo County Day at Capitol

House Resolution 386, filed on February 14. recognized the history and achievements of Hidalgo County, one of the largest metropolitan regions of the state.

The legislation was jointly authored by Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

The test of the resolution follows:


WHEREAS, Citizens of Hidalgo County are gathering at the State Capitol to celebrate Hidalgo County Day on February 14, 2007; and

WHEREAS, Inhabited by humans for 11,000 years, this region of the Rio Grande delta has been the home of the Coahuiltecans, the Karankawa, the Lipan Apaches, and the Comanche; and

WHEREAS, The first Spanish visitors arrived in the 17th century; in 1749 Jose de Escandon established four towns along the Rio Grande; 19 land grants were issued in the area by the governments of Spain and Mexico, leading to the creation of many successful cattle and sheep ranches; and

WHEREAS, After the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the region became part of the United States and a popular way station for prospectors traveling to the California Gold Rush;
established in 1852, Hidalgo County was named for Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, an advocate for Mexican independence; in the early 20th century, the town of Chapin was renamed Edinburg and made county seat; and

WHEREAS, The arrival of the railway in 1904 helped introduce large-scale farming in the county, particularly of citrus, cotton, corn, and sugarcane; with the establishment in 1924 of a regional
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Weslaco, the towns along Highway 83 began to thrive and came to be described as “the longest main street in the world”; and

WHEREAS, While farming and ranching remain important to the county, the discovery of oil in 1934 increased the region’s prosperity; today the county is a major port of entry into the United States, and the shipment of goods from Mexico is an essential part of the county’s economy; and

WHEREAS, The educational needs of the county’s citizens are well served by The University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg and South Texas College in McAllen; the county also boasts the Museum for South Texas History, which explores the history and blended cultural heritage of South Texas, and the International Museum of Art and Science, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution; the Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorale performs a six-concert subscription season every year, as well as eight educational concerts; and

WHEREAS, Residents and visitors alike enjoy the many attractions of Hidalgo County; the Texas Citrus Fiesta in Mission every winter features a carnival and the Parade of Oranges; in Weslaco the Rio Grande Valley Onion Festival in April includes food booths, entertainment, and onion recipe contests; the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show in Mercedes draws an average attendance of
160,000 every March; with nearly 400 species of birds, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo is an international destination for birders; and

WHEREAS, Led by County Judge J. D. Salinas and County Commissioners Sylvia S. Handy, Hector “Tito” Palacios, Joe M. Flores, and Óscar L. Garza, Jr., the residents of this dynamic region of the Lone Star State have much to be proud of, as they celebrate the past and work to build a bright and prosperous future; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby recognize February 14, 2007, as Hidalgo County Day at the State Capitol and extend to the visiting delegation
sincere best wishes for an informative and enjoyable visit to Austin.

“Jessica’s Law” set for public hearing on Tuesday, February 20, before House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence

The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence announced on Wednesday, February14, that t it would consider House Bill 8, also known as Jessica’s Law, in a public hearing on Tuesday, February 20.

The bill’s author, Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, said the legislation will make Texas a leader in the fight against sex offenders.

“In Texas, we have always set the mark for other states when it comes to the way we deal with our most evil and violent criminals,” Riddle said. “There is nothing more evil than a person who would sexually assault a child, and there is no higher priority for this legislature than making sure our children are safe from these predators.”

Jessica Lunsford was only 9 years old in February of 2005 when she was abducted from her bedroom in Florida by convicted sex offender, John Couey. He took her to his house and sexually assaulted her for three days before burying her alive in his backyard.

The Florida legislature was the first to pass “Jessica’s Law” that same year, and since then the title has been shared by dozens of pieces of legislation in more than 20 states that aim to increase penalties for sex offenders.

Riddle said HB 8 would deny parole to those convicted of sexually assaulting victims younger than 14 years old on a first offense, and would make repeat offenders eligible for the death penalty on a second offense. The bill also lengthens by ten years the statute of limitations for sexual assault of a child, and mandates GPS monitoring of civilly committed offenders.

The committee will meet at 2:00 p.m. in room E2.016.

Riddle is a member of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, serving as chairman of budget and oversight for that panel on the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, and as such, determines what legislation is heard by that committee.

The committee hearing agenda follows:

HB 62

Relating to the proximity of the residences of certain sex offenders or sexually violent predators to schools; imposing a criminal penalty.

HB 63

Relating to the proximity of a school bus stop to the residence of a sex offender.

HB 165

Relating to certain requirements imposed on a sex offender who enters the premises of a public park.

HB 8

Riddle / et al.
Relating to the prosecution, punishment, and supervision of certain sex offenders and to certain crimes involving sex offenders.

HB 148

Relating to the eligibility of certain repeat sex offenders for release on parole.

HB 1042

Relating to excepting certain crime victim information from required disclosure under the public information law.


Speaker Craddick appoints Rep. Guillen to serve on Border Legislative Conference

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, on Friday, February 16, was appointed by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to represent the Texas House of Representatives on the Border Legislative Conference (BLC).

“I’m pleased to name Ryan to the BLC,” Craddick said. “His motivation and dedication will greatly benefit the conference.”

The Border Legislative Conference is a binational program that brings together legislators from the ten U.S. and Mexico border states to address challenges and economic opportunities common to both countries. The BLC serves as a mechanism for sustained dialogue and collaboration among its members. Its goal is to strengthen legislative institutions and empower state legislators to develop effective public policy for the border region.

“I am honored by my appointment,” Guillen said. “I hope to make a contribution to the BLC with my ideas and hard work as we focus on the most effective ways to improve the quality of life on both sides of the US-Mexico border.”

Guillen was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2002 and is currently serving his third term. He is vice chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and also serves on the Calendars and Natural Resources Committees.


Rep. Peña votes for measure that would reduce school property taxes for elderly, disabled home owners

The House Committee on Ways and Means on Wednesday, February 14, unanimously voted in favor of legislation that will cut school property taxes for the elderly and disabled.

State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is a member of the tax writing committee. He is also a coauthor of the tax proposal carried in House Bill 5 and House Joint Resolution 1.

“This is a significant step towards cutting property taxes for our senior and disabled Texans,” said Peña. “There is no reason why these valued citizens should not enjoy the full tax relief granted to other Texans. This is a wonderful example of another bipartisan effort to bring meaningful relief to our community. I am happy to have had a part in this worthwhile effort.”

Property tax cuts passed in the last legislative session exempted those homeowners who qualify for a school property tax rate freeze.

HB 5 would provide a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of property taxes that school districts may impose, reflecting any reduction in the rate of those taxes. HJR 1 requires that the proposed constitutional amendment be put to the voters of the state of Texas.

The Wednesday, February 14 vote occurred during the first meeting this session of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Peña said he was eager to work on and pass legislation that would reduce the tax burden on those members of our community who could least afford it.

“We have a duty to provide a fair and equitable tax system,” said Peña. “I will keep working to ensure that tax relief goes to those who need it the most.”

According to the bill analysis of the measure, whose principal author is Rep. Leo Burman, R-Tyler, House Bill 5 was prompted by the following events:

During the 79th Legislative, 3rd Called Session, legislation was passed to provide homeowners with a reduction in their ad valorem taxes. Under Section 1-b (d), Article VIII, of the Texas Constitution, homeowners who are 65 years of age or older, or homeowners who have a disability, are eligible to receive a ceiling on the amount of school property taxes they will owe on their homestead based on the amount they owed the year they qualified for the freeze. Therefore, in order for elderly and disabled Texans to receive a proportional reduction in ad valorem taxes, there must be an allowance for such a reduction in the Texas Constitution and a statutory change in law.

HB 5 would provide a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that school districts may impose on residence homesteads of the elderly or disabled to reflect any reduction in the school districts tax rate and would provide protection to a school district that would lose any local revenue.


Sen. Lucio votes for lifting spending cap and extending school property tax cuts to seniors

In order to pay for the local property tax cut passed last session, the Texas Senate voted on Wednesday, February 14, voted to approve a measure that would allow the state budget to exceed the spending cap for the upcoming biennium.

According to the state constitution, the budget may not exceed estimated economic growth in Texas, as determined by the Legislative Budget Board. This year the LBB determined that growth was anticipated at 13.11 percent, which caps the budget at $63 billion in non-dedicated state funds. Cutting property taxes down to $1 per $100 valuation will require $14 billion in general revenue funds to offset the revenue loss to local school districts, but that expenditure would put the state over the budget cap.

On Wednesday, Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 20 before the Senate, which would permit lawmakers to write a budget that would exceed the spending cap, permitting an appropriation of $14.19 billion devoted solely to cutting property taxes by one-third.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, said he voted for Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 20 because he said it would guarantee property tax relief “as we promised during the last special legislative session and to move the budgetary process forward.

“Without this vote our hands would have been tied and I would not have been able to work on a budget that I hope will restore funding to the Children’s Health Insurance Program or other vital state services,” Lucia said. “However, my primary reason for giving my approval to lifting the budget cap was for our school children. Nothing is more important to me than our children and funding our public schools adequately.”

Ogden said this resolution would allow the Legislature to deliver on last session’s promised cuts without drastically slashing government services.

“If we are going to live up to our promises, which is to cut property taxes by $14 billion and pay for it with general revenue, and we are going to write a state budget that is at least as good as the base bill, we have got to vote to exceed the constitutional spending cap of $63 billion by at least $9 billion,” Ogden said.

Also Wednesday, the Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 13, by Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco. This measure would pass along the one-third property tax cut to Texans over 65, whose property taxes were frozen at a lower rate by past Legislatures.
Lucio said he also supported that measure.

“I was also glad to support SJR 13 that will extend property tax cuts to our seniors. Our seniors, more than most, deserve to be part of the property tax cuts we enacted last year,” Lucio explained.


Francisco Barrientes, Edinburg war hero, state role model, honored by Texas House of Representatives

Francisco Barrientes, who recently had an Edinburg middle school named in his honor, was again recognized with a House resolution documenting his many achievements on behalf of his community and nation.

On Thursday, February 15, the House of Representatives approved House Resolution 364, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

The text of the resolution follows:


WHEREAS, Francisco Barrientes of Edinburg is receiving due acknowledgment for his years of exemplary service to the youth of his community with the dedication of a new middle school in his
honor; and

WHEREAS, A lifelong resident of the town he is proud to call home, Mr. Barrientes has registered thousands of hours of volunteer work in behalf of area children over the past 35 years; his outstanding contributions to public education have been previously recognized by Governor Rick Perry and the State Board of Education with a prestigious Texas Hero for Children award; and

WHEREAS, This graduate of Edinburg High School and decorated veteran of the U.S. Army dedicated himself to making a positive difference in the lives of his fellow man after sustaining serious injuries in the Vietnam War; miraculously surviving enemy grenade fire and a gunshot wound to the face, he recognized he had been given a second chance at life, and that new life would be one of meaningful service to others; and

WHEREAS, Ably fulfilling his mission, Mr. Barrientes has given wholeheartedly of his time and talents to his community; his efforts at local schools began in 1980, and over the last 2-1/2
decades, he has volunteered more than 22,000 hours to the children and staff of Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary, fulfilling a range of duties, including assisting with traffic control, helping to coordinate student transportation for field trips, and working to ensure the success of fund-raising events; in addition, he is often called on by parents, who seek his wise counsel in instilling positive values in their children; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Barrientes also has been involved with the Edinburg Parks and Recreation Department and Edinburg Pony League baseball; in addition, he is a regular speaker at Veteran’s Day activities across the Rio Grande Valley, as well as a longtime and valued member of Holy Family Catholic Church; and

WHEREAS, A loving husband and father of three, Francisco Barrientes is an inspiration to all those whose lives have been enriched by his commitment to the youth of Edinburg, and as the halls of the middle school bearing his name are soon filled with children, we may hope that they too will come to learn of and respect this extraordinary man and that their hearts are filled with his sincere desire to serve; and

WHEREAS, Representative Aaron Peña has justly recognized Francisco Barrientes by authoring this resolution in his behalf during the Regular Session of the 80th Texas Legislature; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate Francisco Barrientes on the naming of an Edinburg middle school in his honor and extend to him best wishes for the future; and, be it further

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


José Delgado, 2006 honor graduate of Edinburg High School, honored by Texas House of Representatives

José Delgado, an Edinburg man, who is now a student at Texas A&M University majoring in aerospace engineering, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his many achievements during his young life.

The public recognition, contained in House Resolution 365 filed by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, follows:


WHEREAS, José Delgado, a 2006 honor graduate of Edinburg High School, was named a 2006 Texas Migrant Interstate Program (TMIP) Exemplary Student at a ceremony on South Padre Island on November 17, 2006; and

WHEREAS, Currently enrolled at Texas A&M University in College Station, where he is majoring in aerospace engineering, Mr. Delgado was one of three students selected by TMIP and the Texas
Education Agency to receive this prestigious honor; and

WHEREAS, During his years as a migrant student, Mr. Delgado maintained a high standard of academic success while staying actively involved in the migrant education program; and

WHEREAS, José is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Guadalupe Delgado, who support him in his desire to take a proactive role in giving migrant students the opportunity to break away from the migrant life cycle; and

WHEREAS, The impressive achievements of José Delgado are a testament to the determination as well as abilities of this remarkable young man, and he truly may look forward to a future bright with promise; and

WHEREAS, Representative Aaron Peña has justly recognized José Delgado by authoring this resolution in his behalf during the Regular Session of the 80th Texas Legislature; now, therefore, be

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate José Delgado on his impressive academic accomplishments and extend to him best wishes for
continued success and happiness; and, be it further

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


Manuel Benavidez, Jr., founding board member of South Texas College trustee, honored by House of Representatives

Manuel Benavidez, Jr., a current member of the South Texas College Board of Trustees who is a founding member of the two-county community college, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his many efforts and successes on behalf of higher education in deep South Texas.

House Resolution 417, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, February 16.

The text of the resolution follows:


WHEREAS, Manuel Benavidez, Jr., of Rio Grande City received the 2006 Western Region Trustee Leadership Award from the Association of Community College Trustees, presented at the ACCT
Annual Community College Leadership Congress in Orlando, Florida, on October 12, 2006; and

WHEREAS, A founding member of the Board of Trustees of South Texas College in McAllen, Mr. Benavidez was appointed by Governor Ann Richards at the time of STC’s founding in 1993 to represent Starr County in the creation of a new community college for South Texas; he won a six-year term as trustee in 2000 and was reelected in 2006; and

WHEREAS, As a member of STC’s Board of Trustees, he has served as chair, vice chair, and secretary of the board; he has also chaired the Facilities Committee and served on the Education and Workforce Committee; and

WHEREAS, A staunch advocate for the growth of STC, Mr. Benavidez was instrumental in helping the college pass a $98.7 million bond for the expansion of its five campuses; he worked to include STC as one of three Texas community colleges offering a bachelor of applied technology degree; at the Summit on College Readiness in February 2006, he opened the summit by addressing 150
educators, business leaders, and government officials on the need to prepare students for higher education; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Benavidez has been active in promoting community colleges generally; his testimony before the Texas Legislature to advocate allowing eligible high school students to attend
college-level technical classes while still in high school helped ensure enactment of such legislation; he served on the ACCT’s Board of Directors from 2003 to 2005, chairing the ACCT Diversity Committee during that same period; he has also been the Western Region representative for the Association of Latino Community College Trustees; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Benavidez was recognized at the ACCT Annual Congress in 2005 with the Lifetime Membership Award for his leadership on the issues of diversity and equal opportunity; he has
been an indispensable participant in the improvement of educational opportunities in Starr County and in the growth and success of South Texas College, and he is most deserving of special recognition; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate Manuel Benavidez, Jr., on his receipt of the 2006 Western Region Trustee Leadership Award from
the Association of Community College Trustees and extend to him best wishes for his continued success; and, be it further

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


Heart attack prevention bill will save lives, reduce costs

By Rep. René Oliveira

Coronary heart disease is the single largest killer of Americans, and responsible for more than one- half million deaths each year. Heart disease now kills more Hispanics than any other group in America. For decades, African Americans were heart disease’s most prevalent victims, but Hispanics now lead the nation in per capita heart disease-related deaths.

As a representative from the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley, and a beneficiary of a recent heart scan that saved me from a potentially life-threatening heart attack, I am proposing that insurance companies cover the costs of such heart scans in patients who are at risk of a heart attack through the Texas Heart Attack Prevention Bill, H.B. 1438, the first of its kind in the nation.

The Association of Eradication of Heart Attack analyzed the costs and benefits of heart scan screening tests. It determined that, in Texas, 4,300 cardiovascular disease deaths would be prevented each year through Computed Tomography, or CT scan screening, saving an estimated $1.6 billion annually.

Texas has learned the life-saving and cost-saving lessons of early detection and prevention of breast cancer through mammography which was once not covered by most insurers. Instead of reacting to a costly health catastrophe, pro-actively using the latest technology to save lives while reducing and containing long-term medical costs makes sense for both patients and insurers.

According to the Texas Heart Attack Prevention Bill, patients determined to be at intermediate or high risk by a formula considering age, family history, and other risk factors, would have their atherosclerosis tests (Heart CT Scan or Cartoid Artery Ultrasound) covered by insurance. Also, anyone with diabetes would be covered. The legislation limits the insurance reimbursement for the test to $200.

Currently, the test costs patients $300 to $600 or more, but many heart experts believe that the additional volume of tests being performed will reduce the costs of screening.

But costs associated with heart disease reach far beyond a hospital bill. The emotional toll on the victim’s family, loss of income, loss of productivity in the workplace, and the cost to employers of hiring and retraining new workers, are all significant.

Half of Americans who suffer heart attacks do not survive them. And 80 percent of men and women who suffer heart attacks would have been considered at low to intermediate risk the day before their events if tested by conventional means.

Most people are completely unaware that their lives are in danger until heart attack strikes. Any step we take to fight the nation’s number one killer, while reducing costs to patients and insurers alike, is a giant step in the right direction.

René Oliveira is state representative for District 37. A Democrat, Oliveira resides in Brownsville.


Comprehensive wellness program proposed for state employees by Sen. Lucio

As part of his continuing effort to improve nutrition and overcome the obesity crisis among Texans, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, is proposing legislation that will enhance the health and wellness outlook of state employees through innovative policy.

Senate Bill 72 encourages employee participation in wellness activities through incentives, such as allowing all state employees to dedicate 30 minutes, three times per work week, to physical activity. They would also be encouraged to take advantage of on-site wellness seminars and allowed eight hours of additional leave time if they fulfilled certain health requirements, including a physical examination and health risk assessment.

“It is my earnest hope that we motivate as many state employees as we can through programs that should produce positive results, like weight loss, stress reduction, and improved mental and physical health,” said Lucio. “The goal is a healthier and happier state workforce.”

The bill would create a 17-member Worksite Wellness Advisory Board, administratively connected to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). In addition to the Advisory Board, the bill would establish wellness councils at state agencies to generate employee involvement and identify inner-agency wellness policies. An agency with over 5,000 employees would be required to hire a full-time wellness coordinator.

The Advisory Board would have to:

• adopt an online health risk assessment that employees can utilize
• create and maintain internet links to health links for employees
• design an outreach campaign to educate state employees
• create a list of healthy food items and encourage cafeterias to serve items recognized by the board as “healthy”
• negotiate gym discounts for state employees
• host an annual conference for agency wellness councils
• review best practices and participation rates.

Overweight and obesity costs for Texas adults that included healthcare expenditures, indirect lost productivity, costs of illness and premature death for 2001 totaled $10.5 billion. It is projected that it will cost this state $26.3 billion for overweight- and obesity-related problems by 2040.

“Certain parts of Texas rank among the highest in the country in rates of diabetes and heart disease caused by poor nutritional habits and inactivity that result in overweight and obesity,” said Lucio. “SB 72 should be a beacon of promise in alleviating these and other life-threatening illnesses among one of the state’s largest workforce segments.”


Senate Higher Education subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Zaffirini, held first hearing on February 12

The Senate Higher Education Subcommittee held its first hearing of the 80th Legislative Session on Monday, February 12, and heard testimony from Dr. Raymund Paredes, commissioner of higher education, who reviewed the status of higher education in Texas and priority issues.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chair of the subcommittee, described the legislative panel’s higher education priorities and praised Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s leadership in appointing the subcommittee and defining its important charges.

“The subcommittee’s priorities include tuition deregulation, the top ten percent law, financial aid, affordability, graduation rates, accessibility and incentives to improve the efficiency and transparency of our higher education institutions,” Zaffirini said.

Paredes summarized strategies associated with the “Closing the Gaps by 2015” plan that seeks to close gaps in higher education participation rates; the state’s need to graduate more students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and the importance of early education in creating a “college going culture.” He also underscored the disproportionate representation of low-income students at community colleges and the need to improve transfer rates from two- to four-year institutions.

“Our priorities include improving access to and the affordability of higher education, especially for low- and middle-income families,” said Zaffirini. “We must examine the state financial aid programs to see how we can make them more efficient and effective in achieving the goals of Closing the Gaps.”

Dewhurst recently re-appointed Zaffirini to chair the subcommittee. Members are Sens. Kip Averitt, R-Waco; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Royce West, D-Dallas; and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.


Sen. Hutchison files bill to establish Hispanic Serving Institutions graduate program

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, a member of the Health, Education Labor and Pension Committee, on Tuesday, February 13, introduced the Next Generation Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Act, legislation to establish an HSI graduate program.

“Hispanic-Serving Institutions strengthen our educational system and enhance academic opportunities,” said Sen. Hutchison. “This legislation builds on the early success of HSIs to create a graduate program which will help open new doors for our students.”

The legislation provides fellowships and support services for graduate students as well as facility and faculty improvements. It provides new technology for distance education and collaborative arrangements with other institutions. In addition, the legislation increases the authorization of the current HSI program to $175 million and authorizes $125 million for the new HSIs graduate program for Fiscal year 2008.

Sen. Hutchison organized and serves as the co-chair of the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Coalition in the Senate. Under her leadership, HSI funding has increased more than 800 percent since Fiscal Year 1995. This funding has allowed more of the 42 HSIs in Texas to receive development grants.

In November 2006, Sen. Hutchison passed a resolution that recognizes the national role of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities as an advocate and champion for Hispanic higher education and congratulates the organization on its 20th anniversary. The resolution further applauds HSIs for their work to provide quality education for all students and encourages the institutions and their supporters to continue their outstanding efforts.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities was founded in San Antonio, Texas with 18 founding member institutions. The organization has grown to include 207 certified HSIs, 126 associate members, 79 partners and over 45 institutions in Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Certified HSIs currently enroll more than half of all Hispanic students in college.


Gov. Perry: First high-intensity phase of Operation Wrangler made Texas safer

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, February 13, announced that the first high intensity phase of Operation Wrangler led to the apprehension of numerous criminals and drug shipments and made Texans safer. The first high-intensity phase of Operation Wrangler was conducted from January 17 to January 29, and involved the coordinated efforts of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Operation Wrangler remains an active law enforcement operation and will reenter the high intensity or “surge” phase in various geographic regions at various times in the future.

“The initial high intensity phase of Operation Wrangler has taken hundreds of criminals and thousands of pounds of illegal drugs off Texas streets,” Perry said. “This latest operation has not only made Texans safer, it underscores the need for lawmakers to provide the $100 million Texas needs to continue these operations while the federal government implements new border security measures.”

Operation Wrangler is the second phase of Operation Rio Grande, which was launched February 2006 and reduced all crime by an average of 60 percent in sheriff-patrolled areas of border counties during five surge operations. Operation Wrangler is the statewide expansion of those highly successful border security surge operations.

“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.”

Under continuing Operation Wrangler efforts, Perry said his office will continue to coordinate and stage similar intelligence-driven security operations along the border and drug and human smuggling corridors across the state.

“The international drug cartels and human smuggling rings will not be given the advantage of knowing when or where these operations will occur, what type of activities they will encompass, or how long the operations will last,” Perry added. “But they can be certain that when it comes to border security, Texas is not sitting idly by.”

The Border Security Operations Center within the State Operations Center serves as a central point of coordination for state, local and federal officials during Operation Wrangler. The 11 Joint Operational Intelligence Centers (JOIC) are positioned throughout the state and provide real-time information and intelligence in support of these surge operations. The JOICs located at border patrol offices along the border include El Paso, Marfa, Del Rio, Laredo and McAllen. Other centers are located along smuggling corridors at area law enforcement departments in Houston, Corpus Christi, Garland, Waco, Lubbock and Midland. Several New Mexico law enforcement agencies, including the state police and the border sheriffs, participated in this coordinated effort.

In addition to the more than 1,700 Texas Army National Guard (TANG) troops Gov. Perry activated for Operation Jump Start to support U.S. Border Patrol activities, he activated an additional 604 troops, comprising 12 armed security platoons. The TANG will continue to be deployed to various crossovers along the Rio Grande River to support Operation Wrangler, and will be accompanied by a Border Patrol agent and a local law enforcement officer.

Local, state and federal agencies involved in the statewide surge of Operation Wrangler included local sheriffs’ offices and police departments; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Department of Transportation; the National Park Service; the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the Texas Civil Air Patrol; the Texas Cattleman’s Association; Texas Military Forces; Texas Task Force 1; the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Immigration & Customs Enforcement; the Railroad Police; the U.S. Transportation Security Agency; the U.S. Postal Service; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the University of Texas Center for Space Research. The above agencies and others will continue to work together, and targeted surge operations will be conducted based upon the evolving threat.

Perry has proposed that the Texas Legislature approve an additional $100 million during the legislative session to sustain border security efforts and ongoing operations.

“As I have said before, a strong Texas border means a safer America,” Perry said. “And until the federal government fulfills its responsibility to secure the nation’s borders, we will continue to exhaust all available means at the state level to secure the Texas-Mexico border and protect our families and communities.”


Charles Gary Rodríguez sworn in by governor as Lieutenant General in the Texas National Guard

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, February 15, administered the oath of office to Charles Gary Rodríguez as lieutenant general in the Texas National Guard. Lt. Gen. Rodriguez serves as the State of Texas Adjutant General and is stationed at Camp Mabry in Austin. As adjutant general, Rodríguez is responsible for command of more than 21,000 soldiers, airmen and civilians of the Texas military forces, which include the Texas Army and Air National Guard, the State Guard and the Adjutant General’s Department.

In September, Perry announced the promotion of Major General Rodríguez to the rank of lieutenant general in the Texas National Guard. On Thursday, February 15, Perry pinned a third star on Rodríguez, officially promoting him to lieutenant general. Very few Texas National Guardsmen earn this honor.

Rodríguez previously served on the development advisory board of the Texas A&M University College of Education as former co-chair of the education council in the San Antonio Greater Chamber of Commerce School Boards Committee. Additionally, he served eight years as a board member of Texas STARBASE, a youth development non-profit organization in Houston, and three years as president of the Graduate Alumni Association of the Union Institute.

A 1975 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Rodriguez received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering with a humanities concentration. He also received a Master of Arts degree in marketing research from Wheaton College Graduate School in Illinois, a master’s degree in marketing from Keller Graduate School of Management in Illinois, and a doctorate in philanthropic leadership from the Union Institute and University in Ohio.

Rodríguez received numerous military awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Commendation Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters), the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Reserve Component Achievement Award (with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters), the Overseas Service Ribbon, the TX Lone Star Distinguished Service Award, the TX Medal of Merit, the TX Faithful Service Medal, and the Air Assault Badge.

Rodríguez has more than 31 years of commissioned service and served as the Texas Assistant Adjutant General for Homeland Defense in the Texas Joint Force Headquarters, stationed in Austin. He is married to Cappy Rodriguez, a 20-year commissioned officer veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. Their two adult children are married and reside in San Antonio. Rodríguez is the son of the late Army Col. Joseph Rodríguez. His father received the Congressional Medal of Honor for service with valor during the Korean War. His mother lives in El Paso.


Sens. Cornyn, Feinstein introduce bill to ensure Homeland Security funding is based on risk

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Vice Chairman of the Republican Conference, joined U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. on Thursday, February 15, to introduce bipartisan legislation requiring that federal homeland security grants for state and local governments be allocated on a risk-based assessment.

The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007, S. 608, would improve the way homeland security dollars are distributed and ensure funding goes to the most vulnerable places in the country in a fiscally responsible way.

“We must ensure that homeland security funding goes where it’s needed most,” Cornyn said. “It’s critical that we more effectively protect our nation’s citizens, vulnerable infrastructure and places where an attack could devastate the economy. So I hope our colleagues will support this bill to greatly improve the way homeland security resources are allocated.”

The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007 would ensure that funding is most efficiently allocated by establishing a formula for homeland security grants based on risk, which takes into consideration threat, vulnerability and consequence. It requires states to quickly distribute federal funds to areas where they are most needed, provides greater flexibility and allows states to use the funding for other hazards consistent with federally established capability standards.

The Feinstein-Cornyn legislation would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002. It is an updated version of a bill introduced last year and is in line with Department of Homeland Security changes for 2007. It also simplifies the Urban Areas Security Initiative by ensuring that all previously eligible areas are certified.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill.


One-Stop-Shop for auto and home insurance policies

By Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

Texans may get a “one-stop-shop” offering them homeowners and automobile insurance information with just a click of the mouse.

I recently filed Senate Bill 611 that would offer people the ability to log onto a website and view a listing of each insurer writing residential property and automobile insurance in this state.

An information vacuum has occurred since the Legislature and the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) allowed carriers to offer different homeowners insurance policies.

Since coverage levels vary so greatly between the different policies, policyholders cannot shop based on price alone.

Senate Bill 611 directs TDI and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) to develop this website allowing consumers to easily make side-by-side comparisons of different policies, rates charged, the percentage by which rates have fallen or risen in the past three years, as well as companies’ complaint data, enforcement actions, penalties, financial ratings and other relevant information.

All this information will help consumers choose the insurance company and the coverage that best meets their insurance needs.

Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, a statewide consumer advocacy and research organization actively involved with insurance issues, said that “this legislation will give homeowners greater ability to shop the insurance market. Homeowners need as much information as possible so that they can make smart and informed decisions.”

Information already published by TDI and OPIC should be gathered in one convenient place and publicized widely in order to help consumers shop the market.

As more people gain access to the Internet, and as we expand telecommunication services to rural and remote areas of the state, this bill can facilitate what is currently one of the most complex financial services to decipher and decide upon. If we require drivers to buy auto insurance and homebuyers to insure their properties, then we should simplify the insurance seeking process and make it more accessible. An informed consumer is a wiser shopper.

The proposed web site would include basic information, such as the insurer’s full name, address, phone and fax numbers and even email if available.

Whether an insurer uses credit scoring in underwriting would also be available on this site, as well as a link to the insurer’s credit model or a link explaining how to request the credit model. Also available would be an insurer’s financial rating and an explanation of the meaning and importance of the rating. I would venture to say that almost any question a person may have regarding these two types of insurance would be found on the website, and all would be provided at no cost to the consumer.

Insurers would have to report quarterly with the Commissioner of Insurance any changes in losses, premiums and market share since Jan. 1, 1993. Of course the Commissioner would in turn report to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House and the Legislature on market share, profits and losses, and other facets of the industry that affect each insurer.

As Mr. Winslow explains, “This legislation will go a long way toward making our insurance market more transparent for consumers by giving them tools they need to make the best choices for their families.


City Council sets Tuesday, February 20, work session on Sugar, Canton road work, will also consider retail center, baseball stadium projects



University of Texas – Pan American
International Trade and Technology Building
1201 West University Drive
300 Block, Dr. Miguel Nevarez Drive

FEBRUARY 20, 2007

6:30 P.M.

I. Discussion and Update on the Following Projects:
Sugar Road
Canton Road

7:00 P.M.


A. Prayer.

B. Pledge of Allegiance by Noe Garza, Councilmember.






A. Presentation of Proclamation Recognizing February 24, 2007 as National Trio Day, as Requested by the UTPA Upward Bound Program.

B. Presentation on Proposed Improvements to the Edinburg Baseball Stadium by the Edinburg Coyotes Baseball Team.


A. Consider Authorizing the Purchase of Tennis Court Lighting from Musco Sports Lighting, L.L.C., in the Amount of $45,430.

B. Consider Authorizing the Purchase of Eighteen (18) Computers for the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library from Monies Provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s PAC-HUG Program, in the Amount of $16,249.86.

C. Consider Authorizing the Purchase of Playground Equipment for Escandon Park from the Playwell Group, Dallas, TX., in the Amount of $79,217.85.

D. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-51, Los Lagos Entry Monument Signs, to Peterson Construction Inc., from McAllen, Texas, in the Amount of $40,000.

E. Consider Rejecting Bid Number 2007-53, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program.

F. Consider Resolution Authorizing the Interim City Manager to Execute a Multiple Use Agreement with the State of Texas, Texas Department of Transportation for the Installation of Bus Shelters and Other Related Improvements on State Highway Right-of-Way.

G. Consider Resolution Approving Economic Development Programs Pursuant to Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code.

H. Consider Resolution Approving an Economic Development Agreement Relating to the Development and Construction of a Retail Shopping Center.


A. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager for the Renewal of Interlocal Cooperation Agreement with Hidalgo County and the City of Edinburg for Providing Services through the Hidalgo County Library System.

B. Present Annual Report for Officer Initiated Contact Data By the Police Department, as Required by the Texas Racial Profiling Law, (S.B. Number 1074).

C. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Execute a Lease Renewal Agreement to Provide for Congressional District No. 15 Local Office.


The City Council will convene in Executive Session, in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act, Vernon’s Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated, Government Code, Chapter 551, Subchapter D, Exceptions to Requirement that Meetings be Open, §551.071, Consultation with Attorney; Closed Meeting.

1. Legal Discussion Regarding: Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone Requested By First Hartford Realty Corporation.

2. Legal Discussion Regarding: The Construction Agreement with Velasco Construction Development L.P. for the Public Safety Complex Addition and Renovation.

3. Legal Discussion Regarding: Status on Negotiations with Fortuna Enterprises.

4. Legal Discussion Regarding: Status of Interlocal Agreement Between the City of McAllen and the City of Edinburg on Drainage Improvements.


The City Council will convene in Open Session to take necessary action, if any, in accordance with Chapter 551, Open Meetings, Subchapter E, Procedures Relating to Closed Meeting, §551.102, Requirement to Vote or Take Final Action in Open Meeting.


I hereby certify this Notice of a City Council Meeting was posted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, at both bulletin boards located at the main entrances to the City Offices of the City of Edinburg, and at the 210 West McIntyre entrance outside bulletin board, visible and accessible to the general public during and after regular working hours. This notice was posted on February 16, 2007 at 7:18 p.m.

By: /s/Myra Garza, City Secretary
City of Edinburg, Texas


Edinburg honored by Texas Legislature

Working with Craddick

The city’s elected leadership, led by Mayor Joe Ochoa, on Thursday, February 8, met with Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, at the State Capitol in Austin to lay out some of the major legislative priorities for the three-time All-America City. Craddick, featured left in this photograph, heard from the mayor and the Edinburg City Council about key funding issues important to Edinburg, including securing $5 million in state funding to hire scientists for the $20 million University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center Biomedical Research Facility in Edinburg. The delegation, which also included Mayor Pro Tem Noe Garza, Councilmember Gus García, Jr., and Councilmember Alma A. Garza, also worked with state lawmakers to push for debt service funding on student tuition revenue bonds that will build a $50 million Performing Arts Center at UT-Pan American. Debt service is the series of payments of interest and principal required on a debt, such as tuition revenue bonds, over a given period of time. Tuition revenue bonds are bonds – long term-debt – that are paid for by money generated from tuition (fees) paid by university students. The city’s legislative agenda is a combined effort of the Edinburg City Council, led by the mayor, and its jobs-creation arm, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, led by former Mayor Richard García as the chairman of the board of directors, and Mayor Ochoa, who serves on the EEDC board of directors. Featured in this photo, taken by Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg, are, from left: Craddick; Ochoa; Noe Garza; Gus García, Jr., and Alma A. Garza. In addition to presenting the city’s legislative priorities, the Texas Legislature honored the community by designating Thursday, February 8, as Edinburg Day at the State Capitol. The legislative resolution is included later in this posting.


McAllen Day

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Tuesday, February 6, joined Mayor Richard Cortéz and McAllen leaders in the Senate chamber to celebrate McAllen Day at the Texas State Capitol with a Senate Resolution, SR 184. “We are one of the fastest growing areas in the nation as well as a key region for international trade with Mexico and the rest of Latin America. I am very proud to celebrate McAllen Day here at the Capitol and to make other state leaders aware of the importance, both culturally and economically, of McAllen,” Hinojosa said. Lucio, who also represents portions of McAllen in his legislative district, added: “Over the years, McAllen has been privileged with great leadership in the city’s administration, school boards, medical and business communities, South Texas Community College and other organizations that promote economic development and quality of life. McAllen can be extremely proud of its advances, and it was an honor for me to join Sen. Hinojosa in welcoming this city’s impressive delegation to the Texas Capitol.” Featured in this photo taken in the Senate chamber are, from left: Keith Partridge, CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation; Adrian Arriaga, a McAllen business leader; Hinojosa; Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College; McAllen City Commissioner John Ingram; Cortéz, Lucio, and Dewhurst.


Probation Officers

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, February 6, joined members of the Texas Probation Association in the Texas Senate to honor the contributions of Texas probation officers with a Senate Resolution, SR 170. “I want to honor the men and women across Texas who tirelessly work to improve our public safety and perform this difficult but important job to keep Texans safe while helping rehabilitate people in the criminal justice system,” Hinojosa said. SR 170 honors the Texas Probation Association which represents professionals in nearly 300 adult and juvenile probation departments across the state. The association was formed in 1974. Featured from left are: John D. McGuire, supervisor for the Brazos County Community Supervision and Corrections Department; Tommy W. Ellis, fiscal officer for the Montgomery County Department of Community Supervision and Corrections; Hinojosa; Aris Johnson, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Gregg County; Angie Castillo-Sáenz, Supervisor of the Cameron-Willacy Community Supervision and Corrections Department; and Israel “Buddy” Silva, Jr., Director of the Hidalgo County Juvenile Center.


Harlingen Leadership

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. D-Brownsville, on Wednesday, February 7, welcomed the 2006-2007 Leadership Harlingen Class to the Texas Capitol, where he presented them with certificates of excellence for outstanding community leadership and class participation. Leadership Harlingen is a program of the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce that seeks to identify and train current and emerging leaders to make them more effective community volunteers. Ms. Melissa Boykin, Special Events Manager, said “The purpose behind the trip to Austin is to met their elected representatives, as as expose them to state government at work. We hope to give them as much opportunity to develop their leadership skills with information and insight on the ins-and-outs of not only their community and how it works, but how decisions made in Austin affect their community. Lucio said, “This program develops and enhances community leadership by giving participants expanded knowledge and awareness of the strengths, needs and issues within the Harlingen area. It offers program participants a broader view of civic leadership through direct contact with a wide spectrum of institutions and people that make the Harlingen area a vital and growing community.” Participants making the trip were, in alphabetical order: Brad Baumunk; Scott Bradwell; Chris Elliff; Mitchell Fladerman; Steven Glover; Paula González; Richard Guerrero; Brenda Heredia; Alberto Jáimez; Bertha Klefisch; Michael Lamon; Ericka Lopez; Sandra López; David Luna; Héctor Heira; Angelina Ochoa; Nilda Pérez; Steven Salinas; Juan Silva; Rod Snell; Rose Snell; and Joe Treviño.


Rep. Peña, Rep. Gonzáles provide glimpse of city’s history, milestones in “Edinburg Day” resolution

House Resolution 266, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and co-authored by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, whose legislative district includes southwest Edinburg, on Thursday, February 8, passed the legislative proclamation honoring the three-time All-America City at the State Capitol.

The text of the resolution follows:


WHEREAS, Members of the Texas House of Representatives are pleased to join with a delegation of citizens of Edinburg in celebrating Edinburg Day at the State Capitol on February 8, 2007; and

WHEREAS, Long considered the gateway to the lower Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg was originally known as Chapin when it became the Hidalgo County seat nearly 100 years ago; it was a ranching

community in its early years, then the arrival of the railroad and the introduction of irrigation in the early 20th century shifted the emphasis of the local economy to the farming of cotton, grain,

and citrus; and

WHEREAS, Officially incorporated in 1919, Edinburg experienced a period of growth and prosperity fostered by the foresight of such city leaders as John Closner and W. F. Sprague; as a thriving center for agricultural marketing and processing, Edinburg experienced a building boom that included the construction of the Grandview Hospital and the Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin Elementary Schools, all of which still stand; and

WHEREAS, The educational needs of area students are capably met by the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District; encompassing 945 square miles, the district includes 27 elementary

schools, four middle schools, three high schools, and an alternative campus; and

WHEREAS, Founded in 1927 as Edinburg Junior College, The University of Texas-Pan American remains one of the Valley’s premier institutions of higher learning; the university has recently established a master’s degree program in creative writing in order to foster a new generation of South Texas writers; nearing completion on campus is a $20 million Regional Academic Health

Center that will develop treatments for illnesses prevalent along the Texas-Mexico border; the university’s Wellness and Recreation Sports Complex, encompassing more than 150,000 square feet, is scheduled to open in August 2007, and a proposed fine arts facility will include classrooms, practice rooms, and event space; and

WHEREAS, The Edinburg Children’s Hospital has a 24-hour pediatric emergency room; the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance offers a full range of medical and surgical services; and the new Women’s Hospital at Renaissance, due to open in spring 2007, will be able to handle the delivery of 8,000 babies a year; and

WHEREAS, The vibrant history and culture of the region are highlighted by the Museum of South Texas History; the facility’s recent expansion includes the Rio Grande Legacy exhibit, tracing

the history of the Valley from prehistoric times to the 19th century; further expansion of the museum will include the continuation of the Rio Grande Legacy exhibit to the present day, as

well as the construction of the Will Looney Legacy Park; and

WHEREAS, Other Edinburg attractions include the 40-acre wetlands of the World Birding Center, where waterfowl and native plants can be viewed from winding trails and viewing platforms;

events such as the annual All-American 10K Run/Walk promote health and fitness, attracting participants from all over Texas and the world; Edinburg is also home to the Texas Cook’Em cook-off, where grill cooks compete to prepare the best steaks, chicken, spare ribs, and brisket; and

WHEREAS, Under the able leadership of Mayor Joe Ochoa and city commissioners Gene Espinoza, Agustín G. García, Noe Garza, and Alma A. Garza, the city has experienced steady and positive growth, and Edinburg has been recognized three times by the National Civic League as an All-America City; and

WHEREAS, Proud of their rich history, the people of Edinburg are determined to preserve the best of the city’s past while joining together to build a future full of hope and opportunity; and

WHEREAS, Representative Aaron Peña has justly recognized the city of Edinburg by authoring this honorary resolution in its behalf during the Regular Session of the 80th Texas Legislature; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby recognize February 8, 2007, as Edinburg Day at the State Capitol and extend a warm welcome to the delegation from Edinburg.


Edinburg school board approves order calling for school board trustee elections on Saturday, May 12

The Edinburg school board has approved a resolution and an order calling for a school board trustee election on Saturday, May 12.

The election is to fill positions for Place 4 and Place 5 on the board currently held by Melba González and Gregory “Greg” García, respectively.

González is being challenged by Robert Peña.

García has drawn two rivals: Dr. Martin Castillo and former Edinburg school board member Cris Treviño.

The election will be held at 11 polling places. Those locations are:

•Hargill School: Precincts 30, 105 and 109

•Jefferson School: Precinct 14

•Freddy González School: Precincts 52, 73 and 106

•Francisco Barrientes MS: Precincts 53 and 110

•Fountain Center: Precincts 31, 69 and 108

•Lee School: Precincts 13, 54 and 107

•Capilla de San José-Lull: Precincts 68 and 129

•San Carlos School: Precincts 15, 43, 104 and 119

•Hargill School: Precinct 18

•Brewster School: Precinct 19

•McCook: Precincts 24, 75, 76 and 89

The polls will be open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Important dates for the May 12 school board elections are:

February 10, 2007

First day to apply for a place on the ballot

March 12, 2007

Deadline to file application for a place on the ballot

March 13, 2007

Ballot position drawing

March 13, 2007

First day to accept applications for early voting mail ballots

March 20, 2007

Last day for a candidate to withdraw in an election

March 28, 2007

First day to begin mailing early voting ballots to applicants

April 12, 2007

Last to register to vote in May 12, 2007 election

April 30, 2007

First day to vote early in person

May 4, 2007

Last day to receive application for an early mail ballot

May 5-6, 2007

Weekend early voting from 1-5 p.m.

May 8, 2007

Last day to vote early by personal appearance

May 12, 2007

Election Day


The late Elias Longoria, Sr., former longtime Edinburg school board member, honored by Rep. Peña, House of Representatives

The late Elias Longoria, Sr., 75, a well-known community and political leader in Edinburg until his passing in August 2006, was honored on Thursday, February 8, with a memorial resolution authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday, February 8.

The text of the legislative measure, House Resolution No. 209, follows:


WHEREAS, A full and generous life came to an end with the passing of Elias Longoria, Sr., of Edinburg who died on August 7, 2006, at the age of 75; and

WHEREAS, Born on April 26, 1931, in La Reforma, Elias Longoria graduated in 1950 from Edinburg High School, where he excelled in both academics and athletics; he earned a scholarship to attend Pan American College and played as a third baseman for the baseball team before leaving school to serve his country; a veteran of the Korean War, he served as a member of the U.S. Navy from 1951

to 1955; and

WHEREAS, This esteemed Texan shared his time and talents with the Edinburg community as a member of the school board for nearly a decade, including serving as the first Hispanic president; his tenure was characterized by his efforts to ensure fair hiring practices, and he was instrumental in hiring the district’s first Hispanic superintendent; in addition, he volunteered for more than

20 years as a coach for local youth baseball teams; and

WHEREAS, After retiring from a distinguished career with Southern Pacific Railroad, Mr. Longoria continued to fulfill his civic duty, serving on the grievance committee of the Edinburg Housing Authority and as a member of the Hidalgo County Grand Jury; moreover, he was a faithful congregant of El Buen Pastor Methodist Church; and

WHEREAS, A devoted husband and father, Mr. Longoria shared nearly 50 years with his wife, the former Maruca Garza, and their union was blessed with four children, Elias Longoria, Jr., Luis

Longoria, Leticia Lankford, and Victor Longoria; and

WHEREAS, Elias Longoria, Sr., was a man known for his strong sense of responsibility and for his humility in the face of numerous accomplishments, and he will be remembered with great affection by all those who held him dear; and

WHEREAS, Representative Aaron Peña has justly recognized Elias Longoria, Sr., by authorizing this resolution in his memory during the Regular Session of the 80th Texas Legislature; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby pay tribute to the life of Elias Longoria, Sr., and extend sincere sympathy to the members of his family: to his wife, Maruca Longoria; to his children, Elias Longoria, Jr., and his wife, Laurie, Luis Longoria and his wife, Noelia, Victor Longoria and his wife, Kristy, and Leticia Lankford and her husband, Gary; to his grandchildren, Philip, Aaron, Julia, Jon Eli, Adam, Gram, Gray, Marco, Amanda, Chad, Isabella, and Abigail; to his sisters, Rosa Elena March, Elma Vela, and Lidia Gordon; and to his other relatives and many friends; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for his family and that when the Texas House of Representatives adjourns this day, it do so in memory of Elias Longoria, Sr.


Australians purchase Texas firm that owned Edinburg Review, RGC Herald, and Town Crier

Halyard Capital recently announced that its announced that its portfolio company, American Consolidated Media, has entered into an agreement with Macquarie Media Group (MMG) to be acquired for $80 million.

The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval and other customary closing conditions. Other financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

American Consolidated Media (ACM), which is based in Dallas, was formed in 1998 by Jeremy L. Halbreich, formerly president and general manager of The Dallas Morning News. The company publishes 40 community newspapers and shopping publications serving nine communities throughout Texas and Oklahoma.

Among those publishing ventures are the Edinburg Review, the Rio Grande City Herald, the Valley Town Crier, the Rio Grande Valley Business Journal, Bargain Books, and the Winter Texan.

Macquarie Media Group (MMG) is an investment fund established to create a flexible platform for investments in a broad range of media assets globally, and is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX: MMGCA).

MMG seeks to combine operational expertise from quality media operators with Macquarie’s financing and acquisition expertise, to access investments across the media sector globally, and provide investors with stable cash yields, the benefits of organic growth through market growth and asset performance improvement, as well as growth through acquisition.

In July 2004, Halyard made its investment in ACM to facilitate the acquisition of Valley Media, a publisher of the shopper and community newspaper publications with a significant Hispanic audience in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S.

“Halyard was attracted to ACM community papers’ strong franchise values in high-growth communities where there are few local media competitors. In locations where there are competitive publications, ACM generally owns the dominant paper,” said Christopher Ruth, a partner at Halyard Capital. “Most of its publications are mature brands with a strong, loyal readership and long relationships with local advertisers. In addition, ACM’s publications are geographically clustered, providing operating leverage and cost synergies in the areas of distribution, printing, newsprint and

administration. All these factors increased ACM’s attractiveness as a media investment.”

“We are delighted to have partnered with Jeremy and his team in our firm’s fourth successful investment in the newspaper industry. Jeremy and his team have demonstrated exceptional execution capabilities and will continue to drive the growth in the business with MMG through their focus on targeted community content,” Ruth added.

“Halyard Capital has demonstrated throughout our relationship a deep understanding and extremely valuable commitment to our business, our operating strategy and our people,” said Halbreich. “Along with fellow investors Arena Capital Partners and BancBoston Ventures, they have served as true partners in facilitating and supporting the growth and development of ACM,” he added.

Other Halyard investments in the sector have included ImpreMedia, Herald Media, and American Community Newspapers. Dirks, Van Essen & Murray acted as the company’s financial advisor and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP as well as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP served as legal advisors to the company.

Halyard is a private equity fund with $350 million of capital under management focused on investing in media, communications and business services companies. The firm specializes in middle-market leveraged buyouts, growth equity and structured equity investments. Halyard invests in and works closely with exceptional management teams in companies with defensible market positions and franchise characteristics, which generate strong cash flow and operate in attractive growth markets.

The firm will commit up to $40 million to individual portfolio companies with a focus on investments of between $15 million and $30 million. Halyard has the ability to complete larger transactions utilizing its network of investment partners.

For more information, please visit


Rep. Guillen lands plum spots as Vice-Chairman of House Appropriation Committee, General Calendars Committee

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, was appointed by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to arguably the most powerful position of any Valley state representative.

Guillen was selected by the Republican speaker to serve as vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which writes the state budget that is almost always adopted by the 150-member House of Representatives.

The House’s version of the state budget then is matched up against the Senate’s version of the state budget, and leaders from both chambers hammer out compromises to arrive at a single spending plan.

As vice-chairman, Guillen is automatically one of the handful of state senators and state representatives who serve on what is called a “conference committee” to come up with the final budget plan for approval by the full Legislature.

A conference committee is composed of five members from each house appointed by the respective presiding officers to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of a measure, such as the state budget, when the originating chamber refuses to concur in the changes made by the opposite chamber. Upon reaching an agreement, the conferees issue a report that is then considered for approval by both houses.

The key Appropriations appointment makes Guillen the first House legislator from the South Texas border to be named to the high-level post in 40 years. Rep. Maurice Pipkin, D-Brownsville, was named to that position in 1967.

As news of the appointments spread throughout South Texas and across the state, community leaders offered praise for the decision.

“For the short tenure he has had in Austin, these appointments speak volumes for what he has been able to accomplish and are a feather in Starr county’s cap. He is an up and coming representative and I have faith he will accomplish whatever goals he sets his sights on,” said Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said after the announcement in late January.

“For a 29-year-old legislator to be named to such high ranking positions in the Texas Legislature clearly demonstrates Rep. Guillen’s highly-regarded leadership and future potential,” said McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz.

Guillen also was appointed by Craddick to serve on the House General Calendars Committee, which decides what House and Senate bills are scheduled for action by the full House of Representatives.

The House Calendars Committee serves as a control valve for all bills and resolutions to reach the House Chamber for a vote. These committees control the agenda of the Texas Legislature.

Guillen also was appointed to the Natural Resources Committee which oversees the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Water Development Board and controls all legislation dealing with the development of land and water resources in Texas.

“I am humbled by Speaker Tom Craddick’s confidence in my abilities and I look forward to working hard to get the job done for the people of Texas,” Guillen said.


Rep. Guillen bill would excuse lawmakers from being called into lawsuits when they are in session

State lawmakers would be able to postpone testifying or being deposed in a lawsuit anytime the Texas Legislature is in session under a bill filed on January 30 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.

The text of the measure, House Bill No. 965, follows:


relating to excusing a member of the legislature from being compelled to testify or give a deposition in a civil suit or contested case when the legislature is in session.



Chapter 30, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, is amended by adding Section 30.0035 to read as follows:

Sec. 30.0035.


(a) In this section, “contested case” has the meaning provided by Section 2001.003, Government Code.

(b) This section applies to:

(1) a civil suit, including a matter of probate or condemnation proceeding, and to any matter ancillary to a civil suit at which the testimony of a witness may be taken or in which a person may be required to give a deposition; and

(2) a contested case before a state agency.

(c) This section does not apply to a member of the legislature who is a party to the suit or contested case in which the person is called to testify or give a deposition.

(d) At any time when the legislature is in session, on application of a member of the legislature who has been called, by subpoena or other method, to testify as a witness or to give a deposition in a suit or contested case to which this section applies, or who in discovery has been named as a potential witness by a party to the suit or contested case, the court in which the suit is pending or the official conducting the contested case hearing, as applicable, shall excuse the member from being compelled to testify as a witness or to give a deposition as provided by this section.

(e) A member of the legislature seeking to be excused under this section must file a request for the excuse with the court in which the suit is pending or with the official conducting the contested case hearing, as applicable. On receipt of the request, the court or official shall excuse the member from being compelled to give testimony or a deposition in the suit or contested case until a time and place agreed to by the member or until a date not earlier than the fifth day after the date the legislative session ends.

(f) This section does not diminish or affect any immunity or privilege of a member of the legislature under other law, including the constitution or common law.


This Act takes effect September 1, 2007.


Pensions for retired teachers would increase under measure filed by Sen. Lucio

Retired teachers in Texas stand to receive a boost to their pensions under a bill introduced by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Thursday, February 7. Senate Bill 492 would increase a retired teacher’s monthly retirement, disability or death benefit by a five percent cost-of-living adjustment. Retired teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2001.

“The Legislature can from time to time provide a cost of living adjustment based on the performance of investments of the Teacher Retirement System pension fund,” said Lucio. “These retirees have lost 16 percent spending power over the last six years from inflation, not counting the 50 percent increase in health care costs they must additionally contend with.”

“Sen. Lucio is addressing a situation that has languished since 2001,” said Tim Lee, Executive Director of Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA). “Providing retired educators with a real cost of living raise will help ensure their quality of life during their retirement years. His leadership on this issue is greatly appreciated by the hundreds of thousands of employees who dedicated their lives to Texas public education.”

“For Sen. Lucio to have filed this bill is awesome,” said Sylvia Suárez, a retired teacher and legislative chair for TRTA District 1. “We are ecstatic. We feel that this bill would help not only teachers, but everyone who retires from a school district, like support staff. Retired educators and paraprofessionals are not eligible for social security. Some retired support staff receive only from $300 to $600 a month (total retirement pension). When their spouses die, some are forced to sell their homes because they cannot get their social security benefits.”

Many retired teachers cannot afford health insurance with the average monthly premiums of $300 they must pay and are living below the poverty level. This bill offers equity in the state contribution through a small adjustment that can help retired teachers keep up with increasing costs of living.


ECISD sets new school boundaries for 2007-2008 school year

The Edinburg CISD school board has approved a comprehensive rezoning plan that goes into effect in the 2007-2008 school year.

Gilberto Garza Jr., interim superintendent of schools, said the opening of the district’s fifth middle school next fall and the construction of classroom wings at Canterbury, Escandón, Zavala, Guerra, Kennedy, Truman and Lincoln elementary schools, have made the new boundaries necessary as the school district attempts to address the continued new student growth.

Garza said the new boundaries will enable the school district to evenly distribute students with regard to building capacity.

The boundary changes will directly affect 19 of 27 elementary schools; the four middle schools and the high schools, said Garza. The elementary schools that will not be affected are Austin, Brewster, Cano-González, De la Viña, Guerra, Hargill, Jefferson, Lee, Travis and Truman schools.

Garza said a 13-person Rezoning Committee met nine times to study several different possible new boundary options. The criteria the committee used in order to arrive at a recommendation for the school board included:

•To keep within the neighborhood school concept as much as possible;

•To take the building capacity into consideration;

•To maintain a workable and safe student membership at each affected campus; and

•To minimize as much as possible the number of students impacted by the rezoning.

Central Administrative staff took a final recommendation to the school board in early January for approval. The changes will become affective for the 2007-2008 school year, said Garza.

As it stands currently, the Edinburg school district has grown by 1,333 students over the 2005-2006 school year, Garza said. He said the elementary totals show 15,359 students (an increase of 674 students) in 27 elementary schools. Of that total, Garza said, Ávila, Eisenhower, Escandón, Treviño and Villarreal elementary schools are well over the 700 mark and rapidly approaching 800 students. Additionally, Betts, Freddy González, Guerra and Truman elementary schools are bordering on the 700 student mark.

The new boundaries will impact the middle school levels the most, Garza said. The district has 6,441 students in its four current middle schools. The opening of the district’s fifth middle school, Francisco Barrientes Middle School, in August, will enable the district to more evenly distribute middle school students, Garza said. Barrientes Middle School is currently under renovation to accommodate middle school students. The middle school should be ready by June 2007.

The impact to the high schools will be minimal, said Garza. Although the three schools will be somewhat impacted by the new boundaries, Garza said, the boundaries at the high schools will not be as impacting as at the middle schools where the growth has been greater.

For any questions regarding individual school boundaries, contact the school principals.


Public meetings set for faculty, parents with questions about new school boundary changes

The Edinburg school district will host several public meetings to provide parents and school staff information on the new school boundary changes for the 2007-2008 school year. Information letters will also be sent out to the parents of students to be impacted by the boundary changes.

Elementary schools will host individual public meetings on their respective campuses between February 26 and March 1.

The middle school schedules are:

South – February 22;

Harwell – February. 26;

B.L. Garza – March 1; and

Memorial – March 8.

The high schools’ schedules will be announced later in February.


Gov. Perry designates six additional emergency items for Legislature to quickly consider

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, February 5, declared additional emergency items for the 2007 legislative session. The emergency designation will allow lawmakers to begin considering these issues in the initial 30 days of the legislative session.

The emergency items include:

• The general appropriations bill;

• Legislation relating to making supplemental appropriations and reductions in appropriations;

• Legislation relating to making appropriations to the Texas Education Agency for the purpose of school district property tax rate reductions;

• Legislation relating to the management of the water resources of the state, including the protection of instream flows and freshwater inflows;

• Legislation relating to the allocation and use of the sporting goods sales tax revenue to fund state and local parks; and

• Legislation relating to the prosecution, punishment, and supervision of certain sex offenders and to certain crimes involving sex offenders.

“The sooner these legislative items are addressed, the sooner taxpayers will see results on these important issues,” Perry said. “By designating these issues emergency items, the Legislature can begin working on them very soon.”


Rep. Peña applauds governor’s move to place child predator legislation as emergency item for action

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is applauding Gov. Rick Perry’s decision declaring legislation relating to the issue of sexual assault against children as an emergency matter for the 80th Texas Legislature.

Issues listed as emergency items are considered a top priority and are treated as such in the legislative process.

“Texas has some of the toughest laws regarding those who perpetrate sexual crimes against children,” said Peña. “There can be no doubt that we are going to continue to look for ways to keep our children safe from sexual predators.”

As Chairman of House Criminal Jurisprudence, Peña will lead the committee charged with tackling this critical issue. Earlier this mont, Peña asked Perry to consider adding the item to the emergency call since House rules prevent regular legislation from reaching the floor within 60 days of the start of the session.

In the Senate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has championed legislation modeled after Florida’s “Jessica’s Law.” The statute is named after Jessica Lunsford who was kidnapped, raped and killed in 2005 by a convicted sex offender.

Some provisions of the law include satellite monitoring of those convicted and subsequently released of sexual assault of a child, larger safe harbor zones around parks and schools, the doubling of the statue of limitations and mandatory punishment of a minimum 25 years prison sentence for first time offenders.

There are several bills that have been filed in the House and Senate modeled in part by the Florida law.

“We will keep sending the message that Texans will not tolerate these crimes against children,” said Peña. “There are some concerned about the unintended consequences that some of the proposed legislation may have and we will take that into consideration. There is important work before this committee and we are ready to take on the responsibility.”

Peña is finalizing committee staff appointments. The committee is expected to hold its first meeting on Wednesday, February 13. Peña expressed his support for getting started working on the issue at the earliest possible date.

“This legislation will receive the highest priority in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. I fully expect that it will be the first bill considered on our agenda,” the Edinburg lawmaker said.


Gov. Perry outlines proposed $163.7 billion, two-year state budget that would begin on September 1

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, February 6, outlined his 2008-09 budget proposal that establishes a new, higher standard for fiscal responsibility and truth-in-budgeting while meeting key priorities for Texas. The governor’s budget slows government growth, provides $15 billion in property tax relief, allocates $5.4 billion to pay for past accounting gimmicks such as delayed payments and leaves a $4.3 billion balance in the Economic Stabilization Fund untouched.

Perry proposes a stricter spending cap tied to the average of inflation and population growth. In this session, the governor’s proposed spending cap would be 3.5 percent lower than the current limit. Because the goal of a spending cap is to limit spending, not tax relief, property tax relief would be excluded from the governor’s proposed cap. The governor’s budget complies with this new proposed spending limit.

In total, Perry’s budget provides $167.3 billion from all funds, including $15 billion in tax relief. Absent tax relief, this represents an increase of $9.8 billion, or 6.9 percent over 2006-07. Spending from general revenue absent tax relief totals $71.4 billion, an increase of $5.8 billion or 8.8 percent over the 2006-07 biennium.


Rep. Gonzáles expresses concerns about plan by Gov. Perry to sell Texas Lottery to private investors

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Wednesday, February 7, issued the following statements in response to Gov. Rick Perry’s State of the State address.

“I hope Gov. Perry will deliver on the promises he made in today’s speech. “I have been working to make quality, affordable health care accessible to the families in our area, and I am glad that the governor has said he will join that fight. Gov. Perry says he wants to invest in cancer research, and I look forward to joining him in that effort.”

I am also fighting to fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Cancer research can help Texans in generations to come and I hope Gov. Perry will join in that fight as well. I am committed to giving hardworking Texas families access to health care for their children today.”

In addition to proposing increased funding for cancer research, Gov. Perry also used his State of the State address to propose a controversial plan to sell the state lottery to a private company.

“I want to learn more about the governor’s proposal to sell the state lottery before making up my mind on this issue. I also want to hear from the constituents I serve. While the governor’s plan to sell the lotto may provide a short term financial boost for the state, I have grave concerns that this plan may cost us money in the long run.

“Some of our highways have already been sold to a Spanish company, there was an attempt to sell our state parks to a company in Mexico, our Children’s Health Insurance Program has been outsourced to a company in the Bahamas and now there is a proposal to sell the lottery—I think we need to take a hard look at his plan and proceed with caution.”

“I look forward to working with Gov. Perry when we agree on proposals that will bring good jobs, quality education and affordable health care to our state and our district. But I will stand up to the governor if I believe his policies are wrong for Texas, and I will always put the families of our community first.”


Gov. Perry: Selling state lottery would help fund cancer research, public education

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, February 8, told the Texas Public Policy Foundation that his proposal to sell the Texas Lottery for a 40 year private concession is a fiscally sound proposal that will benefit the state. Financial experts conservatively predict the lottery may be sold for $14 billion, generating an estimated $1.3 billion annual interest based on an average return of 9 percent.

“Selling the lottery will work for Texas,” Perry said. “The financial gains the sale will generate can effectively provide a long-lasting source of revenue that can ensure we have the money we need to invest in the great challenges we face.”

In recent years, the lottery has yielded approximately $1 billion annually. However, this funding is an unstable source of revenue. Selling the lottery for a conservatively estimated $14 billion allows the state to invest in secure trust funds which would annually generate nearly $1.3 billion interest, $300 million more than yearly lottery returns. Perry proposes using the annual interest gained from the sale of the lottery to establish trust funds in perpetuity for cancer research efforts, public education, and a premium assistance program for the uninsured.

This session, legislators have discussed efforts intended to make Texas a leader in cancer research. With the sale of the lottery, the state can dedicate $300 million annually to finding a cure. Steady funding is particularly important in research endeavors to ensure uninterrupted progression of scientists’ work.

The governor also proposes using close to $800 million in earned trust fund interest to fund public education. The governor’s budget allocates additional general revenue for public education to ensure there is no gap in education funding.

“Without the sale of the lottery, legislators must fund cancer research from general revenue or through a bond proposal, which will inflate a $3 billion price tag for 20 years to a total of $6 billion due to debt,” Perry said. “If legislators are willing to find $300 million in general revenue to finance bonds to fund cancer research, then why not use a smaller amount instead to make education funding whole under the alternative scenario of selling the lottery?”

Additionally, $270 million in annual trust fund earnings is proposed to create a premium assistance program for the uninsured. More than 2 million uninsured Texans are below 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. Perry’s proposed “Healthier Texas” program would help individuals purchase health insurance through employer-based programs or private plans.

“This is a unique opportunity for our state to invest in the pillars of prosperity: education, jobs and healthcare,” Perry said. “Let’s invest in a better Texas through wise use of our resources and a continued commitment to fiscal responsibility.”


Sen. Lucio wants governor to help promote health science center/medical school, I-69 development

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Tuesday, February 6, issued the following statements regarding Gov. Rick Perry’s State of the State address:

“I sincerely believe that Gov. Rick Perry has the best interest of the state at heart, as do I. Many of his proposals certainly hold my interest and many of his efforts have my support. Our agendas for the people of Texas share many commonalities, but until we take the pencil to the speech will we know exactly what these words will mean for Texas to become a leader of the 21st Century.

“In his remarks, Gov. Perry said that this state is building roads faster than any state in the nation. However, the Rio Grande Valley still lacks an interstate highway and thus lacks connectivity to the rest of this country. In light of the population growth of South Texas and its increase in traffic from this growth and from NAFTA, our roads aren’t being built fast enough, yet we continue in the struggle for approval and funding.

“Another issue raised was the rising cost of health care as an obstacle to prosperity. I concur!

“Gov. Perry said five and a half million Texans are uninsured. In my senatorial district, 25 percent of the residents are without insurance. His Healthier Texas plan proposes that the state pay $150 monthly per individual for health insurance, depending on the family’s income. That certainly sounds like a step in the right direction, as does his commitment to continue the necessary funding to operate the Irma Rangel Pharmacy School at Texas A&M at Kingsville.

“I am also seeking his commitment for my bill that will create a health science center and medical school in South Texas. These facilities will certainly improve and increase access to quality health care in the area. And of course, we must accelerate and expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program for our Texas children.

“I support the governor’s plan to increase financial aid by $360 million for our college students, but not at the expense of curtailing programs that have successfully increased college participation along the Texas border, like the South Texas Border Initiative.

“Increasing teacher pay has been my mantra for many years. Although we have made some inroads in this arena, we still underpay the people who teach and guide our future generations.

“The governor has ideas about immigration that deserve attention. Texas is being forced to look at a primarily federal issue of great impact to Texas handled with little compensation from Washington, D.C. I continue to frown upon building any fences or walls between our two countries, while keeping a positive attitude toward guest worker programs that protect our economy, our businesses and American workers.

“Texas faces many challenges, and the governor outlined them well. I’ve voiced my motto for this session: Finding Solutions Together. It appears that the many issues the governor touched on today certainly stand a better chance of being solved if we work in unison rather than along party lines. And they will fare better if we all keep the welfare of Texans uppermost in our minds and actions.”


Sen. Zaffirini supports more money for universities, wants to protect special funding for border colleges

Sen. Judith Zaffirini,, D-Laredo, on Tuesday, February 6, issued the following statements in response to Gov. Rick Perry’s State of the State address

“I congratulate Gov. Rick Perry on delivering his fourth State of the State address and look forward to working with him and the members of the Texas Legislature toward our mutual goals of establishing and enacting a positive agenda that benefits and champions Texas families.

“Gov. Perry’s emphasis on education and increased resources for health and human services certainly is promising. His calling for an additional $80 million to expand the ‘Texas Early Start’ pre-kindergarten program demonstrates a strong commitment to improving public education. What’s more, I am especially pleased the governor intends to dedicate additional funding to early education programs since I filed legislation that would expand Texas Early Education Model (TEEM) sites throughout Texas while increasing the recruitment of highly-trained, qualified early childhood education professionals.

“Because higher education is my top legislative priority, I also am pleased that Gov. Perry is placing it high on his list of priorities. Higher education is an impressive economic multiplier. The governor’s proposal of $1.7 billion in new money for higher education is a great investment in our state’s future that is certain to deliver remarkable economic and social returns. His support of funding increases to my B-on-Time zero-interest higher education loan program and measures to increase graduation rates across the board will help students be graduated timely and successfully.

“While I remain concerned about proposed funding reallocations that would accompany the governor’s higher education proposals, especially cuts to university special items that include institutional enhancements such as the South Texas Border Initiative, I remain optimistic that our state government will produce well-measured policies that will assist all Texas institutions.

“I look forward to working with Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and my colleagues in the Senate and House in providing Texas students with an excellent education; eliminating all access-to-care waiting lists while increasing access to affordable, quality health care; and providing a better quality of life for all Texas families.”


House Democratic Caucus leaders say Gov. Perry “misses the important priorities” in his state budget

Reps. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, and Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, on Tuesday, February 6, responded to Gov. Rick Perry’s State of the State address.

The House Democrats maintained that despite a few forward-looking recommendations, Perry failed to recognize many of the most essential priorities the legislature must address to move Texas forward.

“The people of Texas deserve a state government that works as hard for them as they work for their families,” Coleman, Chair of the Legislative Study Group said. “Unfortunately, the Governor failed to address too many of the fundamental priorities that impact the pocketbook and quality of life for every Texas family that works for a living.”

When Texans voted last fall, they made their priorities clear: improve our children’s schools, make college affordable again, provide access to health coverage for all Texas children, and lower the cost of our electric bills. In terms of dollars and cents, however, the governor’s budget priorities focus almost entirely on property tax cuts that disproportionately benefit wealthy property owners at the expense of needs that are even more important to the future of our state’s economy.

“We all support lower property taxes, but Texans are also demanding greater investments in our children’s schools, affordable college for our families, and a healthier Texas,” Gallego, Chair of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, observed. “The Governor talks about these things, but he doesn’t offer a plan to put our money to work for us on these critical matters.”

Coleman said the state must increase teacher pay across the board to attract and retain quality teachers for our classrooms, and that those teachers should no longer be forced to teach only to a standardized test.

“After twelve years of learning and study in the classroom, graduation should not be based solely on a test that tries to boil it all down to ‘A, B, C, or none of the above’,” Coleman said.

Dunnam, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, agreed that the state should increase student assistance for college, but added that eliminating tuition deregulation is a more important step if we are to make college affordable again for all Texas families.

“Unfortunately, tuition deregulation has led to tuition increases that are pricing many students from middle class families out of the opportunity that can only be provided by a college education,” Dunnam said.

He cited figures that show a 47% increase in the cost of tuition to the University of Texas at Austin has led to a tuition increase of $2,500 per year. And the problem isn’t just at UT – there has been a 54% increase in tuition at UT-Brownsville, a 34% increase in tuition at Texas Tech, and a 49% increase in tuition at the University of Houston.

Coleman said the governor should be commended for acknowledging that Texas has the highest rate of people without health insurance in the country – 24.5% of all Texans. However, he said the Governor’s speech failed to adequately address this critical need.

“We cannot gamble on a return from privatizing the Texas Lottery to fund a limited health insurance program for adults,” Coleman said, adding that “we must closely watch proposed cuts to Medicaid benefits to make sure they do not result in a similar loss of heath coverage that resulted from the 2003 cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

“The fastest way to insure the children of Texas is to repeal the policies enacted in 2003 that caused 200,000 Texas children to lose their CHIP coverage, policies that cost us $893 million in federal matching funds,” Coleman noted.

Gallego, speaking about taxes said, “All Texans should expect truth in taxation, so that our tax dollars go where we expect them to go. The taxes on sporting goods should go to improve state parks, as promised. We also need to prevent the governor from eliminating the System Benefit Fund, which helps the very poor pay their utility bills. Texans shouldn’t have to choose between groceries and keeping the lights on.”

The Democratic leaders said the state should work to increase the use of renewable energy technologies like solar energy. Such new technologies will help answer the state’s growing need for additional energy sources and mitigate the need for unhealthy options such as the new coal plants Perry is currently attempting to fast-track to completion.

“Texans know how the sun beats down on us, so it’s time we put it to work for us instead of fast-tracking coal plants that increase health risks, including the risk of cancer,” Gallego said.

“Texans are calling for action on these important priorities, but the Governor keeps trying to give that responsibility to private interests who want to use our tax dollars to make a profit,” Dunnam said.

“From private school vouchers to private call centers for CHIP to toll roads, privatization has failed us, and it’s time for the state of Texas to work for the people again and not for profit,” Dunnam concluded.


Senate panel unanimously approves bill by Sen. Zaffirini to strengthen child passenger safety

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on Wednesday, February 7, unanimously recommended Senate passage of Senate Bill 60 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which strengthens current child passenger safety protections.

The bill requires that children younger than eight years, unless they are four-feet nine-inches in height, be secured properly while riding in a motor vehicle.

“Each year more than 1,600 children die in vehicular accidents,” Zaffirini said. “This is the leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death among children 14 and younger. SB 60 would save lives and would make certain our younger children are safe and secure while riding on Texas roads and highways.”

Current law requires only children who are younger than five years of age and shorter than 36 inches be properly secured in child-passenger safety seats during the operation of a vehicle. Children between the ages of five and eight and who are between 36 and 57 inches represent an age group that is at great risk of death or severe injury due to the gap in current law.

SB 60 will eliminate this gap and strengthen current child passenger safety protections. It provides for a four-month temporary grace period to inform Texas drivers about the new measure.

“Unrestrained children are more likely to be injured, suffer more severe injuries and possibly die in motor vehicle accidents than children who are restrained,” Zaffirini said. “I am very pleased that the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee favorably and unanimously recommended my SB 60, and I look forward Senate passage. We anticipate a remarkable victory for child and public safety.”


Rep. Martínez throws support behind energy assistance program for low-income electricity users

Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D – Welaco, is one of several Valley lawmakers who have signed on as co-authors of House Bill 551, which deals with eligibility of low-income families for an energy assistance program.

The principal author of the legislation is Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who is the Speaker of the House Pro Tempore – second-in-command of the House of Representatives.

“House Bill 551 would provide assistance to low-income electric customers by providing a targeted energy efficiency program,” Martínez said. “A customer qualifies under the system benefit fund if the household income is not more than 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline.”

A resident is also qualified if they meet one of the following:

•Receives food stamps.

•Receives federal housing asístanse.

•Has a child enrolled in the national school lunch program, or reduced-price lunches.

•Receives lifeline telephone service.

“Assisting the economically disadvantaged individuals is one of my goals while in Austin.” Martínez said., “I will assist with the passage of this legislation. Not only for the benefit of my constituents, but for all Texans.”

The other Valley legislators listed as co-authors are Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito; and Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville. Esocobar’s legislative district includes Willacy County.

A co-author is a legislator authorized by the primary author to join in the authorship of a bill or resolution. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber in which the bill was filed.


Rep. Martínez co-authors measure that would increase public awareness of children’s health insurance program

Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, has signed on as a co-author for Bill 109, which would require the state government to inform more Texans that they qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“Under this bill, a commission would provide information through community outreach programs and an education campaign on the availability of health benefits for children who qualify,” said Martínez, “The campaign will involve the efforts of school health clinics and make available a toll-free telephone number that will provide information about health coverage for children.”

“Assisting families’ maintain the health of their children is one of my goals here in Austin,” Martínez, said, “I hope legislation will be passed so that all Texas children will have an opportunity to receive the health care they need and deserve.”

The principal authors of House Bill 198 are Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who is the Speaker of the House Pro=Tempore, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

A co-author is a legislator authorized by the primary author to join in the authorship of a bill or resolution. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber in which the bill was filed.


Congressman Cuellar, Hinojosa to host government contracting workshop in McAllen on February 21

Hidalgo County’s two U.S. congressmen – Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, will host a federal grants workshop to be be held in McAllen on Wednesday, February 21.

The event will be conducted from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The workshop, which is being held at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, will include presenters from the Small Business Administration, the General Services Administration, and Boeing Corporation. The workshop’s primary focus will be on preparing small business owners for doing business with the federal government.

The McAllen Chamber of Commerce is located at 1200 Ash Avenue.


Congressman Hinojosa supports National Consumer Protection Week

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, February 5, passed by a vote of 398-0 a resolution introduced by Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, co-chair of the Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus, that recognizes the importance of consumer protection.

“Technological advances have made it easier than ever for criminals to take advantage of our nation’s consumers,” said Hinojosa. “We must remain vigilant in providing our citizens the best tools to combat the growing number of frauds and deceptions bombarding them.”

H. Res. 94 supports the goals and ideals of National Consumer Protection Week, which is Feb. 4th through 10th, and seeks to boost awareness of consumer protection options among Americans. To highlight the week’s importance, Hinojosa is collaborating with the Federal Trade Commission and 14 other federal agencies on a Consumer Education Fair scheduled for Feb. 8th in 1302 Longworth House Office Building from 9 a.m. until noon. The fair will be open to all Capitol Hill staff as well as Members of Congress who would like material on how to help constituents improve their financial literacy levels. The general public is also welcome to attend.

In 30 states, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that more than 60 individuals per 100,000 population were victims of identity theft in 2005. In Texas alone, there were over 26,000 reports of identity theft in one year. According to the FTC, Texas ranks among the top five states where consumers are most likely to have their personal information compromised.

The theme of this year’s National Consumer Protection Week, “Read Up and Reach Out: Be an Informed Consumer,” encourages people to utilize the wealth of online resources that can vastly improve their confidence in the marketplace. Consumers can boost their knowledge by simply logging on to the National Consumer Protection Week’s Web site,, where they can find useful tips on how to make well-informed purchase decisions.

“It’s critical that Americans take the necessary steps to protect themselves from consumer fraud and identity theft,” said Hinojosa. “I urge everyone to take advantage of the numerous available tools that will help them better secure their information.”


Regents told that the UT System enrolling more minority students that five years ago

Institutions within the University of Texas System are enrolling more minorities, graduating more students in critical math and science fields and producing substantially more research than they were a half-decade ago, according to a report prepared for the UT System Board of Regents.

Regents on Thursday, February 8 approved the wystem’s fourth annual Accountability and Performance Report, which provides data and analysis on a variety of academic, health-care and service missions across the System’s nine academic and six health institutions.

The report uses 135 measures to gauge such things as enrollment, diversity, student outcomes, faculty productivity, clinical care and community impact over five years at all 15 institutions as well as System administration.

“We are leaders nationally in pioneering this process and making our institutions transparent to the public, and this report demonstrates that,” UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof said. “What’s significant in this accountability study is we offer proof to the public that tax dollars are being used efficiently and productively.

“Moreover, this document is a useful tool in helping us identify those things we wish to improve to make our institutions even better.”

Among some of the report’s highlights:

• Research expenditures at UT System institutions grew 36 percent since 2002 to more than $1.8 billion in FY 2006. And the total number of new inventions rose by roughly one-third, from 459 in 2001 to 613 in 2005. The UT System in 2004 ranked fourth nationally in the number of patent awards received.

• Enrollment at UT System academic campuses increased by an average of 17 percent from 2001 to 2005, and the proportion of Hispanic freshmen at those institutions (39 percent) exceeded the proportion of Hispanic students graduating statewide from high schools (35 percent).

• UT System institutions, which already account for about one-third of the degrees conferred in the state, awarded 23,167 undergraduate degrees in 2005, a 22 percent increase from 2001. Four institutions were among the top 10 in the nation in the number of undergraduate degrees they awarded to Hispanics.

• Twenty-five percent of all degrees conferred at UT System institutions were in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math, which was significantly higher than the national average of 17 percent.

• Faculty from UT System health institutions treated 79,262 patients in state-owned hospitals in FY 2005, up roughly one-third from the 60,785 they treated in FY 2001.

Other noteworthy findings revealed nearly half of undergraduate students received some form of need-based financial aid, which covered nearly 80 percent of their total academic costs. Also, all academic institutions improved six-year graduation rates from 2001 to 2005, five of them by four or more percentage points; and seven of eight four-year campuses showed gains in four-year graduation rates. Seniors at eight academic institutions performed at or above expected levels on the Collegiate Learning Assessment Performance Task scale.

“This report clearly shows progress across the board at our academic and health institutions, but we will continue to evaluate where improvement is most needed and adjust our efforts accordingly,” said Dr. Geri Malandra, interim executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and vice chancellor for strategic management.

The UT System Accountability and Performance Report is regarded as one of the top models for higher education accountability in the nation. The System was the first higher education body in the state to devise a comprehensive model for public accountability.

“We are proud of the progress our institutions have made and this study continues to serve us well in developing strategies to make our campuses even stronger,” said James R. Huffines, chairman of the UT Board of Regents.

Serving the educational and health care needs of Texans for more than 125 years, the UT System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems with 15 campuses – including nine academic and six health institutions – and an annual operating budget of $10 billion (FY 2007). Student enrollment exceeded 190,000 in the 2006 academic year. The UT System confers one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates three-fourths of Texas health care professionals. With more than 76,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in Texas.


Sen. Hutchison cosponsors bill to create National Museum of the Latino

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, on Thursday, February 8, signed on as an original cosponsor of a bill to establish a commission on the National Museum of the Latino. The legislation, S.500, creates a 23 member commission and authorizes funding to help establish a national museum honoring Hispanic heritage.

“Since the very founding of our great nation, American society has benefited from the contributions of myriad cultures and backgrounds,” Hutchison said. “I am pleased to cosponsor this legislation to honor the heritage of our many Hispanic citizens. The museum would also serve as an educational resource for people interested in learning about Latino history and traditions.”

The legislation introduced today establishes a 23 member commission with appointments from the president and bi-partisan leaders from both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. It calls for the development of a fundraising plan with a national conference, and a report to determine location and governance for the museum. In addition, the legislation authorizes funds for use by the commission.


Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announces two new appointments to the Texas Ethics Commission

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has announced the appointments of James Graham and Paula Mendoza to the Texas Ethics Commission.

Graham, a resident of Dallas, is currently an investment manager at Hunt Realty Corporation. He is a graduate of Miami University and George Washington University.

Mendoza, a resident of Houston, is owner of Possible Missions, Inc., a small business consulting firm. Mendoza is the Chairwoman of the Texas Association of Mexican-American Chambers of Commerce. She is a graduate of University of Houston.

The Texas Ethics Commission, created by Constitutional amendment in 1991, is responsible for administering and enforcing political contribution and expenditure laws, lobbyist activities, state officers’ financial disclosure statements, state officers’ salaries, and other ethics issues.

Titans of the Texas Legislature