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SOCIALIFE publisher Pepe Cabeza de Vaca brings advocacy with new vision of journalism - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Much like the powerful words sung in the hit video Lose my Soul by Grammy Award winning performer TobyMac, the Valley’s own José R. “Pepe” Cabeza de Vaca knows full-well that the most valuable treasures in life are not measured by material wealth. Cabeza de Vaca, one of South Texas’ emerging community leaders, is also publisher of the popular SOCIALIFE News Magazine, a monthly journal – now also available on the Internet – which shows the world that South Texans place the highest value on helping others overcome obstacles to succeed and prosper. While the printed and spoken word are the primary tools used by titans of industry, political pundits, and heads of state to serve their self-interests, Cabeza de Vaca and his talented team are believers in a powerful, time-proven proverb: “One picture is worth a thousand words.” His professional and community contributions earned him praise from the Texas Legislature, including this portrait taken at the Capitol in May with the top leadership of the Texas Senate. Featured, from left: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Ma. Silvia Castillo, Vice President, SOCIALIFE News Magazine; José R. “Pepe” Cabeza de Vaca, President, SOCIALIFE News Magazine; and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. See lead story later in this posting.


SOCIALIFE publisher Pepe Cabeza de Vaca brings advocacy with new vision of journalism - Titans of the Texas Legislature

The Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) recently presented one of its coveted Legislative Champion Award to Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, for his successful efforts to provide needed funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) across Texas, including in the Valley. Federally Qualified Health Centers are designed to provide crucial medical care for thousands of working families in Texas. Equally important, FQHCs allow patients to be diagnosed and treated before their illnesses or injuries become worse, which often result in trips to local hospital emergency rooms, he noted. “The high number of uninsured threatens the financial viability of local health-care systems,” Martínez explained. “These clinics treat people who do not have insurance and help relieve the burden on emergency rooms in terms of both service levels and uncompensated care costs.” Martínez is featured here on Wednesday, August 12, providing a legislative update on health care and other issues during an event at the McAllen Country Club sponsored by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. See story later in this posting.


SOCIALIFE publisher Pepe Cabeza de Vaca brings advocacy with new vision of journalism - Titans of the Texas Legislature

June Brann, a renowned South Texas journalist featured here in a file photo provided by the Progress Times in Mission, passed away on Friday, August 18. Through her columns in the Progress Times to her regular meetings with city or hospital officials, she was – as the city attorney named her – “the conscience of Mission. She always did what was right,” said friend and Mission Attorney Darrell Davis. Brann, a distinguished journalist with a career spanning over 50 years, is remembered in a story by Edwina Garza, assistant editor at the Progress Times in Mission, along with her obituary, both featured later in this posting,


SOCIALIFE publisher Pepe Cabeza de Vaca brings advocacy with new vision of journalism - Titans of the Texas Legislature

It may not be pouring down rain but it’s definitely going to be Raining Men on Saturday, August 29 at the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce “It’s Raining Men” Style Show scholarship fundraiser at The Embassy Suites in McAllen. Professional business men will be modeling the most up-to-date men’s clothing to raise funds for scholarships for the MHCC’s Education Committee.  Local and national chain stores are participating in the fun event, which will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Embassy Ballroom. Sponsorship opportunities are as follows:  Monsoon – $1,500 with 2 tables of 10 in prime location; Podium time, company banner set up at event and a full page color ad in the program book; Hurricane $750 – one table of 8, company banner and a half-page color ad; and Thunderstorm – $500 with 4 tickets in prime location, company banner and a ¼ page color ad in the program book. Reserved tables of 10 are $500, Stage Side Priority Seating tickets are $50 and General admission $35.  Food and refreshments will be included in the ticket. The male models will be showcasing fashions in the following categories: western, casual, athletic, business and formal wear. A father and son division will also be presented. The grand finale will be a live auction for a dinner date with the single men in the fashion show. For sponsorship and ticket information call the McAllen Hispanic Chamber office at 928-0060.  Limited seating is available. Featured, from left, are a few of the models: Hari Namboodiri; Alberto Herrera; Amir Elsayed; John Kittleman; and Víctor de León.


SOCIALIFE publisher Pepe Cabeza de Vaca brings advocacy with new vision of journalism

“I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul.”

(Featuring Kirk Franklin, Mandisa)


Much like the powerful words sung in the hit video Lose my Soul by Grammy Award winning performer TobyMac, the Valley’s own José R. “Pepe” Cabeza de Vaca knows full-well that the most valuable treasures in life are not measured by material wealth.

Cabeza de Vaca, one of South Texas’ emerging community leaders, is also publisher of the popular SOCIALIFE News Magazine, a monthly journal – now also available on the Internet – which shows the world that South Texans place the highest value on helping others overcome obstacles to succeed and prosper.

While the printed and spoken word are the primary tools used by titans of industry, political pundits, and heads of state to serve their self-interests, Cabeza de Vaca and his talented team are believers in a powerful, time-proven proverb:

“One picture is worth a thousand words.”

To that end, SOCIALIFE – as it is more familiarly known – uses photojournalism and eye-catching page layouts to champion the noble and charitable causes of the people of South Texas.

No matter your socioeconomic status, if you are part of any honest effort to improve the quality of life for the region, chances are good that you will eventually wind up gracing the pages of SOCIALIFE.

“Through SOCIALIFE News Magazine, we report on our countless fellow South Texans who generously contribute their valuable time, tremendous skills, great ideas, and financial resources to promote worthy causes,” said Cabeza de Vaca. “By providing deserved attention to these Good Samaritans, we let them know how much we appreciate them. Just as important, we hope our news coverage inspires others to  also help the least amongst us.”

The list of individuals and organizations – and their respective milestones and events – featured in SOCIALIFE is a veritable honor roll of all Rio Grande Valley society, from the American Cancer Society to the VAMOS Scholarship Banquet.

For that reason, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, counts himself as one of the magazine’s growing legion of loyal readers.

“Pepe has done a great job with SOCIALIFE in depicting, with great photography, the every day lives of the wonderful people in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Hinojosa. “He captures all aspects of our communities in a very impressive way, from quinceañeras (a young lady’s 15th birthday) to receptions for public officials, from public hearings on the issues of the day to promoting charitable groups which are raising funds for deserving goals.”

Texas Legislature honors SOCIALIFE publisher

Cabeza de Vaca’s commitment to the South Texas border region earned him public recognition in May from the state’s top leaders, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Joe Straus, with legislative resolutions in both the House and the Senate being bestowed on him.

Senate Resolution 998 by Hinojosa and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the Dean of the Senate, praised Cabeza de Vaca and SOCIALIFE News Magazine for his mission “to create a magazine that would showcase the work of South Texas nonprofit organizations and that would help those organizations to become better known throughout the area; his mission was also to lend support to such indispensable charities.”

Created in November 2004, Cabeza de Vaca’s vision has come to fruition, says Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, another supporter of his publication.

“I think the magazine has really come a long ways in just a very short period of time. All the (charitable) events that occur throughout the Valley are being publicized. I think that is an incentive, a lot of times, for people to go to these events,” said Gonzáles. “They like picking up the magazine and seeing what has occurred in our area. It is a good advertisement for many charitable organizations.”

Politics and the press

But Cabeza de Vaca’s community service goes beyond the publishing business.

In an unusual –  and some say, positive – sign of statesmanship in the City of Palms, Cabeza de Vaca serves on McAllen’s influential Planning and Zoning Board, courtesy of his one-time political competitor, McAllen City Commissioner James “Jim” Darling.

The P&Z Board, according to the city, is charged with submitting reports, plans, and recommendations to the city commission for the orderly growth, development, and welfare of the city. They review and make recommendations on zoning change requests, conditional use permits for longer than one year, and variances to subdivision ordinance requirements for development.

Cabeza de Vaca and Darling both ran in May 2007 for the open District 6 commissioner slot, with Darling,  the former longtime McAllen city attorney, winning in a campaign that avoided any professional or personal attacks that are common in many political battles.

Darling, a Vietnam veteran, was impressed enough with Cabeza de Vaca’s demeanor and commitment to public service that he later nominated him for a coveted seat on the P&Z Board.

“We ran a race where no one took anything personal,” said Darling. “Our affection for the city of McAllen was the common denominator.”

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, who supported Cabeza de Vaca’s appointment his city’s P&Z Board, says the publication is helping the development of the community.

“Pepe’s magazine helps us market our area,” Cortéz explained. “One of McAllen’s goals is to attract the creative class, to attract the young person. Show me a city that does not attract the young, and I will show you a city that is not going to do well. His magazine, his approach in putting it together, complements very much the strategic goals of our city.”

Passing the torch of leadership

In every generation, the time eventually comes to reap the benefits and bear the burdens of leadership.

Cabeza de Vaca and the great mass of his fellow South Texans who are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s represent – as so dramatically characterized by President Kennedy in his historic 1960 inaugural address – a demographics to which “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”

Edinburg Councilmember Gus García, Jr., the youngest member of the Edinburg City Council, said Cabeza de Vaca’s unique combination of leadership in politics and in the media clearly reflects the high ideals and attainable high goals of this latest new generation of Americans.

García is quick to credit more seasoned South Texans “for their wisdom and experiences, which have a lot to offer to younger people.”

But, he added, “It is important to have magazines like SOCIALIFE, television shows, and other media to showcase certain generations and educate them, let them know what is going on.”

Information is knowledge and power, the second-term city councilmember reflected.

“It is important we educate every demographic regardless of age,” García continued. “The more information we get out there, the better that we as a society are going to understand the issues of the day. and help make it a better place for everyone.”

Edinburg Mayor Richard García – no relation to Councilmember Gus García  – is a seasoned veteran of politics and law who is in his early 60s.

The second-term mayor notes that even though Cabeza de Vaca is a McAllen resident, the SOCIALIFE publisher’s willingness to help a region, and not just his hometown, is further proof of the younger generation continuing to take its rightful place at the helms of power.

“He is very active in our community. He has run for political office, he’s always out and about,” the Edinburg mayor said. “Recently, he finished up participating in the Edinburg Leadership class, even though he doesn’t live in Edinburg. We are pleased to have him in our community.”

The year before participating in Leadership Edinburg, Cabeza de Vaca was a member of Leadership McAllen XXVII.

Seeing is believing

Back in McAllen, where his dream for SOCIALIFE first became a reality, Cabeza de Vaca remains dedicated to breaking new ground by keeping up with the rapidly evolving word of publishing, where 21st century technology has made it possible to reach out to previously unattainable audiences across the globe.

He is keeping his latest strategies close to the vest, but it is no secret that the huge number of people between  the age of 18 and 50 is his market today, and especially for the future.

Those demographics are keenly recognized and appreciated by the older generation.

Noting that McAllen has one of the largest percentage of young people among U.S. cities, Darling said that by him nominating Cabeza de Vaca for the P&Z Board, with the support of the entire city commission, local government leaders are preparing the community for the future.

“Pepe is a young man, he is involved in civic matters, he certainly wants to be involved in government,” the  McAllen city commissioner noted. “I’m kind of a senior citizen in relationship to Pepe. I thought this would be a good opportunity to get him some exposure to the operations of government.

Cabeza de Vaca said he appreciated Darling’s help, as well as the support of the mayor and other city commissioners.

“This type of cooperation usually doesn’t make headlines, but neither do the many big dreams and impressive accomplishments of the majority of people from all walks of life who represent the best of our region,” said Cabeza de Vaca. “That’s why I created SOCIALIFE, and now have put in on the Internet. I want to let the rest of the world know that we – through the extraordinary power of the photograph – are truly an American success story.”

Edinburg’s mayor gives pause to put things in perspective for himself, who is part of the current generation in power – the so-called Baby Boomers, who are the estimated 80 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Most of us are in our last hurrah, and it is important for all of us to give back to our community,” Mayor García readily acknowledged, then singled out Cabeza de Vaca.

“You are never too young,” the Edinburg mayor advised. “South Texas has been good to Pepe Cabeza de Vaca. He is  a person who deserves the recognition.”

SOCIALIFE is available online at no charge at


June Brann, former newspaper publisher and editor, longtime area journalist, laid to rest in Mission


June Brann, through her columns in the Progress Times to her regular meetings with city or hospital officials, was – as the city attorney named her – “the conscience of Mission.”

“She always did what was right,” said friend and Mission Attorney Darrell Davis.

Brann, a distinguished journalist with a career spanning over 50 years, died August 14. She was 82.

Born into a home quarantined by the health department after her parents were both diagnosed with small pox, Brann called herself a survivor.

Davis, who delivered the eulogy at Brann’s funeral on Tuesday, August 18 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in McAllen, said Brann worked “tenaciously” as a member of the media and as a board member of over 20 years for Mission Hospital, where she assisted in the hospital’s evolution to become Mission Regional Medical Center and to ensure Mission thrived.

“She was feared by some and disliked by others because, I guess, the truth hurts,” Davis said. But others revered her for her forthright boldness in telling it like she saw it.

“No one had to wonder about what she thought about a particular matter.If you missed seeing it in her eye, or hearing it face-to-face, you’d read it in print,” Davis said.

Brann began working at 14 years old for the local variety store and movie theater before working as a link instructor at the Moore Air Base. Over the years, the Donna native worked for the Associated Press, the Mission Times, the Houston Chronicle, WeslacoNews, KRIO and KURV radio and KRGV-TV. She later became owner, publisher and editor of the Progress Times and the Texas Agri-News, and co-publisher of the Winter Texan Times before her retirement in 2003.

In her position as a member of the media, Brann was known for her hard stance on community issues and even became named one of the 10 most influential people in Hidalgo County – the only woman on that list, which included prominent figures such as Congressman Kika de la Garza and Glen Roney, chairman of the board of Texas State Bank.

Mission Economic Development Authority President and former Mission mayor Pat Townsend Jr. said Brann’s watchful eye on City Hall kept everyone in line. It was good to have someone fulfill that role, he said.

“She always offered a short Coke – a small glass bottle,” Townsend said of his frequent visits to her office on Conway Avenue. “There was never any alternative, it was just a regular Coke. But I swear, I think she had truth serum stuck away in it.”

If Brann heard of a rumor, she was always accurate, Townsend said.

“You couldn’t dispute the accuracy,” he said. “I enjoyed that time of my life…You don’t find that quality in everyone you run into.”

Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas had worked with Brann since the 1970s, on the campaign for Mayor Arnaldo Ramírez, and said she was a good voice for Mission, but especially for all of western Hidalgo County.

“She did so many things for people,” Salinas said. “She was a great friend of the whole city.”

In her mid-20s, Brann became a divorced mother of four children, which family and friends said pushed Brann to succeed.

She bristled when anyone tried to associate her name with the rise of feminism.

She once wrote, “Opportunity for women has always existed, if the individual woman will only reach out and pursue it…. I am living proof that women have that opportunity. I was pushed into success, mostly by men. Any success I have is due to the solid foundation given to me by my parents, God-given talent to write and the opening of doors of opportunity which I fell through.”

City Secretary Anna Carrillo, who previously worked with Brann for 23 years at the Progress Times, said Brann’s accomplishments were important for Rio Grande Valley women.

“For all women she was a pillar of example that we’re capable of success,” Carrillo said. “She took on the men with no problem.”

Carrillo, who got her job working for Brann when she was only 15, said she was deeply affected by their relationship.

“She was hard, but it was always because you were learning something,” Carrillo said, explaining that she had been wearing a heart necklace Brann had given her when she left the paper. “To me, she was kind of like a second mother. I confided and trusted in her.”

Police Chief Leo Longoria, who had known Brann for about 20 years, said he saw Brann as a mentor.

“I had a great admiration for her,” Longoria said. “She was very astute to what was going on in our organization and in the community.”

Her approach to dealing with him and community issues was matronly, he explained.

“I’ve never had a relationship like that,” Longoria said. “She was always a go-to person.”

Like Carrillo and Longoria, Townsend said his relationship with Brann closely resembled his relationship with his mother. At the August 18 Mayor Prayer Luncheon, Townsend told the audience he never knew what to expect when he was summoned to Brann’s office.

“I had no idea if she’d treat me like my mother treated me or worse,” Townsend joked.

Brann didn’t just make a habit of dropping in on city officials to discuss the progression of the city, City Manager Julio Cerda said. She also stopped by to ensure everyone was doing well.

“She would come in maybe once a week to say ‘hello,’” Cerda said. “She always was very interested in making sure the city was providing the best possible service.”

Along with keeping elected officials in check, Brann also served as a member of the board of Mission Hospital, now Mission Regional Medical Center.

Javier Iruegas, chief executive officer of MRMC, said Brann’s need to get to know a person on a one-to-one basis helped her be successful.

“She always had very thoughtful questions and direct questions,” Iruegas said. “I always respected that of her.”

When he interviewed for his position with the board nearly four years ago, Brann took him aside and said she wanted to meet with him privately before making her decision on her choice for the hospital.

“She wanted to get to know who the individual was,” Iruegas said.

Brann was a strong influence on the hospital and community, and was concerned with getting more traffic into the center with the construction of a nearby bridge.

“She was concerned with making sure the community was taken care of and that we were meeting the needs,” he said. “Over the years, I could really count on her; I admired and respected her opinions.”

In the days following her death, as family and friends gathered to remember her life and legacy, Davis said it was Brann’s ability to pick up and move forward that made her successful.

“When life gave her lemons, she made lemonade,” Davis said. “A batch big enough not only to care for her children, but to quench a whole community and beyond.”


June Rosaleen Kobeck Brann, 82, of Mission, a prominent Valley figure and former newspaper publisher and editor, was laid to rest on Tuesday, August 18, following her death at Mission Regional Medical Center on Friday, August 14.

A viewing was held on Monday, August 17, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Ric Brown Family Funeral Home, 621 E. Griffin Parkway, Mission.

The funeral service were held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, August 18, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located at the corner of 29th Street and Dove in McAllen. Graveside services followed at Valley Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

Brann was born March 21, 1927 in Donna to Joseph Aloys and Ruth Evelyn Kobeck. She graduated from Weslaco High School in 1945 and attended Pan American College.

The greater part of her professional life was distinguished in newspaper, radio, and television.

During her journalism career, Brann worked for the Mission Times, Weslaco News, Associated Press, and Houston Chronicle in the print media and KRIO and KURV radio and KRGV-TV in the broadcast media. She was highly respected and recognized for her work in the media. She received numerous awards for writing, editing and photography.

Until her retirement, she was owner, publisher, and editor of the Progress Times and the Texas Agri-News, and editor and co-publisher of the Winter Texan Times. She retired in 2003 after an almost 50-year career in journalism.

Serving on numerous committees and boards, Brann was a charter member of the county’s first mental health organization in the 1960s. First appointed to the Mission Hospital Board in 1985, she served a total of 21 years in that capacity to see the hospital through to its fruition as Mission Regional Medical Center.

She also served on the City of Mission Civil Service Commission, Economic Development Corporation, and Economic Development Authority and was a Mission Rotary Club member. In recognition of her lifetime of service, she was honored as First Lady of Mission in 2007 and inducted into the BorderFest Walk of Fame in 2006.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she taught Sunday school and was a youth leader for a number of years.

Although she had an extensive journalism career, she always felt her greatest legacy was her family, to which she whole-heartedly dedicated herself as a divorced mother of four. Her journalism career was the means to the end with her children’s needs always at the forefront.

Survivors include her three sons, Tim (Betty) Brann of Mission, Joe (Teri) Brann of Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA, and Ted (Anne) Brann of Boerne; a daughter, Mendi (Jim) Brunson of Mission; sister, Margaret (Dwight) Randolph of San Antonio; 19 surviving grandchildren and 41 great-grandchildren.

Preceding her in death were her parents; a grandson, Alexander Joseph Brann; a brother, William Joseph Kobeck; and a sister, Anita Ruth Hensley.

Memorial contributions, in lieu of flowers, may be made to the charity of one’s choice; The Foundation at Mission Regional Medical Center, 900 S. Bryan Road, Mission, TX 78572; or to Humanitarian Services, 50 East North Temple Street, Floor 7, Salt Lake City, UT 84150-6890 (or, donate online at

Edwina Garza is assistant editor for the Progress Times in Mission. The Progress Times is available online at


Rep. Martínez named TACHC Legislative Champion for providing funding avenues for health care clinics


The Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) recently presented one of its coveted Legislative Champion Award to Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, for his successful efforts to provide needed funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) across Texas, including in the Valley.

Federally Qualified Health Centers are designed to provide crucial medical care for thousands of working families in Texas.

Equally important, FQHCs allow patients to be diagnosed and treated before their illnesses or injuries become worse, which often result in trips to local hospital emergency rooms, he noted.

“The high number of uninsured threatens the financial viability of local health-care systems,” Martínez explained. “These clinics treat people who do not have insurance and help relieve the burden on emergency rooms in terms of both service levels and uncompensated care costs.”

Nuestra Clinica del Valle, which has offices in McAllen, Edinburg, Alton, Donna, Mercedes, San Juan, Edcouch and Mercedes, the Brownsville Community Health Clinic, and the Community Action Council of South Texas, which serves Starr and Willacy counties, are among the Federally Qualified  Health Centers based in the Rio Grande Valley.

Martínez was honored for his work as the House sponsor of Senate Bill 526, by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, which will keep alive a critical FQHC incubator program that will provide an avenue for funding new clinics and offers a way to award grants to expand services in existing centers.

“These centers provide essential care to people throughout the Rio Grande Valley and across our state,” said TACHC Executive Director José E. Camacho. “By working to maintain critical funding, Rep. Martínez assures care will be available in areas where it’s needed most.”

Without Martínez’ legislation, the incubator program was set to expire on September 1, 2009.

SB 526 authorizes the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to continue a successful, multi-million dollar seed funding program that helps local community health centers – known as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) –  to obtain significantly-larger federal grants.

Martínez said he carried the legislation because the state program which provides the seed-money to attract matching federal funds, and the local government and non-profit agencies which serve uninsured and low-income Texans, have proven themselves over the years.

“I’m proud to have worked on legislation that touches the lives of people in my district, across the Rio Grande Valley and throughout Texas,” said Martínez. “These centers are essential delivery points for care.  We must assure they are in a position to meet current demands while also be ready to address the growing needs of our state.”

Martínez and one of his South Texas colleagues, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, were honored for the respective work on behalf of health care during an August 11 reception hosted in San Juan by TACHC.

The grants reauthorized by the Nelson/Martínez bill would help local community  health centers build the infrastructure needed to obtain federal grants. For  those centers that do not receive federal grants following receipt of a startup grant, SB 526 allows DSHS to make grants to support new  or expanded services at facilities qualified to be FQHCs.

“The grant process is competitive, and Texas must fight for limited funding with applicants from other states,” said Martínez. “The continued investment in expanding services at  certain health centers will ensure that Texas could benefit from more facilities receiving federal grant money.”

The needs to help current FQHCs and encourage the creation of new ones in Texas are significant, he said, noting that more than 200 Texas counties are designated as medically underserved areas.

FQHCs provide health care services not only to low-income and uninsured residents, but also to families in communities which are designated as medically underserved communities.

The 78th Legislature, Regular Session, in 2003 enacted SB 610 directing the Department of State Health Services to create the federally qualified health center incubator program to make grants to establish new or expand existing facilities that can qualify as federally qualified health centers.  Set to expire in September, the Nelson/Martínez bill has now done away with that deadline.

According to The Texas Association of Community Health Centers:

FQHC is a federal designation from the Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that is assigned to private non-profit or public health care organizations that serve predominantly uninsured or medically underserved populations.

FQHCs are located in or serving a Federally designated Medically Underserved Area/Population (MUA or MUP).

All FQHCs must operate under a consumer Board of Directors governance structure, and provide comprehensive primary health, oral, and mental health/substance abuse services to persons in all stages of the life cycle. FQHCs provide their services to all persons regardless of ability to pay, and charge for services on a Board approved sliding-fee scale that is based on patients’ family income and size. FQHCs must comply with Section 330 program expectations/requirements and all applicable federal and state regulations.


Gov. Perry, state officials: Texas is prepared for H1N1 flu season with plans for 3.3 million vaccines

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, August 24, along with Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner David Lakey, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, highlighted the state’s preparedness efforts in advance of the anticipated H1N1 flu season.

“Texas’ effort to deal with the H1N1 virus is robust and we are more prepared than ever to handle the challenge with more anti-viral medication in stock, more state and local coordination and more science to battle H1N1,” Perry said. “With the new school year beginning in most communities today, it’s a good time to remind Texans that frequent hand-washing, good hygiene and staying home if you’re sick can fight the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.”

As a proactive measure, in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on August 24, Perry requested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide an additional 25 percent, which is approximately 800,000 courses, of Texas’ allotment of antiviral medications from the Strategic National Stockpile. He also sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano requesting that the federal government allow a pandemic to be eligible for a major disaster declaration.

Texas currently has 2.5 million courses of antiviral medication prepositioned in the state, including the state’s previous 25 percent allotment from the Strategic National Stockpile and an additional 805,000 courses purchased with funding from the 81st Legislature.

“Although this flu season will be a challenge, it can be effectively managed. The good news is that, although this virus has rapidly spread worldwide, it has not changed and has not become more severe,” Lakey said. “We must remain vigilant and take personal precautions such as covering our cough, washing our hands, staying home when ill and getting vaccinated for the flu.”

To prepare for the upcoming flu season the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management (GDEM) and DSHS co-hosted an H1N1 summit earlier this month, regional summits across the state, and a statewide conference call with state, regional and local leadership.

GDEM has been working with DSHS, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the Department of Agriculture to provide guidance to local school districts and health departments and the state will also provide H1N1 guidance letters to all school administrators.

“The health and safety of our students is paramount,” said Scott said. “TEA will continue to provide information and support to districts as they prepare and coordinate with their local communities in advance of the upcoming flu season.”

The Department of Agriculture and TEA have developed a plan for the continued distribution and access to free and reduced lunches for children should schools close (Currently, 2.1 million school children participate).

“We are committed to protecting students from illnesses and ensuring nutritious meal services continue,” Staples said. “Millions of Texas children depend on the meals served at school every day, and we want to make sure schools have the option of continuing this crucial service, while still protecting those students from any public health threat.”

Health officials say everyone should follow standard precautions to reduce the spread of any respiratory illness.

  • Stay home when you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others;
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or a tissue and properly dispose of used tissues; and
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The CDC estimates the H1N1 vaccine will be available by mid-October and in Texas the distribution will be managed by DSHS. It is estimated that 45 million doses will be available nationwide.

Groups targeted for the vaccine will include pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than six months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, all persons six months through 24 years of age and persons 25 years through 64 years of age who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.


Edinburg’s unemployment rate jumps to 7.8 percent, representing third consecutive monthly increase


Edinburg posted a 7.8 percent unemployment rate in July 2009, a higher level than in June, which was then the worst showing for the three-time All-America City in more than four and a half years, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

The July 2009 unemployment rate represents a third straight monthly increase.

The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy.

A reported 2,455 Edinburg residents who were willing and able to work in July 2009 had no luck finding a job, according to the state agency.

In June 2009, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was 7.4 percent.

In May 2009, the unemployment rate in Edinburg was six percent.

The July 2009 statistic is also worse than the same month the previous year.

In July 2008, the city’s unemployment rate stood at 5.5 percent, when there were 1,647 residents jobless but looking for work.

The higher figures come less than two years after Edinburg has its best showing in the city’s history.

In November 2007, only 3.7 percent of Edinburg’s civilian labor force was unable to find work, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

According to TWC:

  • The unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force;
  • The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed; and
  • To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and  actively seeking work.

All major cities in the Valley suffered increases in their unemployment rates for July 2009, with McAllen reporting the lowest figure – 7.5 percent –  while four cities suffering with unemployment rates in double-digits.

The unemployment rate for all urban and rural areas in Hidalgo County reached 11.6 percent in July 2009, up from 11.1 percent in June 2009.

Cameron County had a better countywide average than Hidalgo County, but it was still in the double-digit realm, with all urban and rural areas in Cameron County averaging a 10.7 percent unemployment rate for July 2009.

Brownsville, the largest city in the Rio Grande Valley, in July 2009 posted a 10.9 percent unemployment rate.

A breakdown of the major cities in the Rio Grande Valley shows that they posted the following unemployment rates in July 2009:

  • McAllen – 7.5
  • Edinburg –7.8
  • Harlingen – 9
  • Pharr – 9.6
  • Mission – 9.7
  • San Benito – 10.2
  • Weslaco – 10.6
  • Brownsville – 10.9
  • San Juan – 12

Highlights of key figures for Edinburg include:

Unemployment rate, by month

  • July 2009: 7.8 percent
  • July 2008: 5.5
  • July 2007: 5.7
  • July 2006: 6.4
  • July 2005: 5.5

Unemployment rate, by year

  • 2008: 5.0 percent
  • 2007: 4.8
  • 2006: 5.3
  • 2005: 4.9

People looking for work, by month

  • July 2009: 2,455
  • July 2008: 1,647
  • July 2007: 1,676
  • July 2006: 1,779
  • July 2005: 1,444

Average of number of people looking for work, by year

  • 2008: 1,520
  • 2007: 1,417
  • 2006: 1,502
  • 2005: 1,324

Employed, by month

  • July 2009: 29,123
  • July 2008: 28,536
  • July 2007: 27,783
  • July 2006: 25,922
  • July 2005: 24,958

Average of number employed, by year

  • 2008: 28,971
  • 2007: 28,207
  • 2006: 26,865
  • 2005: 25,538

The Texas Workforce Commission maintains a detailed accounting of employment trends for Edinburg and all other cities in the state on its website, located at:

The figures for Edinburg and all other cities only go back to 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, because of substantial methodology changes between 2004 and 2005 in estimating city unemployment statistics, Texas city data is not available prior to 2005.

Because of substantial methodology changes in geographic areas below the state level, data from 2005 and 2004 or earlier is not considered comparable, the state agency notes.

Also, according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in July,  compared with the national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent.

The Texas unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in June.


University of Texas System regents approve $243 million operating budget for UT-Pan American


The University of Texas-Pan American’s fiscal year 2010 operating budget of more than $243 million was approved on Thursday, August 20, by The University of Texas System Board of Regents and will go into effect September 1.

The institution’s fiscal year 2010 budget will direct resources to the most essential needs of UTPA, which includes investing in new academic programs, retaining faculty and staff, and enhancing services provided to students and the community.

“Higher education fared much better than most of us expected going into the (legislative) session,” UTPA Interim President Charles A. Sorber said. “We were committed to balancing the budget without any negative impact on our core activities of teaching, research and service. The way you do that is to plan to not spend more than the expected revenues can support.”

The budget specifically directs resources to new programs in civil engineering, environmental sciences and a Ph.D. in rehabilitation counseling. Funding will also be directed toward salary merit increases to retain faculty and staff.

“The quality of education is remarkable here at UTPA, and being ranked 32nd among America’s top 100 public colleges by Forbes magazine really shows the quality here,” said Raghuveer Puttagunta, UTPA Student Government Association president. “UTPA is a leader in the higher education sector in retaining and recruiting faculty that truly care for the students.”

UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale noted that the University’s core mission support through this budget is critical not only for the University, but for the region as we continue to expand access to high quality instruction and research. These two things ultimately provide a great return on investment to the Rio Grande Valley.

“UTPA is committed to doing our part in meeting the critical shortages in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and allied health fields. We will continue to seek strong fiscal support for these areas,” said Sale.

The new budget will also focus on increasing outreach to students and the community. Funds were allocated to a new facility in south McAllen – the UTPA McAllen Teaching site – which opens in late August to expand and facilitate instructional services, especially in graduate education. The UTPA Transfer Center – a community college transfer office in McAllen, which provides assistance with admission and academic counseling, as well as financial aid and scholarship information, will also be supported with budget resources.

“The university is a regional entity and we serve that region in all ways we can. We have learned in some cases we have to take our product to the people because some people can’t get to us – we’ve done that in Starr County and now we are doing it in McAllen,” Sorber said.

Undergraduate designated tuition rates will increase from $87.70 to $90 a semester credit hour (SCH) and graduate designated tuition rates will increase from $87.70 to $101.70 per SCH beginning fall 2009. Despite these changes, designated tuition rates at UTPA will continue to be among the lowest in the state. The designated tuition fee will remain capped at 14 SCHs to encourage students to enroll in more than 14 hours.

“The 14-hour cap gives students an opportunity to pay less tuition when enrolling in more courses. Designated tuition is waived on all hours beyond 14, which provides an inducement to enroll in more hours each semester,” said Dennis McMillan, associate vice president for Enrollment and Student Services. “Students who take advantage of this will be on track to graduate on time.”

As a result of this year’s budget, UTPA will also see more financial assistance available for students. An estimated $4.2 million of designated tuition will be set aside for student aid, an increase of more than $800,000 from last year. Other increases include an additional $9 million for federal Pell Grants, an additional $2.3 million for TEXAS Grants, and estimated incentive funding of $2.1 million which is provided to all institutions and is based on graduation rates, and emphasis on STEM fields and at-risk students’ outcomes.

“Since so many of our students come from low socioeconomic areas, an increase in aid will alleviate some of the problems associated with attending or completing a college degree,” Puttagunta said. “This will help so many students finish their degrees and graduate within the standard four-year timeline.”

Another initiative supported by the budget allocations this year is the Veterans Services Center, which will certify veterans to receive veterans’ benefits and coordinate services such as admissions, advisement, registration, tutoring and counseling. The center is located on the second floor of the University Center on the UTPA campus in Edinburg. Funds will also be directed to create a separate Scholarship Office at the University to provide information about scholarship opportunities and assistance with the application process, as well as coordinate the awarding of scholarships to eligible students.

“Having a separate scholarship office will be helpful to students because they will be able to go directly to the source to receive information about scholarships,” said UTPA’s Executive Director of Student Financial Services Elaine Rivera.


13th Court of Appeals Justice Rose Vela to seek election to Texas Supreme Court


Republican Appeals Court Justice Rose Vela announced on Tuesday, August 18, that she is seeking election to Place 9 on the Texas Supreme Court.

The Texas Supreme Court is the state’s highest civil court. The Justices of the Supreme Court are elected to staggered six-year terms in state-wide elections.

[Editor’s note: There are currently no Democrats serving on the nine-member Texas Supreme Court.]

Vela, known as a “no-nonsense” conservative, was elected in an historic 2006 election to the Thirteenth Court of Appeals, becoming the first Republican elected since the court’s creation. Vela will seek the seat being vacated by Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, who has announced his intention to resign and not seek re-election in 2010.

“Texans deserve a fair and impartial legal system that is representative of Texas,” Vela said. “But most importantly, we need judges who will ensure that our courts follow the law and not try to rewrite it to satisfy their own personal agendas.”

Vela made history by becoming the first Republican ever elected to the solidly Democratic Thirteenth Appeals Court district, which includes Edinburg and Hidalgo County. She defeated a popular incumbent Democrat justice with 53 percent of the vote by receiving bipartisan support across the district.

As a former district judge she often said that the most important part of her job was bringing children together with new families through adoptions.  As an appeals court judge she has said she is especially vigilant to make sure that lower court rulings correctly interpreted the law.

A former Nueces County district judge, Vela was born into a military family in 1964 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Southwest Texas State University in 1985, with a major in English and a minor in Political Science, she received a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1988, and was licensed to practice law in Texas that same year.

Upon graduation from law school, Vela served as a Briefing Attorney for the Fourth Court of Appeals for one year. After moving to Corpus Christi in 1990, she served as a Briefing Attorney for the Thirteenth Court of Appeals for two years. In 1998, she was elected to the 148th District Court of Nueces County, Texas, where she served two full terms. Vela was elected to the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in November, 2006.

Vela is a member of the American Inns of Court, American Bar Association, Texas Bar Association, National Association of Women Judges, Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism, the College of the State Bar of Texas, and the Texas Bar Foundation. She is also a graduate of the Texas College of Advanced Judicial Studies (General Jurisprudence), the National Judicial College (Conducting the Trial, Advanced Evidence), and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.

Before joining the Court, Justice Vela previously served as the Presiding Administrative Judge of the Nueces County Council of Judges, President of the Corpus Christi Young Lawyers’ Association, Director of the Texas Center for the Judiciary, and Director of the Corpus Christi Bar Association.

Married to attorney Filemón Vela, she has a long tradition in South Texas politics.

Her husband’s family has been in public service for 150 years. Her father-in-law, Filemón Vela Sr., was a federal judge in the Valley, and her husband’s mother, Blanca Sánchez Vela, is a former Brownsville mayor.


Congressman Hinojosa praises credit card reforms which went into effect on August 20


The first provisions of the Credit CARD Act went into effect on Thursday, August 20, as part of a reform package that will help protect consumers from excessive credit card fees, retroactive interest rate hikes and unfair, incomprehensible agreements that credit card companies revise at will. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Mercedes) praised the reforms, calling them “necessary consumer protections.”

As of Thursday, August 20:

• Credit card companies must provide written notice to consumers at least 45 days in advance of any increases in the interest rate (APR) or other significant changes in the terms of a credit card account (fees or finance charges) for existing balances;

• Credit card companies must inform consumers of their right to cancel the card before rate hikes go into effect; and

• Credit card companies must send statements to consumers 21 days before the due date of any payments.

“The Credit CARD Act will help put an end to the abusive and deceptive practices that drive so many Americans deeper and deeper into debt,” said Hinojosa. “These provisions include necessary consumer protections, and they are just the first step towards ensuring that hard-working Americans who play by the rules are treated fairly by their credit card companies.”

Come February, many of the new law’s remaining provisions will kick in including a ban on double-cycle billing and rate hikes on existing balances.

The bipartisan Credit CARD Act brings common sense reform and consumer protections to our financial system and is part of our long-term plan to rebuild our economy in a way that is consistent with our values of responsibility and hard work, not high-flying finance schemes.

“This landmark legislation gives Americans the information they need to make educated decisions about their financial lives,” said Hinojosa. “It’s about fairness for the American consumer, and it’s a crucial part of rebuilding our economy stronger than before.”


Doctors Hospital at Renaissance shares concerns, ideas on health care with counterparts in Colorado


Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR) on Wednesday, August 19, announced that a delegation of its senior leadership team had returned from spending two days with the medical community in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“We traveled to Grand Junction to meet with their healthcare community, view their medical delivery systems, and discover what successes the use of an electronic community medical record has had for their region,” said Dr. Carlos Cárdenas, chairman of DHR’s board of directors.

DHR had been working with the Colorado Medical Society and the Mesa County Medical Society for a few weeks to arrange the visit.

“When examining what communities across America might offer some ideas for improvement, we decided to visit Grand Junction because, like Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, they were community focused, locally-owned, and utilized significant physician input,” added Cárdenas.

In addition to Cárdenas, DHR’s senior leadership team included: Dr. Norma Cavazos-Salas, chief of staff; Dr. Fausto Meza, an internist; Susan Turley, chief financial officer; Marissa Castañeda, chief operating officer; and Israel Rocha, government affairs officer.

During their visit, DHR officials met with representatives from the Colorado Medical Society, the Mesa County Medical Society, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, Mesa County Physicians’ Independent Physician Association, the Quality Health Network, Hilltop Community Resources, the Marillac Clinic, Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado and St. Mary’s Hospital.

Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, and Congressman John Salazar, D-Grand Junction, sat in on the visitation events.

“The trip provided us with an opportunity to see how a different community has managed its healthcare challenges and what they have done to ensure an efficient use of resources,” said Castañeda.

“A highlight of the trip was to see how they introduced strong elements of prevention and social services in the practice of medicine to help curb the prevalence of diabetes and obesity, and address seniors issues,” Meza added.

During the trip, the DHR team had an opportunity to tour a Hospice run by The Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado.

“Access to hospice services is an area that the Rio Grande Valley needs to improve. The program run by the Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado offered some real insight on how to bring these services to the South Texas Community,” continued Meza.

“The Grand Junction Medical Community has done a good job of creating a collaborative medical environment through the use of an electronic Community Medical Record (CMR).  The use of a CMR has helped physicians and healthcare providers deliver care in a more efficient manner that helps eliminate unnecessary expenses and coordinate preventative efforts,” said Turley.

“Doctors Hospital is currently working to launch a CMR in South Texas. We believe the use of a CMR in South Texas will greatly help increase our efficiency and launch new preventative programs,” added Turley.

The cross-community discussion of healthcare delivery helped spark many ideas on how to improve access to care for residents in both communities and across America.

Representatives from Grand Junction were impressed with how the South Texas Community has handled its challenges in the delivery of care to a community that leads the nation in uninsured and underinsured individuals and a growing population of residents with diabetes and obesity complications.

Both groups agreed to an on going conversation on how to improve care in their respective communities. A delegation from Colorado is working to arrange a trip to Texas later this year. “Both communities are doing great things for their respective region and there are issues we can learn from one another,” said Cavazos-Salas.

“No matter what Congress comes up with, community-based medical care is the laboratory where health reform really begins – in the exam rooms and operating rooms, not the board rooms. And this is how it will succeed – by medical communities coming together and sharing what works and adapting those systems to their local communities,” said Alfred Gilchrist, Chief Executive of the Colorado Medical Society.

“The DHR visit to Grand Junction enabled us to share and compare our health care challenges. With good communication, we can more effectively pursue our common goals as we strive to reform the health care system. In addition, health aides from Sen. Udall’s office and Rep. Salazar’s office attended the two day meeting as well. We were all able to share critical information with these legislative assistants,” said Dr. Michael Pramenko, past president of the Mesa County Medical Society.


Kiwanis Club hosts presentation by Rose Jimena, chief nursing officer on hospitals’ pediatric services


Rose Jimena, chief nursing officer for Edinburg Children’s Hospital and Edinburg Regional Medical Center, recently appeared before the local Kiwanis Club, providing information about the pediatric specialties available, Kids Advantage membership program and special services offered to patient’s families, such as the Ronald McDonald Family Room.

Edinburg Children’s Hospital opened its doors to serve the health care needs of Valley children in 2006. It is the first and only hospital in the Rio Grande Valley built just for kids. The full service hospital is fully staffed with the finest health care professionals and equipped with advanced diagnostic and medical technology.

“The families of the area are very fortunate that South Texas Health System took the initiative to provide the children of the Valley a first-class hospital locally,” said Robert McGurk, president of the Kiwanis Club of Edinburg. ” Our local organizations’ mission is to help the children of the community. We want to support the efforts of Edinburg Children’s Hospital and all of the services they provide.”

The Kiwanis Club organization meets every Tuesday at noon in the Chevron Room at the Echo Hotel and Conference Center. Anyone who is interested in supporting the fundraising efforts of the group is encouraged to stop in and visit with the members during the weekly meetings by calling 383-4951.

In addition to Jimena, other local leaders who attended the presentation were: Bertil Marje, assistant administrator for strategic planning for South Texas Hospital System, which operates the two local hospitals;  Lisa Killion, STHS assistant administrator for marketing; Peter De La Garza, assistant chief of police for the Edinburg Police Department; Ramón Vela representing Hidalgo County; Ryan Jensen, associate administrator for Edinburg Children’s Hospital and Edinburg Regional Medical Center; Roy Peña with Horizon Properties; and Frank Mendieta, with AT&T.


Sen. Hutchison’s campaign criticizes Gov. Perry for “phony” bill-signing ceremonies covered by media


Texans for Kay, the campaign organization for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, on Thursday, August 20, called on Gov. Rick Perry to reimburse taxpayers for money he has “wasted on phony re-signing ceremonies.”

Hutchison is challenging Perry for governor in the March 2010 Republican Primary.

A day after staging a ceremonial bill re-signing in Dallas at taxpayer expense, Perry was scheduled to hold two more re-signing ceremonies in Austin on Friday, August 21. He had already signed all of these bills into law, making these events nothing more than political theater, said Jennifer Baker, senior communications adviser for Hutchison.

“Rick Perry should immediately reimburse the taxpayer money he has wasted on his phony re-signing ceremonies. While Texans are losing jobs and families are struggling to make ends meet, Rick Perry is spending taxpayer money to buy himself headlines,” said Baker. “Texans deserve better than Rick Perry’s political grandstanding. When Kay Bailey Hutchison is governor, she will end these frivolous re-signing ceremonies.”

Below is the text of a letter from Baker which was sent to Texas television stations regarding the re-signing ceremonies.

Dear Station Manager,

As he has over the last two months, Rick Perry is currently traveling across the state to hold signing ceremonies for pieces of legislation passed in the last session. However, these events are little more than acts of political theater. All of these pieces of legislation have already been signed into law. These phony signing ceremonies are actually Rick Perry re-signing copies of the same bill he made law months ago.

Why is Rick Perry holding meaningless bill signing ceremonies? The answer is simple. This is an election year and signing ceremonies attract your attention. Please do not fall for this political ploy.

Before you decide on covering these ceremonies, please take into account several considerations. First, if these events have no lawful effect, they are political events being held under the guise of official gubernatorial action. Second, Rick Perry is using taxpayer money to fund his trips for these phony ceremonies. No Governor should be allowed to use taxpayer money to fund campaign events. If the taxpayer money is to be used, it should have meaning in law.

If you still choose to still cover these events, we feel you have an obligation to tell your viewers that these are political events being paid for by taxpayer dollars.

As Governor, Kay Bailey Hutchison will not use the taxpayer’s money for re-signing ceremonies.

Thank you,

Jennifer Baker

Senior Communications Adviser

Texans for Kay


Gov. Perry holds ceremonial bill-signing for creation of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, August 18, ceremonially signed Senate Bill (SB) 482, which creates the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission to help preserve information and experiences of the Holocaust and other genocide events. The commission will work with organizations, agencies, museums, survivors and liberators to provide information and experiences and to coordinate memorial events in the state.

“As a state and nation, we are compelled to prevent future episodes of genocide and oppression by casting the light of truth on their history and educating our citizens on the circumstances that allow their occurrence,” Perry said. “Ultimately, that truth, and the willingness to defend the vulnerable among us will lead to greater justice. I believe this bill is an important statement of the values we hold dear in this state- those of respecting human life and valuing freedom for all men and women.”

The creation of this commission will give schools and organizations in smaller communities access to resources and information about the Holocaust and genocide that they would otherwise have little access to. The commission will consist of 18 members – 15 appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, with the commissioner of education, commissioner of higher education and executive director of the Texas Veterans Commission acting as ex-officio members.

“As a child of Holocaust survivors, I have lived the lessons of that horrific event all my life, but there are generations of people who have no access to the lessons and teachings of this historic tragedy,” said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. “The intolerance of that period remains a contemporary issue today that young people need to learn about. It is my hope that this legislation will help provide the information necessary to ensure that we never forget.”

In addition to the Holocaust, there have been five major genocide events in the 20th century, including the Armenian, Cambodian, Rwandan, Bosnian and Herzegovinian, and Sudanese genocides. Survivors, liberators and others who witnessed these atrocities have died without leaving their lessons of survival and humanity. According to the Holocaust Museum Houston, six Holocaust survivors have died within the last six months in Houston alone.

“I am very proud to have authored this bill with my good friend Sen. Shapiro. We must all stand up and recognize that genocide continues to take place all over the world. 64 years ago it was Eastern Europe. Today, it is Darfur,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “The Holocaust and Genocide Commission is Texas’ effort to ensure that our schools and communities have the resources they need to teach our kids and neighbors to do what is morally right when faced with such atrocities.”

“This bill means that all communities and particularly rural areas across Texas will have the opportunity to learn about what can happen if good people do not stand up to be counted,” said Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston. “It will help educate young people, who will be the future leaders of their chamber of commerce, school board or Girl Scout troop, that while we may take exception to the views of others we can and must do so in a respectful and civil manner.”


President Obama recognizes Ramadan, the holiest period for the Islamic faith


As the new crescent moon ushered in Ramadan, President Obama on Friday, August 21, extended his best wishes to Muslim communities in the United States and around the world.

Each Ramadan, the ninth month on the lunar calendar, Muslims fast daily from dawn to sunset for 29 or 30 days. Fasting is a tradition in many religious faiths and is meant to increase spirituality, discipline, thankfulness, and consciousness of God’s mercy. Ramadan is also a time of giving and reaching out to those less fortunate, and this summer, American Muslims have joined their fellow citizens in serving communities across the country. Over the course of the month, they will highlight the perspectives of various faiths on fasting and profile faith-based organizations making real impacts in American cities and towns.

This month is also a time of renewal and this marks the first Ramadan since the President outlined his vision for a new beginning between America and the Muslim world. As a part of that new beginning, the President emphasizes that America’s relationship with Muslim communities cannot be based on political and security concerns alone. True partnerships also require cooperation in all areas – particularly those that can make a positive difference in peoples’ daily lives, including education, science and technology, health, and entrepreneurship – fields in which Muslim communities have helped play a pioneering role throughout history.

The President’s message is part of an on-going dialogue with Muslim communities that began on inauguration day and has continued with his statement on Nowruz, during trips to Ankara and Cairo, and with interviews with media outlets such as Al Arabiya and Dawn TV.

As this dialogue continues and leads to concrete actions, the President extends his greetings on behalf of the American people: Ramadan Kareem (have a generous Ramadan).


Regents approve $11.9 billion operating budget for UT System for 12-month period effective September 1


The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday, August 20, approved a $11.9 billion operating budget for the 2010 Fiscal Year, which begins September 1. The new budget represents a 3.9 percent increase, or $446 million, over the previous fiscal year.

“In developing this budget, the Chancellor’s Office articulated to System Administration executive staff and institution presidents the importance of fiscal conservatism and cost savings in the setting of an uncertain economic horizon. Salaries for the chancellor, executive vice chancellors, vice chancellors, and presidents were frozen for this upcoming fiscal year, in addition to a flexible hiring freeze at the System Administration. This budget represents an investment that will pay dividends in a better future for all Texans, most importantly our students, faculty and staff,” said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., UT System chancellor.

Significant areas of growth include instruction and academic support expenses (5.4 percent, $167 million), research (6.5 percent, $116 million) and operation and maintenance expenses (6 percent, $99 million).

Increases in instruction and hospital and clinical expenses are primarily associated with new faculty and staff positions needed for rising student enrollment and growing patient care. Growth in research expenses results from a continued commitment by UT System institutions to developing research activities and the majority of the increase results from the System’s health-related institutions.

Despite increases in tuition, income generated by tuition and fees continues to represent a decreasing percentage of the system’s income. In Fiscal Year 2006, tuition and fees were 11 percent of the system’s income. For 2010 they will be ($1.2 billion) 9.6 percent. Revenue from health care, sponsored programs, state appropriations and tuition and fees represent about 85 percent of budgeted revenues. State appropriations ($2.2 billion) represent 17.7 percent of the System’s budget, up from 16.9 percent in Fiscal Year 2009.

The UT System’s six health institutions account for just under two-thirds of the overall operating budget. At $2.85 billion, UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has the largest budget of the System’s 15 health and academic institutions. The institution with the second-largest budget is UT Austin ($2.06 billion), followed by UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas ($1.6 billion) and UT Medical Branch at Galveston ($1.49 billion).

For FY 2010, flexible tuition at academic institutions will generate about $61.6 million of new funding, which will be distributed in the following areas:

  • 40.4 percent for new and existing faculty;
  • 28.3 percent toward grants, scholarships and financial aid;
  • 14.7 percent for student support;
  • 10.8 percent for existing staff merit and benefit increases; and
  • 5.8 percent for campus infrastructure.

The portion of the budget that will fund the UT System’s general administration functions decreased 1.61 percent to $35.2 million for FY 2010. General administration is funded mostly from public endowment income generated by the Available University Fund. The decreases were achieved primarily through management decisions to eliminate vacant positions.

The Faculty Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) Program is budgeted to increase $10 million; $15 million for System academic institutions and $15 million for health institutions in FY 2010. Program funds, which come from bond proceeds of the Permanent University Fund, are used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and to renovate laboratory facilities to help attract or retain researchers in health, mathematics, computer sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences, engineering and liberal arts.

Launched in 2004, the STARs Program has aided in the recruitment and retention of top-flight faculty, who in turn have generated more than $267 million is sponsored research at UT institutions.  Since the program’s creation, the UT System has allocated roughly $154 million in grants to the institutions.

The University of Texas System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems, with nine academic campuses and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $11.9 billion (FY 2010) including $2.5 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 195,000 in the 2008 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s healthcare professionals annually. With more than 84,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.


McAllen cardiologist Fabian Aurignac receives 57 month sentence for health care fraud violations

Fabian Aurignac, M.D., the owner and operator of Cardiology Care Center has been sentenced to prison for committing more than $1 million in Health Care Fraud for submitting false and fraudulent claims to both the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs, United States Attorney Tim Johnson and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Thursday, August 20.

Aurignac, 46, of McAllen, was sentenced to 57 months incarceration and fined $20,000 by United States District Judge Randy Crane to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release.

In addition to the prison term, Aurignac, who has already forfeited $1.1 million dollars which represents the amount he was paid From January 2007 until October 2007 for the false and fraudulent claims he had submitted to Medicare and Medicaid, was also ordered by the court to forfeit an additional $7,187 seized from a bank account and a 1995 GMC recreational vehicle. Indicted in October 2008 and re-arraigned on a superseding indictment in May 2009, Aurignac pleaded guilty on May 8, 2009, to health care fraud.

At the time of his guilty plea, Aurignac admitted to defrauding two health care benefit programs, specifically Medicaid and Medicare, by means of false and fraudulent claims in connection with the use of unqualified medical personal and for billing for medical services not rendered as described in count eight of the superseding indictment. From July 12, 2007, through July 28, 2007, while vacationing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aurignac billed approximately $900,000 to Medicare and Medicaid for cardiac services he never performed and received approximately $260,000 in payments from Medicare/Medicaid for cardiac services that were either not performed or performed by unsupervised, unqualified personnel.

Aurignac has been in custody since his arrest in December 2008.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Carolyn Ferko prosecuted the case and AUSA Allan Hoffmann handled the civil forfeiture.


Roma woman sentenced to federal prison for lying and buying firearms destined for border drug gangs

Mireya Rivera Juárez, 44, of Roma, was sentenced to 37 months in federal custody without parole for lying and buying a total of 25 firearms, two of which were recovered in Mexico, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Friday, August 21.

Juárez, convicted of making a false statement in the purchase of a firearm, after pleading guilty on May 29, 2009, was sentenced late Thursday, August 20, by United States District Court Judge Randy Crane. The prison term is to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release.

The charges against Rivera are the result of an investigation conducted by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,Firearms and Explosives (ATF) which proved that between August 2007 through September 2008 Rivera bought 25 firearms for $30,000 including 13 AR-15s and three AK-47s for a person identified only as “El Mano” and lied on the federal firearms form claiming herself to be the owner.

To make the purchases, Rivera drove “El Mano’s” truck to a gun store, made a purchase then returned the truck leaving the firearm inside. Rivera stopped purchasing firearms for “El Mano” due to increased law enforcement activity. She was paid a total of approximately $5,000 for the purchases.

In deciding upon the sentence he ultimately imposed, the court considered the type of firearms, the number of firearms, the manner of purchase and the general knowledge of cartel violence in finding that Rivera knew or had reason to believe these weapons were destined for the drug war in Mexico.

Two of the weapons purchased by Rivera were later recovered by Mexican law enforcement authorities in the possession of cartel members in Acapulco. With the assistance of the ATF, the firearms were traced back to Rivera.

Rivera was remanded to federal custody.

The investigation was conducted by ATF. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Steven Schammel.


Texas media report on 21 bills relating to public information which will become law on September 1

The Texas Daily Newspaper Association/Texas Press Association Legislative Advisory Committee has identified 21 bills relating to public information concerns in Texas, including the following measures. The name by each bill identifies the author of the legislation:

House Bill 559 [Hernández] amends the Election Code by adding justices of the peace to the growing list of public employees whose personal information contained in voter registration records and concealed handgun license records is confidential under law. Already covered by standing law are peace officers, county jailers, Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees, commissioned security officers, federal judges, state legislators and certain victims of family violence.

HB 732 [Hartnett] amends the Occupations Code so that in the annual update of a physician’s profile, the Board of Medical Examiners shall remove any record of a claim or complaint against the physician if the claim or complaint was dismissed more than three years before the date of the update.

HB 772 [Howard of Travis] amends the Education Code by creating a requirement that the State Board of Education’s quarterly meetings and other meetings called by the chair be broadcast via the Internet in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act. And, the SBOE now must maintain an archive of its meetings on the Texas Education Agency Web site.

HB 987/Senate Bill 624 [Creighton/West] amends the Education Code by raising the threshold for publishing a public notice concerning school district contracts, except contracts for purchase of produce or vehicle fuel, from $25,000 to $50,000. HB 987 also amends Local Government Code by increasing the no-bid contract threshold to $50,000 for cities and counties.

HB 1783 [Solomons] amends the Utilities Code by adding requiring the Public Utility Commission and Electric Reliability Council of Texas to make publicly accessible without charge live Internet video of all public hearings and meetings. ERCOT operates the electrical grid and manages the deregulated market for 75 percent of the state.

HB 2301/SB 1368 [Márquez/Shapleigh] amends Local Government Code enabling the creation of a county ethics commission in El Paso County. The new law says the Open Meetings Act does not apply to the processing, preliminary review, preliminary review hearing or resolution of a sworn complaint or motion, and those activities are exempt from disclosure under the Public Information Act.

HB 2381/SB 704 [Kolkhorst/Nelson] amends Government Code so that prices charged to state agencies in connection with pharmacy benefit manager services is confidential and may not be disclosed to a person outside of the state agency and its agents.

SB 835 / HB 2605 [Hinojosa/Hunter] relates to powers of the Port of Corpus Christi Authority of Nueces County pertaining to land in and adjacent to Naval Station Ingleside. The legislation allows the authority to sell or lease surplus property with or without public bidding.

HB 2927 [Howard of Travis] amends the Health & Safety Code to allow the owner of land adjacent to a cemetery for which a cemetery organization does not exist, to petition a district court of the county in which the cemetery is located to remove the dedication for all or any portion of the cemetery. The new law requires public notice of the petition to be published in a newspaper.

HB 3306 [Bonnen] amends the Natural Resources Code relating to the removal and disposal of abandoned vessels and structures in or on coastal waters. The new law kills a required newspaper notice of the activity and substitutes it with a required Web site notice and Texas Register posting.

SB 1629 / HB 4147 [Wentworth/Rose] amends the Public Information Act [Government Code Ch. 552] regarding personnel costs incurred by a governmental body in responding to requests that require large amounts of personnel time. The new law exempts from prepayment of those costs a general circulation newspaper or magazine that is published on the Internet.

SB 68 [Nelson] amends the Human Resources Code so that when the Department of Family and Protective Services revokes or suspends a facility’s license or a family home’s listing or registration, the DFPS can choose either a newspaper of general circulation or the agency’s Web site to publish notice of the action.

SB 281 [Nelson] amends the Election Code and the Tax Code to allow the spouse of a state or federal judge or judicial candidate the option to keep his/her name and personal information off of a voter registration list.

SB 1182 / HB 3522 [Wentworth/Ortiz Jr.] amends the Public Information Act [Government Code Ch. 552] so that the only suit a governmental body may bring seeking to withhold information from a requestor must be filed gainst the Texas attorney general and in a Travis County district court.

Titans of the Texas Legislature

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