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Edinburg school panel goes behind closed doors to review nominations for names of six schools 1

State health officials, lawmakers and county leaders gathered in Edinburg on Friday, March 26, to break ground on the region’s first outpatient substance abuse and primary care treatment facility for juveniles. The Hidalgo County Substance Abuse and Primary Care Facility will provide substance abuse treatment services such as counseling and life skills training in addition to primary care to treat corresponding health conditions that may make recovery difficult for the youth of communities in Hidalgo County.  This facility, which is slated to open during spring 2011, will improve the quality of life for residents by promoting a proactive approach to keeping young people off of illegal drugs and out of the legal system. Featured, from left: Mónica Peña; Hidalgo County Health Director Eddie Olivarez; Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios; Hidalgo County Commissioner Precinct 4 Commissioner Óscar Garza; Dee Porter, chief operating officer, Texas Department of State Health Services; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Chelsea Peña; Rep. Aaron Peña; and Hidalgo County Judge-elect Ramón García. See story later in this posting.


Edinburg school panel goes behind closed doors to review nominations for names of six schools 2

South Texas College in McAllen took the opportunity in mid-March to celebrate the  contributions of women to U.S. history. Part of national Women’s History Month, the  college  hosted  a  series  of  speakers  and  events  that  spotlighted  the  struggles  and  triumphs of women both locally and nationally. On Thursday, March 11, 2010, Cassandra Rincones, featured left, a history instructor at STC, delivered a major presentation entitled A History of Women in Politics in Hidalgo County, which  was based on her dissertation at Texas A&M-Kingsville. Also that evening, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, featured center, and Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, featured right, shared their experiences and expertise developed in successfully building their public service careers in deep South Texas. The three political leaders are shown, following their presentations, in STC’s Pecan Campus Library Rainbow Room holding certificates of appreciation from the college for their accomplishments.


Edinburg school panel goes behind closed doors to review nominations for names of six schools 3

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, March 24, reappointed Dennis Burleson of Mission, featured third from right, as chair to the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority for a term to expire February 1, 2012. Regional mobility authorities allow local communities to develop regional transportation priorities and accelerate development and financing for critical transportation projects. Burleson is first vice president of investments for Wells Fargo Advisors in McAllen. He is a board member and past president of the Valley Land Fund and past chairman of the Mission Economic Development Authority. He is also a member and past president of the Mission Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Rio Grande Valley Estate Council. Burleson served in the U.S. Army Reserves. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas-Pan American. During this group portrait taken in Pharr in late 2009, Burleson was joined by his fellow RMA board members, from left: Michael G. Cano; Rick Pérez of McAllen; Juan J. Maldonado of Pharr; Joe Olivarez of Weslaco; Burleson; Ramiro Salazar of McAllen; and Ricardo Pérez of La Joya.


Edinburg school panel goes behind closed doors to review nominations for names of six schools 4

The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has announced that its annual membership drive is set for April 27 and 28. The recruiting effort is part of the MHCC’s efforts to bring a positive change for its membership and the community.  With 20 percent of the organization comprised on non-Hispanic members, the group is open to all business owners in the McAllen area. Helping prepare for the drive are, from left, seated: Connie Hernández, vice chair of women’s issues; Chris Avants, committee member; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer; Adelita Muñoz, vice chair of education; and Brenda Lee Huerta, interim chair. Standing, from left: Joe Smith, committee member; Dr. John Thomas, advisory board member; Rubén Garza, board secretary; John Rodríguez, vice chair of health; and Beto Manrique, Vice Chair of International Affairs. The MHCC is looking for individuals who would like to help other business people by participating in the membership drive. More information on the membership drive and related prizes is available by contacting the MCHH office at 928-0060. See story later in this posting.


Edinburg school panel goes behind closed doors to review nominations for names of six schools 5

In October 2009, South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed traveled to San Antonio to receive the honor of District 4 Regional Pacesetter of the Year from the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations. Little did she know then that in March 2010, she would be chosen as the National Pacesetter of the Year for the entire NCMPR organization. The Pacesetter of the Year award recognizes a community college president who has demonstrated special leadership and support in marketing and public relations.“It was such an honor and a surprise to be selected for the national award, considering the high caliber of community college presidents that were nominated,” Reed said. “We are all doing our part to spread the important message that college is for everyone, not just a select few. Whether I am at the grocery store, speaking at a community event, testifying at the state capitol or speaking at a national educator’s conference, the message is the same – we must all do our part to create a college-going culture, not just in our communities, but in America as a whole.”  In this portrait, Judi Sciple, featured left, the former president of the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, congratulates Reed on earning the prestigious accolade. See story later in this posting.


Edinburg school panel goes behind closed doors to review nominations for names of six schools 6

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce recently held a ground breaking ceremony to welcome a new addition to the historic Depot, which houses that organization along with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is in the process of building a back patio that will be utilized for chamber events and fundraisers. The patio’s completion will take about two months to complete. Current fundraising efforts are being led by Maggie Kent, featured fourth from the left, who has received support contributions from multiple individuals and businesses to complete the Depot’s outdoor patio beautification project. Supporters will be recognized with a plaque at the patio’s completion. See story later in this posting.


Edinburg school panel goes behind closed doors to review nominations for names of six schools


A special citizens advisory committee on Wednesday, March 24, received an undisclosed number of nomination forms which contained the names of nominees and their biographical data, which will be considered as the Edinburg school district seeks names for six new schools currently under construction.

Tentative plans call for the Edinburg school board to act on the recommendations on Tuesday, April 13.

The number of the nominations and the names of the nominees had not been publicly revealed by the school district as of press time on Monday, March 29.

Also on Monday, March 29, a formal request was made to the school district under the Texas Public Information Act for the names and background of the individuals who are being considered by the special panel, known as the Naming of the New Schools Committee.

The school district also did not post any advance public notice of that group’s 6 p.m. March 24 meeting, which was conducted behind closed doors in a second floor conference room in the school district’s Central Administration Building, located on North 8th Avenue.

Jacques Treviño, the school district attorney, on Friday, March 26, said the committee’s meeting was not subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act – which meant it did not have to be publicly posted in advance, nor will any future meetings be disclosed to the public.

The March 24 session was closed to the public “so as to ensure the fairness and integrity of the nominations process for each nominee and the Naming of the New Schools Committee,” Treviño contended.

The Naming of the New Schools Committee consists of 14 Edinburg school district residents.

Each of the seven Edinburg school board members appointed two of the committee members.

Members of the Naming of the New Schools Committee are responsible for accepting the nominations, reviewing them, and submitting a final list of recommendations to the school board.

Dr. René Gutiérrez, the school district superintendent, and María Luisa Guerra, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Support Services, met with that group of community leaders on March 24. That closed-door session represented the second gathering of the special panel, but the first time its members had received copies of the nominations, which were submitted to Gutiérrez by the Friday, March 12 deadline.

Prior to entering the closed door meeting with the Naming of the New Schools Committee, Gutiérrez said he believes it will take several weeks of study by the group before the final six names are recommended to the full school board for its action.

The school district has run paid advertisements in several area newspapers alerting residents that nominations were being requested from the public, and the nomination forms, along with other background information, was prominently posted on the school district’s website.

The formation of the committee and its goals also were discussed in open sessions by the school board, and news of the nominations process also was covered on the school district’s television channel, which is available to Time Warner subscribers on Channel 17.

The members of the Naming of the New Schools Committee are:

  • Maricela De León;
  • Cristina Flores;
  • Lonnie Guerrero;
  • Johnny Hernández;
  • Lucas Hinojosa;
  • Lydia Muehlberger;
  • Sandra Ochoa;
  • Mark Peña;
  • Pamela Ramírez;
  • Noé Ramón;
  • Domingo Rodríguez, Sr.;
  • Letty De La Viña-Shupe;
  • Chris Treviño; and
  • Estella Treviño.

According to the school district, all new schools may be named after the area or subdivision in which they are located, or after individuals – living or deceased – who have made significant contributions to the educational program of the district as an educator, volunteer, or community member.

Those names will grace a high school, a middle school, and four elementary schools in the district which are scheduled to be built or renovated as a result of a $111.9 million bond issue overwhelmingly approved by Edinburg voters in May 2008.

In addition, the Naming of New Schools Committee will consider various criteria for the selection of a school name, such as the following:

  • Outstanding character and reputation within community;
  • Length of service as an educator or community member;
  • Impact or influence on education or community or service to country;
  • Level of service responsibilities; and
  • Innovativeness as a servant leader.


Hidalgo County leaders say that substance abuse center in Edinburg will help keep area youths off illegal drugs and will spare lives


State health officials  lawmakers and county leaders gathered in Edinburg on Friday, March 26, to break ground on the region’s first outpatient substance abuse and primary care treatment facility for juveniles.

The Hidalgo County Substance Abuse and Primary Care Facility will provide substance abuse treatment services such as counseling and life skills training in addition to primary care to treat corresponding health conditions that may make recovery difficult for the youth of communities in Hidalgo County.

This facility, which is slated to open during spring 2011, will improve the quality of life for residents by promoting a proactive approach to keeping kids off of drugs and out of the legal system.

The center will be located on a county-donated 6.3-acre tract east of Doolittle Road and north of Richardson Road in Precinct 4. It was made possible by the appropriation of $3 million in construction funds by the Texas Legislature in 2007. Hidalgo County will contribute an additional $650,000 — including the value of the land — to pay for utilities and building maintenance costs.

“This facility will assist young people who have substance abuse problems and are actively seeking the help they need to overcome their addiction,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Hinojosa was the author of the bill rider that authorized the Department of State Health and Human Services funding for the facility.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, secured the matching funds in the House of Representatives through the use of an amendment on the state appropriations bill, which funds the state budget.

“This is front-line intervention to keep our children from entering the legal system. We know that children often get in trouble with the law because they have underlying issues at the home, sometimes paired with addictions. These addictions are life-threatening and life-changing. We hope to steer at-risk youth away from a life of addiction and crime and make them productive citizens in our communities. The youth are our future, and we dedicate this facility to them,” Hinojosa said.

The Hidalgo County Substance Abuse and Primary Care Facility will serve youth, aged 17 and under, on an outpatient basis. All methods of payment will be accepted —  Medicaid, private insurance, county indigent program and private pay. Youths may be referred or parents may have them evaluated as walk-in clients. Patient load will be approximately 150 clients. Primary care is also a crucial component of the facility. Primary care services help those with substance abuse overcome other health conditions that sometimes go hand-in-hand with the addiction.

The county plans to advertise with a Request for Proposal for substance abuse treatment services soon. The goal is to have the contract for the service providers awarded by fall so when construction is complete, services will be immediately available to the community.

“The sooner we are operational, the sooner we can make a difference in the lives of our children dealing with problems no child should ever have to deal with,” said Pct. 4 Commissioner Óscar Garza. “Since this public facility is the first of its kind, I unfortunately have the feeling that it will be filled to capacity shortly after doors open. But I have optimism that by having this safe place to get help, fewer and fewer youth will be afflicted with addiction in the future, and we can also prevent them from entering a life of crime.”


Sen. Hinojosa announces plan to file legislation abolishing State Board of Education


After a series of news stories, some of which attracted national attention, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Monday, March 22, announced plans to introduce a bill next session n to abolish the State Board of Education (SBOE).

The frenzy of commentary railing against the SBOE’s actions on developing curriculum for Texas public schools focused on cultural biases exhibited by the board, Hinojosa said.

The SBOE plays a huge role in shaping curriculum framework used by textbook publishers. Based on the SBOE’s input, publishers prepare books that are later sold to Texas public schools. Because of Texas’ size, Texas SBOE feedback leaves a large imprint on the national textbook market.

The State Board of Education is an elected 15 member board, and the Commissioner of Education oversee the public education system of Texas in accordance with the Texas Education Code.

In framing curriculum guidelines, the SBOE appears to be shaping an extreme, if not myopic, view of social studies material to be used in Texas schools. The board voted to limit or outright exclude mention of central figures in U.S., Texas and world history, including Thomas Jefferson, former Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador, and important figures in the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.

Giving the public time to process the initial outburst against the SBOE’s actions, Hinojosa revealed his intentions to modify how Texas sets curriculum guidelines.

“For years, a faction within the SBOE has moved farther to the fringes, determined to wage a type of cultural war. Their methods consist of manipulating public school curriculums by controlling what is taught based on personal ideological agendas,” Hinojosa said. “In one breath, this faction will speak of a need to return to a more fundamental understanding of freedoms based in, say, the Declaration of Independence. Then, they work to revise Thomas Jefferson’s views on separation of church and state. The SBOE lacks a coherent mission aside from promoting a radical cultural view at the expense of public school children.”


Thomas Jefferson to remain in social studies curriculum, reports State Board of Education

After hours of public testimony and more than 100 amendments offered to the Texas  Essential Knowledge and Skills for social studies, the State Board of Education on Friday, March 19, gave preliminary approval to the curriculum standards that will be used in Texas public  schools.

One amendment in particular has garnered a lot of attention, after some media  outlets erroneously reported the State Board of Education was dropping Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum framework.

“The only individual mentioned more times in the curriculum standards than Thomas Jefferson is George Washington,” said Gail Lowe, chairwoman of the 15-member  board. “We expect students at the elementary level, in middle school and in high school to study the Founding Fathers and to be well-versed in their contributions to our country. That  includes Thomas Jefferson and his legacy,” she said.

In fifth grade, designed as an introductory survey course of the United States from 1565 to the present, students are expected to “identify the Founding Fathers and Patriot heroes, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Nathan Hale, Thomas  Jefferson, the Sons of Liberty, and George Washington, and their motivations and  contributions during the revolutionary period.”

In the eighth grade, in which the history of the United States from the early colonial  period through Reconstruction is presented, the TEKS framework requires students “to explain the roles played by significant individuals during the American Revolution, including” Abigail Adams, John Adams, Wentworth Cheswell, Samuel Adams, Mercy Otis  Warren, James Armistead, Franklin, Bernardo de Gálvez, Crispus Attucks, King  George III, Haym Salomon, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, Thomas Paine and Washington.”

The U.S. Government course required for high school graduation states that students  will “identify the contributions of the political philosophies of the Founding Fathers,  including” John Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, John Jay, Madison, George Mason, Roger Sherman and James Wilson on the development of the U.S.  government.”

In addition, students must “identify significant individuals in the field of government  and politics, including”  Washington, Jefferson, John Marshall, Andrew  Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.”

Although Jefferson had been listed in a World History standard, the board removed  his name from a list of European Enlightenment philosophers that included John Locke,  Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

“This was inappropriate placement of Jefferson’s name,” said Lowe of the World  History proposal. “Jefferson was not himself an Enlightenment philosopher, although he was  heavily influenced by the writings of these individuals. But to say the State Board of  Education has removed him from the TEKS is inaccurate and irresponsible,” said Lowe.

Lowe continued, “Jefferson not only penned the words of the Declaration of  Independence, served as the third president of the United States and was father of the  University of Virginia, but his promotion of the ideals of a limited federal government and  states’ rights also permeated our nation for generations. No study of American history would  be complete without his inclusion,” she said.  The social studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills will be finalized in May, when the board holds its last public hearing and final adoption of the standards.


Rep. Gonzáles to hold McAllen public hearing later this spring on border violence concerns


Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, chairwoman of the House Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, has announced that the security of Texas’ international border and the state’s ability to protect Texas residents from violence in Mexico will be the subject of an upcoming legislative hearing later this spring in McAllen.

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, also serve on the nine-member committee led by Gonzáles.

In addition to her legislative panel, the House Public  Safety Committee – chaired by Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – will pool their resources to take a detailed look into the impact on Texas by the ongoing drug cartel violence and murders taking place on the Mexican side of the state’s border with Mexico.

The joint session of the two House panels was requested by Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“The growing violence occurring between the drug cartels in Mexico is extremely  concerning and Speaker Joe Straus has specifically charged my committee, along with  Chairman Merritt’s Public Safety Committee, to study Texas’ preparedness to address those drug- related crimes,” Gonzáles said. “We need to hear from our state law  enforcement officers and other agencies on what is being done to keep our residents  safe from the drug cartels fighting in Mexico.”

Gonzáles and Merritt have been planning to hold their joint interim hearing in McAllen since their joint charge was issued in November 2009, but the hearing has been pending due to the availability of committee members’ schedules.

A definitive date is  forthcoming. Interim charges are given to House Committees to study so that they can  make recommendations when the Texas Legislature meets again in 2011. Speaker  Straus asked Gonzáles’ committee to join with the Public Safety Committee and  “evaluate the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and  other violence along the Texas-Mexico border.”

Other temporary committees charged by the Speaker to study separate issues also plan  to overlap interim charges appointed to standing committees.

After several Mexican  journalists were kidnapped, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, said his Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness will also meet in McAllen on border security.

Pena’s committee is charged with looking at the state’s preparedness level for natural disasters  and terrorist activity, though the reported drug violence in Mexico has been financially  motivated, and has not been classified as acts of terrorism against the state of Texas.

“I welcome the feedback of other lawmakers on the issues that the Speaker asked my  committee to study, especially one as crucial and close to home as border security,” Gonzáles said.


Sen. Cornyn requests hearing by Judiciary Committee on rising border violence

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, on Tuesday, March 23, wrote to Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, requesting a committee hearing as soon as possible to investigate the rising violence along our southern border, especially in light of the recent murders of two U.S. citizens with ties to the American Consulate in Ciudad Juárez.

Cornyn’s letter was signed by fellow members of the Judiciary Committee: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona; and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma.

The March 23 letter came as senior Administration officials met to discuss the situation with Mexican officials in Mexico City.

Of the meeting in Mexico City, Cornyn said, “I’m glad to see the President and his Administration acknowledge that the cartel violence along the border represents a real security concern for the United States and have reached out to our friends in Mexico to hear how we can continue to coordinate our efforts to address this issue. We must also do more here in the United States to address the ongoing violence in neighboring border towns and adopt a proactive approach that will give immediate resources to state and local law enforcement in affected border communities.”

Cornyn continued, “I’m hopeful Chairman Leahy will agree to schedule a hearing as soon as possible to help identify the security needs and priorities for our border communities. I also urge the President to accept my invitation to visit the border region with me to hear firsthand from state and local officials who deal directly with these security challenges on a daily basis.”


Making health care and higher education affordable is now a reality


The Health Care reform bill which was passed on Sunday, March 21, put our country on a better course for our livelihood and for our well-being. This week the Senate and House voted to pass a second piece of legislation, with minor modifications, on Health Care reform which includes the largest single investment in Education since the G.I. Bill.

These two bills combined will do so much for the residents of Congressional District 15.  These are just a few benefits we will see from the Health Care Reform bill this year:

  • 255,000 South  Texans will see improvements in their current health care coverage;
  • 29,700 South Texans  who can’t buy health insurance now because of a pre-existing  condition will

be able to obtain coverage;

  • Up 187,000 South Texas families will get tax credits to help  make health insurance affordable;
  • Up to 10,800 small  businesses in South Texas will get tax credits  to help make health insurance

more affordable for their employees;

  • 90,000 Medicare  beneficiaries will see better care and will pay less for prescription  drugs because the Medicare Part D donut hole will be closed;
  • 66,000 young South  Texans will be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance  policy until their 27th birthday; and
  • 194,000 uninsured  South Texans will have access to health coverage.

In higher education, we are making sweeping changes to the federal student loan programs. We are cutting federal subsidies to lenders and we are investing money directly to our students and institutions of higher learning and we are reducing our deficit at the same time. This will cut out the middle man and make it easier for students to pay back their college loans.

These changes will make college more affordable and create jobs that stay in the U.S. at no cost to taxpayers. It will save $61 billion over the next 10 years. This is bigger than the G.I. Bill that helped so many after WWII.

Here are some of the provisions that will pave the way for future college students:

  • Make college more  affordable for millions of students by investing a total of $36 billion  into the Pell Grant program over 10 years. The bill increases the maximum  award from $5,550 next year to nearly $6,000 in the next few years;
  • Keeps Jobs in America.  Rather than force private industry out of the system, lenders will compete for contracts to service all federal student loans, which will guarantee  borrowers high-quality customer service and preserve jobs;
  • Invest $2.55 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions. This bill recognizes the important role that  minority-serving institutions like the

University of Texas-Pan American play in educating our country’s low-income and minority students. The funds will allow these critical institutions to recruit and graduate minority students, particularly in the fields of math, science, engineering and technology, that the nation needs to remain competitive.

As chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness, I am very proud that more students will be able to access and afford higher education because of this bill.

As congressman, I am proud to say that no longer will the doors be closed to those needing health care and no longer will health insurance companies take advantage of a person’s pre-existing condition or drop health care coverage of a client who becomes seriously ill.

History has been made and the change that will come from our Health Reform and Higher Education bills is a change for the better and a change for our future.


Congressman Cuellar predicts health care reform will drive down insurance premiums


Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-McAllen/Laredo, who on Sunday, March 22, voted in support of the President Obama’s landmark health care reform plan, says it will have far-reaching benefits for all Texans.

H.R. 4872, the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010, will expand coverage to 5.9 million uninsured Texans, including 1.4 million children and 202,500 uninsured individuals in his 28th congressional district, which includes McAllen, western Hidalgo County, Starr County, and Webb County.

Cuellar’s district is the third most uninsured in Texas and the tenth most uninsured of 435 congressional districts in the country. One of every three constituents does not have health care coverage and this legislation would help more than 202,500 individuals in his district gain access to care. By getting coverage to these individuals, hospitals in Cuellar’s district can reduce the cost of uncompensated care by $26 million.

The legislation also makes unprecedented investments in Medicare, provides affordability credits for small businesses and bars insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions or illnesses.

“This is a pivotal moment for the nation and for Texas,” said Cuellar. “These common sense reforms will protect Americans who have coverage and deliver coverage to those who don’t. Quality, affordable health care will be accessible to all Americans and these landmark insurance reforms will sustain the quality of America’s health care for the future.”

The plan will provide health insurance to an additional 32 million individuals, while ensuring 95 percent of all Americans have coverage.

By creating state-based health insurance exchanges, small business workers and millions of low to middle income Americans will be able to choose from a variety of different health insurance plans beginning in 2014. These individuals will also qualify for affordability credits and health subsidies to afford the coverage.

Under the plan, over a dozen key provisions will immediately take effect in 2010, including small business tax credits for employers who offer coverage to 25 or fewer employees, $250 rebate checks to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the Medicare Part D “Donut Hole”, free preventive care for seniors enrolled in Medicare, 50 percent discounts on prescription drugs under Medicare, eligibility extensions for children up to the age of 26 to stay enrolled in their parents health care plans, bans on insurance practices that cap annual and lifetime coverage, bans on dropped coverage for patient illness, and immediate investments in community health centers across the nation, including 27 clinics in the 28th congressional district.

“These are immediate reforms that will improve health care for my constituents,” said Cuellar. “Over 298,000 of my constituents who have coverage will immediately be protected from discriminatory insurance practices like unfair premium hikes and insurance caps on annual coverage. These are common sense reforms that make good sense for the country.”

Medicare beneficiaries, small businesses to benefit

By making historic investments in the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its solvency from 2017 to 2026, over 94,000 seniors in Cuellar’s district will immediately gain access to free preventive and wellness care. Beginning this year, the reforms will start closing the Medicare Part D “Donut Hole” and this will help 5,800 seniors in the 28th District who have been forced to pay the full cost of their prescription drugs under Medicare.

Beginning this year, the legislation will allow young adults to remain on their parents’  policies until they turn 26. Over 68,000 young adults in the 28th District would qualify for this option. For individuals under 30, this bill creates new inexpensive policies that allow them to obtain protection from catastrophic health care costs.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees will qualify to participate in the new health insurance exchanges that allow small business to band together to get lower rates. Over 14,200 small businesses in Cuellar’s district will qualify for these exchanges and employers with 25 or fewer employees will earn tax credits if they provide insurance for their workers. There is no mandate in the health care reform plan requiring small businesses to provide their employees coverage.

“Small businesses need a leg up in these hard economic times,” said Congressman Cuellar, a former small business owner. “Increasingly in Texas, small businesses are getting priced out of the system. This plan will give them more buying power by allowing them to band together with other small businesses in the state health insurance exchange.”

In addition, the 27 community health centers in the 28th District will receive $35 million in new assistance under the plan as part of a nationwide effort to expand primary care. Some estimates show that Texas could gain $120 billion in federal funding through an expansion in Medicaid, investments in the medical workforce and training, and federal cost-sharing assistance for expanded coverage.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this health care plan is fully-paid for by cost-saving investments. CBO estimates that this legislation will reduce the national deficit by $1.5 trillion in the next two decades. As a member of the fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Coalition, Congressman Cuellar strongly supports the deficit-reducing provisions of the bill.

“This was a vote for my district, my constituents, their families, seniors and small businesses,” said Cuellar. “At the end of the day, you must put aside politics and vote for your district. The health care needs in my district justify the good reforms in this plan. This is an historic turning point for our country, for Texas and for the health care needs of my constituents.”


Attorney General Abbott to challenge legality of President Obama’s health care reform law

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and 12 state attorneys general on Tuesday, March 23, filed a legal action challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted federal health care law.

The bipartisan legal challenge (11 Republicans, one Democrat) explains that the new law infringes upon Americans’ constitutionally protected individual liberties; encroaches upon the states’ constitutionally guaranteed sovereignty; forces states to spend billions of additional dollars on entitlement programs; imposes an unconstitutional tax; and violates the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Under the new law, for the first time in the nation’s history, the federal government is attempting to force individual Americans to enter into contracts and purchase services from private companies-in this case, insurance companies-or face a penalty.

The state attorneys general are challenging this so-called individual mandate requirement, explaining that such an imposition on the American people exceeds Congress’ authority and violates Americans’ constitutional rights. Additionally, the states are challenging provisions of the new law that will impose dramatic Medicaid spending increases on the states-including more than $24 billion in mandatory spending increases in the State of Texas.

“The federal health care legislation signed (by Obama on March 23) violates the United States Constitution and unconstitutionally infringes upon Texans’ individual liberties,” Abbott said. “No public policy goal – no matter how important or well-intentioned – can be allowed to trample the protections and rights guaranteed by our Constitution. To protect all Texans’ constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation’s founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government, the State of Texas and other states have filed a legal challenge seeking judgment from the courts that the federal health care take over is unconstitutional.”

The 13-state coalition, which includes Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Utah, Alabama, South Dakota, and Idaho, filed its legal challenge in the Federal District Court in the Northern District of Florida. It was filed shortly after Obama signed the bill into law. The legal action specifically challenges the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and names the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor as defendants because those federal agencies are charged with implementing the Act’s constitutionally impermissible provisions.


Barbara Ann Radnofsky criticizes rival Greg Abbott for suing to block health reform law


Attorney General Greg Abbott’s participation in a March 23 lawsuit against President Obama’s health insurance reform law would block 4.3 million Texans from receiving health care insurance, according to Barbara Ann Radnofsky,  the 2010 Democratic nominee for Texas Attorney General.

Abbott, a Republican, and Radnofsky, will be facing off in the November 2010 statewide general election.

“Attorney General Abbott is wasting Texas taxpayer dollars on a legal loser lawsuit for his own political, partisan, and personal gain,” Radnofsky said. “His grandstanding does nothing to protect the people of Texas. His aim is to protect insurance companies. He is promoting Greg Abbott and fundraising for himself and his party.”

She said Congress has the power to regulate commercial activity and tax, so the lawsuit is destined to fail.

As the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly held, the business of insurance falls within the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Court wrote:

‘Perhaps no modern commercial enterprise directly affects so many persons in all walks of life as does the insurance business. Insurance touches the home, the family, and the occupation or business of almost every person in the United States.'”

The president’s health reform law, within the next six months, prevents insurers from denying people coverage when they get sick, denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, imposing lifetime caps on coverage, and refusing to allow children under 26 to stay on their parents’ policies.

“Attorney General Abbott has done nothing to stop the anti-competitive, profiteering insurance company practices in Texas leading to some of the highest insurance rates in the country,” Radnofsky claimed.

She said Abbott should target federal practices that are discriminatory against Texans.

“If the Texas Attorney General had standing to assert our individual rights as he claims, he should have fought against unfair distribution of our federal highway tax dollars. We Texans have been and remain net donors to the other states,” she said.

According to Radnofsky, the 2005 $286.4 billion transportation bill, containing the bridge to nowhere, guaranteed Alaskans received about $1500 per capita in highway benefits, while Texans received a meager $36 per capita. Texas was a net donor to the rest of the country that year of 8.7 cents of every dollar.


Budget cuts to state health and human services department will hurt most needy Texans


As the Texas Legislature begins gearing up for another legislative session set to begin January 2011, the budget once again takes center stage.

Grappling with a struggling economy, we legislators have begun taking steps toward preparing ourselves financially for the future.

The governor, Speaker of the House and Lieutenant Governor have asked state agencies to submit proposals outlining ways to cut five percent from their own budgets.

The five percent reductions will be for fiscal years 2010-2011, so that does not necessarily mean that more cuts will not be made for the next biennium.

In monitoring the various proposals over the past few weeks, I cannot help but wonder if across-the-board cuts are ultimately the best approach.

On February 11, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) held a public hearing to outline their proposed budget cuts. The agency was charged with making these decreases without reducing funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid community care, foster care and adoption subsidies.

Agency leaders set these parameters, and I applaud them for protecting these programs. However, HHSC was still left with the daunting task of reducing its own budget by five percent like every other agency.

HHSC is proposing a one percent Medicaid provider reimbursement reduction. In practice, this means doctors will be paid even less for their services.

Further, although this one percent cut will help the commission reach their five percent budget reduction, it will cost the state an estimated $175 million in federal matching funds.

Many areas in Texas, including South Texas, currently suffer from provider shortages, so further reducing reimbursement rates for Medicaid will only continue to discourage providers from accepting Medicaid or practicing in socio-economically disadvantaged areas.

Medicaid will additionally be affected by delaying a piece of legislation passed by my son, Representative Eddie Lucio III, which would allow parents to buy into the Medicaid program for their children with disabilities. The commission is currently proposing delaying implementation of the legislation for roughly six months, again for budgetary purposes

Further, mental health services appear to be in jeopardy under HHSC’s proposal. Fifty beds in Rusk, North Texas, San Antonio and Terrell Hospitals will be cut, resulting in 207 fewer patients being served and 420 jobs lost by 2011.

Hiring freezes have also been implemented at each agency within HHSC. In short, jobs are not being created, government is simply adding to the unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, as the economy continues to trudge along with a lackluster forecast nationally, the state is feeling the impact through new enrollees in government benefits distributed by HHSC.

Currently, the commission is facing a 55.5 percent increase in first-time Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefit requests, totaling $405 million in benefits issued to more than 3.3 million recipients in March of this year, compared to $221.4 million issued to 2.3 million in March of 2008.

The agency is also facing an 11.1 percent increase in Acute Care Medicaid caseloads this year alone, along with a 7.4 percent increase for 2011. This is an agency with growing demands being forced to reduce a budget that distributes services many Texans rely on for basic survival.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, I know difficult choices need to be made, and yes, like all Texans, government needs to tighten its belt and reduce spending. However, requiring HHSC to make five percent cuts hardly seems fair when the population they serve is made up of children, elderly, sick and disabled Texans.

How many need to continue to be denied services?  How many jobs will continue to be lost? These are the tough questions we must try to resolve.


Gov. Perry announces $1.5 million state grant to help spur solar power development in Texas

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, March 22, announced that the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF) is investing $1.5 million in SolarBridge Technologies Inc. for the development and commercialization of their technology for the widespread use of solar energy.

“The TETF is helping create a culture of innovation in our state by moving Texans’ good ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace,” Perry said. “This investment in SolarBridge will help improve solar technology, and increase the use of solar energy.”

SolarBridge’s micro-inverter attaches directly to solar panels, helping address some of the concerns and shortcomings currently found in solar cell technology, including energy production efficiency, reliability and installation. The product provides greater reliability by eliminating the most failure prone components in solar cell technology, and will help move the market toward more secure distributed generation in the energy grid.

“We have succeeded in creating a module-integrated microinverter like nothing else on the market,” SolarBridge President and CEO Ron Van Dell said. “By making this investment in SolarBridge, the State of Texas recognizes the impact that our technology will have on making solar installations significantly more reliable and affordable.”

The TETF is a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 at the governor’s request, and reauthorized in 2007 and again in 2009. A 17-member advisory committee of high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and research experts reviews potential projects and recommends funding allocations to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. To date, the TETF has allocated more than $129.5 million in funds to 100 early stage companies, and $153 million in grant matching and research superiority funds to Texas universities.


Three men sentenced for kidnapping of McAllen businessman, ordered to pay $101,000 restitution to their victim


Gilberto Iván González-Peña, 26, José Alfredo González, 37, and Uvaldo Quintero, 27, have been sentenced to federal prison for taking a local businessman hostage, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno on Tuesday, March 23.

All three men pleaded guilty to hostage taking in 2009: González-Pena of Río Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico on May 29; González of San Antonio on May 8; and Quintero of Weslaco on March 31.

At a hearing on March 23, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced González-Peña, González and Quintero to 13, 14 and six years, respectively. The court also ordered the defendants be placed on a period of supervised release for three years. In addition to the lengthy prison terms, González-Peña and González have also been ordered to pay restitution to the victim in the amount of $101,000.

On January 28, 2008, a McAllen businessman was abducted and detained at gunpoint by González-Peña and others in McAllen and subsequently taken to a trailer home in Mission. Shortly thereafter, González called the victim’s wife and demanded $125,000 in exchange for the release of the victim or else they were going to kill him. The victim’s family paid the ransom on January 30, 2008. Once the ransom was paid, the businessman was released with minor injuries.

After hearing the arguments from both the government and defense counsel in federal court on March 23, Crane handed down the prison terms for each man for seizing, detaining and threatening to kill, injure and continuing to detain the victim in order to compel his family to pay a sum of money as an explicit condition for his release. The court took into account the extent of each defendant’s involvement in the hostage taking, noting that González-Peña had been one of the individuals who actually abducted the victim at gunpoint and Gonzalez was the one making the phone calls demanding the ransom. Quintero was responsible for releasing the victim once the ransom was paid.

This investigation leading to the charges was conducted by FBI with the assistance of McAllen Police Department and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Leo J. Leo III and Casey MacDonald.


Bankruptcy court approves reorganization plan for Freedom Communications, Inc., owner of McAllen Monitor, Valley Morning StarBrownsville Herald, and Weslaco Mid-Valley Town Crier

Freedom Communications, Inc. a national privately owned media company which owns the McAllen Monitor, Valley Morning Star, Brownsville Herald, and Weslaco Mid-Valley Town Crier, among other area publications, on March 9 announced that a U.S. Bankruptcy Court has confirmed its Plan of Reorganization.

The company, based in Orange County, California, was working to clear the remaining plan items with a target to emerge from Chapter 11 by the end of March.

In general, Chapter 11 is part  of the United States Bankruptcy Code, which permits reorganization under the bankruptcy laws of the U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is available to every business, whether organized as a corporation or sole proprietorship, and to individuals, although it is most prominently used by corporate entities.

The plan, which was supported by the steering committee of the Freedom’s secured lenders and the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, and approved by an overwhelming majority of its voting creditors, eliminates approximately $450 million of debt from Freedom’s balance sheet, giving the company the flexibility and financial strength it needs to best serve all of its stake-holders.

Upon emergence from Chapter 11, Freedom will receive a $25 million revolving credit facility from General Electric Capital Corporation, as agent. This facility will ensure that the Company has adequate back-up liquidity upon emergence to meet its working capital needs.

“Navigating through Chapter 11 as rapidly as we have is a remarkable achievement, testifying to the hard work of all involved,” said Freedom Chief Executive Officer Burl Osborne. “We have worked closely with our major constituents to implement a plan that treats our stake-holders fairly while de-leveraging the company and positioning it for future success and meeting the challenges of the new media environment.”

In a separate but related action on March 9, the court also approved Freedom’s sale of its Phoenix-area operations to 1013 Communications, LLC, an affiliate of Thirteenth Street Media. The sale was expected to close by the end of March, subject to satisfaction of the closing conditions.

The Chapter 11 petitions were filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, in Wilmington. The case number is 09-13046. Freedom has also established a restructuring information line at 800-299-1960. Additional information regarding the filings, including the company’s plan of reorganization and disclosure statement, can also be found at

Freedom Communications, Inc., headquartered in Irvine, California, is a national privately owned information and entertainment company of print publications, broadcast television stations and interactive businesses.

The company’s print portfolio includes approximately 90 daily and weekly publications, including approximately 30 daily newspapers, plus ancillary magazines and other specialty publications. The broadcast company’s stations – five CBS, two ABC network affiliates and one CW affiliate – reach more than 3 million households across the country. The Company’s news, information and entertainment websites complement its print and broadcast properties.


Edinburg to celebrate National Walk to Work Day on Friday, April 2 to promote health, clean environment


On Friday, April 2, Edinburg will join other cities across the country in celebrating National Walk to Work Day.

Edinburg has also officially proclaimed April 3 through April 9 as Walk or Bike to Work and School Week.

Since 2004, National Walk to Work Day in the United States of America has been held on the first Friday of April and is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Podiatric Medical Association.

For the second year in a row, the City of Edinburg, as part of its CoolCities initiative and commitment under the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city, has issued an official proclamation celebrating National Walk to Work Day and Walk or Bike to Work and School Week in Edinburg.

As part of this celebration, Edinburg is encouraging citizens to walk or bike all or part of their commute to work and school aiming for a minimum 15-(fifteen) minute walk each way.  Since every ride on public transit begins and ends with a walk, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC) is partnering with the city in support of this initiative and offering free bus rides on Rio Metro in Edinburg from Friday, April 2 through Friday April 9.

“Livable communities which are walkable and bike-friendly and transit-oriented development are the way of the future,” said Mark Peña, chairman of the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board (EEAB) and coordinator of its CoolCities campaign. “Livability also significantly impacts a city’s ability to attract new businesses, residents and tourism. That’s what this initiative is all about – the sustainability and future success of our community.”

Edinburg invites citizens interested in being a part of this celebration to take the Walk or Bike to Work and School Pledge committing to walk or bike to work and school at least once between April 2 and 9. Pledge forms may be picked-up at either the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 602 W. University Dr. or the Edinburg World Birding Center at 714 S. Raúl Longoria Road.

“Taking the pledge is free, and pledges are simply a way to encourage citizens to make a healthy commitment to walking and biking and highlight some of the many health, environmental and economic benefits of these activities,” said Peña.


McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce announces annual membership drive

Want to enjoy a rib-eye dinner with all the trimmings and cocktails for you and your 25 best friends? That’s the reward for the group that ranks as the top recruiting team in the upcoming

membership drive of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, set for April 27 and 28.

The organization, which is open to all business owners in the McAllen area, has earned national and state honors for its services to its membership and to the community.

The ongoing recruiting effort is part of the MHCC’s efforts to bring a positive change for its membership and the community.

“The MHCC is like any other chamber with the exception that we don’t have the budget to work on tourism or conventions, even though we have brought in two conventions and several state meetings to McAllen and South Padre Island,” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and chief executive officer for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Our main focus is that of small business along with education, health, women’s issues, government affairs and cultural issues.”

Sakulenzki noted that the organization’s Program of Work has been recognized nationwide and has generated much positive attention for McAllen.

“We want to empower our members with our knowledge, our state and national contacts in the government and corporate world,” she explined. “We would like to see all of our women- and minority-owned business owners get their foot in the front doors of corporate America, as well as state and federal government, to do business by certifying them in our 8-A, HUB and WBE certification workshops.”

Twenty percent of the MHCC membership in non-Hispanic, noted Roxanna Godinez, vice chair of membership.

“I believe that our non-Hispanic membership has been increasing due to the benefits that they see by belonging to our chamber” Godinez observed. “We welcome and encourage all business people to look at our benefits and consider becoming a member.”

The MHCC is looking for individuals who would like to help other business people by participating in the membership drive.

“The MHCC is known for its fun events and the membership drive will be no exception,” Sakulenzki promised.

More information on the membership drive and related prizes is available by contacting the MCHH office at 928-0060.


National awards focus spotlight on South Texas College president, communications team


In October 2009, South Texas College President Shirley A. Reed traveled to San Antonio to receive the honor of District 4 Regional Pacesetter of the Year from the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations. Little did she know then that in March 2010, she would be chosen as the National Pacesetter of the Year for the entire NCMPR organization.

“It was such an honor and a surprise to be selected for the national award, considering the high caliber of community college presidents that were nominated,” Reed said. “We are all doing our part to spread the important message that college is for everyone, not just a select few. Whether I am at the grocery store, speaking at a community event, testifying at the state capitol or speaking at a national educator’s conference, the message is the same – we must all do our part to create a college-going culture, not just in our communities, but in America as a whole.

“I myself am a product of community colleges,” she explained. “I know the power they have and the important role they can play in changing a person’s life. I have spent more than three decades championing the causes of our nation’s community colleges and will do everything I can to continue heralding our message. Community colleges are the ones helping our economy grow in new and exciting directions and will continue to be the source of workforce training and development, which is crucial in today’s global economy.”

The Pacesetter of the Year award recognizes a community college president who has demonstrated special leadership and support in marketing and public relations.

During her tenure as president, Dr. Reed has overseen the passage of more than $100M in bond construction projects, growing STC from one location to five state-of-the-art campuses, and from 1,000 to 27,000+ students. Her vision has allowed STC to become a thriving intellectual and community center, hosting art lectures, business luncheons, congressional briefings, scout meetings, visiting authors, and many other free events enriching the lives of community members.

Additionally, the increase in facilities and students has allowed STC to employ more than 1,800 faculty and staff, further stimulating local and state economies. Because of her business savvy, STC has focused on the procurement of more than $240M in grant monies to fund student success initiatives, scholarships and training programs. These grant funds have opened the doors of opportunity to hundreds of thousands of students to make a better life for them and their families.

And as the founding and only president, Dr. Reed has led STC to offer more than 100 degree and certificate program options, including offering two bachelor degrees.

“Dr. Reed is a pacesetter in every sense of the word. Her vision and numerous accomplishments have elevated the image and awareness of South Texas College, and it is clear that her success in communicating the college’s message of excellence and opportunity is driven by a true passion for seeing people improve their lives through education,” said Judi Sciple, former national president for NCMPR. “Dr. Reed exemplifies the very spirit of this award and we’re delighted to honor her on behalf of community college communicators everywhere.”

The college’s Office of Public Relations and Marketing also earned two Paragon Awards from NCMPR, which were awarded at the organization’s annual conference. The awards include a gold for best electronic newsletter and a bronze for college video program, for its “JagTV.”

The Paragon Awards earned by the college’s Office of Public Relations and Marketing recognize outstanding achievement in communications at community and technical colleges from across the nation. It’s the only national competition of its kind honoring excellence exclusively among marketing and PR professionals at two-year colleges.

“I am so proud of the staff for all their hard work to keep our college-going message at the forefront in our community,” added Reed of the Paragon Awards. “We have a highly-talented team of professionals on staff that brings unique experiences and ideas to create truly innovative ways to communicate with our publics. I commend each of the professional staff for their contributions to making these awards a reality for the college.”

NCMPR is an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges. For additional information about NCMPR visit


Restoration underway for Edinburg Depot


The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce recently held a ground breaking ceremony to welcome a new addition to the historic Depot, which houses that organization along with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is in the process of building a back patio that will be utilized for chamber events and fundraisers. The patio’s completion will take about two months to complete.

Current fundraising efforts are being led by Maggie Kent, who has received support contributions from multiple individuals and businesses to complete the depot’s outdoor patio beautification project.

Fundraising efforts have been a large part of the process, so financial supporters will be recognized with a plaque at the patio’s completion.

The Depot Restoration Committee, co-chaired by Kent and by Elva Jackson Garza, has brought awareness to the history of the depot, and in turn brought community awareness and support to fundraising projects that will restore and upkeep the historical gratitude of historical landmark.

Depot fundraising efforts kicked off through a partnership with ECISD, launching a silver campaign that raised more than $3,000 for roof repairs.

“Although it’s hard work raising funds for any project, the community really embraced our efforts towards restoring and up keeping the Chamber’s current home, the Depot,” said Letty González, chamber president. “It has been a fun project, and I’ve enjoyed working with the Depot Restoration Committee, our financial supporters, and of course, Noel Villarreal with Landscaping Etc., who assisted in creating the plans, and who has also donated his time and effort towards this wonderful project.”

For more information on the Depot Restoration Committee, or to help support future fundraising efforts, please contact González at 956/383-4974.

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