Featured, from left: Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Alma Ortega-Johnson, Area President South Texas Region for Wells Fargo; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on Tuesday, September 17, 2013, following the State Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon, sponsored by the City of McAllen and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, at the McAllen Country Club. Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
Several key projects vital to the Edinburg region – specifically the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, the UT-RGV Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division, a Texas Department of Public Safety multi-use training facility, a hanger for emergency first responder capabilities at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg, and the South Texas Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr – are included in the $209.4 billion two-year state spending plan that was approved by the Legislature on Friday, May 29, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. Those legislative priorities represent almost $100 million in state investments, beginning on September 1, 2015, that will be coming to the Rio Grande Valley in addition to a separate but enormous infusion of other state funding for the major functions of state government in the Rio Grande Valley. “The Valley legislative delegation played our roles in generating the political support from our 172 other colleagues in the Legislature for securing additional state funding for exciting new projects for House District 40 and for the rest of deep South Texas,” said Canales, who represents House District 40. House District 40 includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. “The special appropriations totaling almost $100 million were secured by Valley legislators, led by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who was the only South Texas lawmaker to serve on a 10-member Senate-House panel that came up with the final version of the state budget,” said Canales. “Having Sen. Hinojosa on the conference committee was invaluable. He deserves congratulations for a job well-done.” Hinojosa, D-McAllen,was one of only five Senate appointees – and the only Democrat – selected on Thursday, April 23, by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve on the Senate/House Conference Committee that came up with a final state budget for the 2016-17 biennium. A conference committee is a special legislative panel appointed by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House when there are differences between a Senate bill and a House bill that deal with the same issue, such as the proposed state budget that has been approved by the Senate and the proposed state budget that has been approved by the House of Representatives. Edinburg, where a major campus of the UT-RGV School of Medicine, now under construction, and the adjacent UT-RGV Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division are located, will see those two cutting-edge facilities share in $91.7 million in state funds over the next two years. The UT-RGV School of Medicine also includes a major presence in Harlingen, with the UT-RGV RAHC Medical Education Division, while the UT-RGV School of Medicine in Edinburg will provide the first two years of a medical student’s education, along with the groundbreaking studies at the neighboring UT-RGV RAHC Medical Research Division. From the $91.7 million in state funding, more than $60 million will go towards the School of Medicine, while $31.4 million will be invested in the UT-RGV Regional Academic Health Centers. The leadership of UT-RGV will decide what portions of that money will be invested in each of the facilities and their programs. New money for public safety and law enforcement – not counting hundreds of millions of dollars for border security measures that will come into the Valley – was approved for the Edinburg region. The South Texas International Airport at Edinburg picked up $3 million to help expand its hangar capabilities, which are needed by the Texas Department of Public Safety for emergency and first responders for staging and storage purposes. That money is coming out of a state highway fund that is reserved for public safety efforts at local airports throughout Texas. Also, $2 million has been set aside to build a Department of Public Safety multi-use training facility to be used by DPS, the Texas military forces, county and municipal law enforcement agencies, and any other military or law enforcement agencies, including agencies of the federal government, for training purposes. It is the intent of the Legislature that the governing body of the County of Hidalgo or the City of Edinburg may donate 200 acres of real property to DPS for the training facility. If donated, DPS shall accept 200 acres of donated land from the governing body of the County of Hidalgo or the City of Edinburg for the purpose of constructing the training facility. Edinburg’s neighboring community, the City of Pharr, picked up more than $1.5 million, effective on September 1, 2015, to help in the construction of the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence. That complex, to be built on a 50-to-60 acre tract of land to be donated by the City of Pharr, will “increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, whose House District 36 includes most of Pharr. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area would not.” The state money would be in addition to $4.2 million already set aside by South Texas College for the construction of a 16,000 square-foot facility to include a vehicle driving range, outdoor shooting range, firearms simulator, mobile firearms simulator/live firing range, driving simulator, obstacle course, fitness rooms, classrooms and administrative offices. “The Regional Center for Public Safety Excellent will increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” Muñoz further explained. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area would not.” The state funding comes as part of House Bill 1887, which is well on its way to being approved by the Legislature. HB 1887, authored by Muñoz and sponsored by Hinojosa, amends the Education Code to create the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to provide education and training for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley. “Having such an educational facility for our current and future law enforcement officials will be a tremendous benefit for the delivery of justice and the protection of all of us in deep South Texas,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes 19 percent of the City of Pharr. “I appreciate Rep. Muñoz allowing me to sign on as joint author of HB 1887, and I appreciated working with him and the leadership of Pharr and South Texas College on this most important legislative effort.” Along with Canales, the other joint authors of HB 1887 are Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City.
Digital driver’s licenses, such as now set up in Iowa, could be studied for use in Texas under a bipartisan measure being considered by the Texas Legislature.
Photograph By DIGITALTRENDS.COM
Texans could one day soon have the option of carrying virtual version’s of their driver’s license on their smartphone under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, that is making its way through the state legislature. His proposal, originally contained in his House Bill 640, was attached as an amendment to Senate Bill 1934 on Monday, May 25. An amendment is a proposed change – either by adding new language and/or deleting existing language – to a bill or resolution as it moves through the legislative process. Canales was successful in adding the entire text of HB 640 to the language of Senate Bill 1934, by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, which deals with changing requirements for driver’s licenses, personal ID information. “Recently enacted legislation allowed drivers to show proof of auto insurance on their smartphones and reports indicate that other states have passed similar laws,” Canales said of his HB 640. “In an effort to continue this digital trend, my legislation requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct a study concerning the use of a digital image for identification and proof of licensure purposes.” Now, through SB 1934, which is awaiting a final vote by the House of Representatives, Canales’ idea would result in Texas developing a system where such digital driver licenses could become a reality in Texas within the next few years. “Other major states are looking at this option, and my amendment to SB 1934 would give us until the fall of 2016 to come up with the pros and cons, anticipate and fix any shortcomings, and protect the privacy of individuals who prefer to have digital versions of their driver license, rather than the plastic type,” said Canales. Iowa and Delaware are the first two states to set up such a system, while this spring, as of March 10, 2015, other states are also looking at similar measures, including Arizona, California, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Tennessee. Under Canales’ amendment to SB 1934: The DPS would be required to conduct a study determining the feasibility of establishing a system to allow a person to use a digital image displayed on an electronic device for identification purposes or to prove that the person has a driver’s license; The DPS would evaluate risks to personal information security that such a system might create; The DPS would survey and evaluate digital identification and proof of licensure policies in other states; and The DPS would be required, not later than September 1, 2016, to submit a detailed report of its findings and recommendations to the legislature.
Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, speaking from the back microphone on the floor of the House of Representatives in April 2015.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Texans’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure would be better protected under legislation sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge before being allowed to look at the contents of a cell phone or other wireless communications device belonging to individuals who are involved in a search incident to arrest. In general, a search incident to arrest, formally known as a search incident to lawful arrest (SITA) or the Chimel rule, is defined as a legal principle that allows police to perform a warrantless search of an arrested person, and the area within the arrestee’s immediate control, in the interest of officer safety, the prevention of escape, and the destruction of evidence. In addition to protecting Texans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights, Senate Bill 1864 “gives our law enforcement officers a clean and clear description of how to handle the search of a cell phone,” Canales added. The measure, whose primary author is Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, passed the Senate on Thursday, April 30. Canales secured passage by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence – of which he is a member – on Friday, May 21. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is a joint author of Burton’s SB 1864, which was approved by the Senate on Thursday, April 30. “Unless it is an emergency that involves the safety of our law enforcement officers, or the police reasonably believe the information in the phone is vital to saving someone’s life, a search warrant must be obtained before they can begin looking at all the information – some if it very private – that all of us have in our cell phones,” said Canales. He noted that when an individual is stopped for an alleged offense, police can examine a cell phone to make sure it can not be used as a weapon against them. “Police can look at the contents of a cell phone or other wireless communications device without a search warrant if the owner of the phone consents, the phone is reported stolen, or if the officer reasonably believes the phone is in possession of a fugitive from justice for whom an arrest warrant has been issued for a felony offense,” Canales added. According to U.S. Courts (uscourts.gov), the Constitution, through the Fourth Amendment, protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The Fourth Amendment, however, is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law. Whether a particular type of search is considered reasonable in the eyes of the law, is determined by balancing two important interests, according to U.S. Courts. On one side of the scale is the intrusion on an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. On the other side of the scale are legitimate government interests, such as public safety. Burton characterized SB 1864 as “a privacy protection bill that takes proactive steps to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of not only Texans, but of all who come to our great state. We now carry around with us everyday items that contain more personal information, photos, contacts, and transcripts of conversations than most people kept in their homes just ten years ago. A police officer looking through a cell phone’s contents is as invasive a search as rummaging through every private paper and item in your home.” In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that during a search incident to arrest, a warrant is required in order to search a cell phone or other wireless communication device. In his concurrence to that decision, Justice Samuel Alito called for legislatures to not allow privacy protections in the 21st century to rely primarily upon the blunt instrument of the Fourth Amendment, and to take up the challenge of placing into statue the protections necessary to guarantee those rights in this ever changing technological environment.
Featured, from left: Nelda Ramírez, Assistant Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Agustín “Gus” García, Jr., Executive Director, EEDC; David Torres, newly-elected Edinburg City Councilmember; Mayor Richard García, who also serves as President of the EEDC Board of Directors; Cynthia Contreras Gutiérrez, Legal Counsel, EEDC; and Steven Cruz, III, immediate past member of the EEDC Board of Directors, at Edinburg City Hall on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
Edinburg’s unemployment rate for April 2015 was 4.6 percent, representing the third consecutive month that the city posted a monthly rate under five percent, with McAllen, at 4.5 percent, being the only other major Valley city to come under five percent, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. Edinburg’s unemployment rate, as calculated by the Texas Workforce Commission, was the best showing for the city during that month since April 2008, when it was reported at four percent by the state agency. Among its many duties, the Texas Workforce Commission provides information and analysis on shifts in occupations and industries within the state, including unemployment rates and employment figures, broken down by cities, counties, and regions in Texas, on a monthly basis. This latest positive news comes as Mayor Richard García , who also serves as President of the EEDC Board of Directors, is preparing to deliver his State of the City Address on Wednesday, May 27, at Edinburg Municipal Auditorium. The Edinburg Municipal Auditorium is located at 415 West University Drive, and is part of the Edinburg City Hall complex. His presentation, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11:30 a.m. It also will be televised live and videotaped for later broadcasting by the Edinburg Cable Network. “The annual presentation brings residents, city staff and civic leaders together to reflect on the city’s accomplishments from the past year and to review plans for the future,” said García. Edinburg’s April 2015 figure was lower than March 2015 (4.8 percent), February 2015 (4.8 percent), and January 2015 (5.1 percent). Edinburg’s April 2015 unemployment rate of 4.6 percent remained close to the Texas statewide average, which was four percent for April 2015, 4.2 percent for March 2015, 4.3 percent for February 2015, and 4.6 percent for January 2015, according to Texas Workforce Commission figures. The city’s latest performance also was better than the U.S. unemployment rate for April 2015, which was 5.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data represents an increase of 106 jobs in Edinburg when comparing the employment figures for April 2015 and April 2014. In April 2015, there were 35,480 persons employed in Edinburg, compared with 35,374 in April 2014. The April 2015 unemployment rate of 4.6 percent for Edinburg is also better than the annual unemployment rate in Edinburg for 2014, which was 5.8 percent – and that yearly rate was the best 12-month average from January through December since 2005.
Featured, from left: Michael McCarthy with MD Bio Scan; Sabrina Guerra, Senior Accountant, and Nilda VanHook, Chief Deputy, both with the Office of the Hidalgo County District Clerk; Laura Hinojosa, who is Hidalgo County District Clerk; and Jessica Treviño with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa’s Office, during an open house at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Thursday, April 23, 2015. An additional $40 fee for the filing of civil lawsuits in Hidalgo County, of which the District Clerk Office serves as registrar, recorder, and custodian, is being proposed in state legislation designed to help generate millions of dollars, without raising property taxes, for the construction of a new Hidalgo County Courthouse.
Photograph By HILDA SALINAS
Legislation that could raise between $1 million and $2 million a year for the next 30 years to help pay for a new courthouse or renovations of the existing 64-year-old facility in downtown Edinburg – without increasing property taxes – has been approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. Senate Bill 1964, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was supported by that House panel on Wednesday, May 20, after Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, successfully offered an amendment to Hinojosa’s SB 1964 that could generate more money than originally estimated, but without increasing property taxes. Martínez and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, are the primary author and joint author, respectively, of the companion bill for SB 1964. SB 1964, which is now on the way for action by the House of Representatives, has two major changes from the original version of SB 1964 approved by the Senate on Wednesday, April 29. Instead of authorizing the county commissioners court to charge up to an extra $20 for the filing of each civil lawsuit, as originally proposed, SB 1964 doubled that amount to $40. In addition, Cameron County was added to SB 1964, which would give the County Commissioners Court the same authority to raise revenue for their own courthouse plans, whether they involve a new courthouse or renovations to the existing structure in Brownsville. SB 1964, as approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, also would allow both county commissioners courts to collect an extra $10 fee for each filing of real property records. Real property records are official documents filed with the county clerk’s office such as mortgages, warranty deeds, deeds of trust, power-of-attorney, material liens, notices of foreclosure, oil and natural gas liens, mineral deeds, equity liens, and releases of liens. If the House approves SB 1964, it would have to go back to the Senate for their agreement on increasing the fee by up to $40 for the filing of civil lawsuits. After that, it would go to the governor for his approval. SB 1964 could help raise significant non-tax revenue for the construction of a $100+ million Hidalgo County Courthouse in the heart of Canales’ House District 40 legislative district. “The Hidalgo County Courthouse complex is one of the major economic engines, along with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, that is part of a tremendous revitalization that is going on in deep South Texas,” Canales said. “Just as important, South Texans need a courthouse that provides a safe and secure environment for the administration of justice for individuals and businesses.” SB 1964 allows Hidalgo and Cameron counties to collect a civil courts filing fee similar to the one currently collected in Bexar, Hays, Dallas, Rockwall, and Travis counties to assist with the costs of renovating, improving, or constructing new courthouse facilities, said Hinojosa. For years, Hidalgo county officials have spoken of the need to replace the county’s existing courthouse in Edinburg, Hinojosa and Martínez noted. “When the existing courthouse opened in 1954, it housed two state district courts and one county court-at-law. That has grown to 11 district courts and eight county courts-at-law, along with other auxiliary courts that have spilled into temporary buildings and one nearby storefront in downtown Edinburg,” said Martínez. “In the past 24 years, Hidalgo County’s population has doubled and the county is now home to up to 900,000 residents. Further, the dated structure and history of asbestos requires constant maintenance and repairs raising public health and safety concerns as wells as costs.”