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Featured: Miriam Michelle Cepeda, Governmental Relations Liaison, City of Edinburg, is helping lead legislative strategies for the Mayor and Edinburg City Council in Austin and in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by NOAH DIEGO’S PHOTOGRAPHY

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City of Edinburg announces state legislative agenda, which includes push for Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center, UTRGV and its School of Medicine, South Texas International Airport, and Edinburg Regional Landfill

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

In what Mayor Richard Molina said was the first round of goals for the city before the Texas Legislature, Edinburg’s state legislative agenda was announced to the general public during an Edinburg City Council meeting on Friday, March 8, 2019 – focusing on public health, higher education, and economic development measures that are being championed by DHR Health, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and its School of Medicine.

“This is the first of many more to come,” Molina said of the city’s 2019 Legislative Priorities for the ongoing 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature in Austin.

The mayor said plans are underway for a similar delegation to participate in a return trip to the Texas Capitol to continue lobbying the Texas Legislature for their legislative agenda.

“We’re talking about returning in April,” Molina said. “At the end of the day, I wholeheartedly believe we are going to come away with funding for some of these projects.”

At least $59.4 million in state funding is being requested by Edinburg, including:

• Protecting $42 million in special state funding for UTRGV.
• Restoring $10 million that was cut in 2017 from the UTRGV School of Medicine, which has a major presence in the city.
• Securing $4.4 million in new state money for a Cervical Dysplasia and Cancer Clinic and Cancer Immunology Program.
• Obtaining $3 million for improvements at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg.

Also, the city is supporting statewide legislation seeking between $50 million and $100 million for emergency preparedness trauma funding, including money for a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center for deep South Texas.

Molina, Mayor Pro Tem David Torres, Councilmember Jorge Salinas, and Miguel “Mike” Farías, Member, Board of Trustees, Edinburg Independent Consolidated Independent School District, who also serves on the Board of Directors, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, were among the elected officials who led the delegation of local, UTRGV, DHR Health, business and community leaders for Edinburg Day 2019, held on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 and Wednesday, March 6, 2019, at the Texas Capitol.

The two-day event was designed to lobby legislative leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, on the city’s ambitions.

“It’s an exciting time in Edinburg,” Molina said. “We had very, very good meetings in Austin. We were out there, working with our local legislators, building relations, educating other legislative leaders about our School of Medicine – we will never leave them (School of Medicine) out – informing them about our airport and its importance for the state’s border security, and letting lawmakers know about our regional landfill and its importance to public health.”

The city group met with Gov. Greg Abbott during their trip to Austin, presenting the governor with a ceremonial “Key to the City”, even going so far as to convince Abbott to support the UTRGV Vaqueros baseball team, which was in Austin to play against powerhouse Texas Longhorns, ranked 12th in the nation, for the afternoon game, which UTRGV narrowly lost, 4-3.

“I asked him who he was going to root for, he said, ‘UTRGV all the way!’” Molina quoted the governor, who earned a B.B.A. in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin.

Molina also reported Abbott’s ongoing support for finding state money to help build a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center in the Valley.

“The governor brought it up,” Molina said. “That was huge.”

In general, a trauma center is a hospital equipped and staffed to provide care for patients suffering from major traumatic injuries such as falls, motor vehicle collisions, or gunshot wounds. A trauma center may also refer to an emergency department without the presence of specialized services to care for victims of major trauma.

A Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center has 24-hour in-house coverage by specialists in surgery as well as the prompt availability of neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, emergency medical specialists, internal medicine specialists, pediatricians, plastic surgeons, radiologists and maxillofacial surgeons.

DHR Health is a physician-owned health system and the only locally owned and operated hospital left in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Anchored in southwest Edinburg, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with over 1,400 nurses and 700 physicians providing care in 70 specialties and sub-specialties.

Additionally, DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, and encompasses a general acute hospital with a 24/7 Level III Trauma Facility the only dedicated women’s hospital South of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, over 60 clinics Valleywide, advanced cancer services, and the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley, to name a few.

According to Cepeda, the city’s current state legislative agenda stands as follows:

• Sustain $42 Million in Current Non-Formula Support for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Support legislation to continue the $42 million in funding for UTRGV to provide higher education through high-quality professional and graduate degree programs across the spectrum. UTRGV consists of seven multiple campuses in South Texas, the largest number of Hispanic enrollment, and the second highest nationally in awarding Hispanics four-year degrees.

There are two main components to the state’s current method of funding higher-education: “special items” earmarked for specific projects and a per-credit allocation disbursed using a formula, according to the Texas Tribune. The “special items” – which are also referred to as “non-formula funding – are monies allocated outside the normal formulas to give schools cash infusions to start up new programs or pay for initiatives not always within their academic mission.

In the previous biennium (84th Texas Legislature, fiscal years 2016-2017), the 362 special items (non-formula funding) ranged in cost from a $31,500 research initiative at Sul Ross State University to a $61,397,900 allocation for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine. Some schools receive what amounts to a supplement through the “special items” allocation process that they use to hire more professors and staff.

(https://www.texastribune.org/2018/02/20/formula-funding-hearing/)

• Invest $4.4 million for Cervical Dysplasia and Cancer Clinic & Cancer Immunology Program

Support the $4.4 million request for new exceptional item funding for cancer program initiatives including a Cervical Dysplasia Clinic & Cancer Immunology Program.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Hispanics, accounting for 21 percent in mortality rates.

Counties along the Texas-Mexico border, including the Rio Grande Valley, have a 30 percent higher cervical cancer mortality rate compared to the rest of the state because of a lack of available resources. By funding in this program, the UTRGV School of Medicine will have the opportunity to advance research and provide access to treatment to the local population.

Cervical dysplasia is a precancerous condition in which abnormal cell growth occurs on the surface lining of the cervix or endocervical canal, the opening between the uterus and the vagina. It is also called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). Strongly associated with sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, cervical dysplasia is most common in women under age 30 but can develop at any age.

(https://www.webmd.com/cancer/cervical-cancer/cervical-dysplasia-symptoms-causes-treatments#1)

• Hotel Occupancy Tax Revenue

The 85th Texas Legislature in 2017 passed Senate Bill 1136 to allow Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) revenue collection to support construction, maintenance, and expansion for sporting-related facilities in the city of Edinburg. Edinburg seeks to clarify what the Legislature has previously approved.

The city seeks to clarify SB 1136 regarding Edinburg’s use of Hotel Occupancy Tax Revenue to support the city’s state-of-the-art sporting facilities, specifically the $16.8+ million Rio Grande Valley FC Toros Stadium, which is a 9,400-seat soccer-specific complex, and the $88+ million Bert Ogden Arena, which can seat up to 9,000 people.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was the author of SB 1136, with Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, carrying it as the sponsor in the Texas House of Representatives.

According to the bill analysis of the measure, SB 1136, which became state law in 2017, amended the Tax Code to authorize the City of Edinburg to use municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue to construct, maintain, or expand a sporting-related facility or sporting-related field on property owned by the city provided its sports facilities and fields have been used in the preceding calendar year a combined total of more than 10 times for district, state, regional, or national sports tournaments, games, or events.

That new state law from 2017 imposed certain limitations on the amount of hotel tax revenue that may be used for this purpose and set a floor for the city’s spending on advertising and conducting solicitations and promotional programs to attract tourists and convention delegates or registrants.

• Restore $10 million for the UTRGV School of Medicine which was cut in 2017

The city leadership supports the university’s request to supplement/restore exceptional funding this session that’s necessary to achieve full accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) upon the graduation of the School of Medicine Inaugural Class in June 2020.

UTRGV School of Medicine officials say that restoring $10 million would allow them to hire more medical staff /professionals, help provide continuous support of clinical sites, partnerships, and clinical faculty, and help support the third- and fourth-year of medical education for 205 to 220 students in the year 2020.

(https://www.utrgv.edu/school-of-medicine/index.htm)

• Support legislation that allows the continued expansion of Edinburg Regional Landfill

The City of Edinburg serves the residents of South Texas by accepting waste disposal from 17 companies that service communities across the Rio Grande Valley.

The Edinburg Regional Landfill currently serve approximately 450,000 households and offers a range of sound solid waste collection, processing, disposal, recycling and environmental. It also compresses solid waste into High BTU natural gas for resale.

The Edinburg Regional Landfill’s Type 1 Solid Waste and Type 4 Construction and Demolition Land ll collect about 630,000 tons of waste annually. At this rate, the city’s Type 1 Land ll will meet its capacity in four years and three months.

The city will request legislation that promotes the Edinburg Regional Landfill and will oppose any measures to prohibit its needed expansion.

According to its website, since its regionalization in 1997, the Edinburg Regional Landfill has surpassed all expectations in its operation and compliance. With its current permit amendment adding an additional 154 acres and 25 years of landfill disposal capacity, the Edinburg Regional Sanitary Type I Landfill is the only operational long-term source of disposal for South Texas. The City’s Regional Type IV Facility is a 147 acre site that allows Edinburg the ability to provide unmatched waste diversity acceptance to the Valley.

Both of the City of Edinburg’s landfills utilize the newest and latest advances in landfill technology to protect public health and the environment thus ensuring long-term integrity of the these systems. As a dedicated environmental steward, the City of Edinburg through the Department of Solid Waste Management ensures that all of its facilities are designed, operated and maintained to meet or exceed local, state and federal Environmental Regulations and Statutes. The city continually works with regulatory agencies to insure the City of Edinburg maintains an adequate and viable disposal capacity at its existing sites.

• Level I Comprensive Trauma Center in Edinburg

The Rio Grande Valley is 220 miles away from closest Level 1 Comprehensive Trauma Center, which is in San Antonio In 2018, over 300 patients were transported north of the RGV for treatment. The city supports all legislative efforts to bring a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center to deep South Texas.

It stands as a referral source for nearby hospitals and ambulances. It is a leader in public education and prevention of trauma and provides continuing education for its trauma team members. It has a vast quality assessment program. It has a program for substance abuse and has an organized research and teaching program. It sees many trauma patients each year. If you’ve been seriously injured in an automobile accident or other traumatic incidents, it is a good idea to have your injury treated in a level I trauma center. This is a medical facility that has a proven record of being able to treat trauma of the highest degree.

(https://www.sacramentoinjuryattorneysblog.com/different-levels-trauma-centers/)

• Support Legislation in Emergency Preparedness Trauma Funding

Allocate $50 million to $100 million from the Hurricane Harvey Supplemental Funding package and create a grant program though the Texas Department of State Health Services for areas such as the Rio Grande Valley, along with other coastline regions.

DHR Health’s push for state funding also would benefit the Trauma Network in the State of Texas, which is made up of 288 designated trauma hospitals, first responders, and emergency medical service providers.

The Trauma Network in the State of Texas is comprised of 22 regions and includes 18 Level I Comprehensive Trauma Centers, 21 Level II Major Trauma Centers, 56 Level III Advanced Trauma Centers, and 193 Level IV Basic Trauma Centers.

Continue funding for the UTRGV School of Medicine in General Medical Education (GME) programs at local teaching hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley

Upon completion of medical school, physicians continue their clinical education in a medical specialty of their choice for several years, known as Graduate Medical Education (GME). This further training prepares physicians for the independent practice of medicine in that specialty. This will benefit hospitals, clinics, and patients throughout the region as medical students will have the opportunity to fulfill their GME requirements throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

A teaching hospital is a hospital or medical center that provides medical education and training to future and current health professionals. Teaching hospitals are often affiliated with medical schools and work closely with medical students throughout their period of matriculation, and especially during their clerkship (internship) years. In most cases, teaching hospitals also offer Graduate Medical Education (GME)/ physician residency programs, where medical school graduates train under a supervising (attending) physician to assist with the coordination of care.

In addition to offering medical education to medical students and physician residents, many teaching hospitals also serve as research institutes.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teaching_hospital)

• Indirect Medical Education (IME) payments across Texas

Teaching hospitals receive a payment from Medicare for Indirect Medical Education (IME) and Graduate Medical Education (GME) expenses. This payment helps to defray the added costs of maintaining teaching programs. For traditional Medicare patients, the IME payment is automatically paid by Medicare when a claim is processed.

Section 1886(d) of the Social Security Act (the Act) sets forth a system of payment for the operating costs of acute care hospital inpatient stays under Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) based on prospectively set rates. This payment system is referred to as the inpatient prospective payment system (IPPS). Under the IPPS, each case is categorized into a diagnosis-related group (DRG). Each DRG has a payment weight assigned to it, based on the average resources used to treat Medicare patients in that DRG.

For every Medicare case paid under the operating IPPS, a teaching hospital receives an additional payment, i.e. Indirect Medical Education (IME). The hospital’s IME payment is determined by inserting its individual intern/resident-to-bed ratio into a formula established under Medicare statute.

As a hospital’s involvement in GME increases, its percentage add-on to the basic PPS payment also increases. Unfortunately, Human and Health Services uses 2013 data for IME payments.

• Support legislation that increases funding and support for the South Texas International Airport in security, preservation, and expansion efforts

The South Texas International Airport at Edinburg is a 580-acre, user-fee airport, as designated by the U.S. Customs Service, as well as a Foreign Trade Zone. It is a notable asset to the City of Edinburg’s economic development and is poised to become significantly more important to the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas border region in the foreseeable future.

South Texas International Airport at Edinburg (EBG), is geographically positioned within 25-miles of the Mexican border and conveniently adjacent to US Highway 281 (I-69 C) and State Highway 68.

It currently serves as base operations for Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) in conjunction with US National Guard, and US Customs Air & Marine Branch.

This General Aviation Airport receives approximately 4,500 operations annually, serving needs in border security, search/rescue operations, medical airlift, emergency hurricane relief, and corporate business operations.

The City of Edinburg recently submitted an application to Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program requesting $3 million to design and construct runway and taxiway safety area, drainage improvements, and address potential future flooding issues on airfield.

The South Texas International Airport at Edinburg consists of a 5,000 ft. x 75 ft runway with room for expansion beyond 9,000 ft.

The South Texas International Airport at Edinburg existing property will be identified as “non-aeronautical use” as the US Army Reserves is interested in this location.

Miriam Michelle Cepeda

Miriam Michelle Cepeda, Governmental Relations Liaison, City of Edinburg, helped organize the Edinburg Day activities at the Capitol, and has been heavily involved on behalf of the city at the Texas Capitol and relates state agencies since coming on board with the city government.

This is Cepeda’s first tour of duty before the Texas Legislature on behalf of the City of Edinburg, who began her position on Thursday, January 3, 2019 with an annual salary of $60,000 plus benefits provided to all city workers.

Cepeda is a resident of Edinburg.

Her immediate supervisor is City Manager Juan Guerra, but she also is responsible to the mayor and city council members. Her hiring includes a 90-day probation period.

On Wednesday, December 12, 2018, Guerra posted a job vacancy announcement for what was then classified as “Political Affairs Liaison”, which has since been renamed Government Relations Liaison.

A little more than a week later, on Thursday, December 19, 2018, Belinda Torres, Director of Human Resources for the city, offered the position to Cepeda, and Cepeda agreed to come on board that day.

Highlights of the city’s offer to Cepeda include the following conditions:

Job Summary

The purpose of this position is to provide support and administrative services to the mayor and council with oversight by the city manager. Other duties include seeing as liaison with governmental organizations, and other organizations that impact local, state and federal policy. The position will serve as project manager on special assignments from executive staff agencies, and will perform other duties as assigned. Work schedule may vary and may include weekends, holidays and travel.

Skill Ability Requirements

• Coordinate meetings with federal and state legislators, legislative staff and various department staff members.
• Draft legislation and report language for congressional offices and committees to advance city and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation’s policy agenda.
• Read, interpret, compile and summarize research reports, legislative position papers, statistical analyses, proposed legislation and other professional reports.
• Understand the operations and functions of relevant state agencies to include but not limited to: Texas Department of Transportation; Texas Water Development Board; Texas Workforce Commission; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
• Understand the operations and functions of relevant federal agencies to include but not limited to: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; U.S. Economic Development Administration; U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Federal Aviation Administration; Federal Transportation Administration; and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
• Write speeches, memorandums, and articles for publication.
• Present information to executive leadership, elected officials, public groups, and/or board of trustees.
• Convene and facilitate discussions with various stakeholders to include city and Edinburg EDC personnel, business leaders, constituents, and other members of the public.
• Excellent public/customer relations skills both verbal and written.
• Strong time and task management skills, professional demeanor, excellent interpersonal and communications skills, and good customer service.
• Establish and maintain schedule, reports, correspondence, and methods to provide effective services to the mayor and council.
• Special projects and assignments as needed; maintain confidentiality with highly sensitive information.
• Attend city functions and events related to and provide assistance, handle protocols and support.

Education Requirements

Requires a broad knowledge in a general profession or technical field; knowledge is acquired through four years of college resulting in a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Requires a minimum of four (4) years in related experience in public policy, working on Capitol Hill (Washington, D.C.), in the Texas Legislature, or non-profit organization.

Employment Requirements

• Applicant will be subject to a complete background investigation. Incomplete, inaccurate and/or failure to report information will cause the applicant rejection from consideration.
• Applicant must take and pass a pre-employment drug test administered by the City of Edinburg at the city’s expense.
• Must have a current valid class “C” driver’s license from the Texas Department of Public Safety with a satisfactory driving record.
• Social media experience proficiency.
• Local government experience is preferred.
• Bilingual English/Spanish preferred.
• Work schedule including varying hours and put to and including weekends and holidays.

Cepeda credentials

Cepeda, an alumnae of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, provided her credentials to the city in applying for her position.

Highlights of her background, as of December 2018, follow:

Profile

• Speak and write fluently in English and Spanish.
• Ambitious public affairs specialist with strong interpersonal skills.
• Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with elected officials and high-ranking dignitaries.
• Established national and local media connections and created contact databases at the state level (Texas Legislature) and in Washington, D.C.
• Worked on projects exclusively targeted towards Hispanic Outreach initiatives on a national scale.
• Versatile networking and marketing qualities.
• Experience in assisting with community outreach program.
• Dependable in organization and digitization of information.
• High level of competency in various computer software programs and fluency in using standard office software packages (Mac OS, Vista, XP, MS Office, Word. Excel, PowerPoint, Access).

Work experience

Empower Texans
Rio Grande Valley Bureau Chief

According to its website, Empower Texans “About is a non-profit service organization. Through multiple media formats, we educate and inspire Texans to exercise effective citizenship. Using research, reporting, and advocacy, we empower taxpayers to advocate for good governance and hold their elected officials accountable.”

(https://empowertexans.com)

According to its website, Cepeda wrote numerous stories for its digital publication about Rio Grande Valley politics, which are available online at: https://empowertexans.com/author/mcepeda/page/2/

A prolific writer, Cepeda covered politics in the Rio Grande Valley, and had two articles – both positive about Molina and the new city leadership – read by a large statewide audience.

On December 8, 2017, she was the author of the story titled “Molina Takes Hatchet to Economic Development Corporation”, opening her story accordingly:

“A wave of positive change may be coming to the City of Edinburg.

“The newly elected mayor, Richard Molina, along with his allies, Gilbert Enríquez (Place 1), and Jorge Salinas (Place 2), were recently sworn in at city hall on November 15.”

(https://texasscorecard.com/local/molina-takes-hatchet-economic-development-corporation/)

The previous month, she was the author of an article titled “Outcome of Edinburg Mayoral Upset May Also Shape Future of RGV.”

“Both sides of the political spectrum have witnessed different anti-establishment movements, indicating a general undercurrent against the status quo in America, and the mayoral race in the City of Edinburg is one of many locally based illustrations of that movement.

“Richard Molina, the new mayor-elect for the city of Edinburg, beat outgoing Mayor Richard García, an incumbent of twelve years. Molina, Edinburg city councilman place 1, decided earlier this year to run for mayor. Molina was motivated to run due to fiscal irresponsibility by city officials.”

(https://texasscorecard.com/rio-grande-valley/outcome-edinburg-mayoral-upset-may-also-shape-future-rgv/)

Among Cepeda’s many achievements with Empower Texans were the following duties and responsibilities:

• Delivered brand awareness for the organization in South Texas.
• Established relations with elected officials.
• Conducted one-on-one interviews with high-ranking government officials and dignitaries.
• Developed meaningful relationships with constituents and donors alike and addressed concerns with governmental entities.
• Hosted public/private social events.
• Nurtured relationships with media representatives across all major Rio Grande Valley news outlets.
• Researched, wrote, edited, and approved content posted to periodical and public websites with more than 300,000 subscribers.
• Provided strategic direction for better communication techniques between elected officials and constituents.

Graduate Assistant, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
August 2015 – January 2017

• Assisted and designed teacher development K-17 curriculum focused on the local history of the Rio Grande Valley.
• Edited and proofread assigned manuscripts/drafts for publisher.
• Hosted events catering to the community in local historical preservation and conservation programs throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
• Promoted National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH, an independent federal agency of the U.S. government) projects such as the “Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail”.

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (Manchester, New Hampshire)
October 2017 – November 2016

• Managed the efforts of volunteers in block walking, gaining of CallFire, Advantage App, and posting/distributing signs.

Research Assistant, University of Texas-Pan American
August 2014 – May 2015

• Assisted the professor in transcription, research, and data analysis of documents.

Manager, Decals by Design (Rio Grande City)
March 2010 – December 2015

• Supervised a staff of five employees.
• Secured contrast with start-up companies/longtime business owners.

Volunteer Activities

• Public Relations Board, National Federation of Republican Women, Washington, D.C., April 2018 -Present.
• Girl Scouts of America Troop 4138, Harlingen, Texas, June 2018 – Present
• Texas Volunteer Deputy Registrar, Hidalgo County, 2016 – Present
• Odyssey of the Mind, Houston, August 2009 – Present
• Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, Brownsville, 2014 – Present
• Hidalgo County GOP, Congressional District 15/Senate District 20, Texas Delegate, 2016 – 2018.
• RGV Coordinator, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., Edinburg, February 2016 – November 2016.
• President, the History Club, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, September 2013 – May 2016.
• 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), 2017.
• Hidalgo County Young Republicans, Parliamentarian, 2016.
• Feast of Giving, Server, 2008 – 2013.

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For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

 

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