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Sen. Zaffirini receives Lifetime Achievement Award from LULAC Council 12 of Laredo

Featured: Carlos Zaffirini, Sr., and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on January 30, 2020, celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. “How did 55 years of wonderful marriage pass by so quickly? Happy Anniversary to us!” she said. “On this day in 1965, Carlos Zaffirini Sr. and I were married at St. Peter’s Church in Laredo. I was 18, and he was 21.” The following September, both enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where he completed his law degree and she completed her B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. “Seventeen years later we were blessed with our beloved son, Carlos Zaffirini Jr. His greatest gifts to us are his beautiful wife, Audrey Pieper Zaffirini, and our equally amazing grandsons, Asher Maxwell and George William. God is good. Life is blessed.”

Photograph Courtesy SEN. JUDITH ZAFFIRINI FACEBOOK

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Sen. Zaffirini receives Lifetime Achievement Award from LULAC Council 12 of Laredo

By SARAH POLLOCK

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 12 in Laredo in recognition of her work ethic and her accomplishments in communication, education, business, and public service.

Zaffirini has sponsored and passed 1,160 bills and 36 substantive resolutions. 

Showing her bipartisan effectiveness in the 2019 Republican-dominated Texas Legislature, she passed 127 bills, breaking her record of 108 and passing more bills than any other legislator for the third consecutive legislative session. What’s more, she has passed more bills than any other legislator in the history of the State of Texas. 

“I was delighted to receive this award from Laredo’s LULAC Council 12,” Zaffirini said. “As the oldest organization founded to promote civil rights for Mexican Americans, LULAC has shaped our nation and our state for the better.”

Zaffirini represents the 21st Senatorial District, which stretches from the Rio Grande to the Colorado River and to the Port of Corpus Christi and the Valley. Starr County is located in her legislative district.

She received the LULAC Council 12 award on Thursday, January 16, 2020, during the ceremony, which also took place to support its scholarship fund, was held at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

The award has only been given once before in the 91-year history of LULAC Council 12, according to the organization’s Facebook.

(https://www.facebook.com/LAREDOLULAC12/?tn-str=k*F)

Zaffirini is an award-winning communication specialist with 13 years of teaching experience, including at the college and university levels. 

The South Texas Press Association has honored her for her distinguished career in journalism and public service. Press Women of Texas (PWT) and the National Association of Press Women have recognized her communications expertise repeatedly with awards for her publications, speeches, and public relations campaigns. PWT twice named her its Communicator of Achievement, and Junior Achievement of Laredo named her a laureate of its Business Hall of Fame. 

Through her business, Zaffirini Communications, provides professional communication services, including consulting, workshops and seminars, keynote addresses, and writing. 

She also is president of the Mr. South Texas Foundation and of the D&J Alexander Foundation and of its two subsidiaries, D&J Alexander Investments, and D&J Alexander Development. 

A distinguished communicator, educator, businessperson, and leader, she holds B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from UT-Austin, each with a 3.9 grade-point average. 

“Laredo’s Council 12 is highly respected in our community and statewide, and its leadership in promoting education and civic engagement is critical,” Zaffirini said.

Camilla Sosa, President of LULAC Council 12, said the award is highly fitting for the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the Texas Senate, the second-highest-ranking senator and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic senator. 

“Sen. Zaffirini is a beloved and deeply respected member of the Laredo community who has made innumerable contributions to our city throughout her illustrious career,” Sosa said. “She is a true Laredo treasure, and LULAC Council 12 is honored to present her with an award highlighting her many accomplishments as a Hispanic leader.”

Other highlights from Zaffirini’s official biography include:

• Her senatorial appointments provide opportunities to champion the priorities of Senate District 21, the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale, which has generated billions of dollars in economic activity in Texas. As Senate Chair of the Eagle Ford Shale Legislative Caucus, Zaffirini prioritizes the district’s continued prosperity.

• As Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, and member of the Energy Council since 2009, she promotes responsible, sustainable development of Texas’ energy resources. She also helps protect and conserve the district’s air, land, and water resources such as the Rio Grande, the Edwards Aquifer, and the Gulf of Mexico. 

• Through the Senate Committee on State Affairs, she addresses issues such as bond issuances and eminent domain, and as a member of the Judicial Council and the Texas Access to Justice Commission, she champions preventing cronyism and corruption in the legal system, promoting access to justice, and protecting persons under guardianship. 

• As a member of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, she advocates for large and small Texas businesses and workers, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Administration, she prioritizes issues of importance to local governments in the 18 counties of Senate District 21. Health care is a major industry in the district, and as an expert in the health and human services policy and funding, Zaffirini advocates for improved health services, especially for the very young, the very old, the very poor, veterans, and persons with disabilities. 

• Zaffirini has received more than 1,000 awards and honors for her legislative, public service, and professional work, including more than 340 in communication. 

They include being inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019; named to the “All Decades Teams” for the 2000s and the 1990s; 10 Best of the 2017 Legislature by Capitol Inside; a Hero of Hope by the Laredo Morning Times; received the Mary Holdsworth Butt Award from Mental Health America of Texas; and the Pinnacle of Achievement Award from the Center for Health Care Services for her leadership for persons with emotional, physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. 

• The Hispanic Sports Foundation for Education inducted her into the National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor. She received the “People’s Friend: Lord’s Work Award” from the Texas Observer; The University of Texas at Austin named her a Distinguished Alumna in 2003; an Outstanding Alumna of the Moody College of Communication in 2016; awarded her the Presidential Citation in 2013, and inducted her into the UT Daily Texan’s Hall of Fame in 2016. 

• Texas Monthly has named Zaffirini one of Texas’ “10 Best Legislators” four times, gave her the “Bull of the Brazos” award, and an “Honorable Mention”. She also received the Legislative Hero Award from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation; the Godmother of Texas Children Award from Teaching and Mentoring Communities; and was named a Legislative Champion by Texas oil and gas leaders. She was named Sister Judith, an Honorary Nun, by the Sisters of Mercy and Mercy Ministries, and Mr. South Texas by Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association. 

• She is the namesake of Texas A&M International University’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Student Success Center, United ISD’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Elementary School, Laredo Community College’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Library, Lake Casa Blanca International State Park’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Road, and Edinburg’s Judith Zaffirini Residential Treatment Center that focuses on fighting drug addiction. 

• Her career-long 100 percent voting record, having cast 64,330 consecutive votes since 1987, is unique nationwide. She also has had perfect attendance in the Texas Senate since 1987, except for breaking quorum deliberately to prevent an untimely re-redistricting that the U.S. Supreme Court (2006) ruled violated the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchised voters in Senate District 21. 

She and Carlos Zaffirini have been married for 55 years. Their son, Carlos Jr., an attorney and businessman, and Audrey welcomed their first son, Asher Maxwell, in 2017 and their second, George William, in July 2019.

Their son honored her as the namesake of endowed scholarships at The University of Texas at Austin, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas A&M International University; a grant program through which teachers pay their college student loan debts; and a patient suite at the UT Dell Seton Medical Center. He also established the Carlos Sr. and Senator Judith Zaffirini Access to Justice Initiative, which pays for bar review courses and exam fees for low-income UT law school graduates who, in turn, will represent low-income clients. 

The Beaumont Foundation endowed a scholarship honoring Zaffirini and her husband at Texas A&M International in Laredo, where the annual Senator Judith Zaffirini Medal is presented to faculty and students who excel in scholarship and leadership. The senator is featured in 25 books and referenced in 19. 

A member of the Texas Philosophical Society and of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, her professional memberships include the Texas Press Women, International Communication Association, Texas Speech Communication Association, American Institute of Parliamentarians and Association for Borderlands Studies. 

NEW MEDICAL SCHOOL TO BE LAUNCHED IN TYLER BY THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYSTEM; BOARD OF REGENTS TO ACT ON PROPOSAL ON FEBRUARY 26, 2020

The University of Texas System on Thursday, February 6, 2020, announced its intention to establish a medical school in Tyler – the first in East Texas – to increase access to health care in the region.

Leaders from the UT System and the two UT institutions in Tyler joined together at Plaza Tower in downtown Tyler to announce a plan to elevate the region’s higher education and health care opportunities. They optimistically explained their case to a group of regional business, civic, educational and medical leaders and elected officials at a morning news conference.

A proposal to establish a medical school in Tyler will be on the agenda at the UT System Board of Regents’ next meeting, Wednesday, February 26, 2020, in Austin. The regents’ authorization will allow notifications and other activities to proceed with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and other licensing and accrediting agencies. 

Board of Regents Chairman Kevin P. Eltife, Chancellor James B. Milliken, UT Health Science Center at Tyler President Kirk A. Calhoun and UT Tyler President Michael V. Tidwell emphasized that it’s time to address this need in a region growing in population that historically has had a shortage of health care professionals compared to other regions in the state.

Under the new plan, with established medical residencies already in place, future physicians could complete their entire education and training in Tyler, ultimately providing more top health care professions who will live and serve in the region.

“A medical school in Tyler will give East Texans the chance to pursue their career aspirations without having to leave the region to do so,” said Eltife, a former Tyler mayor and Republican state senator. “More importantly, it will increase the number of physicians and critical specialty areas to serve the region, which ultimately will enhance health outcomes and benefit all East Texans. And having more health care professionals in the area will have a positive impact on hospitals and hospital systems in the region including UT Health East Texas, CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances and Baylor Scott & White Texas Spine & Joint.”

A new medical school in Tyler has received early enthusiasm from a number of elected officials, including State Representatives Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), Dan Flynn (R-Canton), Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), Jay Dean (R-Longview), Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), all of whom – along with Tyler Mayor Martin Heines and Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran – participated in the news conference and endorsed the proposal. 

Senators Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville and Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola and Representative Keith Bell, R-Foney, were away but sent comments in full support of the medical school. 

If approved, the medical school would be the seventh in the UT System. Most recently, both UT Austin and UT Rio Grande Valley opened medical schools in 2016.

“Health outcomes in East Texas lag the rest of the state and the nation, and today’s announcement represents an ambitious strategy to change that going forward. With six medical schools and our two Tyler institutions, the University of Texas System is uniquely positioned to develop a new school in Tyler specifically focused on the needs of the region,” Milliken said. “The strength of UT Health Science Center at Tyler and UT Tyler, particularly as they join forces, and our experience operating very successful medical schools across Texas, will provide a solid foundation for success.”

The economic impact of a medical school is projected to be significant. The Perryman Group, a Texas economic research, and analysis firm with ties to the region for more than 40 years, credited existing UT facilities in Tyler with providing an annual economic impact of $1.7 billion, including $80.1 million in tax receipts and the creation of 21,529 jobs.

“According to The Perryman Group’s analysis, we can anticipate that a new medical school would produce an additional $1.9 billion annually, as well as the creation of 18,145 new jobs. These developments are unlike anything Tyler has ever seen,” said Tom Mullins, President, and CEO of the Tyler Economic Development Council.
“A medical school in Tyler will have a cascade of positive multiplier effects,” said Calhoun, President of UT Health Science Center Tyler. “There’s a growing awareness about both the challenges and the potential of East Texas, and it’s exciting to see momentum build to support and invest in our region.”

““We are profoundly grateful to the UT System for its investment in the future health care in East Texas,” said Michael Tidwell, UT Tyler President. “These programmatic and facilities investments will improve health care education, research, and clinical services for generations to come.”  

The news was preceded by two major announcements recently made by the UT System Board of Regents. 

In November 2019, the Board of Regents allocated $95 million in Permanent University Fund proceeds for UT Tyler and UT Health Science Center Tyler to construct two facilities to accelerate high-quality health education and health care in East Texas. Regents earmarked $60 million for a graduate medical education and resident teaching facility at UT Health Science Center and $35 million for an advanced nursing and health sciences complex at UT Tyler.

And in December 2019, regents authorized the integration of talent and assets at UT Tyler and UT Health Science Center at Tyler to create a unified institution to enhance education, research and clinical delivery for the region.

About The University of Texas System

For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research, and health care. With 14 institutions, an enrollment of nearly 240,000 students and an operating budget of $21.1 billion (FY 2020), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. 

UT institutions produce more than 60,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and more than half of its health professional degrees. Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 8.2 million outpatient visits and 1.6 million hospital days last year. Across UT institutions, research and development expenditures total $2.9 billion – the highest in Texas and second highest in the nation among public higher education systems – and the UT System is regularly ranked among the top 10 most innovative universities in the world. 

The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and more than 83,000 health care professionals, researchers and support staff.

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Karen Adler and David A. Díaz contributed to this report. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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