Eddie Sáenz, featured second from right, on Monday, December 31, officially filed for state representative, House District 40, to challenge Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, in the March 4 Democratic Party primary. Sáenz was joined by his family and by Juan Maldonado, Hidalgo County Democratic Party chairman, and Maldonado’s son, Juan, at the county Democratic Party headquarters in Pharr. Sáenz said that under the legislative terms of Peña and Peña’s Austin allies, hundreds of thousands of eligible children have been stripped of their health benefits, college tuition costs have almost doubled at Texas’ flagship university, families and small business are charged an average of 54 percent more in utilities, and homeowners are forced to pay more than twice the national average to insure their homes. Peña, meanwhile, criticized Sáenz for failing to appear at a local Democratic Party event onj Wednesday evening, January 2, hinting of some of the attacks Peña, a local trial lawyer, will launch against Sáenz, a civil engineer: “Based on information that has reached our campaign on his residence and his disregard and failure to appear at tonight’s important Democratic function for a minimal debate he should really consider dropping out of the race,” Peña wrote in his political website. Featured with Sáenz in this portrait are, from left, his wife, Sandra; Juan Maldonado and his father, Juan Maldonado; Eddie Sáenz; and Eddie and Sandra’s daughter, Cassie. See story later in this posting.
McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos, left, hears from a potential constituent, Fred Zambrano, last summer in McAllen at the onset of Villalobos’ campaign run for state representative, House District 41 – currently held by Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen – which includes southwest Edinburg. Villalobos filed as a Republican candidate on Wednesday, January 2, marking his official first entry as a political candidate. If elected, Villalobos would be the first Republican to win a state representative seat in Hidalgo County. In addition to Villalobos/ Gonzáles race, which won’t be decided until the November 2008 presidential election, there are two other contested battles for the Texas Legislature in Hidalgo County. Eddie Sáenz and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, are involved in the House 40 Democratic Party primary contest, and Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, is being challenged by Sandra Rodríguez for the House 36 legislative post.
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, featured left during a recent event at the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, was one of three Hidalgo County lawmakers who drew no opponents for their respective legislative seats in 2008. In addition to Lucio, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, also will be unopposed for reelection. Lucio and Hinojosa will begin serving new, four-year terms beginning in January 2009; Martínez will begin serving a new, two-year term in January 2009.
Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, featured second from left, has been named Texas County Treasurer for 2007 by her colleagues with the County Treasurers Association of Texas – the first time since 1971 that a local county treasurer has earned that prestigious honor. “Once again, Hidalgo County is recognized for outstanding leadership and performance in public service,” said García. “It is especially important for the public to have full confidence that their hard-earned tax funds are being taken care of at the highest standards and principles, which produce the most beneficial consequences to those whom I serve.” Featured with her during the award ceremony held in mid-October were: Kleberg County Treasurer Priscilla A. Cantú; García; Zapata County Treasurer Romeo Salinas; and Taylor County Treasurer Lesa Crosswhite, who also serves as CTAT president. See story later in this posting.
Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, focused on his legislative efforts on behalf of the youth in his district during his Thursday, November 8 campaign kick-off, held at the ECHO in Edinburg. Peña, who was born in Austin but grew up in Edinburg, reminded voters from the key Delta Area portion of his House District 40 of his deep roots in those communities. “My grandfather would never imagine what has happened to this community,” Peña fondly recalled his paternal grandfather, Baltazar Peña, who migrated from Mexico to the Edcouch-Elsa region. “Who would have imagined that we would move so quickly to have the sort of growth that we have here? That was done because of the dreams that they had, the dreams of a better future, the dreams of educating our kids. So, that has always been my commitment, as it is yours, that we invest in our kids.” Featured with Peña are, from left, back row: his wife, Mónica; daughter-in-law, Clarissa; granddaughter Addison; son Aaron Peña; daughter Adrienne Peña Garza; and in the front row: son Anthony; and granddaughter Chelsea Peña. The Edinburg lawmaker is facing a challenge from Eddie Sáenz, a civil engineer also from Edinburg, in the March 4, 2008 Democratic Party primary. See story later in this posting.
Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, on Thursday, November 8, helped welcome dignitaries to the campaign kick-off for her colleague, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. Gonzáles, along with Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, showed up at Peña’s event, even though Peña is facing a challenge from a fellow Democrat – Eddie Sáenz of Edinburg. Gonzáles will be having her own campaign kick-off on Tuesday, November 27, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the International Museum of Arts and Science, located at 1900 Nolana Avenue in McAllen. Gonzáles’ campaign kick-off, which is being underwritten by her law firm, Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzáles, LLP, is free and open to the public. For more information, residents may call her campaign at 212-8950. Gonzáles is facing at least one opponent so far – fellow McAllen lawyer Javier Villalobos, who is seeking the Republican Party nomination. Both parties will hold their primary elections on March 4, 2008.
Wanda Garza of McAllen, during a Thursday, March 29 meeting in Austin of the Texas Border Coalition, shared a copy of an editorial cartoon depicting difficulties that face Texas workers if they do not have enough training to keep and hold good jobs. Garza, who chairs the TBC Workforce Development Committee, praised the House of Representatives for the Tuesday, March 27 passage of House Bill 48, which would protect millions of dollars a year for the state’s Skills Development Fund, which pays for crucial workforce training along the Texas border region. The bill, whose principal authors are Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, now goes to the Senate for action. Featured in this photograph with Garza is El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez, while in the background, from left, are Celestino Hernández of Eagle Pass and Ignacio Madera, Jr. of Austin. See story later in this posting.
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, March 28, announced that he had abolished the Texas Youth Commission’s governing board and replaced it with a juvenile prison czar during a press conference in Austin. Perry was flanked by various legislators, including Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who were appointed to the select committee investigating the agency. See story later in this posting.
The Texas Disability Policy Consortium and the AARP in conjunction with a coalition of aging and disability groups and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Lardo, on Wednesday, March 29 rallied at the State Capitol to encourage legislators to eliminate waiting lists and fund access to community care for 90,000 persons with disabilities. Currently more than 90,000 Texans are on waiting lists for home and community based services and care. “With only 61 days before the 2007 legislative session adjourns sine die, it is absolutely imperative that we unite to pass good legislation, stop bad bills and focus especially on increased funding to reduce the waiting lists for health and human services programs,” said Zaffirini. “We should do everything in our power to adopt a 10-year plan to eliminate waiting lists and invest the much needed resources so long term care services can be provided at home.” As vice chair of Senate Finance, Zaffirini worked to secure funding for a 10 percent wait list reduction and will continue to work toward increased funding for an additional 10 percent.
House passes Texas Border Coalition’s bid to protect Skills Development Fund
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
A measure seeking to prevent a decrease in September of $6.4 million a year in the state’s Skills Development Fund, which is a customized workforce training program that has been beneficial in the Texas border region, was approved Tuesday, March 27, by the House of Representatives.
It now goes to the Senate. As of March 27, no Senate sponsor had been selected by the House authors of the legislation.
The legislation, House Bill 48 by Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, would protect a funding formula that dedicates money to the Skills Development Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund. Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio are joint authors of the measure.
It is one of the top legislative priorities of the Texas Border Coalition. TBC is an alliance of elected officials and economic development leaders from the 14 Texas counties which border Mexico. They represent an estimated 2.1 million residents. The goal of the Skills Development Fund, according to the Texas Border Coalition, is to increase the skills levels and wages of the Texas workforce.
“Let business dollars work for business,” said Chávez. “This bill keeps more money for worker training and creates more jobs. The positive impact of enhancing the Skills Development Fund is universal because employers, workers, and the economy all benefit.”
The Skills Development Fund is an important part of the TBC’s efforts to bring higher paying jobs to the border areas by providing a trained workforce.
“Over 12,000 workers have been trained or retrained and millions of dollars have been spent in our areas to provide that training,” said Guillen. “Economic growth and job creation are a major part of the solution to other border problems such as limited health care and educational opportunities,” Guillen said.
Wanda Garza of McAllen, chair of the TBC Workforce Development Committee, praised the lawmakers for their work in the House.
“We would like to commend Rep. Chávez, as well as border and Texas legislators, for their commitment to skills training. Protecting the Skills Development Fund will directly impact economic growth in every community across the state. We must have a skilled workforce in order to stay competitive in the global economy.”
Without passage of HB 48, the Skills Development Fund’s share of dedicated money, which is generated from an assessment on employers, would drop from 33 percent to 25 percent on September 1. According to the House committee’s bill analysis, dropping from 33 percent to 25 percent would represent a loss of $6.4 million a year to the Skills Development Fund.
HB 48 would keep the 33 percent share intact and prevent the $6.4 million annual loss to the Skills Development Fund.
The skills development program is a customized workforce training program, with funds distributed as a partnership grant between a business and a community college in the area, according to a bill analysis of the proposal.
According to the House Research Organization, which provides analyses of all major legislation set for debate by the full House, supporters of the measure such as TBC say:
HB 48 would result in more money for the skills development fund by retaining the percentage allocated to the fund in the most recent fiscal year, rather than diminishing that percentage beginning on September 1, 2007.
Skills and workforce training is under-funded in Texas. The Texas Workforce Commission has said it receives three requests for training for every dollar it spends, demonstrating a need for skills development in Texas without a means to provide it.
The skills development program is a customized workforce training program, with funds distributed as a partnership grant between a business and a community college in the area. The job training can be either for new workers or for incumbent workers to acquire new skills. The program trains workers only when an employer has demonstrated a need and requested that employees be trained in a specific area. The funds for training are put to immediate and specific use.
One of the best ways to combat unemployment is to have a more stable, larger, and better trained workforce, and the skills development fund can help with this. As the cost of training increases, it would be beneficial to have a dedicated funding source for an effective training program.
The skills development fund would a better place to allocate more of the money from the employment and training investment assessment (ETIA) because the Texas Enterprise Fund uses money from current employers to attract future competitors. The TEF has been used primarily to attract out-of-state employers with money from in-state employers paying a state tax.
Through this program, in-state employers use their own money to provide tax breaks to get their competition to Texas at their disadvantage. These are tax breaks for which in-state employers often are not eligible.
Further, the TEF has benefited primarily urban areas of the state, while the skills development program benefits communities in all regions of Texas. The TEF rarely is used by itself but is often used in conjunction with other subsidies so that the benefit the TEF brings is low for each dollar spent.
House budget includes combined $5 million in state funding for UT-RAHCs in Edinburg and Harlingen
By ORLANDO SALINAS
DAVID A. DÍAZ
As the Texas House of Representatives began debate on the state’s $151.1 billion budget during the final days of March, critical funding for the University of Texas – Regional Academic Health Centers in Edinburg and Harlingen were included prominently in the House of Representatives’ version of the state budget.
In February, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, filed legislation securing that amount for both campuses, which are part of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Initially, Peña said he wanted $5 million for the Edinburg RAHC campus, but the legislation that was finally approved in the House budget leaves it up to the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio on how much each campus receives from that appropriation, according to James Lampley, Peña’s chief-of-staff in Austin.
However, Lampley remained confident that the Edinburg RAHC would get enough state funding for its needs during the Legislature’s upcoming two-year budget cycle, which begins September 1.
Peña negotiated with House leaders to include the $5 million in combined funding RAHC funding in Article 3 of the budget bill.
“Getting these $5 million in Article 3 of the state budget is critically important in assuring that the RAHC gets the funds it needs to staff this facility with world-class scientists,” said Peña. “There were hundreds of amendments and contentious debate on the budget bill. I worked hard to ensure that this funding makes it to our community.”
The Senate still has to pass its version of the state budget, which could include more, less, or different funding formulas for the Edinburg RAHC and all other state government agencies and functions.
The University of Texas-Pan American serves as a partner in providing faculty, administrative and research support for the Edinburg facility.
Research areas may include the study of diabetes, emerging infectious diseases, aging, environmental health, mental health and other conditions that may affect residents in deep South Texas.
The $20 million Edinburg RAHC campus houses 12 laboratories, state-of-the-art class room spaces and administrative offices.
Rep. Peña: Reducing drug demand necessary part of an effective border security plan
By ORLANDO SALINAS
As the Texas House of Representatives debated immigration and border security on Wednesday, March 28, many of the witnesses testified about the growth of drugs, violence and the rise of drug cartels on the border.
Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, responded to those concerns by amending the House’s version of the state’s budget to include $4 million for a substance abuse treatment center to be located in Edinburg.
House Bill 1, the House’s budget plan, was approved after hours of debate on Thursday, March 28.
“An integral part of the strategy in making our state safer is to give people the tools to break the dependency of drugs,” said Peña. “Cutting demand will cut the supply of drugs and violence along our border. South Texas needs a facility where families can help their loved ones break the devastating cycle of substance abuse.”
The treatment facility, included in Article 11 of the bill, is a part of a broader state-wide strategy to stem the flow of drugs and violence through our borders and address substance abuse and rehabilitation issues in our criminal justice system.
HB 1 includes over a $100 million for border security. The border security component of the legislation provides funding for local and state law enforcement to hire more personnel. The bill also includes monies for training, operations, DPS helicopters and pilots and grants for local police departments and sheriffs offices.
“Providing increased funding for border security, coupled with substance abuse treatment programs for the general public and inmates in the state criminal justice system is a new approach for the state of Texas,” said Peña. “Many of my colleagues in the legislature have embraced the idea that drug and alcohol treatment can keep many people out of our criminal justice system.”
The budget includes more funding for substance abuse treatment and diversion programs for low level, non-violent offenders at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The bill also adds treatment and capacity dollars at the local level to give judges and the parole board an alternative to sentencing offenders and considering probation and parole options.
The Texas Juvenile Probation Commission will receive an increase of funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment services and post-adjudication facilities. This is expected to keep hundred of kids from entering into the Texas Youth Commission.
“I have long advocated the strategy of treatment and diversion rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars in building more prisons,” said Peña. “The more we can keep adults and kids out of our prisons the better we are all off. It is important that we are looking at a variety of strategies to combat the terrible effects that illegal drugs have in our community.”
ECISD trustee candidates draw for positions on ballot
By GILBERT TAGLE
School board candidates seeking election to the ECISD Board of Trustees in the May 12th elections drew for ballot spots Tuesday, March 20.
The election is to fill positions for Place 4 and Place 5 on the board currently held by Melba González and Gregory “Greg” García, respectively.
Both incumbents did not, however, draw first position on the May 12 ballot. The top position on the ballot for Place 4 will read: Robert Pena (who is challenging González), followed by Melba Gonzalez.
The top position on the ballot for Place 5 will read: Dr. Martín Castillo, followed by Cris Treviño in the number two spot, and Gregory “Greg” Garcia in the number three spot.
The Edinburg school district also released key contact information about the candidates, which is contained in public documents filed with ECISD, for distribution to the community.
Robert Peña, 1112 Loyola, Edinburg, Tx 78540
(w) 318-1000/(c) 207-3644
Employment: Robert is a businessman involved in construction
Campaign Treasurer is Alex Zúñiga, of Edinburg
Melba González (Pl. 4 Incumbent and current board president)
P.O. Box 1042, Edinburg, Texas 78540
(h) 318-0148/(c) 457-9793
Employment: PSJA ISD elementary school teacher
Campaign Treasurer is María Natalia González
Dr. Martín Castillo, Jr., 3020 W. Rogers Road, Edinburg, Tx 78540
Employment: Chiropractor in Pharr
Campaign Treasurer is Felipe de la Garza — (h) 383-6454
604 E. Van Week, Edinburg, Texas 78539 — (w) 968-2504
Employment: Boys & Girls Club in Weslaco
Campaign Treasurer is Xavier Morín
Gilberto Garza voted sole finalist for ECISD superintendent’s job
By GILBERT TAGLE
The Edinburg Consolidated ISD Board of Trustees voted Tuesday, March 27, to make Gilberto Garza Jr. the sole finalist for the job of superintendent of schools.
Garza has been leading the Edinburg school district since August when he was named acting superintendent by the school board. He was named interim superintendent in December.
Garza is a veteran educator in the Edinburg school district who served as a teacher, an elementary school principal, and director of Elementary Education prior to being tapped to fill the superintendent’s job which became vacant early last August.
Dr. Jacques Treviño, attorney for the school board, said that under the government code the district must post notice of the school board’s decision to make Garza the sole finalist for the job for 21 days. At the end of that time period the school board has the option of voting to officially make Garza the superintendent of schools or continuing it search for a new superintendent.
Board president Melba González said the same down-to-earth nature and fairness in leadership that Garza has demonstrated as a principal and as an administrator has made him a successful interim superintendent of schools.
“Mr. Garza has brought unity to the school district in dealing with important academic, financial and operational issues. The response from the community to Mr. Garza’s role as interim superintendent has been very positive,” said González. “He is doing an excellent job and we are confident that our district will rise to new heights under his leadership.”
House passes House Bill 1, the state’s proposed $150 billion, two-year budget, says Speaker Craddick
By ALEXIS DELEE
Early Friday morning, March 30, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 1 (HB1), the Appropriations Bill for the 2009-2010 biennium. HB 1 presents a fiscally conservative and responsible budget that funds the state’s responsibilities while saving revenue for future appropriations, according to Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.
The budget totals just over $150 billion, an increase of 5.4 percent from the previous biennium. Compared to the state’s population growth and the rate of inflation since that time, this increase represents a fiscally conservative use of taxpayers’ money. This amount also leaves $4.2 billion unappropriated, which will be carried forward to the following biennium.
In addition, the state’s Rainy Day fund is expected to accumulate $4.3 billion by the end of the 2009 fiscal year. The combined $8.5 billion ensures that homeowners will continue to enjoy property tax reductions enacted during the 79th Legislature.
“I’m thrilled that we were able to accomplish so many goals at once with this budget,” Craddick said. “We have met the state’s funding obligations, put away revenue for future appropriations and protected tax cuts for Texas homeowners.”
Several key programs saw increased general revenue funding with HB 1. When compared to FY06-07 funding, education received a $3.6 billion increase, covering the Teachers’ Retirement System, financial aid and additional funding for public schools and higher education.
More than $2.5 billion was added to health and human services for increased Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program costs, improved provider rates for physicians and other healthcare professionals, increased trauma funding for hospitals, and a new mental health crisis stabilization program. Additionally, corrections received nearly $600 million to meet projected inmate population growth and increase border security.
Before debating HB 1 on the House floor, members voted to require that any new spending item added to the budget must be accompanied by removing another item of equal value. In this way, representatives worked to ensure that they maintained fiscal responsibility in crafting the budget for the 2009-10 biennium.
House Democrats pass historic teacher pay raise, kill school vouchers, say party leaders
BY KEVIN VICKERS
Texas House Democrats on Thursday, March 29, passed an historic increase in teacher pay and killed efforts to fund private school vouchers today, flying in the face of opposition from Republican Speaker of the House Tom Craddick.
Led by Reps. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, and Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, Democrats in the House led a bipartisan coalition to convert a controversial and divisive teacher incentive pay program—which is opposed by teachers across the state—into an across-the-board pay raise for every teacher in Texas and drove a nail into the coffin of private school vouchers.
During Thursday’s debate on the $165 billion Texas budget, Noriega authored a measure to increase teacher pay by approximately $900 annually for every Texas teacher, librarian, counselor, and nurse.
“Hardworking Texas teachers deserve to be paid what they are worth. Texas teachers are paid thousands of dollars below the national average. The teacher pay raise we passed today will help to get Texas teacher pay closer to the national average,” commented House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam, D-Waco.
Following the vote increasing teacher pay, Heflin led a bipartisan coalition to kill efforts to rob public schools to pay for private school vouchers.
“Texans have spoken and we’ve been on their side—we hear them loud and clear,” said Dunnam. “Texans support our public schools and they simply do not believe it is right to rob our public schools to pay for more failed social experiments. Today, a bipartisan majority of the House rejected the radicalism of Rick Perry (and) Tom Craddick.”
“By passing an across-the-board pay raise for Texas teachers and killing vouchers, House Democrats are delivering on the promises we have made the people of Texas. We will continue to work hard for hard-working families,” Dunnam concluded.
Rep. Peña secures $750,000 for Museum Park in state budget approved by Appropriations Committee
By ORLANDO SALINAS
The Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg stands to receive $750,000 for construction of a park and renovations to the historic Hidalgo County Jail House if efforts by Rep. Aaron Peña are successful.
The state budget, approved on Thursday, March 29, included a rider in Article 11 authored by the Edinburg Democrat securing that amount for the museum.
“This year’s budget includes more funding for our state and local parks,” said Peña. “Our state has shown that it is committed to enhancing our quality of life by investing in our communities. This appropriation will only serve to improve the beauty of our community.”
The funds will be applied to the completion of the Will Looney Legacy Park in downtown Edinburg. The project includes the conversion of recently acquired property to a sanctuary that features educational stations, a palapa, an archeology pit, and a windmill. The park will also feature a sculpture commissioned by the Looney family in honor of their son, Will, and his grandmother, Mrs. Margaret Looney.
The funding may also be used for the preservation of the Museum’s cornerstone structure, the 1910 Hidalgo County Jail House building, a Texas Historic Landmark. A companion structure to the former Spanish revival county courthouse, the jail was designed by Atlee B. Ayres and includes a hanging tower, which was used once in 1913. The jail is deteriorating due to rising damp and age. A master plan for its preservation has been developed.
“Growing up in Hidalgo County we have all heard stories about the old county jail,” said Peña. “I am going to continue to fight to save this South Texas treasure.”
The budget is now headed to the Senate for consideration. After passage in that chamber the bill heads to conference for final approval.
Peña is serving his third term in the Texas House of Representatives. He is Chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Rep. Gonzáles’ bill to protect home buyers from toxic drug exposure risks unanimously approved by House
By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA
Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, March 27, passed her first bill of the 80th Legislature with unanimous support of the House.
Her House Bill 271 requires disclosure by home sellers whether they are aware of any previous use of a residence for the manufacture of methamphetamines.
Residents living in former meth labs can suffer long-term effects such as cancer; damage to the central nervous system, liver, kidneys; birth defects and miscarriages.
“A home is a huge investment – for many of us our largest investment – and buyers should know exactly what they are getting” she said.” HB 271 protects the public from the lingering effects of meth labs.”
Gonzáles’ bill defends the interests of buyers and sellers.
“The disclosure protects those in the chain of sale – that is the seller, the realtor and most importantly, it protects the buyer of the home. Children are especially vulnerable to develop adverse health effects from exposure to residue from methamphetamines,” Gonzáles said.
Like mold, if meth labs have not been properly cleaned, young children and others with compromised immune systems can suffer respiratory problems for the rest of their lives. “Meth is the new mold,” said Gonzáles. “Disclosure in this bill promotes consumer health and the integrity of the real estate industry.”
In 2005 alone, Texas seized 269 meth labs which raised the urgency to address the need to extend the protection of buyers’ health as well as the liability of banks and realtors selling homes that were previously used to manufacture methamphetamines. “I commend the state and local authority’s efforts to prevent and reduce the existence of meth labs, but it is also necessary to address how to deal with the long term effects produced by meth labs after they have ceased to exist,” said Gonzáles.
Gonzáles is currently serving her second term representing parts of McAllen and Hidalgo County in the Texas House. In addition to serving on the influential Judiciary and Public Health Committees, she has also been elected by her colleagues to serve as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus and has been appointed to the National Conference State Legislature standing committee on Health.
Senate approves $250 million funding authority by Sen. Lucio for water/wastewater Services
By DORIS SÁNCHEZ
The Senate on Tuesday, March 27 approved Senate Joint Resolution 20 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, the Chairman of the International Relations and Trade Committee.
Lucio’s measure would would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue the an additional $250 million in general obligation bonds for economically distressed areas to obtain water and wastewater services statewide if approved by Texas voters.
“As Chairman of IRT, for the last two years, I’ve been working with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to address the water and wastewater needs of distressed areas of our State. Today, with the passage of SJR 20, we are a step closer to bringing essential water and wastewater services to the most economically distressed areas in Texas,” said Lucio.
“On behalf of the communities impacted by the IRT Committee, I want to thank Lt. Gov, Dewhurst for appointing me to the powerful Senate Finance Committee,” said Lucio. “This appointment has enabled me to work with Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Kip Averitt, R-Waco, to address a number of issues outlined in our IRT Interim Report, including acquiring the necessary funding to finish out the original Economically Distressed Areas Program – EDAP I – and setting aside the necessary debt service revenue in the base state budget to support the newly expanded statewide EDAP II program, which would be funded by SJR 20.”
SJR 20 is the accompanying joint resolution of the bill Lucio amended last session with the help of Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, and Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, which took the Economically Distressed Areas Program statewide. SJR 20 provides for a constitutional amendment that if approved would give the TWDB up to $250 million in Bonding Authority to address the estimated $5.4 billion in water & wastewater needs for distressed areas of the state.
Lucio added, “My committee, along with the Texas Water Development Board, identified communities statewide during the interim that are in dire need of water and wastewater services, and SJR 20 will afford them an opportunity to apply for critical EDAP funding.”
When approved by the House, SJR 20 will be one of the constitutional amendments up for voter approval in November. “My good friend, Rep. Norma Chávez from El Paso, will be the main sponsor of SJR 20 in the Texas House of Representatives. Her leadership and understanding of the water/wastewater needs of Texas will ensure that SJR 20 will be found on the Governor’s desk in the weeks to come,” added Lucio.
Rep. Peña encourages immediate action from TYC conservator
By ORLANDO SALINAS
The embattled Texas Youth Commission has been placed into a conservatorship, thus allowing a single executive to take control of the agency.
Gov. Rick Perry made the announcement on Wednesday, March 28, flanked by various legislators, including Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who were appointed to the select committee investigating the agency. The press conference revealed the strategy of permanently abolishing the Texas Youth Commission’s board and replacing it with a juvenile prison czar.
“Less talk and more action, this is what many of us are demanding,” said Peña. “Today’s announcement will allow the agency’s conservator to start cleaning house. The first to go should be the firing of the 111 TYC employees with felony convictions. I strongly encourage the conservator to take immediate action.”
Jay Kimbrough will serve as conservator until the end of the legislative session in May. After that, the goverrnor will appoint, with the Senate’s approval, another conservator who will serve as the agency’s new chief. Texas law gives conservators the power to hire and fire employees.
“I have seen and heard enough,” said Kimbrough. “We want a fresh start and we are going to have a fresh start.”
Speaker of the House Tom Craddick expressed his support for Kimbrough’s selection by Perry.
“I applaud the Governor’s decision to appoint a conservator to the Texas Youth Commission. This is a serious issue that the Legislature has done an excellent job of quickly addressing. The appointment of Jay Kimbrough will further ensure a rapid and thorough investigation of this issue so we can guarantee the safety and well-being of these children and good management of this agency.”
Peña has been participating in bi-weekly committee meetings investigating all aspects of the management and operation of the Texas Youth Commission. The committee was created after allegations of sexual misconduct came to light in a West Texas juvenile center.
“The sense that we get in testimony from officials and employees at the TYC is that things aren’t moving fast enough,” said Peña. “Even after the increased scrutiny of the commission I am getting word that working conditions at our facility in Edinburg and others centers are getting progressively worse.”
For the past 18 months Peña’s office has maintained a dialogue with guards, staff and teachers from the Evins Center who have shared their concerns of conditions at the unit.
“Today’s announcement will result in having all superintendents of the various juvenile centers reapply for employment,” said Peña. “They should be aware that their re-hiring will be dependent on how well they were able to do their job in the past. This is a positive step in moving this agency forward.”
Concerns at Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg raised in letter to TYC by Rep. Peña
Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, in a March 27 letter to Ed Owens, Acting Executive Director for the Texas Youth Commission, which oversees the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg, raised some of his concerns regarding reported abuses at the South Texas state facility.
His letter follows verbatim:
March 27, 2007
Acting Executive Director, Texas Youth Commission
P.O. Box 4260
Austin, Texas 78765
Dear Mr. Owens,
At the request of a group of teachers from the Evins Regional Juvenile Center my office was called to a meeting on March 24, 2007 to discuss issues of working conditions at the Edinburg unit. I am writing you this letter to share with you their concerns. A summary of their sentiments follow:
•Claim that Local Administration has created a hostile working environment for those who have expressed concerns about conditions at the Evins Center
• Some teachers and staff feel intimidated and believe they have been subject to retaliation for speaking out against administration of policy
• Local Administration has contributed to hostile working environment by selectively applying policy to curry favor
• Claim that there is selective application of state and federal education policy
• Lesson plans were not required until recently
• No technology allowed in classrooms, no music or vocational programs are available to youth
• Large number of uncertified teachers employed at Center
• Expressed little confidence in grievance policy
• Claim that Local Administration has insensitive attitude towards students and staff
• Principal uses abusive language and gestures in meetings with teachers and staff
• Local Administration has on occasion expressed derogatory attitudes towards youth at facility
• Claim unsafe and unsanitary working conditions at Evins Center
• For six weeks the Center has faced severe water pressure problems limiting the use of toilets and lavatories
• Doors at Center malfunction often being open and closed when they aren’t supposed to
On various occasions over the last year and a half my office has met with guards and staff members from the Evins Center to discuss workplace issues. It concerns me that these educators believe that working conditions have worsened at the Evins Center even after the recent scrutiny of all TYC centers across the state. That same sentiment was expressed to me at the last meeting I had with guards and staff on March 11, 2007.
It remains our duty to provide safe conditions for the rehabilitation of our youth and for the employment of our staff at our TYC centers. I will continue to monitor conditions at the Evins Center. If I can be of any assistance or to discuss this matter further please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.
Aaron Peña, Jr.
Chairman, House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence
Congressman Hinojosa: new report documents what works for first-generation college students
By SUSAN TREBACH
Raising aspirations, navigating the admissions process and robustly supporting the transition to college life are all essential parts of the college access formula for first-generation students, according to a new study by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness, said the researchers focused on Texas students because “our state is making a sincere effort to increase disadvantaged student participation in college.”
Hinojosa cited the College for Texans Campaign and the Higher Education Assistance Pilot Program as evidence of Texas’ commitment.
Hinojosa said that seeking Texas students’ perspectives proved effective: “The Pell Institute’s report enhances our understanding of the complexities of life for first-generation students.”
“Congress now has the opportunity to turn these insights into some effective strategies as we move forward in reauthorizing the federal Higher Education Act,” he continued. “We appreciate this timely, valuable addition to our information base.”
“Straight from the Source: What Works for First-Generation College Students” offers a comprehensive look at the college access struggles of Texas students who are the first in their families to pursue post-secondary education. Based on intensive focus group interviews with students in Dallas, Edinburg, El Paso, Houston, Kingsville, and San Antonio, the report is a best-practices road map for policymakers and college access professionals across the country.
“As these students make clear, it is not enough to raise first-generation students’ hopes and dreams,” said Colleen O’Brien, Director of the Pell Institute and a co-author of the report. “To make the successful leap to college, disadvantaged students need intensive help with the admissions and financial aid processes and a real comfort level with both campus life and college academic support resources. And once they are in college, the challenges to stay enrolled are just as significant.”
In Texas about 365,000 students (35%) currently attending college are first-generation. They are under-represented at four-year colleges and over-represented at two-year institutions. They tend to be female, from minority backgrounds and from families with mean incomes of $45,000 a year. Nationally, 6.5 million current college students are first-generation.
The report, funded with a grant by the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation (TG), reveals the academic, financial, familial and work issues first-generation students confront on a daily basis as they strive to succeed in college. Some of the key recommendations include:
• First-generation students need to understand why college matters and trust the people delivering the information;
• The message that a college education can move the entire family forward is particularly salient;
• Involving parents and family members early in the process prepares everyone for the challenging transition;
• Pressures on students to earn money for both family and college conflict with students’ need to spend more time on academic work;
• Prior exposure to college life and, once they are enrolled, access to college-based support services are extremely important to first-generation students.
Gov. Perry appoints Thomas Wingate judge of the 430th Judicial District Court
Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, March 26 appointed Thomas P. Wingate of Mission as judge of the 430th Judicial District Court serving Hidalgo County. Wingate will serve until the next general election.
Wingate is legal counsel to Wingate Law Offices and CEO of Security Land Title, a Texas title insurance company. He served six years in the U.S. Army as a Captain in the Judge Advocate Generals Corps.
Wingate retired from the Army Reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel after 21 years of service. He is a board certified specialist in commercial and residential real estate law by the State Bar of Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a member of the Supreme Court of Texas and the U.S. Court of Military Appeals.
Wingate received a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
This appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Senate approves pro-consumer, pro-worker bills by Sen. Lucio
By DORIS SÁNCHEZ
The Senate on Thursday, March 29 approved a bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, designed to assist consumers to comparison shop for home and auto insurance, and another to assist injured employees with legal representation.
Senate Bill 611, the one-stop-shop for insurance comparison, would offer consumers the ability to log onto a website and view a listing of insurers offering homeowners and automobile insurance in this state. The website would simplify one of the most complex financial services to interpret and decide upon.
“Since coverage levels vary so greatly between the different policies, policyholders cannot shop based on price alone,” said Lucio. “My bill directs the Texas Department of Insurance and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel to develop this website with side-by-side comparisons of different policies, rates charged, the percentage by which rates have fallen or risen in the past three years, and other pertinent information.”
Executive Director of Texas Watch, a statewide consumer advocacy and research organization, Alex Winslow, noted, “This legislation will go a long way toward making our insurance market more transparent for consumers by giving them tools they need to make the best choices for their families.”
Senate Bill 287 would provide district courts the authority to appoint an attorney to represent injured employees who have won approval throughout the administrative process of the legitimacy of their employment-related injuries. Generally insurers opt to go to court because the cost is less for legal fees than for payment benefits. Injured employees are usually at a disadvantage in the court room because they cannot afford legal representation and insurers can. When employees represent themselves, the insurer usually prevails.
“No one should have to forfeit a court case with merit because of the lack of money to hire an attorney,” explained Lucio. “Our judicial system should be based on equity, and through this bill, we can ensure fairness to both sides in workers compensation cases.”
Senate passes SB 64 by Sen. Zaffirini to eliminate PAC campaign contribution disclosure loophole
By NICK ALMANZA
The Texas Senate on Thursday, March 29 unanimously passed Senate Bill 64 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which requires general-purpose political committees (PACs) to disclose contributions of more than $5,000 during the last nine days of a campaign. This disclosure is required of candidates and their campaign committees for contributions of $1,000.
The bill closes a legal loophole that allows large contributions to general-purpose PACs to go unreported for months after a general or primary election.
“We must ensure the integrity of the electoral process, which is why I filed SB 64,” Zaffirini said. “All PACs should be held to the same standards as candidates and campaign committees. This bill provides this essential level of parity.”
Under current law the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) is not authorized to issue penalties automatically for PACs that fail to file timely special reports near an election. SB 64 also will authorize the TEC to notify and issue automatic penalties for campaign committees that fail to submit those reports timely.
The bill must be passed by the House of Representative before it can be sent to Gov. Rick Perry for final approval. The continued progress of this and all bills authored by Zaffirini can be monitored via the internet at http://www.zaffirini.senate.state.tx.us or by contacting the Texas Legislative Reference Library’s toll free in-state hotline, 1-877-824-7038.
TXU Corp. could be fined $210 million by state Public Utilities Commission, says Sen. Lucio
By DORIS SÁNCHEZ
The Texas Public Utilities Commission staff has recommended a $210 million fine against TXU Corporation, which includes $70 million that would be reimbursed to consumers, said Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.
The remaining $140 million would be assessed for administrative penalties. It is important that TXU customers be compensated for their overpayments and that refunds go directly to them.
“I am pleased that the Public Utility Commission (PUC) staff has acted expediently to formalize the alleged violations of market power abuse by TXU Corp,” said Lucio. “I feel confident that we are headed in the right direction towards fairness and equity for the consumer.”
The PUC is in the initial step of making a final determination on the independent report. The PUC staff recommendations must still go through the hearing process and be approved by the three PUC Commissioners before final penalties can be assessed.
On March 12, an independent report concluded that TXU, one of the largest generators of electricity in Texas, manipulated the wholesale electric market, causing at least $70 million in higher electricity prices across the state in 2005. That same week, the Senate approved a package of electric utility bills to improve competition in the retail electric market, discourage market and price manipulation, and bring rate relief to Texas households.
Lucio amended one of the electric utility bills to strengthen language that would require refunds to be passed to consumers or to an organization that offers emergency payment assistance. The amendment also included language that would require PUC to make a final determination within 30 days after the Independent Market Monitor issued a report on market power abuses or violations, and that the report be referred to the Attorney General’s office for further investigation and prosecution.
This legislation that passed the Senate in mid-March will likely come before the House this week.
A Down Payment on Texas’ Future
By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.
SEN. RODNEY ELLIS
Texas faces a looming crisis: while our diverse, high-tech economy relies on a highly skilled, highly educated workforce, we rank near the bottom in the nation at producing college graduates. We lag particularly behind in graduating Hispanics and African Americans
As Texas becomes a more heavily minority-majority state, the future literally depends on increasing college access and success for Hispanic and African American Texans.
Unfortunately, all our efforts to close the gaps in college participation continue to fall far short of what is necessary and, unless the state significantly increases investment in direct grant aid, more and more students and families will be priced out of a college education, further jeopardizing our social and economic future.
So what is Texas doing about this challenge? Sadly, not nearly enough.
In 1999, Texas leaders promised high school students that if they worked hard and followed the rules, we would help them pay to go to college. Senator Rodney Ellis(Houston) and I co-authored legislation to create the TEXAS Grants program, which provides tuition and fees to students who have taken the Advanced or Recommended curriculum in high school. By every account, this program has been a runaway success.
Since we created the program, 161,000 students have received a TEXAS Grant to help them achieve the dream of college. The program has been the key to increasing minority college participation to meet the goals of the Closing the Gaps initiative.
No area has benefited more from this program than the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In just the last four years, 26,423 students have received $67.6 million to help them pay for college. Unfortunately, that success will be destroyed unless the Legislature takes dramatic steps today.
Frozen funding and skyrocketing tuition costs, thanks to tuition deregulation, have forced over 70,000 students to lose their TEXAS Grants in just the last two years and, if nothing is done today, the number of students left behind will soon explode. If funding is not dramatically increased, 150,000 students – 75 percent of those eligible – will be left behind every year, making TEXAS Grants an empty, broken promise.
Texas already compares poorly to other states – our competitors for new jobs – in producing college graduates. The numbers speak for themselves:
·Texas ranks 41st in the nation in the rate of college enrollment;
·Texas ranks 34th in the percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher;
·Only 26 percent of Texans aged 25-65 have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher;
·Only 13 percent of Hispanic Texans have earned an Associate’s Degree or higher;
·Texas spends, on average, $180 million less on direct grant aid than the other five largest states, California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania;
Unless we significantly increase direct grant aid to students, our state will fall further behind our competitors in producing the graduates needed to fuel the 21st century economy.
To address this looming crisis, we have filed legislation to put our money where our mouth is and fulfill the state’s promise to Texas students and their parents. Our plan, SB 1176, would dedicate $897 million to the TEXAS Grant program, and ensure that every eligible Texas student has a chance to go to college.
This is simply a matter of priorities. We have a $14 billion budget surplus, so the money is there to keep our promise. If Texas is serious about Closing the Gaps and ensuring the doors to college are open to every student who wants an education, we will make this down-payment on our children’s future.
(Senator Eddie Lucio represents South Texas in the Texas Senate. Senator Rodney Ellis represents Houston in the Texas Senate.)
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured center, was recently honored by South Texas College and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz for Hinojosa’s key role in creating and promoting the development of South Texas College into the largest higher education institution in the Valley. “Education is the greatest equalizer,” said Hinojosa, whose many political achievements also include successfully carrying legislation that resulted in the creation of the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center in the Valley and the merger of Pan American University into the UT System. Featured with Hinojosa are STC President Dr. Shirley Reed and Cortéz.
Rep.Verónica Gonzáles D-McAllen, attending a recent legislative breakfast in McAllen sponsored by South Texas College, was appointed on Thursday, February 1, to lead the Mexican American Legislative Caucus Task Force on Immigration in the Texas House of Representatives. “Coming together as a task force on immigration allows us to organize, arm ourselves with accurate information and have our voices heard on this important and complicated issue,” said the House District 41 lawmaker, whose district includes southwest Edinburg. “I am honored that my colleagues would place trust and confidence in me to head up this group of talented and informed members from throughout the state,” she added. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus is a bipartisan group of Texas House members who are of Mexican-American descent or who represent districts with a large population of Hispanics. The members of the caucus are committed to working together to improve the lives of Latinos in Texas. “The immigration debate invokes issues of humanity, economics, border security and the American Dream,” Gonzáles noted. “Reform must be practical and comprehensive to successfully address our state and nation’s realities and needs.” In a related matter, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, featured left, has filed a measure to add a fee to the money wire transfers sent outside the country, with those fees to be used to bolster homeland security measures in Texas. See story on Patrick’s plan later in this posting. Featured in this photograph from left are: Patrick; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.; D-Brownsville; Paul S. Moxley, president and secretary of the board of directors for Texas State Bank; South Texas College trustee Gary Gurwitz of McAllen; and Gonzáles.
Jo Rae Wagner, the national president of the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors Association for 2006-2007, was honored on Tuesday, January 30, with a resolution in the Senate Chamber presented by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr, D-Brownsville. “Ms. Wagner is a fine example for other women to emulate,” said Lucio. “I am proud to know that she resides in my Senatorial District, and her leadership and dedication to involving more women in the construction industry is indeed admirable.” Wagner, a mechanical contractor in Harlingen, is the second woman to serve as the president of the national association since its inception in 1883. She has worked in the construction industry for 34 years and is currently president of CTO, Incorporated, a Harlingen company. She is a strong proponent of women serving in the construction industry and encourages women to become more involved in their profession. To help further her goals of bringing more women, minorities and young people into the industry’s associations, ensuring educational and certifications programs are up-to-date, and focusing on legislative issues, such as tort reform, Wagner also serves on numerous other boards, including the Harlingen Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals and the Rio Grande Valley Apprenticeship Program.
Edinburg recorded “phenomenal year” in 2006, future remains bright for 2007, says Mayor Ochoa
Another record-breaking year in 2006 for the city’s economy, made possible in large part by significant expansions in the medical and retail industries, the continuing high-quality of local public and higher education, and a 30 percent growth of Edinburg’s population since 2000, bodes well for the future of the three-time All-America City, says Mayor Joe Ochoa.
“Edinburg has great health care facilities and professionals, excellent educational opportunities, a great place to shop and eat, and is a beautiful city to raise families,” Ochoa told more than 250 residents during his State of the City address at the ECHO Hotel on Wednesday, January 31. “The year 2006 was another phenomenal year for the city, and I see a great future for Edinburg.”
Ochoa said the positive gains for the city were the result of local government policies and citizen participation that began almost a decade earlier, and he shared the credit with elected leaders going back to the early 1990s.
“Ten years ago, a foundation was established by a group of citizens named the Edinburg 2020,” he said. “A vision was established to improve the quality of life to attract more commercial development, to lower unemployment, to beautify our community, to attract new families, and allow our children to want to stay, or entice them to come back as they left to get a higher education elsewhere.
“Today, we are seeing the fruition of dreams of many people,” the mayor observed. “I congratulate the past and the present leaders for their commitment to this community.”
Tradition of leadership
The consecutive years of positive growth for the city goes back to Ochoa’s first years as mayor, back in 1993, through the administration of Mayor Richard García from May 2003 to May 2006, and again through Ochoa’s latest term in office, which began in the spring of 2006.
Former mayor García continues his public service to the city, serving as president of the board of directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the city council.
Members of the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC, along with the Edinburg school board, were in attendance for Ochoa’s remarks, including Mayor Pro Tem Noe Garza, Councilmember Alma A. Garza (no relation to the mayor pro tem), and Councilmember Gene Espinoza; Edinburg school board vice president Carmen González, school board member Greg García, and school board member David Torres; and EEDC board of directors members Fred Palacios and Mike Govind.
Key milestones in 2006
Among the highlights for 2006 reported by Ochoa were:
•Edinburg has passed Harlingen as the third largest city in the Valley, with a population approaching 65,000;
•Total construction activities in 2006 set a record with more than $192 million, with the value of new residential and commercial construction leading all categories, coming in at more than $70 million and more than $79 million, respectively;
•South Texas Health Systems and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance began or completed additions or expansions to their respective campuses valued at an estimated $180 million, which are expected to create more than 1,000 new jobs;
•Bank deposits in 2006, a reflection of economic growth in the community, averaged $640 million;
•More than 400,000 square feet of new retail space was began or was completed in 2006, led by the opening of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on South McColl Road and adjacent stores, the opening in January of Lowe’s, and the ongoing construction of the Trenton Crossroads shopping complex. Combined, these retail additions will wind up creating 1,000 jobs;
•The Texas Department of Transportation in 2006 authorized spending $175 million for six major state roadway projects in Edinburg, including the continuing expansion to federal interstate highway standards of U.S. Expressway 281;
•Major new public building projects are approaching completion within the next 18 months, including a new city hall, a new library, and a new water plant;
•The city government is embarking upon numerous commercial roadway and neighborhood street improvement and paving projects;
•Unemployment rates in Edinburg continued to be among the lowest in the Valley, with the city reporting a 4.2 percent jobless rate in December 2006, the best showing of all cities in deep South Texas; and
•The city leadership will take an active role in the current state legislative session to increase state funding for key education, infrastructure, and economic development initiatives.
Citizen volunteers encouraged
Ochoa continued to reach out to the community, encouraging residents to sign up to serve on any of numerous city boards and panels which make policy recommendations to the city council.
“We need volunteers,” the mayor said. “We have advisory boards, and we are planning on building other committees to help us continue planning vision, and to continue fulfilling the dreams of many of us as business people, as citizens, and as families. I encourage you to volunteer, to sign up for these committees, to help your community continue to grow.”
Elva Jackson-Garza, a director for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce who served as mistress of ceremonies for the State of the City speech, shared Ochoa’s optimism for the future.
“The January issue of Fortune Magazine recognizes the Mission/McAllen/Edinburg area as one of the best places to live in the country,” Jackson-Garza told the gathering. “So not only locally are we realizing the potential of this region, but others throughout the United States are looking for land, for commercial investment opportunities right here in our back yard.”
Mark Magee, the chairman of the board of directors for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, said the public affairs luncheons, such as the one that featured Ochoa, mean a lot for all citizens.
“This showing we have here today is a clear indication that this program this past year is very successful and has been received very, very well,” Magee said. “This is the third in a series of four that we will have on an ongoing basis every year to allow you, the membership, and the community, to remain in touch with your leaders so that you know what is going on, and so you have the opportunity to visit with them.”
Rep. Aaron Peña one of several Valley lawmakers with generous contributions from GOP heavyweight
Famed Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, equally renowned as one of the biggest financial contributors to Republican causes, has given $5,000 to the campaign funds of several Valley state lawmakers, including Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.
The contribution, made on September 21, was the largest received by the veteran lawmaker during the second half of 2006, according to his campaign finance report submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Peña’s campaign finance report, along with the campaign reports of all state lawmakers, cover the period between July 1 and December 31, 2006.
For that six-month period, Peña, who faced no opposition in the 2006 Democratic Party primary or in the November general election, raised more than $24,000, while spending more than $26,000.
Perry is not related to Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, although Bob Perry has been a strong financial supporter of the incumbent governor for many years, including making more than $500,000 in contributions to the governor through 2003.
But Bob Perry has also shared money with lawmakers on the other side of the political aisle, including a $1,000 contribution to former State Rep. Debra Danburg, a liberal Democrat from Houston, while she was still in office.
In addition to Peña, who helped Republican Speaker of the House Tom Craddick survive a challenge from a fellow Republican and a Democrat earlier this year, Perry also was generous with Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.
Perry gave Flores a $10,000 campaign contribution last fall, while he donated $5,000 apiece to Guillen, Flores, and Martínez.
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, did not report any contributions from Perry in their latest campaign finance reports.
Bob Perry political involvement
According to Wikepedia, the Internet free encyclopedia:
In the 2004 election cycle, Perry gave $4.45 million to Swift Vets and POWs for Truth (formerly Swift Boat Veterans for Truth), a 527 group; he was the largest single donor.
In that cycle, Perry also donated $3 million to Progress for America Voter Fund. In all, he donated almost $8.1 million to 527 group in 2003-2004.
In mid-2006, Perry donated $5,000,000 to found a new 527 group, the Economic Freedom Fund.
The $5 million makes the group one of the top ten in the 2006 election cycle. He also appears to be the sole donor to Americans for Honesty on Issues. These groups have primarily paid for negative advertisements targeting Democratic Party candidates in the 2006 United States general election.
Perry contributed $46,000 to George W. Bush’s 1994 and 1998 campaigns for Texas Governor. He was the largest individual contributor to the Texas Republican Party during the 2002 election cycle (calendar 2001 & 2002) giving $905,000.
Perry gave $165,000 in the 2002 election cycle to Tom DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee (TRMPAC) giving $165,000 in the 2002 election cycle. In October 2002 they contributed $95,000 to Delay’s Americans for a Republican Majority political action committtee (ARMPAC) Perry and his wife also contributed $10,000 to DeLay’s legal defense fund..
Peña campaign information
Peña listed his wife, Monica, as his campaign treasurer, and her address, along with his candidate/officeholder address, were listed as 404 South McColl Road in Edinburg.
In addition to homebuilder Perry, Peña’s second largest campaign donation came from BG Distribution Partners of Houston – a beverage distributor – which gave him $3,000 on November 21.
R.L. Glazer, chairman of the board of The Glazer Companies, a Dallas-based wine, spirits and malt beverage distributor, donated $1,500 on November 15 to Peña.
Five individuals or firms each donated $1,000 to Peña:
•McAllen homebuilder Alonzo Cantú on August 17; •Texas Trial Lawyers Association of Austin on October 10; •Texas Automobile Dealers Association of Austin on October 10; •Texans for Lawsuit Reform of Houston on December 4; and •TREPAC, which represents realtors, of Austin on December 5.
One $800 contribution was made to Peña’s campaign on November 15 from the Texas Optometric PAC of Austin.
$500 contributions were each given to Peña from nine individuals or firms:
•Texas Gas Services of Austin on October 12; •Texas Manufactured Housing Association of Austin on October 12; •Texas Federation of Teachers of Austin on October 17; •Wells Fargo Bank of Texas – Brownsville, on October 23; •Larry Safir, a media executive with Univision in McAllen, on December 2; •Allied Waste PAC of Austin on December 2; •La Joya Federation of Teachers on December 5; •ACC Capitol Holdings, representing mortgage interests, of Austin on December 8; and •TSCPA PAC, representing certified public accountants, of Dallas on December 13.
$300 contributions were each donated to Peña from the following firms:
•Texas Credit Union League PAC of Dallas on September 12; •American Collectors Association of Austin on October 10; and •Trinity Industries PAC of Austin on October 23.
$250 contributions were each donated to Peña from the following individuals or firms:
•Bickerstaff Heath Pollan and Caroom of Austin on October 10; •Merk Employee PAC of Washington, D.C. on October 10; •Motorola PAC of Washington, D.C. on October 10; •Hughes and Luce of Austin on October 10; •Deborah Ingersoll of Austin on October 10; •Independent Insurance Agents of Texas on November 13; •Verizon Good Government of Austin on November 16; •Texas Association of Mortgage Brokers of Houston on November 27; •Texas Farm Bureau of Waco on November 27; •Edward Thomas of Austin on December 1; and •Chris Bell Campaign of Houston on December 1.
$100 campaign contributions to Peña came from the following individuals or firms:
•Al Beltran of McAllen on September 12; •Texas Probation Association of Beaumont on October 16; and •Texas Federation of Teachers of Austin on December 5.
Peña’s largest campaign expenditures – totaling more than $16,000 – were made out to him in the form of repayments for personal loans he gave to his campaign.
His campaign expenditures follow:
•$4,000 Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 9.
•$4,000 Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on July 14.
•$3,000 Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 30.
•$2,000 each Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on November 11; and Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 24.
•$1,623.27 CP&L of Tulsa, Oklahoma on October 16 for utilities at his Edinburg district office;
•$1,500 AT&T of Dallas for telephone service on December 11.
•$1,341.49 505 Media, 1204 Sandpiper Avenue of McAllen for website service on July 10.
$1,200 Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October 11.
•$1,086.83 Wolf Camera of San Antonio for a camera and equipment on December 7.
•$1,000 Juan Escobar Campaign of Kingsville for a political contribution on December 5. Escobar is a state representative from Kingsvile whose legislative district includes Willacy County.
•$900 Aaron Peña, Jr. of Edinburg for a campaign loan repayment on October September 29.
•$831.94 Cornerstone Bar and Grill of Edinburg for events catering on July 7.
•$716.65 Double Tree Guest Suites in Austin for lodging on October 16.
•$542.82 Verónica Bernal of McAllen for contract labor on October 13.
$150 Circle K of 1611 S. Closner of Edinburg for gasoline.
$105 Clarion Inn of Austin for lodging on October 9.
$89.91 Ciro’s of 4634 S. Expressway 281 in Edinburg for constituent lunch on October 14.
Rep. Flores’ influence to remain high with reappointment as House chairman, plus selection to Ways and Means, Redistricting panels
Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, has been appointed for a third time to serve as chairman of the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.
Flores’ appointment builds on an impressive leadership portfolio that includes four years on the House Appropriations Committee, which develops the state budget for action by the House of Representatives. Flores was also appointed to serve on the Ways & Means and Redistricting committees.
“I’m honored to once again serve in a committee leadership capacity and take the trust that my colleagues in the House have in me very seriously,” said Flores. “My appointment as chair of an important committee, coupled with my experience in the legislature, places me in a tremendous position to bring meaningful benefits to the citizens in my district and the area.”
Flores added: “My constituents send me to Austin to be their voice and secure results in a very competitive environment. Quality committee assignments and experience are critical to being effective in the legislature and help me meet the demanding goals I set each session to support the Valley.”
Following are roles and responsibilities for the committees assigned to Flores:
• Licensing and Administrative Procedures — Studies legislation and has oversight on issues related to businesses, industries, general trades and occupations regulated by the state;
• Ways & Means – Studies legislation and has jurisdiction over many state revenue and tax issues;
• Redistricting – Studies legislation and has jurisdiction over all matters concerning any changes or amendments to legislative and/or congressional districts.
Flores represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the Cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.
Rep. Gonzáles reelected secretary of the House Democratic Caucus
The Texas House Democratic Caucus has reelected State Representative Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, as secretary for the 80th legislative session. The Caucus serves to promote Democratic leadership in the state legislature.
Gonzáles, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, said she was pleased to be re-elected to her second term as the Democratic Caucus secretary.
“My colleagues’ confidence in my ability to continue to serve the Caucus makes me proud,” she said.
Gonzáles is the only member from the Rio Grande Valley to hold an officer position.
“I am honored that my colleagues have shown confidence in me and I am eager to move Texas forward with good policy that benefits, not only my constituents in the Rio Grande Valley, but all Texans,” she reflected.
Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, was re-elected to serve as Caucus Chair.
Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, was elected Vice-Chair, while Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, was also reelected as treasurer for the Democratic legislative group.
ECISD sets new school boundaries for 2007-2008 school year
The Edinburg CISD school board has approved a comprehensive rezoning plan that goes into effect in the 2007-2008 school year.
Gilberto Garza Jr., interim superintendent of schools, said the opening of the district’s fifth middle school next fall and the construction of classroom wings at Canterbury, Escandón, Zavala, Guerra, Kennedy, Truman and Lincoln elementary schools, have made the new boundaries necessary as the school district attempts to address the continued new student growth.
Garza said the new boundaries will enable the school district to evenly distribute students with regard to building capacity.
The boundary changes will directly affect 19 of 27 elementary schools; the four middle schools and the high schools, said Garza. The elementary schools that will not be affected are Austin, Brewster, Cano-González, De la Viña, Guerra, Hargill, Jefferson, Lee, Travis and Truman schools.
Garza said a 13-person Rezoning Committee met nine times to study several different possible new boundary options. The criteria the committee used in order to arrive at a recommendation for the school board included:
•To keep within the neighborhood school concept as much as possible •To take the building capacity into consideration •To maintain a workable and safe student membership at each affected campus •To minimize as much as possible the number of students impacted by the rezoning.
Central Administrative staff took a final recommendation to the school board in early January for approval. The changes will become affective for the 2007-2008 school year, said Garza.
As it stands currently, the Edinburg school district has grown by 1,333 students over the 2005-2006 school year, Garza said.
He said the elementary totals show 15,359 students (an increase of 674 students) in 27 elementary schools. Of that total, Garza said, Ávila, Eisenhower, Escandón, Treviño and Villarreal elementary schools are well over the 700 mark and rapidly approaching 800 students. Additionally, Betts, Freddy González, Guerra and Truman elementary schools are bordering on the 700 student mark.
The new boundaries will impact the middle school levels the most, Garza said. The district has 6,441 students in its four current middle schools. The opening of the district’s fifth middle school, Francisco Barrientes Middle School, in August, will enable the district to more evenly distribute middle school students, Garza said. Barrientes MS is currently under renovation to accommodate middle school students. The middle school should be ready by June 2007.
The impact to the high schools will be minimal, said Garza. Although the three schools will be somewhat impacted by the new boundaries, Garza said, the boundaries at the high schools will not be as impacting as at the middle schools where the growth has been greater.
For any questions regarding individual school boundaries, contact the school principals.
Congressman Cuellar introduces bill to grant parity to laser visa holders from Mexico
On Monday, January 29, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, introduced the Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007.
A companion bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, earlier that day.
The bill mandates that Mexican nationals with laser visas, a machine-readable border crossing card, be given the same length-of-stay opportunities as Canadian visitors. Currently Mexican nationals with laser visas are allowed to enter this country for up to 30 days, while Canadian visitors, who do not use laser visas, are allowed to stay for up to six months.
“This bill addresses what I believe to be a serious imbalance in the way our government treats foreign guests,” said Cuellar. “We must strive to treat all of our foreign guests fairly, regardless of their national origin. Mexican nationals that hold laser visas have already undergone a rigorous vetting and screening process and are screened again as they enter the United States. To treat them differently than our Canadian visitors, who do not undergo such a vetting process, would be unfair.”
Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007:
• Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to ensure that Mexicans with laser visas who have completed security screening receive the same period of time in the U.S. as Canadians—six months.
• Retains the Secretary of Homeland Security’s authority to set the length of time such individuals can be in United States.
• Grants the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to modify admission periods on a case-by-case basis if good cause exists.
• Bars eligibility for the six-month admission period if the foreign national is inadmissible, has previously violated his or her nonimmigrant status, or the laser visa was not processed through a machine reader at the U.S. port of entry.
Cuellar continued, “I strongly believe that we must work to build and maintain secure borders with both of our neighbors. However, we must also work to ensure that we do not unduly impede the travel of those who are here for legitimate reasons. Our nation is the predominate global power because we have always strived to maintain an open and free exchange of capital and knowledge; this bill helps us maintain that flow.”
Cuellar is a member of the House Homeland Security, Small Business, and Agriculture Committees in the 110th Congress; accessibility to constituents, education, health care, economic development, and national security are his priorities. Congressman Cuellar is also a Majority Senior Whip.
Following visit to the Valley, Houston Sen. Patrick files wire transfer fee to help fund border security
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, spent four days in late January on a fact-finding tour of the Texas border as a guest of the Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownville, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, along with Texas House members representing the Valley.
During the trip, Patrick visited with members of the Border Patrol, several area mayors, business leaders, school superintendents and concerned citizens.
“I’m coming away from this trip with great optimism we can find a solution to the issue of illegal immigration in a bi-partisan manner,” said Patrick. “I believe there is a perception by conservatives in our big cities and suburbs that the people on the border are not as concerned about border security. I also think there is a perception by Texans on the border, where almost 90% of the population is Hispanic, that border control advocates are anti-Hispanic and want to kick out 12 million people or build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso.”
The Houston lawmaker added, “I found Valley residents want a secure border as much as any Texan. The crime rate is up in the Valley and schools and hospitals are having to service non-citizens at great costs to local governments. They are also concerned about the negative economic impact if cross border commerce is disturbed.
“I explained to our friends on the border that most Texans understand we cannot bus millions back across the border but at the same time we cannot have millions more coming to our state and country. I believe we need fencing (walls) around our major entry points as well as a major boost in manpower to protect our border. We should begin to put into place a guest worker program that identifies who is coming to our country so we can stop drugs and criminals at the border and at the same time bring the workers to Texas that our economy needs. Everyone I talked to in law enforcement in the Valley told me they need more manpower and better equipment to protect our border,” he continued.
To that end, Patrick on Monday, January 22, filed Senate Bill 268, which would place a fee on money wired out of Texas to any foreign country. The fee, 10% of the amount wired under $5,000, would be collected to provide funds for border security.
While the bill was filed to just provide funds for border security, Patrick said he looks forward to working with Lucio and Hinojosa to expand the application of the funds to cover the costs associated with illegal immigration such as indigent health care and the strains on our education system.
Congressman Hinojosa statement of proposed federal fee hike for immigration services
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, January 31, issued the following statement regarding the proposal by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to raise fees for services:
“We all want better service from our immigration agency, but raising fees by 66 percent on average strikes me as an unreasonable fix to the backlog and red tape. I am highly skeptical of this proposal since it will most likely place an unfair burden on all the hard-working families complying with our country’s regulations. These fees also will be a serious hardship to many people in my district who are only trying to play by the rules.
“Currently, a person filing for legal permanent resident status must pay $325 to submit an application; under the new proposal, the fee would go up 178 percent to $905. For those applying for citizenship, the fee would be raised from $330 to $595-an 80 percent price hike. These proposals are too much to ask anyone to pay. Not only that, but applicants will be forced to pay for improvements that they will probably never enjoy since changes will no doubt take years to implement. It is important to reduce processing times, but we should not price people out of realizing the American dream.”
Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approves SB 61 by Sen. Zaffirini to improve emergency preparedness
The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on Wednesday, January 31, unanimously recommended to the Senate that it pass Senate Bill 61 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which authorizes Texas counties to adopt an internal plan for delegation of administrative authorities, chain of succession to cover essential county functions and meeting procedures during a catastrophic event or declared disaster.
The bill significantly would assist county government officials who, under current law, are bound by statutory requirements that may not allow them to mitigate significant administrative hindrances during a declared emergency or catastrophic event.
“This bill can help improve state public safety by ensuring local governments are unfettered during a catastrophe,” said Zaffirini. “I truly am pleased that the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee reported SB 61 favorably to the full Senate, and I look forward to working with my colleagues toward its final passage.”
Current law does not explicitly authorize local governments to adopt and implement internal emergency plans for delegating administrative authorities, designating chain of succession, and meeting procedures during a declared emergency.
What’s more, quorum requirements for county commissioners courts are set fourth in state statutes and provide no exceptions to the requirement that “three members of the commissioners court constitute a quorum.” County governments would have to meet in violation of state law if a disaster incapacitated enough members to constitute a quorum in a commissioners’ court.
SB 61 will allow county governments to increase response times, guarantee the operational status of essential services and assure their constituencies that local government facilities are fully functional and working to protect public safety and the county infrastructure.
“In the wake of hurricane evacuations that affected several counties across central Texas and heightened security levels issued from federal and state homeland security agencies, legislators must do everything possible to allow our communities to prepare for all contingencies,” Zaffirini said.
“Families rely upon their local governments to keep them safe and to provide essential information and guidance during a catastrophe,” she added. “SB 61 ensures that, during an emergency, the last thing county governments will have to worry about are statutory requirements that prevent commissioners courts from meeting and developing emergency plans to keep families in their counties safe.”
Gov. Perry proposes $50 million disaster contingency fund
Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, January 30, proposed the creation of a $50 million Disaster Contingency Fund to ensure that state and local governments have the ability to forcefully respond in times of great public emergency.
“As we have learned from disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as recent wildfires and floods, we can never be too prepared,” Perry said. “The Disaster Contingency Fund will allow state and local government to respond with all the necessary resources in the face of a disaster and better manage the cost to taxpayers.”
The fund will be used to pay costs associated with pre-positioning state resources in anticipation of disasters; reimburse local jurisdictions for disasters that do not meet federal disaster declaration standards; provide up-front funding to smaller jurisdictions that lack the necessary resources to conduct large-scale emergency operations; and pay the federal matching fund obligations that are required for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Various disaster situations would merit the allocation of these funds. For example, the Fire Management Assistance Grant Program under FEMA does not reimburse local jurisdictions for fighting wildfires before they become a threat to communities. Also, as part of Gov. Perry’s hurricane evacuation plan, the state pre-deploys substantial resources to support local communities as a hurricane’s projected path includes the Texas coastline. If a hurricane turns and misses Texas, as Hurricane Ernesto did in 2006, FEMA will not reimburse funds for the pre-deployment of resources.
“There is no question that Texas is prepared to step up to the plate and meet a disaster head-on,” Perry said. “I encourage the Legislature to support this $50 million fund, so we may continue to coordinate our emergency response efforts and protect our communities without being financially penalized.”
If approved by lawmakers, these funds will be available September 1st for the 2007-2008 biennium and will be distributed by the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management to eligible applicants
Sen. Hinojosa, Sen. Lucio, Sen. Zaffirini co-author resolution to permanently place motto “In God We Trust” in Senate chamber
A Senate resolution calling on the the motto “In God We Trust” to be permanently placed in the Senate chamber was unanimously adopted on Tuesday, January 30, by the Senate.
The measure, filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was co-authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
The resolution requires the Senate to post the motto of “In God We Trust” immediately on the reader board and by September 1, 2007 to permanently affix the motto on the “white portico located over” the Lt. Governor’s podium. Immediately upon the Senate’s adjournment, the newly adopted Senate motto was displayed on the reader board in the Senate chamber.
“The purpose of this is that it sends a message to everyone who comes in here that this Senate stands for Judeo-Christian values,” Patrick stated on the Senate floor. “We can look at the words to get us through those tough times in the days and months to come.” A week earlier, State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, introduced a similar measure in the Texas House of Represenatives that passed 141-3.
In addition to Patrick, Sen, Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, spoke in favor of the resolution and almost all the senators signed on as co-authors of the resolution.
Following the favorable remarks, Senators voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.
“I am pleased my first legislative victory will forever recognize our creator and am equally honored to have all of my colleagues support the measure,” Patrick offered. “The constant reminder will offer us guidance in the many tough decisions that face us,” Senator Patrick remarked.
On April 22, 1864, the United States Congress adopted “In God We Trust” as their official motto.
Popularity of STC’s bachelor’s program drives expansion of eligible applicant pool
As South Texas College’s Bachelor of Applied Technology (BAT) in Technology Management gains steam, the need to further open the program opportunity to additional students continues to expand. Recently the college’s Board of Trustees, after receiving formal approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), approved three more associate’s degree feeders to the program.
Students earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Aided Drafting and Design, Manufacturing Technology, Precision Manufacturing, Culinary Arts, Radiological Technology, Nursing, and Child Care and Development will all be eligible to apply for acceptance into the BAT Program. These new feeders are in addition to Business Administration, Paralegal, Business Computing Systems and Administrative Office Careers, which were the first groups of students eligible for the program since its inception in 2005.
“More and more students are inquiring about the program, so we took a look at which fields of study that these students were from, reviewed the curriculum and found that many of them would be good candidates for the BAT,” said Dr. Ali Esmaeili, associate dean for Bachelor Programs and University Relations. “We currently have more than 100 students pursing a bachelor’s degree in this program and anticipate that the number will only continue to rise every semester. Technology is a fast growing field and we are training the leaders that are needed in the maquila and other industries that are becoming the cornerstone of the Valley’s fast-paced growth.”
Students enrolled in the program will be prepared for a variety of career opportunities, including office management, paralegal management, plant supervisor, loan officer and supply chain management. Through the program, students have access to free tutoring in a variety of subjects, flexible course schedules, financial aid, a student support club, leadership activities, internships, mentorships, business networking events, job placement and a variety of other resources to ensure their academic and personal success.
“Although the BAT Program is still in its infancy when compared to other bachelor’s programs in the area, it is vital to breaking down the economic and social barriers that many of our students face,” added Dr. Esmaeili. “We hope that they will attain their bachelor’s, get into the field, gain some experience and we hope they understand that education is a lifelong process, so we also encourage them to go on to earn their MBA at The University of Texas–Pan American. They are great candidates for that program and well prepared to accept the challenges faced in industry and a master’s program. The first of our BAT students will graduate this spring and that will mark a major milestone of success, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for our current and future program students and providing the leadership needed in this vital field.”
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, January 31, proposed an ambitious higher education reform plan, directing responsible investment in the academic rigor and future success of Texas’ students and universities.
“Today I am proposing major reforms to higher education that will reward colleges and universities for every student that earns a degree, lead to more degrees awarded in critical fields like computer science and nursing and increase financial aid by $360 million,” Perry said. “If lawmakers adopt this plan, the ultimate result will be a higher education system that is more affordable, more accountable and more focused on meeting the needs of tomorrow’s global marketplace.”
The comprehensive higher education reform plan includes measures to: • Increase higher education funding by $711 million in general revenue ($1.7 billion all funds). • Increase financial aid by 60 percent, or $362 million. • Fully fund the higher education operations formula. • Substantially change the funding mechanism by eliminating “special items,” or earmarks, so funding increasingly follows students instead of schools.
“While our two largest university systems have been ranked among the best values in the country, we must do more to improve access to a college education for students of all income levels,” Perry said. “If students have proven themselves in high school and need financial assistance to better their future, Texas should pay their tuition and fees.”
Budgetary allocations will provide for an incentive program for well-performing universities and colleges, an increase in need-based and performance-driven financial aid, and the creation of alternative programs to address nursing shortages statewide.
The governor also repeated his call for transparency in budgetary expenditures today, recommending the Legislature eliminate vague lump sum appropriations to higher education institutions.
Statement from Sen. Zaffirini regarding Gov. Perry’s higher education agenda
“I applaud Gov. Rick Perry and his efforts to produce a positive higher education agenda for the 80th legislative session. The governor’s proposals regarding increases in need- and performance-based financial aid, increases for my B-on-Time zero-interest higher education loan program and efforts to improve graduation rates certainly are steps in the right direction.
“I am concerned, however, with the funding reallocations that would accompany the governor’s proposals, especially the across-the-board cuts to University Special Items. The governor’s proposal details more than $614 million in reductions to special items, which includes institutional enhancements such as the South Texas Border Initiative. The South Texas Border Initiative was adopted in 1989 by the Texas Legislature to provide additional funding for border universities to help them achieve parity with other Texas institutions. Several institutions in my district and in surrounding areas within South Texas, including Texas A&M International University, the University of Texas-Pan American and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, would be impacted adversely by this proposal. It is still too early to estimate exactly how this reduction in special items will affect individual institutions, but I plan to examine closely the Governor’s proposal to ensure the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee is best informed and prepared to make the appropriate recommendations.
“I look forward to working with Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and my colleagues in the House and Senate so we may provide Texas with a higher education agenda that promotes both access and excellence.”
Injured workers may be eligible for legal counsel
By Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.
Currently in Texas, people injured on the job are at an unfair disadvantage in the court room. Their inability to work affords them little or no income to pay for legal representation.
In many cases, insurance carriers opt to file in district court when injured employees are awarded income and/or medical benefits at the administrative level because they are aware that injured individuals are often unable to obtain legal representation. Consequently, these cases often result in default judgments.
Generally insurers are at an advantage because the cost is less for legal fees than for payment of benefits. And in instances when injured employees choose to represent themselves in court, insurers routinely prevail because they have legal counsel.
I have filed a bill that will help level the playing field for both parties. Senate Bill (SB) 287 will provide district courts the authority to appoint an attorney to represent injured employees who have won approval throughout the administrative claims process.
During the 79th legislative session, we passed House Bill (HB) 7, which eliminated the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission and moved workers’ compensation under the regulatory authority of the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). HB 7 also created an independent agency to protect the interests of injured workers and advocate on their behalf. It is called the Office of Injured Employee Counsel (OIEC).
This department has identified claims cases that clearly demonstrate how the current system is failing some injured employees. SB 287 is a response to these findings. If injured employees are guaranteed the right to legal counsel, insurance carriers who are currently electing to appeal in court will be more judicious in determining when to pursue legal action.
In cases where the injured worker prevails in court, HB 7 already mandates the carrier to pay for the employee’s legal fees. However, injured employees have difficulty obtaining attorneys to represent them since they face the prospect that they may not be paid. SB 287 would guarantee that an injured employee’s attorney would be rightfully compensated for reasonable legal fees in cases where the injured employee loses the case. The fees would be reimbursed from the Subsequent Injury Fund (SIF), an account with a balance of over $40 million. The fund is maintained with taxes paid by insurance companies and is administered by TDI.
My bill would more fairly utilize the funds insurance companies are already required by law to pay into the SIF.
No one should have to forfeit a court case with merit because of the lack of money to hire an attorney. Our judicial system should be based on equity, and through SB 287, I want to ensure fairness to both sides in workers compensation cases.
Congressman Hinojosa works on federal legislation to clean up former meth labs in homes
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, is helping communities across Texas clean up methamphetamine labs and the toxic mess they leave behind. This week, Hinojosa added his support to House Resolution 365, a bill that charges the Environmental Protection Agency with the development of guidelines to assist state and local authorities in the clean-up of former meth production sites.
“The volatile, poisonous chemicals used to make methamphetamines leave behind a toxic residue that threatens the health of anyone exposed to it,” Hinojosa said. “This is especially worrisome when you consider that most labs are mom-and-pop operations located in houses, apartments, and hotel rooms.”
In 2005, The Drug Enforcement Administration shut down over 260 meth labs in Texas and seized 2,140 pounds. The agency estimates that for every pound of meth produced, five pounds of toxic waste is created. The average direct cost of clean-up ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 per lab.
However, the true damage done by meth production is compounded when one takes into account the thousands of innocent children that authorities have discovered at these labs. Nationwide, 1,660 children were affected by, injured, or even killed at meth labs in 2005, according to the El Paso Intelligence Center.
“Virtually no corner of this country has escaped the rampant rise in meth production,” said Hinojosa. “It is imperative that we shed light on this issue and help our local communities safely clean up these hazardous sites.”
In addition to establishing those guidelines, the bill would also:
• Direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to consult with the EPA in developing technologies to detect meth labs, emphasizing in field test kits for law enforcement
• Require the National Academy of Sciences to study the long-term health impacts of meth exposure on first-responders and on children taken from meth lab sites
The Methamphetamine Remediation Act is expected to be considered soon by the full U.S. House.
Gov. Perry orders creation of Criminal Justice Analysis Center to provide assessment of criminal justice efforts
Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, January 29, issued an executive order establishing the Texas Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center (SAC) to provide objective analysis and assessment of state criminal justice programs and initiatives.
“By providing objective reports on statewide criminal justice trends, the Statistical Analysis Center will help policymakers develop effective and efficient criminal justice programs that will keep Texans safe,” Perry said. “This center will help us manage our prison population better and attract more federal funds for crime prevention and criminal justice initiatives.”
Under the governor’s order, the SAC will collect, analyze and report statewide criminal justice statistics; evaluate the effectiveness of state-funded initiatives; and disseminate analysis results to practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and the public in order to enhance the quality of criminal justice and crime prevention at all levels of government.
Perry’s directive also designates the SAC as the state’s liaison to the U.S. Department of Justice on criminal justice data reporting and research. This designation will make Texas eligible for additional federal criminal justice funding.
The SAC will be housed within the Office of the Governor and will have access to data maintained by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, the Texas Youth Commission, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and other relevant agencies as needed.
Perry designated Janna Burleson as director of the Center. Previously, Burleson served as the governor’s policy advisor for criminal justice issues. Prior to that she was a top policy advisor to Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Monday, January 29, was joined by John Walsh, host of the FOX Television program “America’s Most Wanted,” and Julie Clark, co-founder of The Safe Side Company, to announce the ‘Texas First!’ initiative, a public/private child safety partnership. At a State Capitol news conference, Dewhurst highlighted the initiative and explained how it will help K-2 students learn how to stay safe around strangers.
“Texas First! truly does put Texas Children First,” said Dewhurst. “This public/private partnership will provide every Texas school district–more than a thousand–with a curriculum that teaches our children vital safety information about strangers.”
Under the Texas First! initiative, The Safe Side Company, co-founded by Walsh and Clark, is donating more than 1,000 Stranger Safety Resource Kits to Texas school districts. The kits have two components–a curriculum that includes lesson plans and activities for classroom use, and a media library that includes 25 copies of the Stranger Safety DVD for take-home use.
Texas is the first state to participate in the program, which is focused on educating children between the ages of 5 and 10 about dangerous predators online, in schools, and in their neighborhoods.
Dewhurst has made child safety a top priority during the 80th legislative session by proposing a package of measures to protect Texas children from sexual predators, to combat illegal steroid use in high school athletics, and to equip public schools with life-saving automatic external defibrillators (AEDs).
The centerpiece of Dewhurst’s Texas Children First plan is the nation’s toughest Jessica’s Law proposal, which would require a 25-year to life sentence for first-time violent sexual offenses, and give prosecutors the option of seeking the death penalty for repeat violent sexual offenses. Dewhurst’s proposal also would double the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children from 10 to 20 years.
Sen. Lucio files bill to provide vital services for autism, a brain disorder which affects children
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr, D-Brownsville, on Thursday, February 2, filed Senate Bill 419 to improve the outlook of children afflicted with Autism.
Autism is a disorder of brain function that appears early in life, generally before the age of three. Children with autism have problems with social interaction, communication, imagination and behavior. Autistic traits persist into adulthood, but vary in severity. Some adults with autism function well, earning college degrees and living independently. Others never develop the skills of daily living, and may be incorrectly diagnosed with a variety of psychiatric illnesses. The cause is unknown.
“On behalf of thousands of Texas families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), I am extremely excited to announce new legislation that will help assure vital services are provided for children and adults diagnosed with this condition” said Lucio.
The language in SB 419 is the culmination of six years of research on how to most effectively and affordably serve individuals with ASD in Texas. SB 419 defines autism as a neurobiological disorder and includes language to prevent insurance companies from denying routine coverage to enrollees diagnosed with autism. SB 419 will ensure that individuals in need of routine services are equally covered by their health plan, regardless of whether they have an autism diagnosis.
SB 419 will also add Texas to a list of 17 states that require early intervention treatments for children with autism. According to Lucio, “Twenty-five years of research demonstrates that when autistic children are provided with a comprehensive set of intensive services at an early age, more than 40 percent are able to enter and succeed in regular classrooms, and another 40 percent make remarkable gains in functional ability.”
SB 419 requires that health plans cover all services included in a physician prescribed treatment plan for children with autism ages 3 to 5 years and encourages them to continue covering treatment as long as necessary.
Numerous studies indicate that early interventions for children with autism could cut associated lifelong costs by two-thirds. “Early intervention can mean the difference between helping a child achieve the ability to engage in a conversation with a parent and a child incapable of even maintaining eye contact,” explained Sen. Lucio.
The United States currently spends $90 billion on ASD related services each year, 90 percent of which is used for adult services.
“With ASD rates growing between 10 and 17 percent per year, we as a state and a nation must do everything in our ability to offset the impact, starting by ensuring that young children get the services they need,” added Lucio. “By refusing key services to children with autism, we are condemning them and their families to a lifetime of unnecessary hardship and social isolation.”
The staff member handling this issue for Lucio is Ms. Katharine Volti, policy analyst, 512-463-0127.
Gov. Perry establishes HPV vaccination program for young women
Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, February 2, issued an executive order directing the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to adopt rules requiring all girls age 11 and 12 to receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prior to entering sixth grade, effective September 2008. The executive order also directs HHSC and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to make the vaccine immediately available to eligible young females through the Texas Vaccines for Children program for young women ages 9 to 18, and through Medicaid for women ages 19 to 21.
“The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer,” said Perry. “Requiring young girls to get vaccinated before they come into contact with HPV is responsible health and fiscal policy that has the potential to significantly reduce cases of cervical cancer and mitigate future medical costs.”
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Today, approximately 20 million people in the nation are infected, including one in four 15 to 24 year olds. Certain strains of HPV cause most cases of cervical cancer. Texas has the second highest number of women suffering from this devastating disease in the nation. In 2006, there were 1,169 new cases and nearly 400 deaths from cervical cancer in the state.
Parents may choose to opt out of mandatory vaccinations for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs. The governor’s executive order directs DSHS to ease the opt out process by providing exemption request forms online.
Sen. Cornyn presses DHS to ensure border officials’ concerns are heard during US-VISIT implementation
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and ranking member of the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee, said on Wednesday, January 31, that implementation of the US-VISIT program must target threats, facilitate legitimate travel and include input from the border community.
Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee’s Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security subcommittee, served as Ranking Member during a hearing of that panel, which received testimony from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials and other witnesses. The hearing was titled: “US-VISIT: Challenges and Strategies for Securing the U.S. Border.”
“DHS must continue working hard to ensure that it continually receives the input of the public and interested stakeholders, such as officials along the Texas border, on any expansion efforts,” Cornyn said. “Southern border businesses and officials are concerned with the increased delays at border-crossing checkpoints and the impact of the delays on the local economy. As we continue working toward additional security measures, we need to develop a quick and efficient process to identify those who may be a threat to national security while allowing legitimate, law-abiding travelers to enter and exit the U.S. in a timely manner.”
Cornyn addressed border leaders in the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, January 27, and hosted a meeting with Texas border mayors and other leaders in his Washington office in mid-January to discuss these and other issues. In addition, he has met with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials to make sure the border community’s concerns are heard.
Witnesses who testified at the hearing included: Robert A. Mocny, Acting Director, US-VISIT, Department of Homeland Security and Richard Barth, Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy Development, Department of Homeland Security.
On a related note, on Monday, January 29, Cornyn introduced legislation permitting laser visa holders—temporary, fully-screened travelers from Mexico—to stay in the United States up to six months. The Secure Border Crossing Card Entry Act of 2007, S. 422, extends the length of stay for these visitors from 30 days to six months, or parity with Canadians.
Edinburg City Council to meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 6
EDINBURG CITY COUNCIL
CITY OF EDINBURG,
HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS
Location: University of Texas – Pan American International Trade and Technology Building 1201 West University Drive 300 Block, Dr. Miguel Nevarez Drive
FEBRUARY 06, 2007
REGULAR MEETING AGENDA 7:00 P.M.
I. CALL TO ORDER, ESTABLISH QUORUM.
B. Pledge of Allegiance by Gene Espinoza, Mayor Pro Tem.
II. CERTIFICATION OF PUBLIC NOTICE.
III. PUBLIC COMMENTS.
IV. MAYOR’S REPORT.
V. CITY MANAGER’S REPORT.
A. Presentation of Proclamation Recognizing February 2007 as National Children’s Dental Month, as Requested by Dentists Who Care, Inc.
B. Presentation of Proclamation Recognizing Joaquin Rodriguez, Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg-Rio Grande Valley “2007 Youth of the Year.”
C. Proclamation Presentation Recognizing February 2007 as Arbor Month, as Requested by the Edinburg Environment Committee.
D. Presentation on Fiesta Edinburg, as Requested by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.
E. Presentation, as Requested by the South Texas Agricultural Roundup (STAR).
F. Presentation on Rio Metro Transit Services by Tom Reyna, Assistant Director of Transit Services, Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.
VII. PUBLIC HEARINGS/ORDINANCES.
A. Consider Ordinance Providing for a Temporary Special Use Permit for a Carnival to be held from February 19 to February 25, 2007 at the Edinburg Municipal Park, on the south half of Lot 11, Section 268, Texas-Mexican Railway Company Survey, located at the intersection of Raul Longoria Road and East Sprague Street, as requested by Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.
B. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for the Renewal of a Special Use Permit for an On-Premise Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages for Fast Eddie’s, on Lot 2 and the west 20 feet of Lot 3, Block 1, Vector Addition, located at 815 North Closner Boulevard, as requested by Robert Wilson, representing 815 Eddie, Inc.
C. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for a Special Use Permit for an On-Premise Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages for Candela Bar, on Lot 3, Trenton Crossroads Plaza Subdivision, located at 2101 West Trenton Road, as requested by Victor S. Haddad, representing Seju Capital Investments, L.P.
D. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for the Rezoning Request from R-A1, Single Family Residence District to C-2, General Business District, being 1.062 acres out of Lot 10, Section 276, Texas-Mexican Railway Company Survey, located approximately 950 feet east of McColl Road on the south side of University Drive, as requested by Rasec, L.L.C.
E. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for the Rezoning Request from R-A1, Single Family Residence District to R-A2, Single Family Residence District, All of the 40 acres, Wisteria Heights Subdivision, located on the southeast corner of Schunior Road and Hoehn Road, as requested by Hector Guerra.
VIII. AWARDING OF BIDS/CONTRACTUAL.
A. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-28, Installation of the Geosynthetics, to Texas Environmental Plastics, LTD., from Houston, Texas, in the Amount of $271,099.50.
B. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-30, Computer Technology Equipment (Computers and Laptops) from Valley Network LLC, CDWG and Dell Computers for Various Departments Within the City, in the Amount of $49,517.97.
C. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-46, Street Asphalt Recycling, to Mission Paving Company, Inc., in the Amount of $145,000.
D. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-47, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program to Benchmark Construction.
E. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-48, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program to Benchmark Construction.
F. Consider Purchase of One (1) S185 Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader to Bobcat Company of West Fargo, ND, in the amount of $19,044.
G. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Enter Into An Inter-local Agreement for Cooperation and Joint Sponsorship with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council for Rio Metro-Edinburg Bus Shelters.
IX. CONSENT AGENDA.
A. Consider Authorizing the Interim City Manager to Renew the Farm Lease Agreement for Airport Land with L.M.B. Partnership, LTD., For a One (1) Year Term Beginning January 16, 2007, through January 15, 2008.
B. Consider Authorizing the Interim City Manager to Enter Into a Rural Emergency Services Contract with the County of Hidalgo for Rural Emergency Services Provided by the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department.
C. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Enter Into An Engineering Agreement With Golder Associates, Inc. for Construction Quality Assurance for Cell SD8 for Permit 956B at the Edinburg Regional Sanitary Landfill.
D. Consider Transfers of Funds in the Fiscal Year 2006-2007 Budget Within the Following Accounts:
1. Airport: From Streets Account to Professional Services Account, in the Amount of $1,125.
2. Planning and Zoning: From Personnel Services Account to Office Supplies Account, in the Amount of $2,636.36.
3. CDBG: From Various Accounts to Colonia Rodriguez Sewer Hookups Account and Contractual Rehabilitation Housing-32nd Year Account, in the Amount of $66,354.83.
4. CDBG: From 31 st Year Entitlement, 30th Year Entitlement, and 29th Year Entitlement Accounts to Reprogrammed Funds 32 nd Year Account, in the Amount of $66,354.83.
X. EXECUTIVE SESSION.
The City Council will convene in Executive Session, in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act, Vernon’s Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated, Government Code, Chapter 551, Subchapter D, Exceptions to Requirement that Meetings be Open, §551.071, Consultation with Attorney; Closed Meeting.
1. Settlement Proposal Regarding Cause No. CCD-1493-A; City of Edinburg vs. Grande Valley Homes; In the County Court at Law No. 1 of Hidalgo County, Texas.
2. Legal Discussion: Status of Proposals for Professional Services for Collection of Municipal Court Delinquent Fees and Fines.
The City Council will convene in Open Session to take necessary action, if any, in accordance with Chapter 551, Open Meetings, Subchapter E, Procedures Relating to Closed Meeting, §551.102, Requirement to Vote or Take Final Action in Open Meeting.
I hereby certify this Notice of a City Council Meeting was posted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, at both bulletin boards located at the main entrances to the City Offices of the City of Edinburg, and at the 210 West McIntyre entrance outside bulletin board, visible and accessible to the general public during and after regular working hours. This notice was posted on February 02, 2007 at 6:35 p.m.
By: /s/Myra Garza, City Secretary
City of Edinburg, Texas
[All matters listed under Consent Agenda are considered to be routine by the Governing Body and will be enacted by one motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items. If discussion is desired, that item will be removed from the consent agenda and will be considered separately.]
IF ACCOMMODATIONS FOR A DISABILITY ARE REQUIRED, NOTIFY THE CITY SECRETARY DEPT. AT 383-5661 PRIOR TO THE MEETING DATE. WITH REGARD TO ANY ITEM, THE CITY COUNCIL MAY TAKE VARIOUS ACTIONS; INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO RESCHEDULING AN ITEM IN ITS ENTIRETY FOR A FUTURE DATE OR TIME. THE CITY COUNCIL MAY ELECT TO GO INTO EXECUTIVE SESSION ON ANY ITEM WHETHER OR NOT SUCH ITEM IS POSTED AS AN EXECUTIVE SESSION ITEM AT ANY TIME DURING THE MEETING WHEN AUTHORIZED BY THE PROVISIONS OF THE OPEN MEETINGS ACT.