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Edinburg lawmakers say “border wall” doesn’t tackle real border security needs

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Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D., an associate professor of Spanish linguistics and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at the University of Texas-Pan American, on Tuesday, July 17, was appointed by the Edinburg City Council to the board of directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. “Over the next few years, I would like to see the EEDC expand its efforts in attracting diverse business and industry to Edinburg and make our city full participants in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” Martínez said. “UTPA, my alma mater and my current place of employment, gives Edinburg a competitive edge over other cities in the region to attract industries with large research enterprises. As a member of the board, I will work to ensure that UTPA and its vast knowledge resources become critical incentives to attract high-paying jobs to our city.” See story later in this posting.

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While Mother Nature dropped up to six inches of rain in parts of the Upper Valley earlier that morning and tore rooftops from at least three McAllen businesses, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III and U.S. International Boundary and Water Commissioner Carlos Marín on Monday, July 16, executed the long-anticipated memorandum of understanding that will allow for the rehabilitation of several miles of federally-owned river levee. Featured, from left, seated, are: Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; Salinas; and Marin. Standing, from left, are: Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Mission Mayor Beto Salinas; and Hidalgo County Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, See story later in this posting.

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Three South Texas legislators – Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg – say that federal money to build a controversial “border wall” along 153 miles of the international border with Mexico could be better spent on more pressing national security needs, including helping Texas fight illegal drug trafficking that spells heartache, ruin, and death for countless Americans. Their comments came on Thursday, July 19, during a legislative luncheon in Edinburg. Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza, Gonzáles and Peña are featured, sitting, first, second and third from left, respectively, while Councilmember Noe Garza (no relation to Alma) is shown standing, first from left, while Hinojosa is shown standing, fourth from left. See first story in this posting.

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Rep. Gonzáles back in the financial black

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State Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has much to smile these days after finally paying off campaign loans that had helped finance her successful first run for elected office in the spring of 2004. The South Texas Democrat, featured her during a recent legislative session in McAllen at South Texas College, slowly but surely whittled away at $145,000 in campaign loans until she paid them off last fall. Her financial activities are detailed in her campaign finance report, released in mid-January, that covers the last six months of 2006. Details on her contributions and expenditures are provided later in this posting. Shown with her are from left: Jack Damonr, executive director of Region One Education Service Center in Edinburg; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Mario Reyna, Division Dean of Business, Science and Technology for STC and president of the Mission Chamber of Commerce.

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Representatives from Amigos Del Valle, Incorporated, on Tuesday, February 13, were honored with a resolution in the Senate chamber by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for their work to improve the lives of seniors citizens in the Rio Grande Valley. Amigos Del Valle is a consortium of county and city governmental entities that provide nutrition, transportation and housing services to the senior citizens of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. “This agency assists and encourages senior citizens to live healthy, productive and self-sufficient lives,” said Lucio. “Their work is to be commended and supported.” Amigos Del Valle began offering services to seniors in 1975 with a budget of $375,000, and by 2005 the agency’s budget had increased to approximately $7 million. Thousands of senior citizens have used these services to maintain their health and to live their lives with dignity. The agency consists of an established network of employees and more than 500 volunteers, providing assistance through 32 senior centers, nine senior multifamily rental housing projects and a central kitchen facility. Organizations such as the National Council of La Raza, the Southwest Society on Aging and Hispanic Business Magazine have honored Amigos Del Valle for its outstanding services. Shown from left are: Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Hinojosa; Emilio Vera, Amigos Del Valle board vice president; former Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Fred Longoria, board member; José E. Garza, executive director; Luis González (King); Blanca Loya (Queen); Dewhurst; and Lucio.

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Manuel Benavidez, Jr., featured center, a founding and current member of the South Texas College Board of Trustees, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his recent selection as the 2006 Western Region Trustee Leadership Award from the Association of Community Colleges. Benavidez, who represents Starr County on the STC Board of Trustees, is shown here during a separate event involving the community college system, which serves Starr and Hidalgo Counties. Shown in this photo with him are trustees Michael Allen and Irene García. The House resolution honoring Benavidez was authored by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City. The text of that resolution follows later in this posting.

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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles pays off final $50,000 in campaign loans that once towered at $145K

With no opponents to worry about last year, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was able to raise enough money during the last six months of 2006 to finally pay off the final third of her campaign finance loans from a San Antonio bank that once found her $145,000 in debt.

Between July 1 and December 31, Gonzáles, whose House District 41 legislative district includes southwest Edinburg, the second-term lawmaker raised $78,560 in campaign contributions from scores of individuals and firms, which helped her pay off $49,999.90 in remaining campaign finance loans she originally drew in 2004 from Frost Bank in San Antonio.

Gonzáles used those loans, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional financial contributions from her many supporters, to defeat long-time incumbent Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen.

By not drawing any opponents last year – state representatives must run every two years –
Gonzáles was able to focus on raising money to get out of debt. Even after spending more than $63,000 during the last half of 2006 for political expenditures — much of that going to eliminate the bank loans balance – she wound up with more than a $25,000 surplus in her campaign account.

Her campaign finance reports are available online at:
http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/filer.php?acct=00054908coh

Gonzáles’ campaign finance report, along with the campaign reports of all state lawmakers, cover the period between July 1 and December 31, 2006.

Her loans from the bank, which were also guaranteed by some of her law partners in her McAllen law office, peaked at $145,000 as of June 20, 2004, and she whittled away at that debt until she made a final $15,000 bank loan repayment on October 30.

On her campaign form, she listed her officeholder address as 605 Water Lilly in McAllen. Her campaign treasurer was identified as one of her law partners, Charles Wesley Kittleman, who listed his address at 301 Toucan in McAllen.

Gonzáles, who says she is a business attorney, is a partner in the firm of Kittleman, Thomas,

Gonzáles, LLP, located at 4900-B North 10th Street in McAllen. Recently, two attorneys linked with political office joined her 13-member firm: Ramón Rosales, Jr., the municipal judge with the City of Mission, and Tracy A. Spillman, former senior attorney to Justice Fred Hinojosa, formerly of the 13th Court of Appeals.

Whether she draws any opponents next year – she will be on the March Democratic Party primary ballot in March 2008 and would have to face any Republican in the November 2008 general election – remains to be seen.

But she and her supporters have demonstrated the willingness to dig deep into their pockets to win and hold on to the legislative seat, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in her successful rookie campaign against Gutiérrez in the 2004 Democratic Party primary and runoff.

Gonzáles campaign information

Like many well-financed candidates, Gonzáles is not without her share of generous/wealthy supporters, and she has effectively tapped into bankrolls of Austin-based lobbyists and political action committees which often represent the lion’s share of campaign finance contributions.

Her single largest contribution between July 1 and December 31 came from José González, Jr. of McAllen, an attorney with The Watts Law Firm, who gave her $5,000 on December 5.

The Watts Law Firm, a personal injury law firm based in Corpus Christi, is among the top political contributors to Democratic Party causes.

Other major contributors during the final six months of 2006 were:

•R.L. Glazer, chairman of the board of directors of Glazer’s Distributors of Dallas, gave her $3,000 on November 29;
•BG Distribution Partners of Houston, a beverage distributor, gave her $3,000 on November 29;
•Texas Association of Mortgage Attorneys PAC of Houston donated $2,500 on November 29;
•Farmers Employee and Agent PAC of Texas of Austin donated $2,500 on October 20;
•Advanced Orthopaedic Institute of McAllen on McAllen donated $2,500 on September 29;
•Eric Chin, owner of Dos Logistics of Weslaco donated $2,000 on December 5;
•Stanley and Linda Harper of Mansfield, cattle breeders with Harper Cattle Company, gave a total of $1,500 in $500 donations on July 24, August 6, and August 8; and
•Joe A. García of Austin, a lobbyist with The García Group who also represents the City of McAllen, gave a total of $1,500 with two donations – $1,000 on November 29 and $500 on July 24.

Twenty-one individuals or firms each gave her $1,000, one firm gave her $800, two individuals and two firms each donated $750, one individual donated $620, 33 individuals or firms each gave her $500, one individual donated $400, one individual gave her $350, and 30 individuals, firms, or couples each gave her between $100 and $250.

Her largest campaign expenditures were dominated by campaign finance loan repayment to Frost Bank. In addition to the $15,732.29 loan repayment on October 30, Gonzáles also made loan repayments to the bank of $15,000 on October 2, $10,000 on July 6, $5,000 on July 24, $3,062.85 on November 16, $2,000 on November 6, and $1,512.84 on July 13.

Other notable expenditures during the last half of 2006 included a $4,250 payment to Monte Cristo Golf and Country Club, Rt. 1, Box 985-D in Edinburg, for golf tournament fees relating to a campaign fundraiser on October 2, and a $1,000 payment to the House Democratic Caucus, P.O. Box 12453 in Austin, for the 2007 annual dues on December 13.

Contributions

Four individuals, one couple, and 16 firms each donated $1,000 to Gonzáles:

•Valero PAC of San Antonio on December 7;
•Texas Automobile Dealers Association PAC of Austin on December 6;
•Texas Consumer Finance Association PAC of Austin donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (December 5 and July 24);
•Texas Dental Association PAC – DENPAC of Austin donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (November 6 and July 11);
•Alan and Patti Harper of Arlington, cattle breeders with Harper Cattle Company, donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (October 19 and July 24);
•Associated General Contractors of Texas – PAC of Austin on October 18;
•USA Logistics Carriers LLC of McAllen on October 9;
•Roerig Oliveira & Fisher of Brownsville, the law firm for which Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, is a partner, donated $1,000 with two $500 contributions (October 2 and September 26);
•Texas Friends of Time Warner of Houston on September 30;
•Jeffrey Sern of Bellaire, an attorney with Stern Miller & Higdon, on September 29;
•Gilbert Enríquez, former Edinburg school board trustee, on September 28;
•Texas Medical Association PAC – TEXPAC of Austin on September 27;
•Maxxam Inc. Texas PAC of Houston on September 25;
•Burton McCumber & Cortéz LLP of Brownsville on September 14;
•Atlas & Hall, LLP of McAllen on September 13;
•Glen E. Roney of McAllen, chairman of the board of Texas State Bank, on September 7;
•International Bank of Commerce PAC STATE of McAllen on September 6;
•Joseph F. Phillip of Mission, an investor, on August 16;
•HILLCO PAC of Austin on July 24; and
•AT&T Texas PAC of Austin on July 5.

One firm, the Texas Optometric PAC of Austin, on November 6 donated $800 to Gonzáles.

Two individuals and two firms each donated $750 to Gonzáles:

•Greg LaMantia of McAllen, a beer distributor with L&F Distributors LTD, on October 30;
•Carlos C. Guerra of Linn gave her a leather hanging travel bank valued at $750 on October 7;
•Texas Association of Defense Counsel PAC of Austin on October 4; and
•Texas Apartment Association PAC of Austin on September 26.

One individual, José Guerra of Linn, a realtor with El Sendero Properties, on September 30 donated $620 to Gonzáles.

Three individuals, two couples, and 28 firms each donated $500 to Gonzáles:

•ACC Capital Holdings – PAC of Austin on December 9;
•Texas Gas Service PAC of Austin on December 9;
•Abbott Laboratories Employee PAC of Abbot Park, Illinois on December 8;
•Robert De Los Santos, a project manager/developer of New Braunfels, on December 8;
•Association of Texas Professional Educators PAC of Austin on December 8;
•La Joya Federation of Teachers of McAllen on December 7;
•HSBC North American PAC of Prospect Heights, Illinois, on December 6;
•Robert and Gordon Johnson of Austin, attorneys with Johnson & Johnson, on December 6;
•Target Texas of Austin on December 6;
•Ron Lewis and Associates of Austin on December 5;
•Professionals Political Action Committee of Omaha, Nebraska, on November 29;
•Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Raba-Kistner PAC of San Antonio on November 29;
•HCA Good Government Fund of Austin on October 26;
•Wells Fargo Bank Texas State PAC of San Antonio on October 23;
•James & Kathy Collins of McAllen, a broker/real estate developer with Rioco Corporation, on October 20;
•Halff Associates State PAC of Dallas on October 20;
•Texas State Teachers Association PAC of Austin on October 20;
•Independent Bankers Association of Texas PAC of Austin on October 17;
•John King of McAllen, an attorney, on October 13;
•Carrigan McCloskey & Roberson LLP of Houston on October 12;
•Texas Bankers Association BANKPAC of Austin on October 10;
•Sen. Eddie Lucio Campaign Candidate Office Holder Account of Brownsville on September 30;
•Salinas and Sahadi LLP of McAllen on September 29;
•R.I. Pecina of Mission, a broker/owner of The Pecina Real Estate Group, on September 29;
•Strong Structural Steel LTD of McAllen on September 29;
•Glen and Pat Jarvis of McAllen, with the Law Offices of Glen Jarvis, on September 28;
•Jason Eberlie, president of Eberlie Materials, Inc. of Donna on September 28;
•Law Office of Jacques Treviñõ of Edinburg on September 28;
•Law Offices of García, Quintanilla and Palacios of McAllen on September 27;
•Lewis, Monroe & Peña of Edinburg on September 27;
•González, Gaytan, Garza & Castillo, LLP of McAllen on September 27;
•Wilette & Guerra LLP of McAllen on September 27;
•Robert Elizalde, an agent for State Farm Insurance, of McAllen on September 26;
•David Alaniz, president of Southern Mechanical Air Conditioning of McAllen, on September 20;
•Alejos Sánchez of Edinburg, a contractor, on September 20;
•Arthur Benjamin, president of ATI Enterprises of Dallas, on September 18;
•Mark Wright of McAllen on September 14;
•Robert F. Boggus of McAllen on September 12;
•Keith Patridge of Mission, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, on September 8;
•Michael Toomey of Austin on July 23;
•The Texas Lobby Group LLP of Austin on July 23; and
•Russell Kelley of Austin, a lobbyist, on July 11;

One individual, Mario Martínez of Austin, on September 29, donated $400 to Gonzáles on September 29.

One firm, Trinity Industries Employee PAC of Dallas, on July 24 donated $350 to Gonzáles.

Four firms each donated $300 to Gonzáles:

•Cantey Hanger – PAC of Austin on November 7;
•Andy Brown for State Representative of Austin on November 1;
•Texas Credit Union League PAC of Dallas on August 16; and
•Fullbright & Jaworski LLP Texas Committee on Austin on July 24;

Seven individuals and 12 firms each donated $250 to Gonzáles:

•Chris Bell Campaign of Houston on December 9;
•Lloyd Gosselink Blevins Rochelle & Townsend, PC of Austin on December 9;
•Independent Insurance Agents of Texas PAC of Austin on December 8;
•Verizon Good Government Club of Austin on December 7;
•Caballero Governmental Affairs of Austin on November 29;
•Ch2M Hill Texas PAC of Dallas on November 29;
•Don Durden of Comfort on November 29;
•Hughes and Luce, LLP of Austin on November 29;
•TCB PAC of Houston on November 29;
•Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Neal F. Runnels of McAllen on September 26;
•Merck PAC of Washington, D.C. on September 28;
•Bickerstaff Heath Pollan and Caroom LLP of Austin on September 21;
•Edward Thomas of Austin on September 21;
•Robert Galligan of Mission on September 15;
•Judy Bruce of Manchaca on July 24;
•Bill Pewitt of Austin on July 24;
•Dan Shelley of Austin on July 24; and
•Texas Hospital Association PAC of Austin on July 21.

One individual and one firm each donated $200 to Gonzáles:

•Robert Ramírez of McAllen on December 6; and
•Homepac of Texas of Austin on July 24.

One individual, Rosalie Weisfeld of McAllen, on July 7, donated $180 to Gonzáles.

One couple, two individuals and one firm each donated $150 to Gonzáles:

•Mario Muñoz of Austin on November 29;
•Once Call Concepts PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Bill Summers of Weslaco on November 16;
•Mr. and Mrs. Adolfo Martínez of Mission on July 26;

One individual, Michael Ramey of Pharr, on September 30, donated $120 to Gonzáles.

One couple, two individuals, and four firms each donated $100 to Gonzáles.

•McAllen Federation of Teachers on December 7;
•Friends of Clint Hackney and Company PAC of Austin on November 29;
•Clint Hackney of Austin on November 29;
•Fred L. Kurth of Mission, president of Melden & Hunt, Inc., on September 30;
•Richard and Elizabeth Cantú of Palmhurst on September 27;
•Texas Chiropractic Association PAC of Austin on September 12; and
•Security 1st Federal Credit Union of McAllen on August 16;

Expenditures

$15,732.29
•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on October 30.

$15,000
•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on October 2.

$10,000
•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on July 6.

$5,000
•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on July 24.

$4,250
•Monte Cristo Golf and Country Club, Rt. 1, Box 985-D in Edinburg, for golf tournament fees relating to a campaign fundraiser on October 2.

$3,062.85
•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on November 16.

$2,000
•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on November 6.

$1,512.84
•Frost National Bank, P.O. Box 1600 in San Antonio, for a campaign loan repayment on July 13.

$1,000
•House Democratic Caucus, P.O. Box 12453 in Austin, for the 2007 annual dues on December 13.

$741.51
•Jones & Cook Stationers, 5001 N. McColl Road in McAllen, for stationary on September 27.

$502.50
•HEB, 901 Trenton Road in McAllen, for turkeys donation reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on November 21.

$500
•Palmer Drug Abuse Program, 115 North 9th Street in McAllen, for a donation on August 4.

$364.04
•CopyZone, 4131 North 10th Street in McAllen, for brochure printing reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra, on August 17.

$350
•Peak Performance, P.O. Box 427 in McAllen, for a benefit marathon sponsorship on November 2.

$278.48
•Esperanza Chapa, P.O. Box 6792 in McAllen, for Chrismas Card design and print on December 7.

$235
•McAllen Evening Lions Club, 205 N. 15th Street in McAllen, for a donation on August 3.

$232.72
•Texas Department of Criminal Justice Manufacturing and Logistics, P.O. Box 4013 in Huntsville, for a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra for a constitutional chair on August 3.

$225
•Creative Academic Achievement Pro-Success Learning Center, 205 North 15th, McAllen, for a donation on November 21.

$200
•Muscular Dystrophy Association, 222 E. Van Buren in Harlingen, for a donation on August 14.

$170.46
•Sam’s Club, 1400 E. Jackson Avenue in McAllen, for a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra for bottled water for a marathon sponsorship on November 28.

$120.70
•Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Blvd in Austin, for gift baskets on July 28.

$106.96
•Hobby Lobby, 7600 N. 10th Street in McAllen, for a framing reimbursement to Edna Dougherty on July 1.

$101.21
•Hewlett-White, 212 North Main Street in McAllen, for a floral arrangement for a constituent on July 14.

$100 each
•Digital Graphics Concepts, P.O. Box 6792 in McAllen, for brochure design on August 15; and
Edinburg All-Stars Pinto Division, P.O. Box 3454 in Edinburg, for a donation of July 14.

$57.24
•Kittleman Thomas & Gonzáles LLP, 4900 N. 10th Street, Suite B, in McAllen for telephone/copy/fax expenses on September 11.

$46.71
•Kittleman Thomas & Gonzáles LLP, 4900 N. 10th Street, Suite B, in McAllen for telephone/copy/fax expenses on October 6.

$39
•Quips ‘n’ Quotes Post Office, 5011 North 10th in McAllen, as a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on December 12.

$23.40
•Quips ‘n’ Quotes Post Office, 5011 North 10th in McAllen, as a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on December 13.

$22.73
•CopyZone, 4131 North 10th Street in McAllen, for presentation reimbursement to Ricardo Lopez-Guerra on October 19.

$17.09
•Kittleman Thomas & Gonzáles LLP, 4900 N. 10th Street, Suite B, in McAllen for telephone/copy/fax expenses on December 5.

$15.60
•Quips ‘n’ Quotes Post Office, 5011 North 10th in McAllen, as a reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on December 12.

$8.64
•HEB, 901 Trenton Road in McAllen, for a turkey donation reimbursement to Ricardo López-Guerra on November 22.

By DAVID A. DIAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

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Sen. Hinojosa files bill to allow greater access to state government documents

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Friday, February 16, filed Senate Bill 446 to implement an Open Document Format for all government documents in Texas to insure that documents in Texas are free and accessible to every Texan.

SB 446 levels the playing field for multiple software providers and saves money for Texans since they will not have to buy specific software to access government documents.

Hinojosa said his bill will ensure that public documents are accessible to everyone in the future, and that Texas can manage its government documents in the most cost affordable way.

“As a representative of the people of Texas, I want to insure that our historical documents and our future government documents are always accessible to the people they belong too,” Hinojosa said. “Senate bill 446 allows our documents to be presented in an open format. Most Texans don’t realize that the fine print in corporate licensing agreements is creating a legal barrier that could deny access for future generations down the road.”

Jake Knoblach, founder of Uptime Computing, based in Austin, said that he was pleased to hear that Texas will be among the first states to begin using an open document format.

“Texans can be proud today knowing that Sen. Hinojosa understands that our government cannot be truly open when the people’s documents are kept in closed digital formats,” Knoblach said.

Open Document Format (ODF) is available for free and compatible with several different software packages. Massachusetts has already adopted Open Document Format for all of its government documents.

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Rep. Peña files bill seeking $5 million in state funding for UT RAHC in Edinburg

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has filed legislation which proposes to secure $5 million in state funding for the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center at Edinburg. Peña filed House Bill 1375, which would appropriate the funds beginning in September 2007.

“We have a first-class research facility next the campus of the University of Texas Pan American,” said Peña. “These $5 million will help recruit and staff the RAHC with first-class scientists to match.”

Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, President of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, lauded Peña’s efforts.

“The $5 million dollars is essential for the overall growth of the Regional Academic Health Center and the economic impact to the Rio Grande Valley and our great State of Texas.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio administers the RAHC’s medical education division in Harlingen and the medical research division in Edinburg. UTPA serves as a partner in providing faculty, administrative and research support for Edinburg’s facility. Research areas may include diabetes, emerging infectious diseases, aging, environmental health, mental health and health services.

“The RAHC not only serves as a medical research facility but it can spur economic development in our community,” said Peña. ‘”The influx of scientists, researchers and technology can have the effect of creating businesses to support their projects.”

The text of House Bill 1375 follows:

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED

AN ACT

relating to making an appropriation to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for the purpose of supporting the Regional Academic Health Center.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1. In addition to other amounts appropriated for the state fiscal biennium beginning September 1, 2007, the amount of $5 million is appropriated for that biennium out of the general
revenue fund to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for the purpose of supporting the Regional Academic Health Center established under Section 74.611, Education Code.

SECTION 2. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect on the 91st day after the last day of the legislative session.

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.

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Texas Daily Newspaper Association opposes public information restrictions proposed by some Valley lawmakers

The Texas Daily Newspaper Association, a membership service organization representing newspaper publishers and editors of Texas daily newspapers, is tracking state legislation that affects the media and the public. Included in the list of legislation it is tracking are several measures by Valley lawmakers.

Those bills, and the TDNA’s position on those measures as of February 19, follows:

•Senate Bill 74 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville
The Texas Press Association OPPOSES SB 74.

Relating to the creation of an address confidentiality program to assist victims of family violence, sexual assault, or stalking in maintaining confidential addresses.

Type: public information

Status: referred to State Affairs, 1/23

Comments: [SAME AS HB 569 by Verónica Gonzáles.] Would amend Code of Criminal Procedure chapter 56, so that victims could participate in an address confidentiality program. Requires attorney general to destroy all information relating to a participant on the third anniversary of the date of participation in the program.

•House Bill 569 by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen
The Texas Daily Newspaper Association OPPOSES HB 569

Relating to the creation of an address confidentiality program to assist victims of family violence, sexual assault, or stalking in maintaining confidential addresses.

Type: public information

Status: referred to Juvenile Justice, 2/6/07

Comments: [SAME AS SB 74 by Lucio.] Would amend Code of Criminal Procedure by adding Subchapter C titled ADDRESS CONFIDENTIALITY PROGRAM FOR VICTIMS OF FAMILY VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT, OR STALKING. This simply may be conforming language: substantial protections already in statute, under Public Information Act 552.138 titled FAMILY VIOLENCE SHELTER CENTER and SEXUAL ASSAULT PROGRAM INFORMATION.

•House Bill 597 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City

The Texas Daily Newspaper Association OPPOSES HB 597.

Relating to the creation of an address confidentiality program to assist victims of family violence or stalking in maintaining confidential addresses.

Type: public information

Status: referred to Juvenile Justice, 2/6/07

Comments: Would amend Code of Criminal Procedure by adding Subchapter C titled ADDRESS CONFIDENTIALITY PROGRAM FOR VICTIMS OF FAMILY VIOLENCE OR STALKING. This simply may be conforming language: substantial protections already in statute, under Public Information Act 552.138 titled FAMILY VIOLENCE SHELTER CENTER and SEXUAL ASSAULT PROGRAM INFORMATION. See similar bills, HB 172 by Raymond and HB 569 by Gonzáles.

•House Bill 1042 by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg

The Texas Daily Newspaper Association OPPOSES HB 1042..

Relating to excepting certain crime victim information from required disclosure under the public information law.

Type: public information

Status: referred to Criminal Jurisprudence, 2/12/07

Comments: [SAME AS SB 636 by Hegar.] Would amend Public Information Act, Section 552.132, Government Code, titled EXCEPTION: CONFIDENTIALITY OF CRIME VICTIM INFORMATION. Adds “claimant” to the exception.

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TV news icon Dan Rather addresses students and public at the University of Texas-Pan American

Distinguished TV journalist Dan Rather described himself as lifetime reporter not only from Texas but “of Texas” to a packed house at The University of Texas-Pan American Fine Arts Auditorium on Tuesday, February 13.

Rather addressed students, faculty and community members as the third speaker in this academic year’s Distinguished Speakers Series.

Still looking fit and strong of voice at age 75, Rather reflected on his beginnings in a business where he called himself lucky and how journalism had changed over the years from his start at a small radio station in Huntsville, Texas while going to college at then Sam Houston State Teacher’s College.

My goal early on was to become a world-class reporter with quality, integrity and trustworthiness,” said Rather, who only 48 hours earlier had been in Kabul, Afghanistan preparing a story for his current weekly news show “Dan Rather Reports” on the new cable channel HDNet. Rather left CBS in 2005 after more than 40 years with the network.

“I am humbled that I have been so blessed and lucky to be in journalism for as long as I have and that I have been able to live my dream,” said Rather, who has won numerous accolades for his work including Emmy and Peabody awards.

Rather, who first went to Afghanistan in 1980 during the Soviet invasion of the country, told local reporters at a press conference that there are great differences between Iraq and Afghanistan and predicted that 2007 would be a particularly bloody and expensive year for Afghanistan.

“In the long sweep of history, what happens in Afghanistan may be even more important to U.S. national security and peace and stability in the world than what happens in Iraq,” he said.

Another situation, Rather said, that is especially threatening to U.S. national security is the increasing influence of the drug cartels in northern Mexico, calling it an underreported important story.

“There is a tendency to say ‘it’s Mexico, it’s down there.’ But, what happens in Mexico affects everyone in the United States,” he said.

To a question about his use over the years of colorful, often folksy analogies and descriptions during live broadcasts, that have come to be called “Ratherisms,” Rather said they stemmed from growing up in Texas around people who talked that way.

“My father worked with his back and his hands all his life in the oil fields. It made the day go easier if you didn’t describe things the same old way every time. For example, you can say ‘the boss is mad’ but it gives everyone a little smile if you say ‘the boss is as mad as a rained-on rooster,’” the Wharton, Texas native said.

The Distinguished Speaker Series is funded by student fees with the goal of bringing prestigious speakers offering different world view perspectives to help educate and inspire students. During a private dinner with a group of student leaders and University administrators, Rather was able to share a bit of his story on how he became a journalist and where the future of media is headed before fielding questions.

Rather discussed with students the role of journalism in politics. He said journalists are a part of the “system of checks and balances” for the country as well as its watchdog.

“What does a good watchdog do? A good watchdog barks at everything that is suspicious … A watchdog is not an attack dog,” he said. “Despite what some people will have you believe, this is my opinion, the greater danger is not that the press in its watchdog role will become an attack dog, the greater threat is that it will become a lapdog.”

He also touched on how the Internet has changed the way the public gets its news. While Rather said he was bullish on use of the Internet in news reporting, he worries about its lack of accountability and said as the world dives deeper into the Internet era, a new definition for “news” will have to be identified.

“We need to redefine who is and who isn’t a journalist, and what is a journalist,” he said. “I will come straight out at you and be candid and I would prefer that this not nail me as yesterday’s man, but about this I am a little old fashioned. Not everybody who has some information and puts it out is a journalist or at least in my opinion is worthy of the name journalist.”

Before his remarks and a question and answer session at his public presentation to an audience of more than 700, Rather asked for a moment of silence to honor the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather, who has covered combat at the front lines from Vietnam to Iraq, several times choked back emotion when talking about covering American troops and his other significant life experiences.

Rather said his career started in an institution very much like UTPA where a lot of students were the first in their families to attend college. His parents, he said, never got an education beyond the ninth grade but recalled that his father was an avid reader of newspapers, calling them a “poor man’s University” and instilled in Rather the idea that news was important. That coupled with growing up hearing world-renown journalist Edward R. Murrow’s “This is London” reports during the London blitz in World War II cemented his goal to be a great reporter.

“Radio became my best friend. His (Murrow’s) reports were not only known for their news value but also for their immediacy, for the way they took the listener right into the heart of what was happening,” said Rather, noting Murrow’s coverage helped changed the course of history and showed Rather the power of great journalism.

“The news is the raw material of democracy. It is the best and sometimes only way for citizens to assess whether our elected leaders, our laws and our policies are serving our interests or not,” he said.

Rather expressed concern about the greater concentration of ownership of news outlets in fewer hands, many by conglomerates where news is not their primary business and where an important news story might conflict with the interest of one of their other businesses and be suppressed or with reporters being told how to write the news.

“News of integrity often begins and ends with news owners who have guts,” he said.

Rather ended his talk by giving the audience the best definition of news that he has found and encouraging continued interest by people, especially young people in current events and public life.

“News is something that you the public needs; it is something that is important for the public to know which someone, somewhere, most often a powerful person doesn’t want you to know. That’s news, all the rest is advertising,” he said. “Consider your news sources with care. Demand accuracy and truth from your news and from your elected leaders. Don’t be afraid, as too many of us journalists have become, of asking the tough questions. In a democracy, questioning authority is the purest form of patriotism.”

For Elvis Cavazos, a senior majoring in chemistry, meeting Rather at the dinner was very exciting and something he will always remember. He said he was amazed at how someone of Rather’s stature was so down to earth and approachable.

“I really enjoyed the fact that he is from Texas and that he has not lost any of that Texan mentality and I really enjoyed learning that after traveling the world he still identifies himself as a Texan rather than a citizen of the world or a member of the global community,” Cavazos said.

The Weslaco native said he appreciated hearing Rather’s own personal stories and his views on journalism and the direction the country is heading.

“I guess the main lesson I learned was to do the things you want to do and to not let anyone, no matter their position or your position, affect your decision in life,” Cavazos said.

••••••

Edinburg school board moves to make campus safety a priority, hires 18 more officers for elementary schools

In keeping with its commitment to make school safety a high priority, the Edinburg school board in December approved the funding for 18 new Police Security Officers (PSOs) to serve the district’s elementary schools who have not had the presence of security on their campuses, announced Gilberto Garza, Jr. interim superintendent of schools.

After a recent successful job fair at the Central Administration building specifically to fill new security officer positions, the Edinburg school district hired 18 new PSOs from among 100 plus applicants, said Garza.

The school board voted to amend the budget by $256,626 to hire the PSOs effective January 4 through the remainder of the 2006-2007 school year. The budget amendment covered costs for officer salaries for 97 days; costs for employee uniforms and equipment; and costs for employee benefits. The costs for the PSOs for the 2007-2008 school year will be included in the new budget when it is prepared.

“The board of trustees and the school district are completely and totally committed to making school safety a high priority,” said Garza. “We want to make every effort possible to ensure that our students, faculty, staff and parent volunteers who attend school and/or work at our 35 campuses are safe and secure each and every day.”

The addition of 18 officers brings the number of PSOs the district has to 40. B Because PSOs are not certified police officers, they are not licensed to carry firearms, but they do provide a police presence nevertheless. The district also has 50 commissioned police officers who are armed.

Garza said that each of the middle schools have three police officers; three PSOs; and a truancy officer to help the principal and staff maintain order and provide security. Each of the high schools has three police officers; four PSOs; a truancy officer; and a camera monitor for the security cameras, said Garza.

Garza said the Edinburg CISD is also implementing other efforts to address campus safety. He said every school campus has its own Emergency Operations, a plan that custom fits their school and its needs.

Additionally, Garza said there are school guidance activities; enforcement of the Student Code of Conduct; Crisis Management training and procedures; mutual aid partnerships with local, county and state law enforcement agencies; safety and security drills; campus visitor check-in procedures; and Lockdown and Intruder procedures that are some of the everyday Standard Operating Procedures the district is using to address school safety.

“Our lockdown procedures are initiated whenever it is determined by our campus principals there is an immediate and/or potential threat to our students and campus staff,” said Garza. “The purpose of the lockdown is to protect students and staff by keeping them inside of building and separating them from any and all imminent danger by locking doors and avoiding window areas, closing curtains and turning off lights.”

“During a lockdown, no one is allowed to enter or exit a building until the all-clear signal is given,” said Garza. “Our campus staff and students are familiar with the lockdown process.”

Visitors to school campuses are asked to sign in and show identity if they are seeking to check out students, Garza said.

“Our procedures call for students to only be released to individuals who have been authorized to pick up or check out students,” said Garza. “If an issue were ever to arise, rest assured that the campus principal, staff, central administration and school district police will mobilize to address the issue and bring about as quick and immediate a resolution as possible.”

••••••

Bill to set up video lottery terminals is filed by Rep. Flores

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, on Tuesday, February 13, filed legislation that will bring video lottery terminals (VLTs) to Texas, helping to keep gaming dollars in the state and provide more than $1.2 billion in new annual revenue.

HB 1405 would also help save the Texas horseracing industry, which is struggling to compete with tracks in neighboring states that offer alternative forms of gaming, including VLTs.

“When it comes to spending gaming dollars, it’s clear that a vast majority of Texans would rather spend it inside state lines,” said Flores. “Authorizing VLTs at locations where gaming is already conducted, such as racetracks, will level the playing field with neighboring states, bring significant new revenue, and promote economic activity around racing and agribusiness.”

Under HB 1405, VLTs – electronically stimulated games of chance displayed on video terminals – connected to a state-selected and state-controlled video lottery central system are to be placed at locations determined in accordance with the law.

According to the bill, only state-controlled video lottery games would be authorized to be conducted in Texas and only in locations licensed as video lottery terminal establishments, including racetracks and locations on Native American lands. Ultimately, voters would have to approve authorizing VLTs in Texas if the constitutional amendment passes both chambers.

HB 1405 will also help the agribusiness sector, which would benefit from increased sales of feed and equipment such as travel trailers. The Texas Department of Agriculture states that the overall Texas horse industry represents more than $16 billion in total expenditures. Of that amount, more than 33 percent can be attributed to racing and related production. The Texas racing industry is currently struggling to compete with neighboring states, which offer legalized alternative forms of gaming at their racetracks, and thus higher purses. Many horse breeders and related businesses are leaving the state due to low purses.

“Each year, billions of dollars leave Texas for neighboring states that have VLTs, which, among other things, is hampering our racing and agriculture industries,” said Flores. “This bill will help save the horseracing and related industries in Texas and stop the export of a homegrown state resource.”

During the 79th Legislature, the Perryman Group, an economic analyst firm, reported that VLTs operating tracks in Texas would provide almost $1.5 billion in yearly state revenue and would create 72,000 jobs. Much of the revenue would come from the reported $2.8 billion that leaves Texas every year when citizens go across state lines for gaming.

Under Flores’ bill, the state would receive 35 percent of the net terminal income for each video lottery terminal. The retailer or manager would retain 65 percent. The state share would be deposited in the State Video Lottery Account, which is a special account in the general revenue fund.

Flores serves as Chairman of the Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures and represents District 36, which includes parts or all of the Cities of Hidalgo, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Palmview, Penitas, and Pharr.

••••••

Hidalgo County delegation courts legislators

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas and several officials were in Austin on Friday, February 14, to visit state legislators at the Texas Capital in hopes of winning more state funding for their constituents.

“We send letters and make phone calls, so we’re in constant contact with our state representatives and senators,” Salinas said. “And we know they’re fighting hard for Hidalgo County.

“But there’s nothing like showing up on the House floor or the Senate floor and having the rest of the state take a look at us and making the connection to our needs here,” Salinas added. “We want more attention from the state for South Texas—and not just for immigration concerns, either. The state needs to help us with health care, roads and infrastructure.”

The delegation’s scheduled included resolutions in honor of Hidalgo County’s history and achievements which were read on the House and Senate floors, where Salinas met Speaker of the House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

••••••

Hidalgo County honored by state lawmakers during Hidalgo County Day at Capitol

House Resolution 386, filed on February 14. recognized the history and achievements of Hidalgo County, one of the largest metropolitan regions of the state.

The legislation was jointly authored by Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

The test of the resolution follows:

RESOLUTION 386

WHEREAS, Citizens of Hidalgo County are gathering at the State Capitol to celebrate Hidalgo County Day on February 14, 2007; and

WHEREAS, Inhabited by humans for 11,000 years, this region of the Rio Grande delta has been the home of the Coahuiltecans, the Karankawa, the Lipan Apaches, and the Comanche; and

WHEREAS, The first Spanish visitors arrived in the 17th century; in 1749 Jose de Escandon established four towns along the Rio Grande; 19 land grants were issued in the area by the governments of Spain and Mexico, leading to the creation of many successful cattle and sheep ranches; and

WHEREAS, After the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the region became part of the United States and a popular way station for prospectors traveling to the California Gold Rush;
established in 1852, Hidalgo County was named for Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, an advocate for Mexican independence; in the early 20th century, the town of Chapin was renamed Edinburg and made county seat; and

WHEREAS, The arrival of the railway in 1904 helped introduce large-scale farming in the county, particularly of citrus, cotton, corn, and sugarcane; with the establishment in 1924 of a regional
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Weslaco, the towns along Highway 83 began to thrive and came to be described as “the longest main street in the world”; and

WHEREAS, While farming and ranching remain important to the county, the discovery of oil in 1934 increased the region’s prosperity; today the county is a major port of entry into the United States, and the shipment of goods from Mexico is an essential part of the county’s economy; and

WHEREAS, The educational needs of the county’s citizens are well served by The University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg and South Texas College in McAllen; the county also boasts the Museum for South Texas History, which explores the history and blended cultural heritage of South Texas, and the International Museum of Art and Science, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution; the Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorale performs a six-concert subscription season every year, as well as eight educational concerts; and

WHEREAS, Residents and visitors alike enjoy the many attractions of Hidalgo County; the Texas Citrus Fiesta in Mission every winter features a carnival and the Parade of Oranges; in Weslaco the Rio Grande Valley Onion Festival in April includes food booths, entertainment, and onion recipe contests; the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show in Mercedes draws an average attendance of
160,000 every March; with nearly 400 species of birds, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo is an international destination for birders; and

WHEREAS, Led by County Judge J. D. Salinas and County Commissioners Sylvia S. Handy, Hector “Tito” Palacios, Joe M. Flores, and Óscar L. Garza, Jr., the residents of this dynamic region of the Lone Star State have much to be proud of, as they celebrate the past and work to build a bright and prosperous future; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby recognize February 14, 2007, as Hidalgo County Day at the State Capitol and extend to the visiting delegation
sincere best wishes for an informative and enjoyable visit to Austin.

••••••
“Jessica’s Law” set for public hearing on Tuesday, February 20, before House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence

The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence announced on Wednesday, February14, that t it would consider House Bill 8, also known as Jessica’s Law, in a public hearing on Tuesday, February 20.

The bill’s author, Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, said the legislation will make Texas a leader in the fight against sex offenders.

“In Texas, we have always set the mark for other states when it comes to the way we deal with our most evil and violent criminals,” Riddle said. “There is nothing more evil than a person who would sexually assault a child, and there is no higher priority for this legislature than making sure our children are safe from these predators.”

Jessica Lunsford was only 9 years old in February of 2005 when she was abducted from her bedroom in Florida by convicted sex offender, John Couey. He took her to his house and sexually assaulted her for three days before burying her alive in his backyard.

The Florida legislature was the first to pass “Jessica’s Law” that same year, and since then the title has been shared by dozens of pieces of legislation in more than 20 states that aim to increase penalties for sex offenders.

Riddle said HB 8 would deny parole to those convicted of sexually assaulting victims younger than 14 years old on a first offense, and would make repeat offenders eligible for the death penalty on a second offense. The bill also lengthens by ten years the statute of limitations for sexual assault of a child, and mandates GPS monitoring of civilly committed offenders.

The committee will meet at 2:00 p.m. in room E2.016.

Riddle is a member of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, serving as chairman of budget and oversight for that panel on the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, and as such, determines what legislation is heard by that committee.

The committee hearing agenda follows:

HB 62

Leibowitz
Relating to the proximity of the residences of certain sex offenders or sexually violent predators to schools; imposing a criminal penalty.

HB 63

Leibowitz
Relating to the proximity of a school bus stop to the residence of a sex offender.

HB 165

Raymond
Relating to certain requirements imposed on a sex offender who enters the premises of a public park.

HB 8

Riddle / et al.
Relating to the prosecution, punishment, and supervision of certain sex offenders and to certain crimes involving sex offenders.

HB 148

Phillips
Relating to the eligibility of certain repeat sex offenders for release on parole.

HB 1042

Peña
Relating to excepting certain crime victim information from required disclosure under the public information law.

••••••

Speaker Craddick appoints Rep. Guillen to serve on Border Legislative Conference

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, on Friday, February 16, was appointed by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to represent the Texas House of Representatives on the Border Legislative Conference (BLC).

“I’m pleased to name Ryan to the BLC,” Craddick said. “His motivation and dedication will greatly benefit the conference.”

The Border Legislative Conference is a binational program that brings together legislators from the ten U.S. and Mexico border states to address challenges and economic opportunities common to both countries. The BLC serves as a mechanism for sustained dialogue and collaboration among its members. Its goal is to strengthen legislative institutions and empower state legislators to develop effective public policy for the border region.

“I am honored by my appointment,” Guillen said. “I hope to make a contribution to the BLC with my ideas and hard work as we focus on the most effective ways to improve the quality of life on both sides of the US-Mexico border.”

Guillen was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2002 and is currently serving his third term. He is vice chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and also serves on the Calendars and Natural Resources Committees.

••••••

Rep. Peña votes for measure that would reduce school property taxes for elderly, disabled home owners

The House Committee on Ways and Means on Wednesday, February 14, unanimously voted in favor of legislation that will cut school property taxes for the elderly and disabled.

State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is a member of the tax writing committee. He is also a coauthor of the tax proposal carried in House Bill 5 and House Joint Resolution 1.

“This is a significant step towards cutting property taxes for our senior and disabled Texans,” said Peña. “There is no reason why these valued citizens should not enjoy the full tax relief granted to other Texans. This is a wonderful example of another bipartisan effort to bring meaningful relief to our community. I am happy to have had a part in this worthwhile effort.”

Property tax cuts passed in the last legislative session exempted those homeowners who qualify for a school property tax rate freeze.

HB 5 would provide a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of property taxes that school districts may impose, reflecting any reduction in the rate of those taxes. HJR 1 requires that the proposed constitutional amendment be put to the voters of the state of Texas.

The Wednesday, February 14 vote occurred during the first meeting this session of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Peña said he was eager to work on and pass legislation that would reduce the tax burden on those members of our community who could least afford it.

“We have a duty to provide a fair and equitable tax system,” said Peña. “I will keep working to ensure that tax relief goes to those who need it the most.”

According to the bill analysis of the measure, whose principal author is Rep. Leo Burman, R-Tyler, House Bill 5 was prompted by the following events:

During the 79th Legislative, 3rd Called Session, legislation was passed to provide homeowners with a reduction in their ad valorem taxes. Under Section 1-b (d), Article VIII, of the Texas Constitution, homeowners who are 65 years of age or older, or homeowners who have a disability, are eligible to receive a ceiling on the amount of school property taxes they will owe on their homestead based on the amount they owed the year they qualified for the freeze. Therefore, in order for elderly and disabled Texans to receive a proportional reduction in ad valorem taxes, there must be an allowance for such a reduction in the Texas Constitution and a statutory change in law.

HB 5 would provide a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that school districts may impose on residence homesteads of the elderly or disabled to reflect any reduction in the school districts tax rate and would provide protection to a school district that would lose any local revenue.

••••••

Sen. Lucio votes for lifting spending cap and extending school property tax cuts to seniors

In order to pay for the local property tax cut passed last session, the Texas Senate voted on Wednesday, February 14, voted to approve a measure that would allow the state budget to exceed the spending cap for the upcoming biennium.

According to the state constitution, the budget may not exceed estimated economic growth in Texas, as determined by the Legislative Budget Board. This year the LBB determined that growth was anticipated at 13.11 percent, which caps the budget at $63 billion in non-dedicated state funds. Cutting property taxes down to $1 per $100 valuation will require $14 billion in general revenue funds to offset the revenue loss to local school districts, but that expenditure would put the state over the budget cap.

On Wednesday, Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 20 before the Senate, which would permit lawmakers to write a budget that would exceed the spending cap, permitting an appropriation of $14.19 billion devoted solely to cutting property taxes by one-third.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, said he voted for Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 20 because he said it would guarantee property tax relief “as we promised during the last special legislative session and to move the budgetary process forward.

“Without this vote our hands would have been tied and I would not have been able to work on a budget that I hope will restore funding to the Children’s Health Insurance Program or other vital state services,” Lucia said. “However, my primary reason for giving my approval to lifting the budget cap was for our school children. Nothing is more important to me than our children and funding our public schools adequately.”

Ogden said this resolution would allow the Legislature to deliver on last session’s promised cuts without drastically slashing government services.

“If we are going to live up to our promises, which is to cut property taxes by $14 billion and pay for it with general revenue, and we are going to write a state budget that is at least as good as the base bill, we have got to vote to exceed the constitutional spending cap of $63 billion by at least $9 billion,” Ogden said.

Also Wednesday, the Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 13, by Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco. This measure would pass along the one-third property tax cut to Texans over 65, whose property taxes were frozen at a lower rate by past Legislatures.
Lucio said he also supported that measure.

“I was also glad to support SJR 13 that will extend property tax cuts to our seniors. Our seniors, more than most, deserve to be part of the property tax cuts we enacted last year,” Lucio explained.

••••••

Francisco Barrientes, Edinburg war hero, state role model, honored by Texas House of Representatives

Francisco Barrientes, who recently had an Edinburg middle school named in his honor, was again recognized with a House resolution documenting his many achievements on behalf of his community and nation.

On Thursday, February 15, the House of Representatives approved House Resolution 364, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

The text of the resolution follows:

RESOLUTION 364

WHEREAS, Francisco Barrientes of Edinburg is receiving due acknowledgment for his years of exemplary service to the youth of his community with the dedication of a new middle school in his
honor; and

WHEREAS, A lifelong resident of the town he is proud to call home, Mr. Barrientes has registered thousands of hours of volunteer work in behalf of area children over the past 35 years; his outstanding contributions to public education have been previously recognized by Governor Rick Perry and the State Board of Education with a prestigious Texas Hero for Children award; and

WHEREAS, This graduate of Edinburg High School and decorated veteran of the U.S. Army dedicated himself to making a positive difference in the lives of his fellow man after sustaining serious injuries in the Vietnam War; miraculously surviving enemy grenade fire and a gunshot wound to the face, he recognized he had been given a second chance at life, and that new life would be one of meaningful service to others; and

WHEREAS, Ably fulfilling his mission, Mr. Barrientes has given wholeheartedly of his time and talents to his community; his efforts at local schools began in 1980, and over the last 2-1/2
decades, he has volunteered more than 22,000 hours to the children and staff of Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary, fulfilling a range of duties, including assisting with traffic control, helping to coordinate student transportation for field trips, and working to ensure the success of fund-raising events; in addition, he is often called on by parents, who seek his wise counsel in instilling positive values in their children; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Barrientes also has been involved with the Edinburg Parks and Recreation Department and Edinburg Pony League baseball; in addition, he is a regular speaker at Veteran’s Day activities across the Rio Grande Valley, as well as a longtime and valued member of Holy Family Catholic Church; and

WHEREAS, A loving husband and father of three, Francisco Barrientes is an inspiration to all those whose lives have been enriched by his commitment to the youth of Edinburg, and as the halls of the middle school bearing his name are soon filled with children, we may hope that they too will come to learn of and respect this extraordinary man and that their hearts are filled with his sincere desire to serve; and

WHEREAS, Representative Aaron Peña has justly recognized Francisco Barrientes by authoring this resolution in his behalf during the Regular Session of the 80th Texas Legislature; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate Francisco Barrientes on the naming of an Edinburg middle school in his honor and extend to him best wishes for the future; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for Mr. Barrientes as an expression of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives.

••••••

José Delgado, 2006 honor graduate of Edinburg High School, honored by Texas House of Representatives

José Delgado, an Edinburg man, who is now a student at Texas A&M University majoring in aerospace engineering, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his many achievements during his young life.

The public recognition, contained in House Resolution 365 filed by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, follows:

RESOLUTION 365

WHEREAS, José Delgado, a 2006 honor graduate of Edinburg High School, was named a 2006 Texas Migrant Interstate Program (TMIP) Exemplary Student at a ceremony on South Padre Island on November 17, 2006; and

WHEREAS, Currently enrolled at Texas A&M University in College Station, where he is majoring in aerospace engineering, Mr. Delgado was one of three students selected by TMIP and the Texas
Education Agency to receive this prestigious honor; and

WHEREAS, During his years as a migrant student, Mr. Delgado maintained a high standard of academic success while staying actively involved in the migrant education program; and

WHEREAS, José is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Guadalupe Delgado, who support him in his desire to take a proactive role in giving migrant students the opportunity to break away from the migrant life cycle; and

WHEREAS, The impressive achievements of José Delgado are a testament to the determination as well as abilities of this remarkable young man, and he truly may look forward to a future bright with promise; and

WHEREAS, Representative Aaron Peña has justly recognized José Delgado by authoring this resolution in his behalf during the Regular Session of the 80th Texas Legislature; now, therefore, be
it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate José Delgado on his impressive academic accomplishments and extend to him best wishes for
continued success and happiness; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for Mr. Delgado as an expression of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives.

••••••

Manuel Benavidez, Jr., founding board member of South Texas College trustee, honored by House of Representatives

Manuel Benavidez, Jr., a current member of the South Texas College Board of Trustees who is a founding member of the two-county community college, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his many efforts and successes on behalf of higher education in deep South Texas.

House Resolution 417, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, February 16.

The text of the resolution follows:

RESOLUTION 417

WHEREAS, Manuel Benavidez, Jr., of Rio Grande City received the 2006 Western Region Trustee Leadership Award from the Association of Community College Trustees, presented at the ACCT
Annual Community College Leadership Congress in Orlando, Florida, on October 12, 2006; and

WHEREAS, A founding member of the Board of Trustees of South Texas College in McAllen, Mr. Benavidez was appointed by Governor Ann Richards at the time of STC’s founding in 1993 to represent Starr County in the creation of a new community college for South Texas; he won a six-year term as trustee in 2000 and was reelected in 2006; and

WHEREAS, As a member of STC’s Board of Trustees, he has served as chair, vice chair, and secretary of the board; he has also chaired the Facilities Committee and served on the Education and Workforce Committee; and

WHEREAS, A staunch advocate for the growth of STC, Mr. Benavidez was instrumental in helping the college pass a $98.7 million bond for the expansion of its five campuses; he worked to include STC as one of three Texas community colleges offering a bachelor of applied technology degree; at the Summit on College Readiness in February 2006, he opened the summit by addressing 150
educators, business leaders, and government officials on the need to prepare students for higher education; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Benavidez has been active in promoting community colleges generally; his testimony before the Texas Legislature to advocate allowing eligible high school students to attend
college-level technical classes while still in high school helped ensure enactment of such legislation; he served on the ACCT’s Board of Directors from 2003 to 2005, chairing the ACCT Diversity Committee during that same period; he has also been the Western Region representative for the Association of Latino Community College Trustees; and

WHEREAS, Mr. Benavidez was recognized at the ACCT Annual Congress in 2005 with the Lifetime Membership Award for his leadership on the issues of diversity and equal opportunity; he has
been an indispensable participant in the improvement of educational opportunities in Starr County and in the growth and success of South Texas College, and he is most deserving of special recognition; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate Manuel Benavidez, Jr., on his receipt of the 2006 Western Region Trustee Leadership Award from
the Association of Community College Trustees and extend to him best wishes for his continued success; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for Mr. Benavidez as a token of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives.

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Heart attack prevention bill will save lives, reduce costs

By Rep. René Oliveira

Coronary heart disease is the single largest killer of Americans, and responsible for more than one- half million deaths each year. Heart disease now kills more Hispanics than any other group in America. For decades, African Americans were heart disease’s most prevalent victims, but Hispanics now lead the nation in per capita heart disease-related deaths.

As a representative from the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley, and a beneficiary of a recent heart scan that saved me from a potentially life-threatening heart attack, I am proposing that insurance companies cover the costs of such heart scans in patients who are at risk of a heart attack through the Texas Heart Attack Prevention Bill, H.B. 1438, the first of its kind in the nation.

The Association of Eradication of Heart Attack analyzed the costs and benefits of heart scan screening tests. It determined that, in Texas, 4,300 cardiovascular disease deaths would be prevented each year through Computed Tomography, or CT scan screening, saving an estimated $1.6 billion annually.

Texas has learned the life-saving and cost-saving lessons of early detection and prevention of breast cancer through mammography which was once not covered by most insurers. Instead of reacting to a costly health catastrophe, pro-actively using the latest technology to save lives while reducing and containing long-term medical costs makes sense for both patients and insurers.

According to the Texas Heart Attack Prevention Bill, patients determined to be at intermediate or high risk by a formula considering age, family history, and other risk factors, would have their atherosclerosis tests (Heart CT Scan or Cartoid Artery Ultrasound) covered by insurance. Also, anyone with diabetes would be covered. The legislation limits the insurance reimbursement for the test to $200.

Currently, the test costs patients $300 to $600 or more, but many heart experts believe that the additional volume of tests being performed will reduce the costs of screening.

But costs associated with heart disease reach far beyond a hospital bill. The emotional toll on the victim’s family, loss of income, loss of productivity in the workplace, and the cost to employers of hiring and retraining new workers, are all significant.

Half of Americans who suffer heart attacks do not survive them. And 80 percent of men and women who suffer heart attacks would have been considered at low to intermediate risk the day before their events if tested by conventional means.

Most people are completely unaware that their lives are in danger until heart attack strikes. Any step we take to fight the nation’s number one killer, while reducing costs to patients and insurers alike, is a giant step in the right direction.

René Oliveira is state representative for District 37. A Democrat, Oliveira resides in Brownsville.

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Comprehensive wellness program proposed for state employees by Sen. Lucio

As part of his continuing effort to improve nutrition and overcome the obesity crisis among Texans, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, is proposing legislation that will enhance the health and wellness outlook of state employees through innovative policy.

Senate Bill 72 encourages employee participation in wellness activities through incentives, such as allowing all state employees to dedicate 30 minutes, three times per work week, to physical activity. They would also be encouraged to take advantage of on-site wellness seminars and allowed eight hours of additional leave time if they fulfilled certain health requirements, including a physical examination and health risk assessment.

“It is my earnest hope that we motivate as many state employees as we can through programs that should produce positive results, like weight loss, stress reduction, and improved mental and physical health,” said Lucio. “The goal is a healthier and happier state workforce.”

The bill would create a 17-member Worksite Wellness Advisory Board, administratively connected to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). In addition to the Advisory Board, the bill would establish wellness councils at state agencies to generate employee involvement and identify inner-agency wellness policies. An agency with over 5,000 employees would be required to hire a full-time wellness coordinator.

The Advisory Board would have to:

• adopt an online health risk assessment that employees can utilize
• create and maintain internet links to health links for employees
• design an outreach campaign to educate state employees
• create a list of healthy food items and encourage cafeterias to serve items recognized by the board as “healthy”
• negotiate gym discounts for state employees
• host an annual conference for agency wellness councils
• review best practices and participation rates.

Overweight and obesity costs for Texas adults that included healthcare expenditures, indirect lost productivity, costs of illness and premature death for 2001 totaled $10.5 billion. It is projected that it will cost this state $26.3 billion for overweight- and obesity-related problems by 2040.

“Certain parts of Texas rank among the highest in the country in rates of diabetes and heart disease caused by poor nutritional habits and inactivity that result in overweight and obesity,” said Lucio. “SB 72 should be a beacon of promise in alleviating these and other life-threatening illnesses among one of the state’s largest workforce segments.”

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Senate Higher Education subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Zaffirini, held first hearing on February 12

The Senate Higher Education Subcommittee held its first hearing of the 80th Legislative Session on Monday, February 12, and heard testimony from Dr. Raymund Paredes, commissioner of higher education, who reviewed the status of higher education in Texas and priority issues.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chair of the subcommittee, described the legislative panel’s higher education priorities and praised Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s leadership in appointing the subcommittee and defining its important charges.

“The subcommittee’s priorities include tuition deregulation, the top ten percent law, financial aid, affordability, graduation rates, accessibility and incentives to improve the efficiency and transparency of our higher education institutions,” Zaffirini said.

Paredes summarized strategies associated with the “Closing the Gaps by 2015” plan that seeks to close gaps in higher education participation rates; the state’s need to graduate more students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and the importance of early education in creating a “college going culture.” He also underscored the disproportionate representation of low-income students at community colleges and the need to improve transfer rates from two- to four-year institutions.

“Our priorities include improving access to and the affordability of higher education, especially for low- and middle-income families,” said Zaffirini. “We must examine the state financial aid programs to see how we can make them more efficient and effective in achieving the goals of Closing the Gaps.”

Dewhurst recently re-appointed Zaffirini to chair the subcommittee. Members are Sens. Kip Averitt, R-Waco; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Royce West, D-Dallas; and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

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Sen. Hutchison files bill to establish Hispanic Serving Institutions graduate program

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, a member of the Health, Education Labor and Pension Committee, on Tuesday, February 13, introduced the Next Generation Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Act, legislation to establish an HSI graduate program.

“Hispanic-Serving Institutions strengthen our educational system and enhance academic opportunities,” said Sen. Hutchison. “This legislation builds on the early success of HSIs to create a graduate program which will help open new doors for our students.”

The legislation provides fellowships and support services for graduate students as well as facility and faculty improvements. It provides new technology for distance education and collaborative arrangements with other institutions. In addition, the legislation increases the authorization of the current HSI program to $175 million and authorizes $125 million for the new HSIs graduate program for Fiscal year 2008.

Sen. Hutchison organized and serves as the co-chair of the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Coalition in the Senate. Under her leadership, HSI funding has increased more than 800 percent since Fiscal Year 1995. This funding has allowed more of the 42 HSIs in Texas to receive development grants.

In November 2006, Sen. Hutchison passed a resolution that recognizes the national role of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities as an advocate and champion for Hispanic higher education and congratulates the organization on its 20th anniversary. The resolution further applauds HSIs for their work to provide quality education for all students and encourages the institutions and their supporters to continue their outstanding efforts.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities was founded in San Antonio, Texas with 18 founding member institutions. The organization has grown to include 207 certified HSIs, 126 associate members, 79 partners and over 45 institutions in Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Certified HSIs currently enroll more than half of all Hispanic students in college.

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Gov. Perry: First high-intensity phase of Operation Wrangler made Texas safer

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, February 13, announced that the first high intensity phase of Operation Wrangler led to the apprehension of numerous criminals and drug shipments and made Texans safer. The first high-intensity phase of Operation Wrangler was conducted from January 17 to January 29, and involved the coordinated efforts of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Operation Wrangler remains an active law enforcement operation and will reenter the high intensity or “surge” phase in various geographic regions at various times in the future.

“The initial high intensity phase of Operation Wrangler has taken hundreds of criminals and thousands of pounds of illegal drugs off Texas streets,” Perry said. “This latest operation has not only made Texans safer, it underscores the need for lawmakers to provide the $100 million Texas needs to continue these operations while the federal government implements new border security measures.”

Operation Wrangler is the second phase of Operation Rio Grande, which was launched February 2006 and reduced all crime by an average of 60 percent in sheriff-patrolled areas of border counties during five surge operations. Operation Wrangler is the statewide expansion of those highly successful border security surge operations.

“We have a border security strategy that works,” Perry said. “When we substantially increase law enforcement personnel and resources, we see a significant disruption of criminal and illegal activity.”

Under continuing Operation Wrangler efforts, Perry said his office will continue to coordinate and stage similar intelligence-driven security operations along the border and drug and human smuggling corridors across the state.

“The international drug cartels and human smuggling rings will not be given the advantage of knowing when or where these operations will occur, what type of activities they will encompass, or how long the operations will last,” Perry added. “But they can be certain that when it comes to border security, Texas is not sitting idly by.”

The Border Security Operations Center within the State Operations Center serves as a central point of coordination for state, local and federal officials during Operation Wrangler. The 11 Joint Operational Intelligence Centers (JOIC) are positioned throughout the state and provide real-time information and intelligence in support of these surge operations. The JOICs located at border patrol offices along the border include El Paso, Marfa, Del Rio, Laredo and McAllen. Other centers are located along smuggling corridors at area law enforcement departments in Houston, Corpus Christi, Garland, Waco, Lubbock and Midland. Several New Mexico law enforcement agencies, including the state police and the border sheriffs, participated in this coordinated effort.

In addition to the more than 1,700 Texas Army National Guard (TANG) troops Gov. Perry activated for Operation Jump Start to support U.S. Border Patrol activities, he activated an additional 604 troops, comprising 12 armed security platoons. The TANG will continue to be deployed to various crossovers along the Rio Grande River to support Operation Wrangler, and will be accompanied by a Border Patrol agent and a local law enforcement officer.

Local, state and federal agencies involved in the statewide surge of Operation Wrangler included local sheriffs’ offices and police departments; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Department of Transportation; the National Park Service; the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the Texas Civil Air Patrol; the Texas Cattleman’s Association; Texas Military Forces; Texas Task Force 1; the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Immigration & Customs Enforcement; the Railroad Police; the U.S. Transportation Security Agency; the U.S. Postal Service; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the University of Texas Center for Space Research. The above agencies and others will continue to work together, and targeted surge operations will be conducted based upon the evolving threat.

Perry has proposed that the Texas Legislature approve an additional $100 million during the legislative session to sustain border security efforts and ongoing operations.

“As I have said before, a strong Texas border means a safer America,” Perry said. “And until the federal government fulfills its responsibility to secure the nation’s borders, we will continue to exhaust all available means at the state level to secure the Texas-Mexico border and protect our families and communities.”

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Charles Gary Rodríguez sworn in by governor as Lieutenant General in the Texas National Guard

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, February 15, administered the oath of office to Charles Gary Rodríguez as lieutenant general in the Texas National Guard. Lt. Gen. Rodriguez serves as the State of Texas Adjutant General and is stationed at Camp Mabry in Austin. As adjutant general, Rodríguez is responsible for command of more than 21,000 soldiers, airmen and civilians of the Texas military forces, which include the Texas Army and Air National Guard, the State Guard and the Adjutant General’s Department.

In September, Perry announced the promotion of Major General Rodríguez to the rank of lieutenant general in the Texas National Guard. On Thursday, February 15, Perry pinned a third star on Rodríguez, officially promoting him to lieutenant general. Very few Texas National Guardsmen earn this honor.

Rodríguez previously served on the development advisory board of the Texas A&M University College of Education as former co-chair of the education council in the San Antonio Greater Chamber of Commerce School Boards Committee. Additionally, he served eight years as a board member of Texas STARBASE, a youth development non-profit organization in Houston, and three years as president of the Graduate Alumni Association of the Union Institute.

A 1975 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Rodriguez received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering with a humanities concentration. He also received a Master of Arts degree in marketing research from Wheaton College Graduate School in Illinois, a master’s degree in marketing from Keller Graduate School of Management in Illinois, and a doctorate in philanthropic leadership from the Union Institute and University in Ohio.

Rodríguez received numerous military awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Commendation Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters), the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Reserve Component Achievement Award (with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters), the Overseas Service Ribbon, the TX Lone Star Distinguished Service Award, the TX Medal of Merit, the TX Faithful Service Medal, and the Air Assault Badge.

Rodríguez has more than 31 years of commissioned service and served as the Texas Assistant Adjutant General for Homeland Defense in the Texas Joint Force Headquarters, stationed in Austin. He is married to Cappy Rodriguez, a 20-year commissioned officer veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. Their two adult children are married and reside in San Antonio. Rodríguez is the son of the late Army Col. Joseph Rodríguez. His father received the Congressional Medal of Honor for service with valor during the Korean War. His mother lives in El Paso.

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Sens. Cornyn, Feinstein introduce bill to ensure Homeland Security funding is based on risk

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Vice Chairman of the Republican Conference, joined U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. on Thursday, February 15, to introduce bipartisan legislation requiring that federal homeland security grants for state and local governments be allocated on a risk-based assessment.

The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007, S. 608, would improve the way homeland security dollars are distributed and ensure funding goes to the most vulnerable places in the country in a fiscally responsible way.

“We must ensure that homeland security funding goes where it’s needed most,” Cornyn said. “It’s critical that we more effectively protect our nation’s citizens, vulnerable infrastructure and places where an attack could devastate the economy. So I hope our colleagues will support this bill to greatly improve the way homeland security resources are allocated.”

The Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act of 2007 would ensure that funding is most efficiently allocated by establishing a formula for homeland security grants based on risk, which takes into consideration threat, vulnerability and consequence. It requires states to quickly distribute federal funds to areas where they are most needed, provides greater flexibility and allows states to use the funding for other hazards consistent with federally established capability standards.

The Feinstein-Cornyn legislation would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002. It is an updated version of a bill introduced last year and is in line with Department of Homeland Security changes for 2007. It also simplifies the Urban Areas Security Initiative by ensuring that all previously eligible areas are certified.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill.

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One-Stop-Shop for auto and home insurance policies

By Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

Texans may get a “one-stop-shop” offering them homeowners and automobile insurance information with just a click of the mouse.

I recently filed Senate Bill 611 that would offer people the ability to log onto a website and view a listing of each insurer writing residential property and automobile insurance in this state.

An information vacuum has occurred since the Legislature and the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) allowed carriers to offer different homeowners insurance policies.

Since coverage levels vary so greatly between the different policies, policyholders cannot shop based on price alone.

Senate Bill 611 directs TDI and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) to develop this website allowing consumers to easily make side-by-side comparisons of different policies, rates charged, the percentage by which rates have fallen or risen in the past three years, as well as companies’ complaint data, enforcement actions, penalties, financial ratings and other relevant information.

All this information will help consumers choose the insurance company and the coverage that best meets their insurance needs.

Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, a statewide consumer advocacy and research organization actively involved with insurance issues, said that “this legislation will give homeowners greater ability to shop the insurance market. Homeowners need as much information as possible so that they can make smart and informed decisions.”

Information already published by TDI and OPIC should be gathered in one convenient place and publicized widely in order to help consumers shop the market.

As more people gain access to the Internet, and as we expand telecommunication services to rural and remote areas of the state, this bill can facilitate what is currently one of the most complex financial services to decipher and decide upon. If we require drivers to buy auto insurance and homebuyers to insure their properties, then we should simplify the insurance seeking process and make it more accessible. An informed consumer is a wiser shopper.

The proposed web site would include basic information, such as the insurer’s full name, address, phone and fax numbers and even email if available.

Whether an insurer uses credit scoring in underwriting would also be available on this site, as well as a link to the insurer’s credit model or a link explaining how to request the credit model. Also available would be an insurer’s financial rating and an explanation of the meaning and importance of the rating. I would venture to say that almost any question a person may have regarding these two types of insurance would be found on the website, and all would be provided at no cost to the consumer.

Insurers would have to report quarterly with the Commissioner of Insurance any changes in losses, premiums and market share since Jan. 1, 1993. Of course the Commissioner would in turn report to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House and the Legislature on market share, profits and losses, and other facets of the industry that affect each insurer.

As Mr. Winslow explains, “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.

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City Council sets Tuesday, February 20, work session on Sugar, Canton road work, will also consider retail center, baseball stadium projects

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 20, 2007

WORK SESSION AGENDA
6:30 P.M.

I. Discussion and Update on the Following Projects:
Sugar Road
Canton Road

REGULAR MEETING AGENDA
7:00 P.M.

I. CALL TO ORDER, ESTABLISH QUORUM.

A. Prayer.

B. Pledge of Allegiance by Noe Garza, Councilmember.

II. CERTIFICATION OF PUBLIC NOTICE.

III. PUBLIC COMMENTS.

IV. MAYOR’S REPORT.

V. CITY MANAGER’S REPORT.

VI. PRESENTATIONS.

A. Presentation of Proclamation Recognizing February 24, 2007 as National Trio Day, as Requested by the UTPA Upward Bound Program.

B. Presentation on Proposed Improvements to the Edinburg Baseball Stadium by the Edinburg Coyotes Baseball Team.

VII. AWARDING OF BIDS/RESOLUTIONS.

A. Consider Authorizing the Purchase of Tennis Court Lighting from Musco Sports Lighting, L.L.C., in the Amount of $45,430.

B. Consider Authorizing the Purchase of Eighteen (18) Computers for the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library from Monies Provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s PAC-HUG Program, in the Amount of $16,249.86.

C. Consider Authorizing the Purchase of Playground Equipment for Escandon Park from the Playwell Group, Dallas, TX., in the Amount of $79,217.85.

D. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-51, Los Lagos Entry Monument Signs, to Peterson Construction Inc., from McAllen, Texas, in the Amount of $40,000.

E. Consider Rejecting Bid Number 2007-53, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program.

F. Consider Resolution Authorizing the Interim City Manager to Execute a Multiple Use Agreement with the State of Texas, Texas Department of Transportation for the Installation of Bus Shelters and Other Related Improvements on State Highway Right-of-Way.

G. Consider Resolution Approving Economic Development Programs Pursuant to Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code.

H. Consider Resolution Approving an Economic Development Agreement Relating to the Development and Construction of a Retail Shopping Center.

VIII. CONSENT AGENDA.

A. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager for the Renewal of Interlocal Cooperation Agreement with Hidalgo County and the City of Edinburg for Providing Services through the Hidalgo County Library System.

B. Present Annual Report for Officer Initiated Contact Data By the Police Department, as Required by the Texas Racial Profiling Law, (S.B. Number 1074).

C. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Execute a Lease Renewal Agreement to Provide for Congressional District No. 15 Local Office.

IX. 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. Legal Discussion Regarding: Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone Requested By First Hartford Realty Corporation.

2. Legal Discussion Regarding: The Construction Agreement with Velasco Construction Development L.P. for the Public Safety Complex Addition and Renovation.

3. Legal Discussion Regarding: Status on Negotiations with Fortuna Enterprises.

4. Legal Discussion Regarding: Status of Interlocal Agreement Between the City of McAllen and the City of Edinburg on Drainage Improvements.

OPEN SESSION:

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.

X. ADJOURNMENT.

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 16, 2007 at 7:18 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.

Edinburg recorded phenomenal year 06, future remains bright

chuystc.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com
For more information on the people and politics that impact Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com

••••••

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.

The full report is available online at http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/filer.php?acct=00051164coh

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:

Political donations

527 groups

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.[4]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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.

Other

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.[6]

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)[7] Perry and his wife also contributed $10,000 to DeLay’s legal defense fund.[8].

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.

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com

For more information on the people and politics that impact Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com

••••••

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.”

For additional information about South Texas College’s BAT Program visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu/ba/BAT or call 872-7270.

••••••

Gov. Perry calls for higher education reforms

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.

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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.

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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.

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Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, child safety advocates launch ‘Texas First!’ partnership

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.

To learn more about the Texas First! initiative, visit the Lt. Governor’s web site at http://www.ltgov.state.tx.us or the Safe Side web site https://www.thesafeside.com/texasfirst/.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A. Prayer.

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.

VI. PRESENTATIONS.

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.

OPEN SESSION:

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.

XI. ADJOURNMENT.

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.