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Construction underway for $18 million private student housing complex by UT-Pan American

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J.J. Rodríguez, the interim city manager since July 2006, on Tuesday, September 4, was offered the top city job on a permanent basis by the Edinburg City Council. Rodríguez, 43, whose entire public service career has been with the local municipal government, said he would accept the position, subject to final negotiations on his pay. See story later in this posting.

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Claudia P. Mata, a teacher at Edinburg North High School, and Kimberly Baus, a fifth grade teacher at Canterbury Elementary, accept their award from Region One officials after being named Regional Secondary Teacher and Regional Elementary Teacher of the Year for 2007 at a recent awards dinner. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg CISD had eight elementary campuses rated “Exemplary” by the Texas Education Agency in August. The ECISD had more exemplary schools than any other school district south of San Antonio. Featured with the superintendent are the principals of the campuses, from left: (1st row): Erika Playle of De la Viña Elementary and Sandra Guerra of Cavazos Elementary; (2nd row) Eva Sandoval of Lincoln, Dominga Vela of Jefferson Elementary and Ana Villalobos of Hargill Elementary; (3rd row) Nelda Gaytán of Austin Elementary; Superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr.; and Cynthia Sáenz of Treviño Elementary; and (4th row) Gloria Rivera of Escandón Elementary. See story later in this posting.

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1,300 jobs, $90 million annual economic impact would be generated by shopping center, says EEDC

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Area residents recently had the opportunity to view the U.S. Marines dress uniform, complete with military decorations, of the late Alfredo “Freddy” González of Edinburg. The Texas icon, whose bravery and sacrifice during the Vietnam War prompted the nation a generation ago to bestow upon him the Congressional Medal of Honor, has now been recommended for the state’s highest military award – The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has filed the needed legislation nominating the combat Marine for the exclusive state honor. See story later in this posting.

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lowerutilitybills.jpgSen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, February 27, spoke from the front steps of the Texas Capitol during a rally drawing attention to legislative efforts to reduce electricity rates for Texas residential users. A large gathering showed up for the event, which included members of the American Association of Retired Persons. AARP is supporting Hinojosa’s Senate Bill 444, a bill designed to bring stability to the state’s deregulated electricity market. Rates have risen by as much as 100 percent in the past five years, Hinojosa said, giving Texas one of the highest rates in the nation. See story later in this posting.

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edinburgwoman.jpgJulie González of Edinburg. featured here in the Senate chamber with her boss, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, is one of several Edinburg residents who are working in key positions of influence at the State Capitol in Austin. González is serving as a legislative aide with the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, which is chaired by Lucio, whose legislative district includes portions of Edinburg. See story later in this posting.

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1,300 jobs, $90 million annual economic impact would be generated by shopping center, says EEDC

By DAVID A. DIAZ

A proposed $80 million retail shopping center that has been in the development stage for about a year would create 1,300 jobs and have an estimated $90 million annual economic impact in the three-time All-America City, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The first major estimate of the economic impact of the complex was released by the EEDC during its board of directors meeting on Tuesday, February 27.

The shopping center, being developed by First Hartford Realty Corporation, Inc., which is based in Manchester, Connecticut, is scheduled to be built on about 130 acres of currently vacant fields in south-central Edinburg.

The targeted site is bordered by U.S. Expressway 281 and Business Highway 281 to its east and west, respectively, with Trenton Road serving as its southern border.

“The 1,300 jobs, and probably be more, represents employment at the shopping center, which will be developed in phases over three years, once that project is completed,” said EEDC executive director Ramiro Garza, Jr. “After that, over a 10-year period, the economic impact of the shopping center will approach $1 billion.”

Groundbreaking at the site for the first phase of the shopping center, which could take up to three years to complete, is tentatively scheduled for early summer, he said.

As part of its strategies to help promote the creation of the retail center, the EEDC board of directors on February 27 approved a resolution authorizing the EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, to participate in key incentives to help spur the project.

The EEDC, a governmental entity, is chaired by former Mayor Richard García, and includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack on its five-member board of directors.

The board of directors are appointed by the city council, with the exception of the mayor, who is automatically on the governing board.

At that Tuesday evening public session, the EEDC gave its official approval to a proposed package of economic incentives – adopted a week earlier by the city council – that would help the outdoor retail stores developer cover certain portions of the costs of making the retail complex a reality.

Those incentives, which would involvement reimbursements for public infrastructure, such as new water and wastewater lines and roadway improvements, would materialize only if the shopping center meets specific benchmarks required under the incentives proposal.

“It’s all tied to their performance,” said Garza. “The agreement is structured in such a way that they have to hit certain performance measures.”

Those benchmarks include the shopping reaching a certain level of local sales taxes generated, new jobs created, and retail space constructed three years from its groundbreaking.

The proposal, approved by the city council and EEDC, “commits the developer to build at least 800,000 square feet of retail space and create 1,300 jobs over a period of three years,” Garza said.

The proposed incentives have been in the works for months by the city council and EEDC board of directors during their respective public meetings.

To that end, the city council has been working on creating a special city panel that could designate the shopping mile site as a Tax Increment Refinancing Zone, otherwise known as a TIRZ. But before that entity is formed, the city and EEDC wanted to have the incentives proposal ready, Garza added.

TIRZs are special districts created by a city council or other governmental entity, such as the county government, to bring new investments into a community.

TIRZs are authorized by state law to help local governments help pay the cost of redeveloping or encouraging development in a region that has no planned economic activity.

“That process will be initiated in the next month or so designating the areas of the TIRZ and capturing all the incremental value of the construction activity there, and utilizing that to reimburse (the shopping center developer) for public improvements,” he said.

First Hartford Realty Corp., Inc. is designing a “Lifestyle-Themed” complex to be located between U.S. Expressway 281 and Business Highway 281 in south Edinburg, bordering Trenton Road to the north.

Last spring, company leaders provided the first major update of their goals.

“We are pleased to announce our plan to develop the property which is being designed to host a variety of national and regional retailers, sit-down restaurants and other retail amenities,” said John Toic, Director of Project Development for First Hartford Realty Corp., Inc.

“In addition, the site is being designed to accommodate possible hotel and entertainment uses as well. The center will serve the expanding base of Rio Grande Valley shoppers and will draw shoppers from throughout the region and Mexico,” he added.

The company has more than 50 years of national real estate development experience.

The proposed retail mecca would be the latest big addition to the city’s continuing economic growth.

Plans for the shopping center were first announced about a year ago by then Mayor García, and both he and current Mayor Ochoa are leading the city’s efforts to package the incentives.

“Those involved in the development agreement that is currently being negotiated, and hopefully will be finalized very shortly, with the developers of the proposed mall project to provide an incentives- based economic development package,” City Attorney Dan Ríos said February 20. “If First Hartford meets certain specific goals throughout the development of the project, the city, in accordance with state laws, will provide for certain incentives for that development.”

He said some of those incentives to be offered by the city include “reimbursements for public improvements that would be dedicated for public use, and also involve certain levels of sales tax incentives and reimbursements, provided they meet construction of square footage. It is a phased-in incentive package.

“If they (First Hartford) meet additional goals, they would be able to seek additional economic incentives,” Ríos said. “Those items that have been negotiated over the past several months would bring a major impact in terms of development and growth that would benefit the city and its citizens. We are pleased with a developer that is contemplating making that type of investment in the area, and that investment, in the council’s view, justified serious consideration of this economic package.”

“First Hartford has advised the city that a significant contributing factor that would induce First Hartford to locate and construct the facility in the city is the ability to obtain certain economic development incentives to would assist First Hartford in being able to finance to facility,” Ochoa added.

One component of the economic development incentives being provided to the shopping center’s developer, under the development agreement by the city, is a commitment from the city to grant to the First Hartford a portion of the city’s one percent sales tax revenues collected within the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone to be created by the city, said García.

The city is authorized under Texas law to grant public funds for economic development purposes pursuant to a “program” established under Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code. A resolution approved Tuesday, February 20, by the city council authorizes the establishment of such programs, which must occur before the city grants public funds for economic development purposes.

As a result of the passage of that resolution that evening, the city is able to provide a one percent city sales tax grant detailed in the development agreement.

As part of its economic development strategies, the city council previously authorized the creation of the Local Government Finance Corporation (LGC) to assist with financing and constructing economic development projects within the city in order to promote economic development and to stimulate business and commercial activity in the city, all at the request of the city council.

More details on the mechanism of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone are provided by the City of Houston, which has 22 TIRZs.

According to the City of Houston’s web site:

What Are Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZs)?

Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZs) are special districts created by a city council or other eligible local government to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redeveloping or encouraging infill development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner. Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increment) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements in the zone.

Zones in the City of Houston have been created for one of three reasons:

•To address inner city deterioration;

•To develop raw land in suburban fringe areas; or

•To proactively address the decline of major activity centers.

How They Work

TIRZs are most successful when the area’s tax base is at a low point of its valuation and there is a large property owner/developer who can expeditiously carry out the area’s redevelopment. The term TIF, or tax increment financing, is used interchangeably with TIRZs.

As new construction in the zone occurs, the resulting annual incremental increase in tax revenue above the base amount is returned to the zone for the duration of the zone. For example, if the assessed value for a base year is set at $6 million and improvements to the area increase the assessed value to $7 million; the taxes collected on the additional $1 million, or increment, is earmarked for the TIRZ fund to pay for project costs. TIRZs have no taxing or assessment powers.

Property owners pay a normally increasing tax bill. The cost to the city is that the increment that is captured is preempted for use in the zone rather than for the City’s general fund.

Eligible Project Costs

Eligible project costs are associated with public improvements. These improvements can include capital costs (the acquisition and construction of public works and public improvements, and building rehabilitation costs); financing costs (including all interest); real property assembly; relocation costs; professional services; and, creation, organization and administrative costs.

Projects that are implemented prior to an increment being realized are often financed by a developer and are later reimbursed as an increment is realized, or through the issuance of bonds. Projects can also be financed on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Types of Zones

TIRZ’s can be city-initiated, if less than 10% residential land area, or by a petition. TIRZs created by petition must be submitted by owners of property constituting more than 50% of the appraised value of the area. Additional areas can be annexed into the zone at a later time through the initiative of the city, if it meets the less than 10% residential rule, or by property owner’s petition. The zone, plus all other existing zones, may not exceed 15% of all taxable property in the city.

Governance

In Houston, a board of directors governs a TIRZ. Non-petitioned TIRZs are governed by between five and 15 directors. Each taxing jurisdiction levying taxes within the TIRZ are allotted one position on the board, while the Houston appoints a minimum of five directors. Petition TIRZ boards must have nine members that include: five city representatives (that must own or represent a property owner within the zone); one state senator appointment; one state representative appointment; one representative each from the county and school district (if participating in the zone). Houston city appointees serve two-year terms.

Houston may delegate to the board any powers granted under state law, except for eminent domain and taxing powers. Powers include land use controls, in special cases; design standards; recommendations for the administration of the zone; and, powers to implement a project and financing plan.

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Sen. Hinojosa, Rep. Peña appointed by leadership to investigate problems in Texas Youth Commission

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Friday, March 2, announced Senate and House appointments – including Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg – to the newly created Joint Select Committee on the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

The committee will be charged with studying recent allegations of sexual abuse at certain facilities administered by the TYC. It will also examine the agency’s policies and procedures, and make recommendations for how to improve its future oversight of youth being rehabilitated in these facilities.

“As leaders of this state, we will not tolerate abuse or cover up in any state agency,” Dewhurst said. “Our recommendation of a conservatorship allows immediate action to hold those involved accountable, correct any problems that still exist within TYC and put in place measures to prevent further abuse of those in the state’s custody and of the public trust.”

“The disturbing allegations about certain activities at the Texas Youth Commission warranted the immediate creation of this committee,” Craddick said. “I trust that the committee members will thoroughly review the situation in the Texas Youth Commission and ensure this agency gets back to helping our troubled youth.”

The committee will be co-chaired by Sen. John Whitmire D-Houston, Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, Chair of the House Corrections Committee.

The Senate appointees are Sen. Chris Harris, R-Houston; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

The House appointees are Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Rep. Larry Phillips, R- Sherman; Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball; Rep. Sylvester Turner, D- Houston; and Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball.

“Like many Texans I am outraged at the culture of neglect and deceit that is seemingly apparent at the Texas Youth Commission,” said Peña. “Since late 2005, when my office first received complaints out of the TYC’s Evins Unit, we have exerted considerable pressure on administration officials to address allegations of abuse and neglect. Despite assurances that the problems at the Evins Unit were isolated incidents it is abundantly clear that there are systematic deficiencies that must be addressed. I look forward to the opportunity to bring accountability to a system that appears broken.”

The Joint Select Committee on the TYC was created to coincide with the Legislative Audit Committee (LAC), which met on Friday, March 2, to examine the conduct and fiscal management at the TYC.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the governor appoint a conservatorship, and it also recognized that the Governor could create a state agency rehabilitation plan to be submitted within 15 days.

The LAC is a permanent standing joint committee, co-chaired by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker, whose role is to provide guidance to the State Auditor’s Office.

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Texas Legislative Medal of Honor recommended for the late Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” González of Edinburg

By DAVID A. DIAZ

More than a generation after Marines Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” González died saving his troops in Vietnam, the Texas Legislature is poised to posthumously bestow upon him the state’s highest military decoration.

The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, which has been awarded only three times previously, recognizes a member of the state or federal military forces “who performs a deed of personal bravery or self-sacrifice involving risk of life that is so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the person for gallantry and intrepidity above the person’s comrades. Awarding this medal shall be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit. The medal may be awarded only on incontestable proof of the deed.”

The legislation, House Concurrent Resolution 121, was filed Monday, February 26, by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is expected to sponsor the measure in the Senate, which will require approval by Gov. Rick Perry if the legislative resolution is adopted by the Texas Legislature.

“Freddy González is a true American hero,” said Peña. “It is the duty of our community to never forget the sacrifices of those brave men and women who serve our country. In recognizing Freddy González, we not only honor his remarkable life but we honor the countless contributions of many others who came before him.”

The military decoration is a neck ribbon is green with white stars, and the medal features an image of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio and the six historical flags of Texas.

John Flores, author of a new book, “Where the River Dreams” (Publisher: AuthorHouse), which chronicles the life of the Edinburg war hero, praised the decision to recommend the state’s highest military honor in memory of González.

“Freddy was a simple, hard-working country boy, humble and reserved, never seeking honors,” Flores said. “What Freddy did, he did for the men under his command. He was their leader at a time of maximum danger, and his greatest legacy is simply that they all knew Sgt. González would always be there right with them, no matter what the odds.”

The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor (TLMH) was established by the 58th Texas Legislature, and has been awarded three times throughout its history to those who voluntarily perform a distinguished deed of personal bravery, or self-sacrifice involving risk of life.

Prior to September 2003, the governor determined the TLMH nominees and awards the TLMH upon passage of a resolution confirming this person by both bodies of the legislature. Additionally, there were no residency requirements for the TLMH.

That law changed in September 2003, when the new law, authorized by House Bill 573, established certain residency requirements and TLMH nominating and awarding criteria. The legislation also established a committee of legislative branch officials and the Texas adjutant general to designate award recipients.

The resolution follows verbatim:

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 121

WHEREAS, The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor was established to honor gallant and intrepid service by a member of the state military forces of Texas, and through his courageous actions in

Vietnam, Sergeant Alfredo “Freddy” González distinguished himself as a worthy recipient of this prestigious honor; and

WHEREAS, Born May 23, 1946, in Edinburg and a graduate of Edinburg High School, Sergeant González enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in May 1965; after his first tour of duty in Vietnam, he was chosen to train new marines for guerilla warfare; and

WHEREAS, A few months later, Sergeant González learned of an ambush in which men who had served under him had been killed; impelled by a strong sense of duty to his fellow marines and to his

country, he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam; and

WHEREAS, When, at the end of January 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops launched the massive Tet Offensive, Sergeant González and his platoon were ordered to Hue to relieve the pressure on that city; en route to Hue, the platoon’s convoy was hit by heavy fire on several occasions; during one such encounter, Sergeant González saw an injured marine lying in the road ahead and ran through enemy fire to carry the man to cover, receiving fragmentation wounds in the rescue; and

WHEREAS, With the column halted by withering fire from a fortified machine-gun bunker, Sergeant González proceeded to guide his men to a protective dike; he then moved out onto a road being

raked by the gun and destroyed the bunker with hand grenades; later, on February 3, Sergeant González was seriously wounded but continued to refuse medical treatment and to lead his men in their attack; and

WHEREAS, During fighting in Hue on February 4, his platoon of some 35 troops was again pinned down by a ferocious barrage; telling his unit to stay behind shelter, Sergeant González moved forward aggressively with hand grenades and small antitank rockets, firing numerous rounds against enemy emplacements; and

WHEREAS, Entering a church, where the North Vietnamese were heavily fortified, he succeeded in suppressing virtually all of their fire; before the last of it could be silenced, however, he was

mortally wounded; and

WHEREAS, Because he succeeded in destroying so many North Vietnamese positions, Sergeant González was credited with saving the lives of the men in his platoon; the following year, in consequence of his extraordinary and selfless action, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the only marine in combat during the Tet Offensive to receive that award; and

WHEREAS, For those with whom he served, the heroism displayed by Sergeant González was completely in character; “it seemed like he was everywhere all the time,” one remembered; “he was always there in the front, never in the back . . . he was always there for us”; and

WHEREAS, Among the awards subsequently conferred on Sergeant González were three Purple Hearts, four Presidential Unit Citations, and a Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, National

Defense Medal, and Cold War Certificate; in addition, he was the posthumous recipient of two South Vietnamese decorations–the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with gold palm and star and the Vietnam

Service Medal with four bronze stars; in 1996, the U.S. Navy commissioned a new guided missile-destroyer in his honor; and

WHEREAS, Through his unhesitating selflessness and his unfaltering devotion to duty, honor, and his country, Sergeant Alfredo González embodied the highest ideals of the armed service, and he most assuredly merits the award of this state’s supreme military medal; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 80th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby posthumously confer the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor on Sergeant Alfredo “Freddy” González in recognition of his heroic service and express to his family its deepest appreciation on behalf of all his fellow Texans; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for the family of Sergeant González as an expression of highest regard by the Texas House of Representatives and Senate.

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Sen. Hinojosa, AARP rally for lower electric rates, stronger protection protections, more consumer choices

By MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

Members of the AARP gathered from all across the state Tuesday, February 27, to join State Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, at a rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Austin, pressing their case for lower electric rates and more consumer choice.

“You voices are being heard inside this building today,” Hinojosa told the crowd. “And that’s why we are going to have lower electric rates, stronger consumer protections, more choice in electric providers, and fairer treatment for the elderly, the disabled, and other vulnerable Texans.”

AARP is supporting Hinojosa’s Senate Bill 444, a bill designed to bring stability to the state’s deregulated electricity market. Rates have risen by as much as 100 percent in the past five years, Hinojosa said, giving Texas one of the highest rates in the nation.

Hinojosa said he filed the legislation not to re-regulate the market but simply to fulfill the promises that were made when it was deregulated. His bill would lower electricity rates and strengthen consumer protections by:

•Creating a standard offer service that will be offered temporarily in the home services markets of former monopolies. This is a cost-based rate that includes a reasonable profit margin along with a mechanism to raise or lower the price as the costs of providing the service fluctuates;

•Giving customers the right to freely switch electric providers without being penalized by excessive or hidden fees. That means waiving security deposits for Texans with good payment histories and a standard service agreement so consumers can comparison shop for rates;

•Prohibiting electric companies from disconnecting electric service to vulnerable Texans (the elderly, the disabled, the poor) when temperatures hit record high or lows, as they have over the past year. Customers will still have to pay their bills but will be able to enroll in a five-month deferred payment plan;

•Restoring the state’s existing fund for seniors and low-income families. After all, Texans in deregulated markets still pay an average of 65 cents per month into this fund, known as the System Benefit Fund. But the money — currently over $400 million — is routinely used by for other programs; and

•Injecting true competition into the deregulated market by requiring electric companies to reserve at least 25 percent of their electric load for residential customers. No more cherry picking the Texas market by going after high-dollar commercial or industrial customers only.

“All Texans want is a fair price and to not have to wade through a confusing mess of rules and policies when they want to change their energy provider,” Hinojosa said.

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Bill by Rep. Gonzáles, Sen. Lucio to protect names and addresses of victims of family violence, stalking, and sexual assault gets House committee hearing

By DAVID A. DIAZ

A bill that would allow the Texas Attorney General’s Office to establish an address confidentiality program to help protect victims of family violence, sexual assault, or kidnapping has passed its first hurdle by getting a public hearing before the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee.

The plan, which has 22 House co-authors, including Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville/Willacy County, is being carried by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.

Almost 2,000 Texans would qualify for the protection in the first year, according to initial estimates presented to the Legislature, and would involve almost 114,000 piece of mail in its inaugural year.

Under the measure, the Attorney General’s Office would establish an address confidentiality program that would designate a substitute post office box address that a participant may use in place of the participant’s true residential, business, or school address; act as agent to receive service of process and mail on behalf of the participant; and forward to the participant mail received by the office of the attorney general on behalf of the participant.

Gonzáles’ version, House Bill 569, received a public hearing at the State Capitol on Wednesday, February 28. It was left pending, which is routine to allow proponents and opponents of the legislation time to hammer out compromises or add new language.

Lucio’s bill, Senate Bill 74, is awaiting a hearing before the Senate State Affairs Committee.

A similar bill, House Bill 597 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, also was heard on February 28 by the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee. It was also left pending.

The three measures are being opposed by the Texas Daily Newspaper Association.

According to the bill analysis prepared by the Legislative Budget Board, Gonzáles’ HB 569 would have the following impact:

Fiscal Analysis

The bill would require the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to create and maintain an address confidentiality program to assist a victim of family violence, stalking, and sexual assault. In addition, the OAG would designate a substitute address for participants, act as the agent to receive and process mail received by the agency to participants. The OAG would also develop program and application information for participants. The bill also provides that the method of financing to implement these provisions may be from the compensation to victims of crime auxiliary fund.

Methodology

For purposes of analysis, it is assumed that approximately 1,989 participants would be included in the program in the first year and an approximate 5 percent growth rate would result in the program each following year. This information is based on comparison of other states that have similar programs.

As a result of the estimated number of participants and the requirement that the OAG receive, process, and forward first class mail and any mail sent by the government for participants in the program, it is assumed that approximately 113,134 pieces of would be received and forwarded to program participants. As a result, it is anticipated that an additional 2 FTEs would be required to handle the volume of mail and subsequent processing. The salary cost for these additional FTEs would be approximately $76,410. In addition, related costs totaling $16,156 would be required for items such as furniture, computers, and telephones. Other consumables each year thereafter would be approximately $3,500. Also for purposes of this analysis, it is estimated that 1 additional FTE would required each year thereafter as a result of a projected 5% growth rate in the number of participants in the program.

In addition to staff costs, it is assumed that approximately $83,000 would be required for envelopes, labels, and postage costs associated with forwarding mail to participants. For purposes of this analysis, a 5 percent growth rate per year in the volume of mail forwarded is assumed which would increase postage, labels, and envelopes by that percentage each year thereafter.

The OAG would also provide assistance to participants in the form of program information material and assistance with completing program applications. As a result, an additional 2 FTEs would be required at a salary cost of $91,720. In addition, related costs totaling $16,156 would be required for items such as furniture, computers, and telephones. Other consumables each year thereafter would be approximately $3,500. Furthermore, a cost of $23,000 would be required for printing brochures and application forms.

There would be no significant fiscal impact on technology.

Local Government Impact

Costs to local governmental entities to implement the provisions of the bill would depend upon the number of people who register for the address confidentiality program.

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ECISD school board closes application process for superintendency position

BY GILBERT TAGLE

The Edinburg Consolidated ISD Board of Trustees has closed off the application process to fill the vacant superintendent of schools position, Dr. Jacques Treviño, school attorney, said Monday, February 26.

Treviño said the district had received 18 applications from persons interested in the job.

“Until further notice, Superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr. will serve the Edinburg school district as interim superintendent,” said Treviño.

Garza was appointed as acting superintendent of schools last August before the start of the 2006-2007 school year. He was named interim superintendent in December.

Garza is a veteran educator (30 years) in the Edinburg school district who served as a teacher, an elementary school principal, and director of Elementary Education prior to being named by the school board as the interim superintendent of schools this.

As an administrator and interim superintendent, Garza has the responsibility of guiding and influencing the direction of an education program that will serve the needs of all students.

The Edinburg CISD is one the largest school districts in the Rio Grande Valley. It spans over 945-square miles and has s student membership nearing 30,000 in 35 schools.

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Holiday retail sales in Edinburg up almost 8.3 percent over 2005

By DAVID A. DIAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy in December, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up 8.24 percent over the same month in 2005, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president, Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.

The figure translates into almost $1.3 million generated in local sales taxes in December. Those funds were sent in early February from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which collects the taxes from businesses, to the local communities in which the retail sales were made.

Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which soon after returns the local sales tax back to communities in the form of a rebate.

The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.

January state sales tax collections and February’s local sales tax allocations primarily represent sales made in December, but also include earlier sales by businesses that report sales tax to the Comptroller on a quarterly or annual basis.

In December, Edinburg’s economy generated $1,290,247.84 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,192,007.34 in local sales taxes in December 2005.

Edinburg registered the second-best showing in Hidalgo County in December, with McAllen outpacing all major cities in the Valley.

McAllen’s economy generated more than $7.2 million in local sales taxes in December 2006, compared with more than $6.9 million during the same month last year.

According to the comptroller’s office, Hidalgo County also showed continued prosperity. In December, all cities in Hidalgo County generated more than $13.6 million in local sales taxes, up 12.22 percent over January 2005, which reached more than $12.1 million.

Neighboring Cameron County also registered economic growth, according to the state figures.

In December, all cities in Cameron County generated almost $6.5 million in local sales taxes, compared with $6.1 million during the same month in 2005.

Other major cities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported the following sales tax figures:

•Brownsville’s retail economy generated almost $3.6 million in local sales taxes in December 2006 compared with $3.4 million in December 2005, an increase of 5.25 percent;

•Harlingen’s retail economy generated more than $2 million in local sales taxes in December 2006, compared with more than $1.9 million in December 2005, an increase of almost five percent;

•Mission’s retail economy generated more than $1.1 million in local sales taxes in December 2006, compared with almost $993,000 in December 2005, an increase of more than 17 percent;

•Pharr’s retail economy generated more than $1 million in local sales tax activities in December 2006, compared with more than $981,000 during the same month in 2005, an increase of almost 2.7 percent; and

•Weslaco’s retail economy generated almost $870,000 in local sales tax activities in December 2006, compared with more than $757,000 in December 2005, an increase of more than 14.8 percent.

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Rep. Gonzáles key author of legislation to reduce unplanned pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, is a joint author of the Texas Prevention First Act (House Bill 1842), which aims to reduce unplanned pregnancies and curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Gonzáles said HB 1842 would expand access to preventative health care services and education programs and save public health funds for Texans across the state.

“I am proud to support the Texas Prevention First Act which will take essential steps to reducing unplanned pregnancies among our youth. Texas leads the nation in teenagers having babies, and one of every two deliveries in Texas is paid for with public dollars,” she said.

The cost of helping women prevent unplanned pregnancies is a fraction of the cost of providing government services to indigent women and their babies, she noted. A year of family planning services costs $170 for one woman, compared to $8,500 for the first year of a Medicaid-funded pregnancy.

Because of the cost effectiveness of family planning services, the federal government will provide $9 for every $1 Texas spends on our Women’s Health Program. At current levels, that program is projected to save the state $278 million over five years.

However, at current spending levels, when the Women’s Health Program is fully implemented in 2009, the program is projected to serve only 12% of the eligible population.

“Today’s investment in promoting the Women’s Health Program will benefit the State through significant savings to the State and federal government and dramatically reduce the abortion rate throughout Texas for years to come,” said Gonzáles.

“Supporting effective education and promoting statewide outreach for family planning services are essential to the successful goal to reduce unplanned pregnancies and ultimately reducing the need for abortions. The Prevention First Act is common sense, middle ground, and cost-effective policy,” Gonzáles added.

Gonzáles, Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas;and Speaker of the House Pro Tempore Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, are joint authors for this legislation.

“Everyone should agree that reducing unplanned pregnancies is key to reducing the number of abortions. The more women that participate in this program, the fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions will occur,” said Strama.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, are authors of the companion (identical) bill in the Senate.

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Sen. Lucio votes for resolution calling on audit of Texas Youth Commission

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. on Wednesday, February 28, joined his colleagues in the Texas Senate as it suspended rules to meet after they adjourned earlier in the day. Senate Resolution 384 passed with a majority vote.

Lucio thanked Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, author of SR 384, and other senators for their leadership on this matter. He then offered the following comments:

“Members, this brings to mind a famous quote. I can’t remember whether it was Sir Winston Churchill or Pearl S. Buck, but to paraphrase the quote, it said something along the lines that ‘the true measure of a civilized society is how it treats its elderly and its prisoners.’

The idea that a situation like this could exist in our society, in Texas, in the 21st Century, speaks very poorly to our condition.

How this kind of institutionalized abuse against young people could go on for so long is a tragedy that must be rectified and those responsible held accountable. Members, we need answers and we need answers right away! I am nothing short of shocked and horrified.”

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Julie González of Edinburg lands committee internship in Sen. Lucio’s Capitol office

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

The 22-year-old recent anthropology graduate from the University of Texas Pan-American is excited to be assigned to the International Relations and Trade Committee at the Capitol that Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, chairs. Julie González, an Edinburg resident, underwent a rigorous selective process while trying to complete her studies to be considered for the Sen. Gregory Luna Legislative Scholar and Fellows Program.

The program, named after the late Sen. Gregory Luna of San Antonio, provides undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to gain experience and develop leadership skills as full-time legislative assistants in the Texas Senate during legislative sessions.

“I feel very fortunate not just to have another Luna Scholar working in my office this legislative session, but I am especially thrilled that Julie is a bona fide constituent from my district,” said Lucio. “She is an asset to the work we are doing for the people of Texas.”

Ms. González is fulfilling a five-month internship in the senator’s IRT Committee that he chairs. Her duties include researching policy matters, constituent issues and helping develop legislation.

“I am very glad Sen. Lucio opens the doors of his office to Luna Scholars,” noted Ms. González. “I am learning a great deal about Texas government from him, and especially as a staff member of his IRT Committee.”

The former migrant student has overcome tremendous challenges to complete college. She credits her mother, Martina Salazar of Edinburg, with motivating her to excel and continue her education. Ms. González said that her stepfather, Frank Salazar of Edinburg, who died suddenly in March 2005, while she was a junior in college, left a deep void in her life but her mother’s strength “got her and her four siblings through it.”

Some of her goals are to complete graduate school—she is currently applying to several schools—and one day work at the United Nations. She enjoys helping colonia residents get involved in the political process, and she has volunteered her time to organize carpools in the colonias for the voting polls. Ms. González has deep religious convictions and considers her family, her church and her education primary in her life.

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ECISD board awards $5.6 million contract to Descon Construction to add wings to six elementary schools

By GILBERT TAGLE

Construction on classroom wings at six elementary schools will soon begin following approval of Descon Construction LP of McAllen to serve as the project contractor.

The Edinburg school board approved RFP#17-110 to build classroom wings at Canterbury, Escandón, Zavala, Guerra, Kennedy and Truman elementary schools at a cost of $5.6 million to address the growth in the elementary schools.

In August, the school board adopted a district budget for the 2006-2007 school year which includes the funds necessary to build classroom wings to existing elementary schools to address rising student numbers at the elementary level.

The district’s student enrollment is at 29,000 students. The bulk of the new growth continues to be seen at the elementary level where the increased numbers equate to more than one new elementary school. Elementary figures for all 27 schools reached 15,401or 703 more students than last school year.

The majority of the new elementary growth is in grades one through four. The district has 2,514 first graders (an increase of 154); 2,375 second graders (an increase of 149); 2,297 third graders (an increase of 124); and 2,212 fourth graders (an increase of 115). Pre-kindergarten numbers are up by 69 students for a total of 1,348 students who attend a half-day of pre-school classes.

The district has five elementary schools whose numbers have surpassed the 700 mark and four that are near to reaching it. The five schools feeling the added strain are Ávila Elementary with 771 students, Eisenhower with 778 students, Escandón with 724 students, Villarreal with 734 students and Treviño with 716 students.

Nearing the 700 mark are Betts Elementary with 677 students, Freddy González with 660, Guerra with 655 students and Truman with 648 students.

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Lincoln, Cavazos, Hargill schools named Title I Distinguished Performance School

By GILBERT TAGLE

Lincoln, Cavazos, and Hargill Elementary Schools have been recognized by the Division of the No Child Left Behind Program Coordination at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as Distinguished Title I, Part A Schools.

The three Edinburg CISD schools are among 129 Texas schools recognized for their outstanding academic performance. According to the TEA, the campuses are being recognized for consistently strong academic performance while educating large populations of impoverished students during the three previous school years.

Under criteria set by the TEA’s No Child Left Behind division, a Title I campus

qualified for the honor if the campus:

•Met Adequate Yearly Progress standards under the federal accountability evaluation system both this year and in 2005;

•Earned the state’s highest accountability rating of exemplary in 2006; and

•Earned an exemplary or recognized rating, which is the second highest rating in the state accountability system, during the two previous school years.

The Edinburg CISD was one of five Valley school districts with schools recognized as Distinguished Title I, Part A Schools.

Title I, Part A is a federal program under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It provides supplemental funding to school districts with high concentrations of students from low-income families. Funds support programs that enable all children to meet the state’s student performance standards. These programs must use instructional methods and strategies that are grounded in scientifically based research.

The performance standards increase each year in the state’s accountability system. Under the rating system in 2006, for example, schools that earned an Exemplary rating had passing rates of 90 percent or more on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) for all students and each student group; a passing rate of 90 percent or more on the State-Developed Alternative Assessment II (SDAA II) for all students; a high school completion rate of 95.0 percent and an annual dropout rate for students in grades 7-8 of 0.2 percent or less for all students and each student group.

To earn a recognized rating, the campus must have at least 70 percent of students pass TAKS and SDAA II for all students and each student group; have a high school completion rate of 85.0 percent; and an annual dropout rate of 0.7 percent or less.

AYP evaluations are based on participation and performance on state reading/English language arts (ELA) and mathematics exams in grades 3-8 and 10; graduation rates and attendance rates.

The data are analyzed for all students and each of the following student groups that meet minimum size requirements: African American, Hispanic, white, economically disadvantaged, special education and limited English proficient.

Edinburg CISD Interim Superintendent of Schools, Gilberto Garza Jr., said the Texas Education Agency bestows the prestigious Title I Distinguished School designation on identified Texas campuses due to their consistently strong academic performances while educating large populations of impoverished students during the three previous school years.

Garza said to qualify for this designation in Texas, a school must be a Title I campus, have earned the state’s highest accountability rating (called exemplary) in the last school year and earned either an exemplary or recognized rating, which is the second highest rating awarded by the state, during the two previous school years.

“Congratulations to these outstanding 129 distinguished performance schools and the 13 distinguished progress schools,” said TEA Commissioner of Education Shirley J. Neeley. “Their hard work has resulted in strong academic success.”

The honored schools are among 5,486 Title I schools that will receive $1.1 billion in federal funding through the Title I program in 2006-07. Federal law requires each state to identify those Title I schools that are meeting or exceeding the state’s definition of adequate yearly progress. The campuses will be recognized later this spring by their respective Education Service Centers.

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EHS senior Luis Emilio Quintanilla at attend Presidential Classroom Scholars Program in D.C.

Edinburg High School senior Luis Emilio Quintanilla will attend the Presidential Classroom Scholars Program, in Washington D.C.

Presidential Classroom expands students’ knowledge of politics, government, and roles and responsibilities of institutions and organizations involved in policy-making. Through interactive sessions with international policy-makers, diplomats, scientists, military leaders, journalists, public officials and others, Luis will gain insights into the complexities of the policy-making process, as well as the interaction between government entities and organizations around the world.

Luis will work with peers from all over the nation on a group project throughout the week, applying new skills and ideas immediately after learning them.

“Presidential Classroom is dedicated to challenging the leaders of tomorrow to learn, understand and take action on the formidable problems that face our nation and our world,” said Presidential Classroom Executive Director Elizabeth A. Sherman, Ph.D. “With Washington, DC as our classroom, we attract outstanding high school students to a series of discussions with influential leaders and policy makers, site visits to national institutions, exercises and debates on topics of prominent importance, and interaction with teachers, mentors, and peers. I am delighted to welcome this student to join Presidential Classroom for what promises to be a vital step toward civic engagement and meaningful participation in public leadership.”

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Congressman Cuellar announces $247,500 grant for Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Friday, March 2, announced that the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley has been awarded $247,500 from Housing and Urban Development.

The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley is the fourth largest in Texas, and includes Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties. The grant is approved as an Economic Development Initiative (EDI) Special Project, a program under HUD.

“This grant will help further the Food Bank project, which assists many communities across the Rio Grande Valley,” said Cuellar.

While this grant may be used in a variety of ways, the grant will be used for the purchase and renovation of a 111,000 sq. ft. historic building in Pharr, Texas. EDI provides grants for two reasons:

•To enhance the security of loans guaranteed through the section 108 program, and

•To enhance the feasibility of the economic development and revitalization projects that they finance.

Terry Drefke, Rio grande Valley Food Bank Director, echoed these statements by saying, “We are very pleased to receive the EDI Special Project Grant for $247,500; it will be used for the renovation and purchase the Valley fruit and vegetable facility in Pharr. This money will have a significant impact on our project.”

Cuellar continued, “I would like to commend my colleague, Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, for his continued efforts to improve many communities in South Texas. I will continue fighting to ensure that every citizen is provided with the proper means to not go hungry and stay healthy.”

Congressman Henry 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

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Senate committee grills HHS commissioner Hawkins HBP vaccinations

Health and Human Service Commissioner Albert Hawkins appeared before the Senate Nominations Committee on Wednesday, February 28, to seek re-approval for his appointment, but Senators were less interested in his past performance than how he would administer a controversial vaccination program.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order directing the Commissioner of the HHSC to create guidelines requiring a vaccination for the human papillomavirus (HPV) for young girls entering the sixth grade. This has proved to be a controversial order, which has raised questions about the balance of power in state government, parents’ rights, and possible connections between the Office of the Governor and the company that makes the HPV vaccine.

Hawkins began by laying out the agency’s accomplishments since he took over in 2003. He says under his watch, HHSC has eliminated administrative waste and redundancies, implemented a preferred drug program that has saved the state $488 million since 2004, and improved Medicaid service.

The HPV vaccination executive order was the central theme of the questions asked by members to Hawkins. “Executive orders are for emergencies,” said Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, “In your opinion as Commissioner of Health, is this [HPV] an emergency?” Hawkins said he could not answer the question, because he is “unable to make a predetermination about the outcome of the rules making process.”

Eltife, who after repeatedly rephrasing the question, was unable to get Hawkins to commit to a yes or no answer, and said that he could not support Hawkins’ nomination if he could not give a direct response.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, tried to get Hawkins to answer the emergency question another way, asking him to rank the top ten health issues facing Texas. Along with Medicaid, treatment of the elderly and disabled, and uninsured Texans, Hawkins said he felt that cancer treatment and prevention, including cervical cancer, was a top ten issue.

Nelson was also unhappy that a HPV study report mandated by one of her bills last session had not been delivered to Legislators by the stipulated date. “If I was the boss, and I found out who was in charge of getting that report to the Legislature, heads would roll,” she said.

Hawkins promised to discover why the report had yet to be delivered.

Following about two hours of questions, Nominations Committee Chairman Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, left Hawkins’ nomination as pending business before the committee to be voted on at a later date.

Also on February 28, Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, announced legislation that would give parents with children with autism the right to transfer their children into schools that have better autism education programs.

Autism is a neurological disorder that impairs societal skills along a broad spectrum. It is the broad range of symptoms, said Shapiro, that makes it so hard to offer special education services to autistic children.

“Because symptoms can vary so greatly, a program that works for one child may not be effective for another,” said Shapiro. “That is why individualized programs are so important.” Senate Bill 1000 gfhywould permit parents of autistic children to move their children into another school, including an accredited private school. Schools that take these students would be reimbursed by the state at the same amount the student would receive in state funds at their old schools.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 5 at 3 p.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages.

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Sen. Zaffirini files bill to protect Texans from “Botnets,” cybercrimes

By NICK ALMANZA

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed legislation on Wednesday, February 28, to combat the use of “botnets”—networks of compromised computers used to perpetrate cybercrime. Senate Bill 1009 by Zaffirini will prohibit the creation of botnets and penalize convicted violators with significant fines.

“The rapid growth of e-commerce has led to the proliferation of online advertisements and devices that allow criminals to install dangerous software that victimizes Texas consumers,” Zaffirini said. “As legislators we have the responsibility to protect consumers and internet users from cybercrimes. This bill will not only protect online users in Texas from botnets, but also will enhance the security of personal and private information stored on computers.”

SB 1009 will define clearly the term “bot” as a software program that operates as an agent for a user, another computer program or simulates human activity, and “botnet” as a collection of computers that become compromised without the knowledge of the owner or operators. Compromised computers either run under a command and control infrastructure or are used to forward transmissions, including unsolicited e-mails and viruses, to other computers with online access. What’s more, the bill will authorize civil penalties for using botnets, including a cause of action for victims, and authorize the attorney general to seek injunctive relief and recovery of damages of $100,000 per violation.

Similar to SB 6 filed last week, SB 1009 builds on Zaffirini’s legislation that protects families from online crimes. In 2005 she authored and passed SB 327, the Consumer Protection Against Spyware Act, which made it unlawful for a person or entity to knowingly install spyware. The protections created by SB 327 produced a multimillion dollar settlement with Sony BMG Music, which installed harmful and problematic “spyware” on more than 100 compact discs sold to Texas consumers.

In 2005, Zaffirini also sponsored and passed HB 1098 by Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, which prohibited internet “phishing” or fraudulent websites and e-mails sent to induce victims to divulge personal financial information.

“Botnets allow cybercriminals to perpetrate a number of unauthorized actions, including sending unsolicited e-mails, attacking vulnerable computer systems and networks, committing click fraud, and hijacking personal information leading to identity theft,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Cybercriminals must be punished swiftly and decisively for their crimes, and consumers must remain confident that online transactions will be kept secure. I look forward to passing this bill and will continue to champion consumer rights and protections for all Texans.”

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South Texas College to offer Mexican-American Studies Program starting fall 2007

By HELEN ESCOBAR

Starting in the fall 2007 semester, South Texas College will be offering a new Mexican-American Studies Program (MASP) providing students the opportunity to learn about more than 4,000 years of Mexican-American history, culture and heritage. Students following the program will earn a full Associate of Arts in Mexican-American Studies, which will provide a solid foundation for bachelor’s programs in Mexican-American Studies, education, English, government, political science, economics, history, art, business or a variety of other subjects.

“This is a real milestone for STC because we are located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley and this topic is of utmost importance for our students and the community,” said Dr. Margaretha Bischoff, interim division dean of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences for STC. “Many of our students are interested in learning more about how they fit into the grand picture of Mexican-America today and this program will lay the foundation for them, outlining the accomplishments and the long history of Mexican-Americans. It will interweave history with developments in art, music, literature, language, economics and many other facets of culture to provide a clearer picture of what is has meant and means to be Mexican-American.”

STC is only one of six college’s offering a degree program in Mexican-American Studies in the entire state of Texas. Others include The University of Texas-Pan American, The University of Texas-Austin, The University if Texas-San Antonio, The University of Texas-El Paso and Sul Ross State University.

“I am thrilled that we are able to move forward with this important program for the college and our students and it is even more impressive that we are one of a handful of colleges, much less community colleges, in the state that are aggressively pursuing this opportunity,” said Gilberto Reyes, Jr., History instructor for STC. “I think many students will be surprised to learn about the history and culture associated with Mexican-Americans and will gain a better understanding of what the term ‘Mexican-American’ truly means. We are living in a post-NAFTA world in which Hispanics are gaining more and more influence in every level of society and it is important to explore our history and ideas to influence the future in positive ways.”

In addition to 15 credit hours in the MASP field of study, students interested in the program must take “Introduction to Mexican American Studies” and earn 45 credits in the college’s core curriculum. It is anticipated that the program will also overview local Valley culture and history, focusing on important influences originating from the Valley like Tejano and Conjunto music, Tex-Mex food and language deviations, political forces, as well as other topics.

“I think it will be great to for us to have the opportunity to learn about our culture, history, customs and our Mexican-American leaders,” said 23-year-old Education major Zandra Garcia. “I would really like to take some of the courses next semester.”

“I think this is great because it’s crucial that we learn about our culture and history, especially for members of the younger generation like me,” said 19-year-old Nursing major Omar Chavez. “We don’t know where we are going unless we know where we are from.”

To supplement the degree program, Mexican-American Studies Clubs will also be available for student participation at each of STC’s three campuses. The clubs will support academic instruction, providing opportunities for participation in a variety of cultural events, hands-on leadership projects and service projects.

For more information about this new program, area residents may contact Gilberto Reyes, Jr. at 872-2170 or greyes@southtexascollege.edu.

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Joaquín A. Rodríguez of Edinburg, 2007 Texas Youth of the Year finalist, honored by Texas Senate

Joaquín A. Rodríguez, a senior at Edinburg High School and a 2007 Texas Youth of the Year finalist for the Boys and Girls Club of America, on Tuesday, February 27, was honored for his many achievements by the Texas Senate.

The congratulatory measure, Senate Resolution No. 366 filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, follows:

SENATE RESOLUTION NO. 366

WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas is pleased to recognize Joaquín A. Rodríguez, a senior at Edinburg High School, who was recently named a 2007 Texas Youth of the Year finalist by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America; and

WHEREAS, Boys and Girls Clubs are neighborhood-based programs that address today’s most pressing issues for young people; the clubs promote improved self-image for members and

encourage community involvement, strong moral values, and improved life management skills; and

WHEREAS, Joaquín has been a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Edinburg for two years; he is regional president of the Business Professionals of America; he implemented a community service program, Operation Save the Fish, in which senior members of the Advanced Via Individual Determination program tutor freshmen members; and

WHEREAS, Joaquín serves on the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Teen Court and the National Steering Committee for the Keystone Club, the clubs’ leadership development program; he plans to study computer science and law at Stanford University; and

WHEREAS, Joaquín’s selection as a Texas Youth of the Year finalist is a tribute to his exceptional talents and his enthusiasm for service; he is an exemplary young man, and he demonstrates the fine spirit shown by the many young people in the State of Texas who volunteer to improve their communities; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 80th Legislature, hereby commend Joaquín A. Rodríguez for being a 2007 Texas Youth of the Year finalist and extend to him best wishes for success in the future; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution be prepared for him as an expression of esteem from the Texas Senate.

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Edinburg City Council to hear presentation on La Sienna Development during Tuesday, March 6 public session

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

MARCH 06, 2007

WORK SESSION AGENDA 6:00 P.M.

I. Presentation on La Sienna Development by Bill Calderon with Hawes Hill Calderon LLP.

II. Discussion and Update on the Construction of Lift Station No. 25.

REGULAR MEETING AGENDA 7:00 P.M.

I. CALL TO ORDER, ESTABLISH QUORUM.

A. Prayer.

B. Pledge of Allegiance, Alma A. 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 March 2007 as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

B. Presentation of Proclamation Recognizing March 4th-10th as Severe Weather Awareness Week.

C. Consider Presentation of Delinquent Tax Collection Report for the period of October 01, 2006 to February 28, 2007.

VII. PUBLIC HEARINGS/ORDINANCES.

A. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinances Providing for a Comprehensive Plan Amendment From Auto-Urban Uses to General Commercial Uses and the Rezoning Request From R-A1, Single Family Residence District to C-2, General Business District, being 1.23 acres out of Lot 12, Block 2, Santa Cruz Gardens Unit No.3 Subdivision, located approximately 170.70 feet east of Gwin Road on the north side of Monte Cristo Road, as requested by Estefana Galvan.

B. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing for the Rezoning Request from R-A1, Single Family Residence District to C-1, Local Business District, being 0.506 acre tract of land, more or less, out of lot 2, Section 275, Texas-Mexican Railway Company Survey, located approximately 433.50 feet south of Sprague Street on the east side of McColl Road, as requested by Amando Guerra.

C. Hold Public Hearing and Consider Ordinance Providing the Renewal of a Special Use Permit for an On-Premise Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages for Mango’s Sports Bar, being 1.87 acres out of Lot 5, Block B, Edinburg Adjacent Acreage, located at 909 North Closner Boulevard requested by Jose Francisco Quevedo.

D. Consider an Ordinance of the City of Edinburg, Texas Finding, after Reasonable Notice and Hearing, that AEP Texas Central Company’s Existing Rates are Unreasonable; Finding that AEP Texas Central Company’s Requested Revenues Resulting from Electric Transmission and Distribution Rates and Charges within the City Should be Reduced; Determining Just and Reasonable Rates; Adopting Recommendations of Consultants; Providing for Recovery of Rate Case Expenses; Preserving Regulatory Rights of the City; Providing a Waiver of the Three (3) Separate Readings; and Ordaining Other Provisions Related to the Subject Matter Hereof.

VIII. APPOINTMENTS.

Consider Appointments to the City Advisory Boards and Committees for the Following: Environment Board, Two Members, Community Development Council-Area 10, One Member, Parks and Recreation Board, One Member, Civil Service Commission, One Member.

IX. AWARDING OF BIDS/CONTRACTUALS.

A. Consider Awarding Bid No. 2007-44, Demolition and Reconstruction of a Two-Story Burn Complex to 5 Star Construction.

B. Consider Awarding Bid Number 2007-52, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program to Benchmark Construction.

C. Consider Awarding Bid Number 2007-54, Reconstruction of One (1) Residence in the Housing Assistance Program to Benchmark Construction.

D. Consider Awarding Bid Number 2007-55, Colonia Rodriguez Water & Drainage Improvements to JLV Utility Construction, LLC, in the Amount of $222,540.

E. Consider Awarding of Bid Number 2007-57, Replacement of Plant Lift Gate Valves to American Machine Shop & Pumps, in the Amount of $45,000.

F. Consider Awarding Bid Number 2007-58, Lift Station No. 22-Pumps & Valves to American Machine Shop & Pumps, in the Amount of $24,892.

G. Consider Awarding Bid Number 2007-61, 2007 Haul Truck to South Texas Freightliner, in the Amount of $84,270.

H. Consider Awarding Bid Number 2007-62, 2007 End Dump Trailer to Rush Equipment Centers of Texas, Inc., in the Amount of $61,125.

I. Consider Purchase of Aeration Diffusers for the Utility/Wastewater Treatment Plant from Hartwell Environmental Corporation, in the Amount of $42,940.

J. Consider Selecting a Qualified Firm for the Construction Materials Testing and Geotechnical Services for the Edinburg West Water Treatment Plant and Authorize the Interim City Manager to Negotiate a Professional Services Agreement.

K. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Accept Improvement Proposal and Execute the Necessary Construction Agreements for Improvements at the Edinburg Baseball Stadium, as submitted by Edinburg Equities, LLC.

X. CONSENT AGENDA.

A. Consider Resolution to the Board of Directors of the South Texas Higher Education Authority, Inc.; Approving Directors and Terms.

B. Consider Resolution by the City Council of the City of Edinburg, Texas, Relating to the Issuance of Obligations by the South Texas Higher Education Authority, Inc.; Approving the Issuance of Such Obligations; and Making Certain Findings in Connection Therewith.

C. Consider Authorizing Interim City Manager to Accept Proposal and Enter Into an Engineering Agreement with Golder Associates, Inc. for the Preparation and Procurement of an Air Emission General Operating Permit as Mandated Under Title 30 Chapter 122 of Texas Administrative Code, Pending Approval of Final Form by Interim City Manager and City Attorney.

XI. 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 and §551.074, Personnel Matters; 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. Evaluation of City Attorney.

3. Discussion on Personnel Matters: Search for City Manager.

4. Discussion: On Construction of Lift Station No. 25.

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.

XII. 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 March 2, 2007 at 7:05 p.m.

By: /s/Myra L. Ayala 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.]

Rep. Gonzáles back in the financial black

gonzalezbackinblack.jpg

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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seniordaycapitol.jpg

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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benavidezhonored.jpg

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.

••••••

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.