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Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation

Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Edinburg City Councilmember Alma A. Garza, flanked by her parents, Dr. Omar and Dora Garza, took her oath of office on Monday, May 12, for a three-year term on the five-member governing body. Alma Garza, who for the first time in her young political career had faced an opponent, generated 63 percent of the vote, a significant margin of victory.  She was sworn in by Hidalgo County 206th District Court Judge Rose Guerra Reyna. Garza also raised more than $29,000 in campaign funds in the second phase of her campaign to help secure her victory, according to her campaign finance report filed with the City Secretary’s Office. See story later in this posting.


Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Gene Espinoza, left, who was reelected to a new three-year term on Saturday, May 10, is congratulated by his uncle, Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza, after the city councilmember, who was joined by his immediate family, was sworn in to office on Monday, May 12.  In addition to his own many supporters, Espinoza was helped in his reelection bid by generous contributions for several prominent Edinburg-area business leaders.  The most recent list of his contributors, along with the campaign financial supporters for Councilmember Alma Garza, are featured in a story later in this posting.


Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, featured left, on Monday, May 12, was sworn in for another three-year term as presiding judge of the local court by  his nephew, Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr.  Palacios, who is also a partner in the law firm of García, Quintanilla and Palacios in McAllen – which includes former Edinburg Mayor Richard García – serves a key role in the administering of justice in the community. Rodríguez was  a former Edinburg City Councilmember before resigning that post in October 2005 to make his own successful bid for district judge. According to, municipal courts in Texas have original and exclusive jurisdiction over criminal violations of certain municipal ordinances and airport board rules, orders, or resolutions that do not exceed $2,500 in some instances and $500 in others. Municipal courts also have concurrent jurisdiction with the justice courts in certain misdemeanor criminal cases. In addition to the jurisdiction of a regular municipal court, municipal courts of record also have jurisdiction over criminal cases arising under ordinances authorized by certain provisions of the Texas Local Government Code. The municipality may also provide by ordinance that a municipal court of record have additional jurisdiction in certain civil and criminal matters. Municipal judges also serve in the capacity of a committing magistrate, with the authority to issue warrants for the apprehension and arrest of persons charged with the commission of both felony and misdemeanor offenses. As a magistrate, the municipal judge may hold preliminary hearings, reduce testimony to writing, discharge the accused, or remand the accused to jail and set bail.


Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Dr. Scott Cook, one of the world’s expert on Mexican brick culture, has a unique window on Valley’s history, and he will be in Edinburg on Wednesday, June 11, to share those perspectives at the Museum for South Texas History, located at 200 N. Closner, immediately northeast of the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Accompanying him will be local musicologists and “North of the Border” radio show hosts Joe and Rosa Pérez (singing songs of the brick-makers).  The presentations will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and wine and hors d’oeuvres will be provided.  Cook is professor emeritus of anthropology and interim director of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. He lives in Willimantic, Connecticut. There is a $5 donation requested, and the event calls for business casual attire. To RSVP or obtain more information, interested persons may call 956/ 776-0100, extension 311.

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Edinburg’s jobless rate in December drops to 4.2 percent, best in Valley

Edinburg's jobless rate in December drops to 4.2 percent, best in Valley - Titans of the Texas Legislature

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Tuesday, January 23, honored the memory of the late Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio – which would have been Madla’s 70th birthday. The veteran lawmaker was killed November 24, 2006 in a house fire in San Antonio. Co-authoring the Memorial Resolution was Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who also honored Madla’s five-year-old granddaughter, Aleena, and his mother-in-law, Mary Cruz, 81, both of whom perished in the fire, with separate resolutions that Lucio coauthored. The entire body of the Senate signed onto all three documents. Accepting the resolutions were Madla’s wife, Helen Madla; son, Dr. Frank Madla III; daughter, Marci Madla; brother, Ralph Madla; and other members of the family. Featured in this portrait, which was taken on the floor of the Senate chambers, are Lucio (center), presenting a Texas State Cemetery flag to Dr. Frank Madla, Jr. and his wife, Nenette, pictured to the right of Lucio. At the far right is Marci Madla, who also received a flag. Left to right are Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington; Van de Putte, and Helen Madla, who received the flag that was draped over her husband’s coffin at the burial.


Edinburg's jobless rate in December drops to 4.2 percent, best in Valley - Titans of the Texas Legislature

The City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation have announced the revitalization of the “I Shop Edinburg” campaign. The renewed campaign kicked off in early January, and will continue through December 2008. The mission of I SHOP is to promote economic growth in Edinburg resulting in improved city services by encouraging residents to trade with local merchants, who will provide quality goods and services, thus securing a better future for the Edinburg community. All Edinburg businesses are invited to participate. Any business owner interested in benefiting from the I Shop Edinburg campaign may call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce to get a logo. Shoppers can save money by patronizing participating businesses by looking for the I SHOP logo. To pick up an I SHOP savings card, stop by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, Edinburg City Hall, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, or call 956-383-4974 for more information about the program.


Edinburg's jobless rate in December drops to 4.2 percent, best in Valley - Titans of the Texas Legislature

On Tuesday, January 16, Kiwanis Clubs of District 11 were honored with a visit by Texas/Oklahoma Kiwanis Governor William E. Crump, III and his wife Jane, at the ECHO Hotel. Crump updated area Kiwanis Clubs on local Texas/Oklahoma initiatives and asked for the clubs support with issues such as events, fundraisers, meetings and seminars occurring across the state. He has served as an active member of the Kiwanis Club organization for the past thirty-two years with thirty years perfect attendance of club meetings. Lt. Gov. Terry Wilson who represents District 11 was also present at the special event. The Edinburg Kiwanis Club hosts community events and fundraisers throughout the year. The annual Pancake Breakfast will be held on Saturday, February 3, 2007 from 7-11 a.m. at the ECHO Hotel. Tickets are only $3 and include all the pancakes you can eat, free coffee or milk, and one serving of sausage. Tickets can be purchased at the door or through any Edinburg Kiwanis member. For more information, please call Letty Martínez at 956-383-4974.


Edinburg’s jobless rate in December drops to 4.2 percent, best in Valley, better than state average

Edinburg’s jobless rate, which is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy, dropped to 4.2 percent in December, the best showing in the Valley for the fifth month in 2006, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

At 4.2 percent, the local showing was also better than the Texas average of 4.5 percent, which is the lowest statewide average in five years, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

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

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Mike Govind, and George Bennack.

As of December, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, 1,169 Edinburg residents were looking for jobs, while 26,752 local residents were employed.

The jobless rate, also known as the unemployment rate, is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed.

To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and actively seeking work.

The jobless rate for Hidalgo County was 6.6 percent in December, same as the previous month, representing 18,649 area residents without jobs, while 262,795 residents were employed during that month.

McAllen had the lowest monthly unemployment rates during seven months of 2006, followed by Edinburg, which had that distinction during five monthly reporting periods.

In December, McAllen reported a 4.4 percent jobless rate.

Cameron County’s jobless rate in December was 5.7 percent, representing 8,404 people looking for work and 138,090 residents holding down jobs.

Harlingen had the third-best showing among major Valley cities in December, reporting a 4.7 percent jobless rate, followed by Mission and Pharr, which each registered 5 percent unemployment rates for that month.

Also for December, Brownsville posted a 5.7 percent jobless rate, followed by Weslaco, with its 6.1 percent unemployment rate.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent in November and from 5.2 percent in December 2005.
The declining unemployment rate continues to set records for the lowest rate in five years. The state unemployment rate matches the U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.

Seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment grew by 15,600 jobs in December as Texas employers continue adding jobs.

Over the last 12 months, the Texas economy grew by 213,200 jobs, with an over-the-year growth rate of 2.2 percent. Texas employers now have added jobs for 27 consecutive months.

“Record-setting low unemployment rates and high job growth highlight the strength of the Texas economy,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Diane Rath. “Employers are displaying confidence as they continue to add jobs.”

Trade, Transportation & Utilities contributed 6,700 jobs in December, the largest increase within a sector.

Employment in Construction rose by 2,800 jobs over the month, for a total of 44,700 jobs since December 2005.

“Both the goods producing and service providing sectors experienced broad-based growth in December,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “Employment gains in Construction jumped 7.7 percent over the year, and Professional & Business Services added 46,000 jobs over the same period.”

Financial Activities employment displayed a significant increase of 3,100 jobs in December. This was the largest December job gain recorded in the group in over a decade. Financial Activities completed 2006 with a total of 19,300 jobs created for an annual growth rate of 3.1 percent.

“For Texans seeking employment, now is the time to find work,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “The tremendous job growth means many opportunities in a variety of industries.”

Natural Resources & Mining employment increased for the seventh consecutive month, adding 1,500 jobs in December.

The industry finished the year with a total of 11,800 positions gained in 2006 representing an annual growth rate of 6.9 percent.

Initial claims for unemployment compensation in December 2006 were 56,501, down 4.8 percent from a year ago.

The Texas Workforce Commission is a state agency dedicated to helping Texas employers, workers and communities prosper economically.

For details on TWC and the programs it offers in unison with its network of local workforce development boards, call (512) 463-8556 or visit


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Mayor Ochoa to deliver The State of the City address during Wednesday, January 31 luncheon at ECHO

Mayor Joe Ochoa will address the community as part of the upcoming Public Affairs Luncheon, hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, on Wednesday, January 31, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the ECHO Hotel in Edinburg.

Ochoa will present the annual State of the City speech, which will cover topics such as major city projects, economic overview, and the legislative agenda for the City of Edinburg.

Ochoa is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science Degree in pharmacy with certification in immunization, diabetes care, and nutrition. He is self-employed as a retail pharmacist and owner of two community pharmacies and other business ventures.

Ochoa has served as mayor for several terms, from May 1993 to May 2003, and from May 2006 through the present. His current term continues through May 2009.

Ochoa served as an Edinburg school board member from May 1981 to May 1993, is past President and current member of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, co-chairman of I-69 Alliance – Highway 281, past chairman and present member of Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Also, other public service endeavors include him serving as a member South Texas Border Partnership, past member of NAITCP (National Association of International Trade Corridor Partnership), has achieved two “All American City” awards as Mayor for Edinburg in 1995 and 2000 plus an Outstanding Business Award 1995 from UTPA-SIFE, Ochoa received the Leadership in Economic Development award from the American Economic Development Council in 1995 and lastly, received the Clean Cities Award in 2000 and 2001, which held State of Texas Recognition.

The Public Affairs Luncheons are a new initiative introduced in 2006 and part of the chamber’s vision to inform, involve and educate chamber members and civic leaders. The event allows business people to meet, network and create opportunities for the companies they represent.

“The chamber of commerce encourages all chamber investors and others interested in learning about hot topics affecting our community and the Rio Grande Valley to attend,” commented Elva Jackson-Garza, Vice Chair of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Membership Committee. “We would like to thank our sponsors for their generous time and donations: Edwards Abstract & Title Co., AT&T, and Time Warner Cable.”

The cost to attend is $10 per person, and will include a hot lunch, beverage and dessert. For more information on programs and events sponsored by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, please call 956-383-4974.


Sen. Hinojosa presses Gov. Perry, U.S. officials to improve access by children to medical care

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Friday, January 28, released the following statement regarding the visit by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to announce to offer federal assistance for Texas-based initiatives to improve access to health care:

“I applaud the effort to free up state leaders to explore innovative ways to make sure all eligible Texans have access to the high-quality, affordable health care they deserve, especially when it comes to the federal Medicaid program and how it serves children.

“My bottom line is simple and straightforward — if a criminal has the right to see an attorney, a child should have the right to see a doctor. Period.

“How we reach that goal should be a top priority of this legislative session.

“U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) estimates that Texas forfeits more than $600 million in available federal funding each year by not enrolling more eligible children in the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program. This makes no moral or financial sense.

“I look forward to working with Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and my colleagues in the Texas Senate to make sure we take advantage of this new-found freedom announced today to try to find new ways to make Medicaid more effective and efficient as part of a comprehensive agenda for addressing the health care needs of all Texans.”


Gov. Perry and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Leavitt discuss restructuring Medicaid

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, January 26, joined U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt and state lawmakers to discuss restructuring the state’s Medicaid program. As the cost of managing the Medicaid program continues to grow, the state must develop new approaches to sustain the program that serves 2.7 million vulnerable, disabled and elderly Texans.

“Texas cannot continue to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to Medicaid,” Perry said. “Escalating costs and increasing enrollment has made our current system unsustainable. Together, with our state and federal partners, we must develop a more flexible and efficient system of providing safe, quality medical care to those who need it most.”

In 10 years (1994 to 2004), the cost of Medicaid doubled in Texas, now constituting 26 percent of the state’s budget. In the near future, Gov. Perry will suggest reforming Texas’ Medicaid program through:

• Providing customized benefit packages for specific populations;

• Providing assistance for enrollment in private insurance and employer-sponsored plans; and

• Promoting consumer choice through health savings accounts and consumer directed services.

At the January 26 event, Perry emphasized the importance of greater flexibility in managing diverse Medicaid populations. Children represent 70 percent of the Medicaid population and only 30 percent of the cost, while the elderly and those with special needs represent 21 percent of the Medicaid population and account for about 60 percent of the cost.

“The best insurance plan for pregnant women and children is not the same as the best plan for elderly Texans who need long-term care,” Perry said. “I would like to create Medicaid benefit packages that target specific groups, such as a plan for healthy children and adults, a separate plan for children with special needs, and a third plan for adults with disabilities and long-term care needs.”

On Thursday, January 25, HHS awarded Texas $4 million for Medicaid “transformation grants” to support the development of electronic health passports for children in foster care. Electronic health passports ensure greater continuity of care for a population of children that often receives treatment from a variety of physicians due to changing living arrangements.


Rep. Peña’s appointment as House panel chairman in honor of his late son, says Speaker Craddick

State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Friday, January 26, was appointed to serve on two House committees, including serving as chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

The committee assignments were made by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

Craddick said he selected Peña to lead the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, not only because he was qualified, but also because the Speaker of the House made a special effort to recognize the representative’s late son.

“I am proud to make this appointment in the memory of John Austin Peña,” Craddick said, noting that Pena’s son was the motivation for his father to eventually enter public service.

Peña said he was grateful for the appointment, and vowed to work on behalf of all Texans who face difficulties in their lives, particularly from the threat or consequences of crime, including substance abuse.

“I am honored to have been given the opportunity to lead this very important committee,” said Peña. “Chairing Criminal Jurisprudence and being named to Ways and Means gives our community a stronger voice in the leadership of the state. These assignments give me a special opportunity to keep working on substance abuse and mental health policy.”

The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence has nine members, with jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

(1) criminal law, prohibitions, standards, and penalties;

(2) probation and parole;

(3) criminal procedure in the courts of Texas;

(4) revision or amendment of the Penal Code; and

(5) the following state agencies: the Office of State Prosecuting Attorney and the Texas State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision.

During the 2005 regular session, Peña served as a member of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. The top position on that House panel became available when Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, retired from the Legislature.

But as a result of his Peña’s chairmanship, under the rules that govern the Texas House of Representatives, a state representative who is chairman of a House committee can not serve on the House Appropriations Committee, which develops the state budget for the House of Representatives.

Peña selection to the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has nine members, will give him considerable influence over the following legislation and issues:

(1) all bills and resolutions proposing to raise state revenue;

(2) all bills or resolutions proposing to levy state taxes or other fees;

(3) all proposals to modify, amend, or change any existing state tax or revenue statute;

(4) all proposals to regulate the manner of collection of state revenues and taxes;

(5) all bills and resolutions containing provisions resulting in automatic allocation of funds from the state treasury;

(6) all bills and resolutions diverting funds from the state treasury or preventing funds from going in that otherwise would be placed in the state treasury;

(7) all bills and resolutions relating to the Tax Code; and

(8) the following state agencies: the Office of Multistate Tax Compact Commissioner for Texas and the State Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Peña’s promotion to chairmanship came after he supported Craddick’s bid for reelection to a third-two year term as Speaker of the House, arguably the most powerful state legislator in state government.

The Speaker of the House is elected every two years, on the first day of the regular session, by a vote among the 150-members of the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House needs 76 votes to secure a victory.

Peña supported Craddick against Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston, who announced for speaker last spring before dropping out of the race late last year. Then, Peña stood by Craddick – even seconded his nomination on the House chamber – when Craddick was unsuccessfully challenged by Rep. Jim Pits, a Republican from Waxahachie.

Hidalgo County Democratic Chairman Juan Maldonado summed up the sentiments of many community leaders regarding the chairmanship.

“Rep. Peña continues to serve his constituents well,” said Maldonado. “South Texas needs more good Democrats to assume leadership roles in our state government.

Peña said his selection to the House Committee on Ways and Means is significant but more importantly and of greater impact to South Texas was his appointment to serve as Chairman of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

Peña noted that Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, retained his chairmanship of the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures, which has jurisdiction over legislation dealing with businesses, industries, general trades, and occupations regulated by the state.

Peña said the appointments made by Craddick along with other top assignments “have led many to consider this Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation as the strongest in the history of the state.

“I am honored to have been given the opportunity to lead this very important committee,” said Peña. “Chairing this committee and being named to Ways and Means gives our community a stronger voice in the leadership of the state.”

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, was another Craddick loyalist who was repaid with plum committee assignments. Guillen was selected by Craddick as the Vice Chair of Appropriations,

“Rep. Peña has always been a strong advocate for the Rio Grande Valley. His leadership appointment brings strength to the South Texas and border delegations,” said Guillen.

As Chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Peña has the power to call meetings, set the agenda and influence legislation in that committee.

“The committee is especially significant because many members of the Texas House file numerous

bills regarding criminal jurisprudence issues,” Peña said.

The committee is charged with writing state criminal laws, prohibitions, standards, and penalties. It also has jurisdiction over probation, parole and criminal procedure in the courts of Texas. The committee maintains sole control over any changes made to the Texas Penal Code, which determines punishment for our most serious crimes.

“As our state grows so do the challenges facing our criminal justice system,” said Peña. “Many of our jails are operating at maximum capacity and we are once again faced with the decision of building more prisons or expanding probation and diversion programs. As the Lt. Gov. mentioned in his inaugural speech, we face critical problems regarding sexual predators in our communities. I am ready for the challenge of finding solutions to these complex issues.”


Rep. Gonzáles will influence health care, Texas courts with appointments to House Public Health, Judiciary committees

State Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Friday, January 25, was appointed by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to serve on the House Public Health and Judiciary committee.

“I am thrilled that I received my top two choices for committee assignments,” said Gonzáles. “Health care is an extremely critical issue in our state and our nation, and is especially important in the Rio Grande Valley, where so many do not have access to healthcare,” said the House District 41 lawmaker, who represents southwest Edinburg. “The tremendous need for public health issues to be addressed is evident by the many hospitals and medical facilities serving Valley residents in my district.”

The Public Health Committee is responsible for the protection of public health, including supervision and control of the practice of medicine and dentistry and other allied health services.

The Public Health Committee has nine members, with jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

(1) the protection of public health, including supervision and control of the practice of medicine and dentistry and other allied health services;

(2) mental health and the development of programs incident thereto;

(3) the prevention and treatment of mental illness;

(4) oversight of the Health and Human Services Commission as it relates to the subject matter jurisdiction of this committee; and

(5) the following state agencies: the Department of State Health Services, the Anatomical Board of the State of Texas, the Texas Funeral Service Commission, the State Committee of Examiners in the Fitting and Dispensing of Hearing Instruments, the Texas Optometry Board, the Radiation Advisory Board, the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, the Board of Nurse Examiners, the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners, the Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, the Texas State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the State Board of Dental Examiners, the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, the Advisory Board of Athletic Trainers, the Dental Hygiene Advisory Committee, the State Board of Barber Examiners, the Texas Cosmetology Commission, the Texas Cancer Council, the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners, the Health Professions Council, the Office of Patient Protection, the Texas Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Perfusionists, and the Texas Health Care Information Council.

“I appreciate the importance of good health and look forward to working on legislation that will improve the quality of public health for my constituents,” said Gonzáles.

“I am likewise pleased to be reappointed to serve on the Judiciary committee which oversees matters relating to judges and the creation or changes to courts in the State of Texas,” she continued. “Last session, I was able to secure the passage of legislation that created a new district court, a new county court, increased jury pay and salary increases to our Texas judges. I feel confident that my experience as an attorney will continue to benefit my service on this committee and the legal system in Texas.”

The Judiciary Committee has nine members, with jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:

(1) uniform state laws;

(2) creating, changing, or otherwise affecting courts of judicial districts of the state;

(3) establishing districts for the election of judicial officers;

(4) the Texas Judicial Council;

(5) the State Commission on Judicial Conduct;

(6) the Office of the Attorney General, including its organization, powers, functions, and responsibilities;

(7) courts and court procedures except where jurisdiction is specifi cally granted to some other standing committee; and

(8) the following state agencies: the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Office of Court Administration of the Texas Judicial System, the State Law Library, the Texas Judicial Council, the Office of the Attorney General, the Court Reporters Certification Board, and the Board of Law Examiners.

Gonzáles explained that thousands of pieces of legislation will be considered by the Legislature this session, and the committee process closely analyzes legislation before Representatives vote on bills on the House Floor. Taking an active role as a committee member enables her to have greater input on a large number of bills covering a wide range of issues.


Speaker Craddick outlines process for committee appointments, appoints 14 new committee leaders

Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Friday, January 26, announced the House committee assignments. The appointments are a culmination of weeks of meetings between Craddick and the members in what was a long and thoughtful process.

“The committee assignments reflect the preferences of each individual member, to the degree that it could be achieved,” Craddick said. “I made these appointments after weeks of discussions with legislators, and I believe this leadership team strikes a balance between experience and the diverse interests of this state. The subsequent selection of subcommittee chairmen will round out the committee process. I want these members to go forth in carrying out the business of the state and in achieving the goals they have set for themselves and their constituents.”

Craddick appointed 14 new chairmen to reflect the ever-changing face of the House membership. He expressed his belief that the committees are one of the most important components of the legislative process.

Faced with challenging issues such as appraisal reform, property tax relief, water conservation and healthcare costs, the House leadership team will focus on reaching solutions in a bipartisan and pragmatic manner, said Craddick, who added he wished to thank the House members for their patience and goodwill throughout the whole committee selection process.


Sen. Hinojosa says scholars program for Hispanic legislative interns reaches $200,000 funding goal

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Thursday, January 25, said the innovative Senator Gregory Luna Memorial Luna Scholars and Fellows Program met its fundraising goal of $200,000 when Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, a Republican, and others gave generous contributions to provide fellowships for Texas’ future leaders and make it possible for them to work in the Texas Legislature during the current session.

Hinojosa, chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, which oversees the fellowship program, thanked his Senate colleagues and Dewhurst for their commitment to the innovative program.

“Hosting these young scholars and mentoring them helps build the future leaders of Texas,” Hinojosa said. “It is especially important for them to have the opportunity to serve in a vital office like the Lt. Governor’s, and we are especially pleased by his support and commitment and his leadership in helping us surpass our fundraising goals for this important program.”

Hinojosa also congratulated the 16 scholars currently participating in the fellowship program, which is named after the late Gregory Luna, a longtime Texas senator, a strong education advocate and onetime chair of the Senate Hispanic Caucus.


Hidalgo County revisits issue of illegal drug use by employees; Judge Salinas, Commissioner Garza volunteer to be first to be tested

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, along with Precinct 4 Commissioner Oscar Garza Jr., on Wednesday, January 24, volunteered to be the first to submit to random drug testing.

“Hidalgo County employees need to be sober, sincere and professionally accountable to taxpayers,” Salinas said. “I am more than willing to go first and I’m also volunteering the staff of the county judge’s office to be tested right away.”

Garza said his office was also volunteering to lead the way.

“Everyone from me to the janitor will be tested,” Garza said. “And we don’t mind going first.”

Hidalgo County’s drug and alcohol policy came under fire when a county employee returned to his job of interviewing inmates at the detention facility, after he allegedly consumed alcohol during his lunch hour.

That employee was initially given a punishment of three months probation, but was eventually fired.

The county adopted a policy in 2005 and a drug testing company was contracted, however pre-employment testing and random checks were never implemented.

Salinas said he wants both random drug tests and pre-employment screens to begin immediately. Officials expect both tests to begin as early as next week.

“I’m interested in knowing why the drug testing was never started in 2005,” Salinas said. “But I’m even more interested in getting the testing started immediately.”

Members of the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court will vote on the revised drug testing policy at their Monday, January 29 meeting.


Mrs. Francisca V. Flores, 72, mother of Rep. Flores, passes away

Francisca V. Flores, 72, mother of State Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, passed away on Monday, January 22, at Lifecare Hospitals of South Texas in McAllen.

Born October 19, 1934 in Cuevitas, Texas to Nieves and María Luisa Villalón, Mrs. Flores was married for 54 years to Gumaro Flores.

She was a patient, forgiving, and educating person, always taking the opportunity to teach and pass on knowledge as evident having worked more than 30 years with children. She will be missed by all who knew her.

She was preceded in death by her parents and her two sisters, Estela Flores and Josefina Gómez, and by her brother Nieves Villalón, Jr.

She is survived by her loving husband, Gumaro Flores; her daughter Esmeralda Amany, and her son, Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores. She is also survived by her only only daughter-in-law, Debra Y. Flores, Kino’s loving wife of 29 years. Debra has always been supportive of her husband and her mother-in-law.

Also surviving her are three grandchildren, Kino, Jr., Kareema Anany, and Eric Daniel Flores.

Pallbearers for her funeral were Ismael Flores, Jr., Hugo Villalón, Isaac Suelmana, Isaias García, Macario Solís and Arnulfo Flores.

Honorary pallbearers were Kino, Jr., Kareema Anany and Eric Daniel Flores.

Visitation for Mrs. Flores was held Tuesday, January 23 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with prayer service at 7 p.m. at L&I Funeral Home, 1005 West Expressway 83 in Peñitas.

Funeral mass was celebrated Wednesday, January 24 at 2 p.m. with Pastor Jaime Chapa from El Faro Bible Church at L&I Funeral Home Chapel in Peñitas.

Burial followed at New Sullivan City Cemetery in Sullivan City. L&I Funeral Home was in charge of the funeral arrangements.


Former Congressman Kika de la Garza, wife Lucille, honored by Rep. Gonzáles, House of Representatives

The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday, January 24, unanimously approved House Resolution 86, authored by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, which honors the lifetime contributions of former U.S. Congressman Kika de la Garza, D-Mission, and his wife, Lucille, who is an Edinburg native.

The text of the congratulatory resolution follows:

WHEREAS, The Honorable Kika de la Garza and his wife, Lucille de la Garza, have been selected to receive the Golden Eagle Award from the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in recognition of their many significant contributions to the benefit of their fellow citizens; and

WHEREAS, The first couple to jointly receive this award, the de la Garzas are highly regarded for their efforts in support of their community, most notably through Congressman de la Garza’s

dedicated public service as a longtime member of the Texas and U.S. House of Representatives and through Mrs. de la Garza’s myriad civic endeavors; and

WHEREAS, Congressman and Mrs. de la Garza both hail from the Rio Grande Valley, he from Mercedes and she from Edinburg, and they continue to make their home in the Valley today as residents of McAllen; reminders of the respect and admiration felt for the de la Garzas abound, including such namesakes as the Kika de la Garza Border Crossing Station, Lucy’s Garden at the Butterfly Gardens in Mission, and the Kika de la Garza Federal Building in McAllen; and

WHEREAS, A 12-year member of the Texas House of Representatives and a 32-year member of the United States Congress, Congressman de la Garza cofounded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus

and was a driving force for positive change during his legislative tenure, and he has rendered invaluable service to this state and nation as an expert in national and international law as it relates to agriculture and commerce; his extensive list of honors includes distinguished service awards from Texas A&M University and the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, and the Order of the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest honor for foreigners; and

WHEREAS, Mrs. de la Garza has deep roots in the Valley, descending from a long line of area Democrats and regional pioneers; named Distinguished Democrat of the Year for 2002 by the

Hidalgo County Democratic Party, she currently serves on the Advisory Board for the North American Butterfly Association and Lucy’s Garden; honored as the first Mother of the Year by AVANCE-Rio Grande Valley, she joins former First Lady Barbara Bush as one of only two people to have christened two U.S. Navy vessels; and

WHEREAS, Congressman and Mrs. de la Garza have earned the esteem of countless people in Texas and beyond through their civic, charitable, and political efforts, and their selection as recipients of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Golden Eagle Award is indeed well-deserved; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 80th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate the Honorable Kika de la Garza and Lucille de la Garza on their receipt of the Golden Eagle Award from the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and commend the de la Garzas for their extensive contributions to residents of the Rio Grande Valley and the Lone Star State; and, be it further

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


Congressman Cuellar appointed to chair Homeland Security subcommittee

Congressman Henry Cuellar has been selected to serve as Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness & Response.

The Subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes: interoperability and other emergency communications; first responders; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); state and local preparedness and response; private sector preparedness; national response plans and planning; and public health preparedness.

“I’m deeply honored and humbled to have been chosen to serve as the chairman of such an essential subcommittee,” said Cuellar. “The Emergency Communications, Preparedness & Response Subcommittee plays a crucial role in ensuring that our local police and fire departments have the tools they need to effective. I look forward to working with my committee colleagues to improve our nation’s ability to respond to emergency situations. Whether it’s local first responders or federal disaster response, Americans should have faith in their government’s ability to respond to unforeseen incidents.”

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said, “It gives me great pleasure to welcome Henry to the Committee on Homeland Security. As one of Laredo’s favorite sons, Congressman Cuellar, came to Washington with a promise to keep his focus and priorities relevant to his constituents. His leadership on the Committee, balancing privacy protections as much as homeland protections, will be an invaluable asset.”

Cuellar was also appointed to serve as a member of the Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee. This Subcommittee oversees operations along the border, including the implementation and construction of a border fence.

“This subcommittee assignment will help me to ensure that the views and opinions of those that live along the border are heard when Congress considers issues of border security,” noted Cuellar. “I will fight to protect the interests of our border communities, while working to enhance our nation’s safety and security.”

Cuellar is a member of the House Homeland Security and Agriculture Committees in the 110th Congress; accessibility to constituents, education, health care, economic development, and national security are his priorities.


Gov. Perry emphasizes need for additional border security during visit to McAllen

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, January 24, encouraged the Texas Legislature to support a $100 million border security package to be proposed this session.

Perry made this announcement at a press conference in McAllen about the recent launch of Operation Wrangler, a statewide expansion of highly successful border security surge operations.

“We have launched a statewide operation this week, Operation Wrangler, to send a message to drug traffickers, human smugglers and criminal operatives that their efforts to exploit our international border will come at a great cost,” Perry said. “In order to continuously fund surge operations like this one in the future, I am asking the legislature to join me in supporting a $100 million investment in border security.”

Operation Wrangler is a coordinated interagency law enforcement surge effort intended to prevent and disrupt all crime, including illegal international drug and human trafficking. It is the second phase of Operation Rio Grande, launched February 2006, which reduced all crime by an average of 60 percent in sheriff-patrolled areas of border counties during five surge operations last year.

“There can be no safe haven for drug traffickers and human smugglers anywhere in Texas,” Perry said. “If legislators pass my $100 million border security package, we can take back our streets, neighborhoods and private ranches from the criminal scourge that currently jeopardizes them.”

Operation Wrangler will involve federal, state and local ground, air and water-borne assets, including more than 6,800 personnel, 2,200 vehicles, 48 helicopters, 33 fixed wing aircraft and 35 patrol ships. Up to 90 sheriffs’ offices and 133 police departments are participating, as well as 604 Texas Army National Guard (TANG) troops activated by Perry. These TANG troops comprise 12 armed security platoons that will deploy to various traffic crossovers along the Rio Grande River and will be accompanied by a Border Patrol agent and a local police officer.

Local, state and federal agencies involved in Operation Wrangler include 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 and 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 best border security policy involves more boots on the ground, more patrol cars, more helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, more patrol boats and the latest law enforcement technology. All of this costs money; but our security is worth a whole lot more.”

Perry was joined at the press conference by local, state and federal officials.


Rep. Gonzáles files House Bill 701 to restore CHIP medical benefits to thousands of Texas children

State Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has filed House Bill 701 to restore health coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for hundreds of thousands of children in Texas.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature reduced state funding for CHIP and passed House Bill 2292, which significantly increased the difficulty for enrollment. Since the restrictive policies were enacted in 2003, almost two hundred thousand children have lost their health coverage.

“Providing health coverage for our children is one of my top priorities,” Gonzáles said. “I believe we must put our children and our families first. Lets remember CHIP is not free; it was created to help families who are helping themselves. My bill will move forward with positive change for our children’s health coverage by repealing restrictive policies that have needlessly kicked children in our community off the CHIP program.”

Restoring the CHIP program to the enrollment levels that existed before 2003 would not cost the state any money. According to data collected from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), during the 2006 budget year, the State of Texas left unspent $400 million in state funds dedicated for CHIP and Children’s Medicaid. Those dollars could easily cover every child that has lost CHIP coverage since 2003.

“It would take no more than 1/100th of our $14 billion surplus each year to restore CHIP for our children,” Gonzáles said. “We have the money – there’s no question about that. The only question is if we have the will.”

Gonzáles joined dozens of other House members on Wednesday, January 24, to advocate and raise awareness for the repealing of the restrictive CHIP policies.

“Common sense policies – like reducing paperwork, deducting child care costs when determining eligibility and not counting families’ savings against them – will ensure that more of our kids have health care,” Gonzáles said. “We’ve heard it time again, Children are an asset to our state; a healthy child is a successful child.”


Rep. Peña signs up as joint author for legislation to overcome cuts to Children’s Health Insurance Program

State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, has signed up as a joint author for House Bill 109 in an effort to restore cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The legislation seeks to bolster the CHIP program to pre-2003 levels. Peña joins House colleague Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in the effort to provide health care to more Texas children.

Turner is the Speaker Pro-Tempore, which is the top lieutenant to Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

“By expanding the number of children who are eligible to receive care under CHIP we are investing in a stronger, healthier Texas,” said Peña. “Our goal is to provide primary and preventive health care to almost 3/4 of a million children.”

There are over 700,000 children who are eligible to receive health care under the CHIP program. As of January 2007, only 321,815 are enrolled. At its peak, in 2002 CHIP served more than 500,000 children and Texas was lauded nationally for the success and enrollment rates of the program.

“I voted against those cuts two sessions ago,” said Peña. “Last session we went back and restored some of those programs. This session we are going to do what it takes to make sure that all kids who qualify have access to health care.”

Highlights of the legislation include:

•The reinstatement of twelve months of continuous coverage instead of 6 months;

•The reinstatement of “income disregards,” expenses that drop a family’s income to the eligibility level, such as child care expenses or work related expenses;

•The reinstatement of community outreach and education campaigns, utilizing school-based health clinics, community based organizations and coalitions to provide information and education to the community; and

•The elimination of the assets test. Texas is one of two states that maintains this standard and the other state’s asset test is capped at $20,000 whereas Texas is at $5,000.

“Other than our public schools I can not think of any other program that has done more good for so many kids,” said Peña.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program was created in 1999 by SB 445 with broad bi-partisan support in the Texas Legislature.

The program is designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private insurance for their children. CHIP provides eligible children with coverage for a full range of health services including regular checkups, immunizations, prescription drugs, lab tests, X-rays, hospital visits and more.

Peña currently sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He is serving his third term in the Texas House.


Lt. Gov. Dewhurst outlines Senate Bill 1 and budget priorities, including $3 billion in property tax cuts

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Wednesday, January 25, unveiled Senate Bill 1, the Legislative Budget Board’s base budget for 2008-09 and outlined his budget priorities in a Capitol news conference.

The two-year LBB budget totals $147.6 billion.

It funds essential services and a separate bill will deliver $14.2 billion in local school property tax cuts passed by the Legislature last spring.

“Four years ago we faced a $10 billion budget deficit that threatened to cripple the state’s ability to provide essential services. By keeping taxes low, holding the line on state spending and passing conservative budgets, we helped generate billions in new revenue. Our conservative fiscal policies are working and there’s no reason to change course now,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst was joined by Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Vice Chair Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

“Thanks to fiscal discipline, new jobs and a robust economy, Texas has gone from a $10 billion deficit to $14.3 billion in new money – a $24.3 billion upswing,” Craddick said. “I am looking forward to continuing this success by working with the Lieutenant Governor, the Senate and the House to make investments in our most critical needs and possibly look at further tax relief.”

Dewhurst’s top priority in the 2008-09 state budget is to return taxpayers’ money to Texas families. To pay for the $14.2 billion in local school property tax cuts, Dewhurst proposes using a portion of new available state revenue along with revenue from tax reform passed last spring to provide a net tax cut of over $6 billion for the biennium.

Dewhurst will also ask the Legislature to set aside at least $3 billion in new revenue to continue local school property tax cuts in 2010-11.

“Cutting local school property taxes isn’t just good fiscal policy, it’s keeping the commitment we made to taxpayers. When we’re blessed with billions in new revenue, we should return as much money as possible to Texas taxpayers,” Dewhurst said.

As introduced, Senate Bill 1 increases the General Revenue budget by $4.6 billion. Over half the increase, $2.5 billion, is not an increase in overall spending but repaying the Foundation School Program deferral in used 2003 and transferring payment of some Child Protective Service reform and public education items to General Revenue from the Rainy Day Fund.

The remaining $2.1 billion increase in the base budget is continuing spending for public schools passed during the Spring Special Session and a net increase for population growth in Medicaid, CHIP, prisons and education which represents a conservative increase in real spending of 3.2% over the biennium, or about 1.6% per year, a rate less than inflation.

Local school property tax cuts and modest growth in essential services will commit approximately $12 billion of the $14.3 billion in new available revenue announced by the Comptroller earlier this month. In this plan approximately 70% of the new available revenue is dedicated to items that do not increase government spending, including tax cuts and paying back money borrowed in 2003.

“I’m going to make sure every penny of the local school property tax cut gets to the taxpayers. I also want to make sure we’re in good shape if our economy slows down,” Dewhurst said.

Details of the Legislative Budget Board’s base budget can be found at


Rep. Riddle takes case to eliminate in-state tuition for illegal immigrants to national airwaves

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Austin, on Monday, January 21, continued her efforts to repeal a Texas law which allows illegal immigrants to receive discounted tuition at state universities with an appearance on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight.

“We have got hardworking Texans, hardworking folks here in Texas that are playing by the rules, abiding by the law.” Riddle told Tonight’s Bill Tucker. “It is their tax money that is helping pay for the college education for folks that, quite frankly, should not even be here in Texas, should not even be here in the United States because they’re illegal.”

Texas was the first state to enact the policy in 2001. Nine other states have since enacted similar legislation.

“It all comes down to this: either our immigration laws matter or they don’t,” Riddle said. “I think that they should matter, and I don’t think you should get a discount on your tuition as a reward for breaking the law, most especially if that reward is being paid for by the taxpayers who are breaking the bank to send their own kids to college.”

Riddle’s House Bill 104 would amend current statute to stipulate that only legal residents are eligible for in-state tuition. The bill will is expected to be debated during the state’s legislative session, which began on Jan 9 and will continue until the end of May.


Sen. Cornyn named top Republican on Immigration, Border Security panel

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas on Thursday, January 25, was officially named the top Republican on the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee on Thursday during Judiciary Committee approval of subcommittee leaders and members.

In addition, Cornyn was selected to serve as a member of the following three subcommittees:

The Constitution; Human Rights and the Law; Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security.

“These subcommittees will allow me to continue working on several of the top challenges of our day, including securing our border and homeland, implementing comprehensive immigration reform and fighting and winning the war on terror,” Cornyn said. “Securing the border and fixing our broken immigration system is one of the most pressing domestic issues facing Texas and our nation and we must work together to address it.”

In the previous Congress, Cornyn and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz, introduced the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act to dramatically bolster border security, strengthen interior enforcement and implement broader reforms of our immigration laws.

Cornyn said the newly formed Human Rights subcommittee will “provide the opportunity to ensure we continue taking steps to end the atrocity of sex slavery and international human trafficking and smuggling.”

Cornyn led a bipartisan effort in the last Congress to combat sex trafficking, a crime that disproportionately victimizes women and children. He introduced legislation to target and reduce demand of trafficking as well as increase penalties for human smuggling. In addition, he has worked with federal, state and local officials to establish task forces in several Texas cities to combat human trafficking and slavery.

Regarding the Terrorism subcommittee, Cornyn said, “We must build on last year’s efforts to provide the necessary tools to fight and win the war on terror, including the ability to detect, deter and disrupt terrorist attacks.”

Below is more information about Cornyn’s Judiciary Committee subcommittees–

Immigration, Refugees and Border Security

Jurisdiction: (1) Immigration, citizenship, and refugee laws; (2) Oversight of the immigration functions of the Department of Homeland Security, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Ombudsman Citizenship and Immigration Services; (3) Oversight of the immigration-related functions of the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the Department of Labor; (4) Oversight of international migration, internally displaced persons, and refugee laws and policy; and (5) Private immigration relief bills.

The Constitution

Jurisdiction: (1) Constitutional amendments; (2) Enforcement and protection of constitutional rights; (3) Statutory guarantees of civil rights and civil liberties; (4) Separation of powers; (5) Federal-State relations; and (6) Interstate compacts.

Human Rights and the Law

Jurisdiction: (1) Human rights laws and policies; (2) Enforcement and implementation of human rights laws; (3) Judicial proceedings regarding human rights laws; and (4) Judicial and executive branch interpretations of human rights laws.

Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security

Jurisdiction: (1) Oversight of anti-terrorism enforcement and policy; (2) Oversight of Department of Homeland Security functions as they relate to anti-terrorism enforcement and policy; (3) Oversight of State Department consular operations as they relate to anti-terrorism enforcement and policy; (4) Oversight of laws related to government information policy, electronic privacy and security of computer information, Freedom of Information Act, and Privacy Act; (5) Oversight of encryption policies and export licensing; and (6) Oversight of espionage laws and their enforcement.


Other UT System campuses join UT-Pan American in offering tuition breaks to low-income students

With an eye toward making college more affordable for economically disadvantaged Texans, The University of Texas System’s academic institutions are establishing guaranteed financial aid programs for students who come from low-income families.

Although eligibility and criteria vary somewhat by campus, the programs effectively guarantee qualifying students that their tuition and mandatory fees will be covered so long as they perform well in their studies and graduate on time.

Most of the guaranteed financial aid programs will begin this fall and apply primarily to incoming freshmen who come from Texas households which earn fewer than $25,000 annually. Three campuses have extended the guaranteed financial aid initiative to eligible students regardless of their class standing.

UT Arlington and UT Dallas were the most recent academic institutions to announce guaranteed financial aid programs, meaning all nine academic institutions in the UT System will have programs available beginning in Fall 2007. UT Arlington will offer its program, called the Maverick Promise, to students who take as few as six hours per semester. UT Dallas’ program is called the UT Dallas Tuition Promise.

“This demonstrates the UT System’s continued commitment to enhance higher education opportunities for financially disadvantaged Texans, and sends a clear message to deserving students that their socio-economic status shouldn’t be a barrier to their college aspirations,” UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof said. “We believe these programs will not only get more students into college, but provide them with the incentives to make good grades and graduate on time,” Yudof added.

The programs could have a profound impact at campuses that serve the state’s most impoverished regions.

At UT Pan American in Edinburg, it is possible that as many as one-half of the student population may meet the financial qualifications for the program, said Elaine Rivera, the university’s director of financial aid.

She expects the initiative, known there as UTPAdvantage, to have a positive impact on the college graduation rate for the Rio Grande Valley, which has a degree attainment rate of about 11 percent – well below the state average of 20 percent.

“This has the potential to change the lives of countless families in the Rio Grande Valley,” Rivera said.

At UT El Paso, where the UTEP Promise launched in the Fall 2006 semester, about 600 students took advantage of the program.

And at UT San Antonio, where the average cost of tuition and mandatory fees hovers at about $6,000 per year for a total of 30 semester hours, the program also includes a work-study component that allows participants to earn additional money to offset the costs of room and board.

The UTSAccess program, as it is known, will also provide support programs such as heightened academic advising, financial aid counseling and tutoring to help students handle the program requirements and graduate on time.

“Access to higher education just got easier for cash-strapped families who want to send their children to UTSA,” President Ricardo Romo said. “This not only helps the students and families that we serve; it adds to the vitality of Texas’ future workforce – and everyone benefits from that.”

At UT Tyler, that campus created the Pathway to Success Program, which allows incoming freshmen from households earning $25,000 or less to participate as long as they complete a minimum 12 semester credit hours in the fall and spring semesters (plus six more in the summer) and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average.

UT Permian Basin offers the UTPB Promise financial aid program and UT Brownsville/TSC plans to announce its program this month.

The first campus to start such a program was The University of Texas at Austin. Since 2003, eligible students there have had all increases in flat-rate tuition covered by the program if they come from households that earn up to $40,000 per year and, on average, eligible students have had all their flat-rate tuition paid by financial aid.

To become eligible for any of the programs, students must be Texas residents and apply for federal financial aid by the March 31 deadline. Once qualified, they must fulfill academic requirements set forth by each campus and graduate on time.

The programs will be funded through a mix of federal, state, institutional and private sources. Although many of the qualifying students already would’ve qualified for federal and state aid, each institution has promised to fill in the gaps to cover the entire cost of tuition and fees.

Students who come from families that earn more than the limit necessary to qualify for the program are also encouraged to apply for federal financial aid by the March 31 deadline to help reduce their college costs.

Although they may not qualify for the program, they still could qualify for significant financial aid. To find out how much aid you may qualify for, visit the UT System’s Web site. For more information about each campus program, please visit the respective institutions’ Web site.

Serving the educational and health care needs of Texans for more than 125 years, the UT System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems with 15 campuses – including nine academic and six health institutions – and an annual operating budget of $10 billion (FY 2007). Student enrollment exceeded 190,000 in the 2006 academic year. The UT System confers one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates three-fourths of Texas health care professionals. With more than 76,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in Texas.


Texas Senate Week in Review: Lawmakers file legislation as session gears up

Though Senate rules prevent legislation from being debated on the Senate floor for the first 60 days of session, senators aren’t wasting any time getting their bills in the parliamentary pipeline. Only bills on the governor’s emergency agenda, or those that get four-fifths approval can be brought to the floor before sixty days, but any bill can get a committee hearing with the chairman’s approval.

Among the bills already filed is Senate Bill 1, the base budget bill. This legislation will act as a framework for the final appropriations bill, which sets state priorities for spending and provides the money for essential services.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst laid out the base budget bill Tuesday, January 22, with the help of Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Vice-Chair Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Dewhurst wanted to make clear exactly how much of a budget surplus the state has available for the upcoming 2008-2009 biennium.

Some media outlets have been reporting the surplus as the full $14.3 billion in new revenue, he said, but the state has obligations for most of that money.

“We’ve got enough money to be able to balance our budget over the next four years, provide for modest increase in our essential services, and still provide the promised local school property tax cuts that we outlined last May, a little over $7 billion in local school property taxes each year for the next four years,” said Dewhurst.

After paying back state funds used to balance the budget in past sessions, debt service on bonds, Medicaid expense increases, new education reforms, and the cost of lowering property taxes from $1.50 per $100 valuation to $1, Dewhurst said the budget surplus will be about $2.5 billion. He said lawmakers will have to decide how to spend that new money, with competition among higher education, prison construction, border security, and others.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, filed a bill Wednesday, January 23, that he says would pressure the Sudanese government to stop the genocide being committed in the Darfur region of that country. Senate Bill 247, the “Stop Darfur Genocide Act” would prohibit state pension funds, notably the Teachers and Employees Retirement System funds, from investing in companies that do business with the Sudanese government, and require them to divest funds already invested with these companies.

Ellis said that economic pressure is the best way for Texas to affect the domestic policy of the Sudan.

“This targeted disinvestment approach will maximize the impact to the Sudanese government, while minimizing harms to the Sudanese citizens and investment returns,” said Ellis.

Also filed Wednesday, January 23, was a bill that puts single, first-time mothers in contact with qualified nurses to teach them to be better parents.

Senate Bill 156, filed by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, would expand the Nurse/Family Partnership initiative (NFP) from a pilot program in Dallas to 11 other urban areas in Texas. NFP provides in-home counseling and training to mothers from pregnancy up to two years after birth.

House sponsor Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who chairs the House Corrections Committee, said this preventative program is among the most successful ever in reducing future crime and increasing the quality of life among participants.

“The Nurse/Family Partnership has demonstrated consistent, quantifiable outcomes that are verifiable through multiple randomized tests with the first populations [in NFP]. It works everywhere,” he said.

Shapiro pointed out that this program offers a good return on investment for Texas. She cited a Rand Corporation study that showed that for every dollar invested in NFP, communities reap $5.70 in social benefits, from increased productivity to decreased crime and learning impairment. “I have always believed in evidence based prevention programs,” she said, “I believe in the long-term effects of a long-term initiative that will truly save dollars, not just talk about it, and we’ve seen the evidence that goes along with it.”

It was announced Monday, January 21, that Senate President Pro Tempore Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, underwent a liver transplant over the weekend. Close friend and colleague Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he visited Gallegos, and that the senator was alert, conscious, and optimistic about his prognosis.

Dewhurst said Gallegos told him he could be back to work in Austin in a few weeks.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 29, at 1:30 p.m.

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

Titans of the Texas Legislature