Featured: A recent U.S. Air Force poster, part of an ongoing campaign by the American military in support of Airmen and their families who have been a victim of sexual assault. In Texas, a statewide effort led by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is underway to develop strategies to reduce sexual assault by equipping the public with knowledge and awareness of this serious crime by designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Photograph Courtesy of U.S. AIR FORCE
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has proposed that April would be designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Texas in order to increase knowledge that leads to more prevention of sexual assault and punishment of criminals, and to authorize the regular observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month through appropriate activities in public schools and other places. Sexual assault, according to FindLaw.com, occurs when a defendant – intentionally and knowingly – commits any of a number of prohibited sexual activities listed under Texas’ sexual assault law without the victim’s consent. Canales’ proposal, as illustrated in House Bill 822, was overwhelmingly approved by the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday, April 2o, 2017. The bill will now go to the Texas Senate for their action. “Today, I passed legislation out of the House to officially designate the month of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in an effort to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual assault,” Canales said. “We need everyone’s help to reduce sexual assault, and I believe that officially designating this month is a step in the right direction towards proactively reducing sexual assault.” Sexual assault is a serious criminal violation. Canales’ measure stems from a study conducted by UT Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, whose findings were released on Friday, March 24, 2017. The report titled Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments showed that sexual assault is an ongoing problem throughout society, including in the halls of higher education. According to the study, almost 200 out of the more than 3,800 students who participated in the anonymous online survey reported to have been sexually assaulted since they have been enrolled at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s campuses. Nine percent of those students who participated in the anonymous online survey – almost 350 individuals – said they had been victims of unwanted sexual touching since they have been enrolled at UTRGV’s campuses. “These figures are shocking, to say the least,” said Canales, an attorney who also serves on the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, which shapes state laws to protect Texans, especially from violent criminals. “But through this legislation, and another major bill I am working on, we are going to help remove the shroud of secrecy over sexual assault, family violence, and stalking policies at our public universities and colleges.” House Bill 1096, coauthored by Canales and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, would require public universities and colleges in Texas to provide students and organizations with information about these crimes. “If HB 1096 becomes law, but a public university or college fails to provide that information, that university or college would not receive any state funding,” Canales said.
Featured, from left: Mario Lizcano, Marketing Director, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Robert Martínez, M.D., Chief Physician Executive, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel in McAllen for the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-up Luncheon. Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
Five Valley representatives are among 28 state lawmakers who have called on the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to look elsewhere in their massive budget rather than reduce Medicaid funding for medically necessary therapy services for an estimated 60,000 pediatric and elderly Texans. According to information from the Health and Human Services Commission requested by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, more than 26,000 residents in the Rio Grande Valley would be affected by the planned rate reductions, which could go into effect on September 1. Canales, Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, were among the authors of a July 22, 2015 letter delivered to Chris Traylor, Executive Commissioner of that powerful agency, which administers Medicaid, among other major health and human service programs. “We write today in opposition to the rates proposed by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) for physical, occupational, and speech therapy provided by Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities/Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (CORF/ORF), Home Health Agencies (HHA), and Independent Therapists,” the 28 state representatives stated. “We fear the proposed reductions will severely limit access to medically-necessary services for the most vulnerable in our state.” The legislative intervention is part of a statewide effort to protect Medicaid funding for those vital services for deserving Texans. Those cuts could involve up to $350 million in federal and state moneys for the therapy programs controlled by the HHSC. That $350 million estimate reflects the total potential impact if both rate reductions and policy changes directed in Rider 50 of the state budget are implemented. For only the rate reductions ($100 million in state funds), the total impact would be approximately $233 million. Public comment is closed, but the Health and Human Services Council will consider testimony and make the final recommendation by the time the new state budget goes into effect in about a month. Canales and the 27 other lawmakers who signed the July 22 letter to Traylor contend that the two-year state budget approved by the majority of the Texas Legislature allows the Health and Human Services Commission to come up with revenue from other sources or develop alternative financing plans to keep the funding at the same level. “Individuals to be most impacted by this proposal include children receiving services for birth defects, genetic disorders, and/or physical or cognitive disabilities,” the legislative correspondence added. “(We) think you would agree that, rather than subject them to additional barriers, we have a duty to safeguard these fragile young Texans.” Canales, Guillén, Lucio, III, Martínez, and Muñoz concluded their letter by urging the HHSC leadership “to comprehensively study the effect this level of reductions could have on access to care prior to the implementation of any cost-reduction strategy. While short-term cost containment may be possible using this methodology, the longer term cost to our state and to those most in need is potentially catastrophic.” Earlier in the spring, state legislators, led by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, along with pediatric and elderly patients, parents, patient advocates and members of therapy provider associations, gathered at the State Capitol to begin raising awareness of those pending budget cuts, which had been included in the Senate version of the state budget, according to the Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice.
The family of former Rep. Cullen Looney, D-Edinburg, and his wife, Carol Lynn, gathered on Thursday, September 18, for the dedication of the Will Looney Legacy Park, which is an addition to the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg. The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a bronze sculpture entitled, “Texas Legacy.” The sculpture depicts with great detail a young man mounted on horseback respectfully clasping the hand of an elderly woman standing next to the horse and rider. The figures represent the late Will Looney and his grandmother, the late Margaret Montgomery Looney. The sculpture is a gift from the Looney family. Featured, from left, are: Cullen Looney; Carol Lynn Looney; Cortney Looney; Forrest Runnels holding Forrest Runnels Jr.; and Lorin Looney holding William Cullen Runnels. See story later in this posting.
The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, September 23, passed a balanced budget for the second year in a row. The 2009 general fund budget is roughly $162 million, an overall increase of 9.3 percent from 2008. “This is the second time in more than 20 years that Hidalgo County has had a balanced budget. The first time was last year,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured here during a recent appearance at the University of Texas-Pan American. “I am extremely pleased with the leadership of the court and the understanding and carefulness with which the budget department and department heads developed this balanced budget.” See story later in this posting.
Gov. Rick Perry, featured in this file photo during his visit to Edinburg earlier this summer, on Friday, September 26, encouraged the continued support of research in cancer prevention and treatment during the groundbreaking of the Baylor Cancer Center in Dallas. “Baylor’s new facility will be an essential part of our statewide effort to eradicate this indiscriminate killer,” Perry said. “The brilliant ideas in cancer research developed at this center will move us closer to discovering a cure, bringing an end to cancer’s deadly role in our society.” The governor noted that facilities like the Baylor Cancer Center combined with funding provided by Proposition 15, will launch Texas to the forefront of biomedical research and innovation. Proposition 15 was created by the Texas Legislature at Perry’s request through House Bill 14 and approved by voters in November 2007. It established the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, enabling the issuance of $3 billion in bonds over the 10 years to fund cancer research at institutions throughout the state. See story later in this posting.