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Gov. Rick Perry (seated), a Republican and the longest-serving governor in Texas history, on Tuesday, July 16, was at The University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg to participate in a bill-signing ceremony that will merge UT-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville into one, Valley-wide higher education complex, complete with a four-year UT medical school, which will be built in the next few years. The legislation, Senate Bill 24 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, was approved by the Texas Legislature in late May, and signed into law by Perry. Senate Bill 24 was the top priority of the Edinburg City Council and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation as part of their successful 2013 state legislative agenda. The measure included the entire Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation as joint authors and joint sponsors. Featured in this photograph are: Seated: Texas Governor Rick Perry. Standing, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; President Juliet V. García, The University of Texas at Brownsville; Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., Chancellor, The University of Texas System; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Ernest “Ernie” Aliseda, Member, The University of Texas System Board of Regents; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville; Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya; Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito; Nash M. Horne, Student Regent, The University of Texas System Board of Regents; Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and President Robert S. Nelsen, The University of Texas-Pan American. See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured center at the University of Texas-Pan American, addresses South Texas journalists on Tuesday, July 16, helping lay out the timetable of events that will lead to the creation of a new university in the Valley, the result of a merger of UT-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville. Hinojosa was the author of Senate Bill 24, which will create the new UT higher education institution, which will include the construction of a full-fledged UT medical school in the Valley. Timeline highlights include the following: name for new university to be finalized in November-December 2013; president of the new university to be announced in January-February 2014; recruitment of inaugural first class through January-December 2014; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) approves new university in June 2015; and inaugural class enrolls in new university in August 2015. Featured, from left: Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, the House lead sponsor of SB 24; Gov. Rick Perry; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, a Senate author of SB 24; and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, a House sponsor of SB 24. See story in this posting.

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Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas-Pan American (featured center), on June 18 took on a new role to further advance the university’s commitment to community engagement. Rodríguez was appointed by the Edinburg City Council as the newest member of the Board of Directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC). “This opportunity to become a member of the EEDC is one of those where you lead by example and to work quite extensively on making the university an engaged university, which allows us to become a connected part of the community which UTPA interacts with on a regular basis,” Rodríguez said. As a board member, Rodríguez will attend board meetings and vote on key issues regarding job creation and social, cultural and economic development of the community. Rodríguez will also visit with potential business investors and consultants who work in collaboration with the city, as well as facilitate and attend joint meetings with the university and the city’s key officials. As part of its creation in the 1990s by Edinburg voters, one of the five members of the EEDC Board of Directors must represent UT-Pan American. Rodríguez was appointed to the EEDC Board of Directors following the departure of a fellow university leader – Dr. Glenn Martínez – who was selected as Department Chair and Professor of Spanish, in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The Ohio State University, located in Columbus, Ohio. Featured, from left, are former longtime McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, and Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr., who served on the EEDC Board of Directors before he was elected to the Edinburg City Council. See story later in this posting.

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Since the mid-1990s, the Edinburg City Council and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council – have been active participants in the state legislative process, successfully securing the introduction and passage of major proposals that have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy. Among the legislative achievements for the city’s elected and appointed leadership include the funding and passage of state laws and policies that have significantly improved infrastructure, highways, and higher education. The city council’s and EEDC’s top priority this year was Senate Bill 24, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveria, D-Brownsville, which will merge the University of Texas-Pan American and UT-Brownsville into one Valley-wide “super university” – still part of the UT System – plus the creation of a full-fledged UT medical school, including a major campus in Edinburg. Featured during the Tuesday, July 15 ceremony at UT-Pan American celebrating the passage of SB 24 are, from left: City Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr.; René Ramírez, the state lobbyist for the city council and EEDC; and City Councilmember J.R. Bentancourt.

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Edinburg Mayor Richard García, featured here at the University of Texas-Pan American with former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, helped lead Hidalgo County support for the passage of Senate Bill 24, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which will combine the resources and assets of UT-Pan American and UT- Brownsville and the future South Texas School of Medicine into a single institution that spans the entire Rio Grande Valley. The UT System Board of Regents has approved spending $100 million over the next decade to accelerate the pace of establishing the school of medicine. The ambitious initiative – approved by the Board of Regents in December, supported by Gov. Rick Perry in his State of the State Address in January, and made possible by a bill that garnered overwhelming support from the Texas Legislature last spring – promises to transform South Texas by providing limitless opportunities in education and economic growth and improving healthcare for millions of Texans. The goal is for the university – with a focus on bi-literacy, bilingualism and biculturalism – to build a world-class reputation and pursue global excellence in teaching, research and healthcare. Gonzales serves as Vice President for University Advancement for UTPA. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya, on Monday, July 29, announced he will seek a second two-year term to the Texas House of Representatives for House District 35, which includes portions of Hidalgo and Cameron counties. “It is a tremendous honor to serve the people of District 35 in the House,” Longoria. “I’m honored and humbled that the people of Hidalgo and Cameron counties have elected me once before, and is my hope is that I have earned their trust for another term.” During the 83rd Legislative Session, Longoria was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee, where he serves on the sub-committee for Articles I, IV, and V, and as Vice-Chairman of the Budget Transparency and Reform Sub-committee. He is also an appointed member of the Investments & Financial Services Committee. “I have truly enjoyed being a part of the legislative process during my first term this session,” said Longoria. “My intent is to ensure that our children and my constituents, not only in the Rio Grande Valley, but those across the entire state, receive the best care for generations to come, and have their voices represented by me in the Texas House of Representatives.” Longoria’s House District 35 includes La Joya, Sullivan City, Peñitas, Alton, McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, Monte Alto, Edcouch, La Villa, Mercedes, Weslaco, Santa Rosa, Primera, Palm Valley, Combes, Harlingen, and La Feria.

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The city’s latest luxury homes complex, the Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1, helped boost the value of construction in May to more than $14 million, almost three times better than the same month in 2012, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. “For the month of May 2013, total construction in Edinburg was valued at $14,157,660, compared with $5,048,148 in May 2012 – the latest figures available from the Code Enforcement Department of the City of Edinburg,” said Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (featured with microphone) “Year-to-date, the value of all construction in Edinburg reached $73,795,848 during the first five months of 2013, compared with $42,628,060 from January through May 2012.” The Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1, classified as a multi-family project, represented the single-most valuable undertaking in May. According to the Code Enforcement Department for the City of Edinburg, the 168-unit Class-A luxury apartments complex is valued at $7 million, based on the building permit issued for its construction. Building permits do not include the value of the land. Featured with García during one of his recent presentations to area business leaders are Martín Rivas, Director of Membership for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and Letty González, President of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

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Edinburg, Hidalgo County, and state leaders on Monday, July 15, celebrated the placement of the first signs marking Interstate 69 East, Interstate 2 and Interstate 69 Central, a ceremony that marked the first time the Rio Grande Valley will be served by the Interstate Highway System. Local, state and federal leaders participated in the unveiling of the new signs at the now renamed I2/I69C interchange in Pharr. The 13.5 miles of U.S. Expressway 281 freeway in Pharr and Edinburg is now signed as Interstate 69 Central, a designation that will eventually extend northward all the way to George West. U.S. Expressway 77 through Cameron and Willacy counties is now signed as Interstate 69 East. This includes 53.3 miles of existing freeway starting at the Rio Grande River in Brownsville and running north past Raymondville. Featured, from left: Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Jr.; Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr.; Edinburg City Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr.; and Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. See story later in this posting.

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Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, featured second from left, the 8th president of The University of Texas-Pan American, on Thursday August 15, will be the keynote speaker for the Public Affairs Luncheon, coordinated by the Public Affairs Committee of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center, located at 1903 South Closner in Edinburg. The Public Affairs Luncheon, an initiative introduced in 2006, features popular topics with speakers that cover important legislative and community issues. Cost to attend the luncheon is $12 per person or $125 for a table of eight, and includes a hot lunch, non-alcoholic beverage and dessert. Featured at the univerity’s Student Union Building during the Tuesday, July 15 celebration of the merger of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville are, from left: Dr. Juliet V. García, President, The University of Texas at Brownsville; Dr. Nelsen, President, The University of Texas-Pan American; Gov. Rick Perry; Gene Powell, Chairman, The University of Texas System Board of Regents; and Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, Chancellor, The University of Texas. See story later in this posting.

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With the new “Super University”, a new South Texas University of Texas Medical School, and increased funding for health and public education secured for House District 40, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg (featured right) on Tuesday, June 23 announced his intention to seek reelection to the Texas Legislature. Canales’ House District 40 contains most of Edinburg, including The University of Texas-Pan American, Elsa, San Carlos, La Blanca, Faysville, northern Pharr, and portions of McAllen and Weslaco. “It is an honor to serve the families and businesses of Edinburg and Hidalgo County,” said Canales, a local attorney and father of three. “I am blessed and humbled by the sheer amount of people who encourage me to seek another term as State Representative. Today, I am pleased to announce my reelection campaign for the Texas House.” Canales played a key role in personally securing the majority of votes in the 150-member House of Representatives to pass Senate Bill 24, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which will merge UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville, and with it, create a full-fledged UT medical school with a major presence in Edinburg. “Tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, directly and indirectly linked to Senate Bill 24, will be created over the next few years as a result of the construction, operation, and maintenance of a UT medical school in the Valley, including here in House District 40, where Edinburg will have a major campus,” said Canales. “Equally important, SB 24 gives UT-Pan American access to the $13 billion Permanent University Fund for the first time. The funds can be used for major construction projects, including a much-needed $100 million Science Building at UTPA and construction of the UT medical school in Edinburg and throughout the Valley.” Featured with Canales at the Texas Capitol in January are, from left: Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, President, The University of Texas at Brownsville; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, President, The University of Texas-Pan American; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and Rep. Canales. See lead story in this posting.

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With UT medical school and increased funding for health and education secured for House District 40, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, announces bid for reelection

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

With the new “Super University”, a new South Texas University of Texas Medical School, and increased funding for health and public education secured for House District 40, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Tuesday, June 23 announced his intention to seek reelection to the Texas Legislature.

Canales’ House District 40 contains most of Edinburg, including The University of Texas-Pan American, Elsa, San Carlos, La Blanca, Faysville, northern Pharr, and portions of McAllen and Weslaco.

“It is an honor to serve the families and businesses of Edinburg and Hidalgo County,” said Canales, a local attorney and father of three. “I am blessed and humbled by the sheer amount of people who encourage me to seek another term as State Representative. Today, I am pleased to announce my reelection campaign for the Texas House.”

He is married to Erica E. Canales of Edinburg, who is a local business owner. They are the parents of Terry Andres Canales, Juliana Figueroa, and newborn Caleb Ezra Canales. The family lives in Edinburg, where Juliana attends public school and son Terry will soon begin pre-school.

Currently, Canales is in the process of renovating his new district office within a building owned by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, located at 101 North 10th Avenue, across from the Hidalgo County Courthouse.

In the meantime, his constituents who are in the need of assistance are encouraged to call his Capitol office at (512) 463-0426 or to come to his law practice at 2727 West University Drive in Edinburg.

TENS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBS TO BE CREATED BY LEGISLATION CHAMPIONED BY REP. CANALES

His bid for a second two-year term, which would begin in January 2015, comes after a remarkable first term, which included landmark legislation – of which he was a leading sponsor – that will improve medical education, health care, and economic development in the near future, and for generations to come.

Canales currently serves on the influential Committee on Energy Resources, which deals with the production, regulation, transportation, and development of oil, gas, and other energy resources in the State of Texas, and the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, which handles legislation designed to protect Texans from criminals, and ensure fairness in the judicial system.

“I worked hard this past session to fight for the priorities of my district, including education, healthcare, veterans, and job creation. Working closely and effectively with the Valley legislative delegation and the other top leadership of the Legislature, we achieved many of these goals that exceeded even my own expectations,” he said.

Canales played a key role in personally securing the majority of votes in the 150-member House of Representatives to pass Senate Bill 24, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which will merge UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville, and with it, create a full-fledged UT medical school with a major presence in Edinburg.

“Tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, directly and indirectly linked to Senate Bill 24, will be created over the next few years as a result of the construction, operation, and maintenance of a UT medical school in the Valley, including here in House District 40, where Edinburg will have a major campus,” said Canales. “Equally important, SB 24 gives UT-Pan American access to the $13 billion Permanent University Fund for the first time. The funds can be used for major construction projects, including a much-needed $100 million Science Building at UTPA and construction of the UT medical school in Edinburg and throughout the Valley.”

On Wednesday, July 10, Canales attended the UT System Board of Regents meeting in Austin, where the first distribution of money from the Permanent University Fund – an allocation totaling $44.8 million – was provided to the “Super University.”

“I was beside myself thinking that District 40 and the people of South Texas will be receiving a distribution of this magnitude as a result of legislation that I, along with the rest of the Valley Delegation, worked so hard to pass,” Canales said.

SUCCESSFUL LAWMAKER HELPED BRING MILLIONS MORE STATE DOLLARS FOR SCHOOLS IN HOUSE DISTRICT 40

Canales’ work in the Legislature also resulted in the passage of a new state budget that helped restore drastic budget cuts to public schools which occurred 18 months before he was elected to the House of Representatives.

“I fought for increases in education and healthcare in the state’s budget – which did not raise taxes – and which allowed for more than $1.2 billion in tax relief,“ Canales emphasized. “This session we fully funded enrollment growth in our public schools which was not done last biennium, while increasing the money to the Foundation School Program by $3.2 billion dollars. On top of that, we managed to secure an additional $530 million went to strengthen the Teacher Retirement System.”

According to the Texas Education Agency, Edinburg CISD will see an increase in their budget of 5.05% percent in 2014 and 7.74% in 2015, which is a significant increase in per student funding.

Canales is a passionate advocate for education, always striving to ensure that our children are seen as an investment and not an expense. He holds a deep-rooted belief that education is the cornerstone of society and a great equalizer.

Canales also coauthored House Bill 5 during the regular session, which reduced the number of mandatory high school end-of-course exams from 15 to 5.

“I told the people of District 40 that I would fight to reduce standardized testing, and restore budget cuts, and that is exactly what I did,” he said. “The bill places curriculum back into our educator’s hand by allowing teachers to spend more time teaching and not simply preparing students for tests,” he said.

“This session also saw increases in funding to the TEXAS Grant fund so that Texas high school graduates with financial need can receive up to $7,400 a year to attend public universities. Legislators also increased per-student funding at colleges and universities to reduce the need for tuition increases that can make college unaffordable for our children,” he added.

OTHER MAJOR LAWS AUTHORED/SPONSORED BY REP. CANALES

• House Bill 5 (Aycock, Canales, et. al./Patrick)

Relating to public school accountability, including assessment, and curriculum requirements.

HB 5 will bring needed balance to excessive state-mandated testing.  The current system costs too much in time, money, and resources that  should  be dedicated to classroom instruction rather than test preparation. Over-testing threatens the futures of high school students, most of whom now must pass 15 EOC exams to be eligible to graduate, as opposed to four exit-level tests under the TAKS program.

This new law also will make changes to the high school curriculum that maintain rigor while providing students flexibility to pursue college or career interests. This would meet the growing need of Texas employers for skilled workers ready to enter technical trades, such as welding, pipefitting, and computer animation. Finally, the bill would broaden the accountability system to lessen reliance on test scores and provide a better understanding of overall school performance.

While the commitment of Texas to public school accountability has certainly yielded gains in student achievement over the years, the burden created by excessive testing has grown too large. HB 5 addresses the excesses of the state’s testing and accountability system while maintaining high standards and expectations for Texas students.

• House Bill 1768 (Canales/Hinojosa)

Relating to identification requirements for certain fire hydrants and flush valves.

Firefighters in rural areas of the state have faced increasing problems with broken fire hydrants, resulting in significant property loss and a potential risk to human life. Recent legislation was enacted to help firefighters identify nonfunctioning hydrants by requiring the owners of hydrants to paint the hydrants black if they are nonfunctioning or otherwise unavailable for fire suppression services.

However, after passage of that legislation several years earlier, some water utilities – including in Hidalgo County – began painting all of their hydrants black out of concern that the statute might subject them to lawsuits.

HB 1768 solves that problem by setting out the conditions under which a hydrant is considered unavailable, exempting a water utility from liability for a hydrant’s inability to provide adequate water supply in a fire emergency, and implementing a color coding system for hydrants that are used only to fill the tanks of fire trucks.

• House Bill 1973 (Lucio, III, Canales, et. al./Hegar)

Relating to the provision of water by a public utility or water supply or sewer service corporation for use in fire suppression.

HB 1973 addresses concerns that neighborhoods across the state within a municipality’s city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction that are served by water supply corporations (WSCs) and investor owned utilities (IOUs) are not equipped with fire hydrants with adequate pressure (psi) and flow (gallons per minute) to fight fires.

Currently, only public utilities serving cities with 1 million or more residents — Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas — are required to comply with fire-flow standards. This law will expand the standards statewide to ensure communities served by WSCs and IOUs within cities and extraterritorial jurisdictions had access to sufficient fire flows in times of emergency.

• House Bill 2090 (Canales/Hinojosa)

Relating to a written statement made by an accused as a result of custodial interrogation.

HB 2090 will establish a sensible procedure to ensure the integrity of the judicial system by requiring that the accused be able read and understand the written statement the person signs.

Currently, it is possible that a non-English speaker could sign a written statement in English without understanding the content of the statement. HB 2090 removes such an injustice.

• House Bill 349 (Canales/Hinojosa)

Relating to electronically filing any court document in a criminal case in Hidalgo County.

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered that civil cases—including those in family, probate, county, and district courts—be filed uniformly and electronically by 2016.  Electronic filing for criminal cases has lagged behind civil cases in Texas. Currently no parties in a criminal case can digitally file court documents in Hidalgo County.

Filing physical documents is both time-consuming and environmentally wasteful. District clerks are burdened with the inordinate amounts of paper stacking up on their desks. While electronic filing is an option for all counties, it is up to the discretion of the courts to implement an e-filing system.

HB 349 requires Hidalgo County district courts to allow parties to electronically file court documents. This will save Hidalgo County money and move it into the 21st century, becoming a model criminal court system for other counties to follow. HB 349 changes current law relating to electronically filing any court document in a criminal case in Hidalgo County.

• House Bill 442 (Muñoz, Jr., Canales, et. al./Hinojosa)

Relating to the recognition of a portion of U.S. Highway 83 as a memorial to Trooper Eduardo Chavez.

Texas Highway Patrol Trooper Eduardo Chávez was killed in the line of duty in May 2006, having suffered fatal injuries in a traffic accident that occurred on United States Highway 83, also known as the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway, as he drove his patrol vehicle to assist his fellow trooper and brother with a felony narcotics stop.

Records note that Trooper Chávez was a former Edinburg resident from a law enforcement family, was a three-year veteran of the Department of Public Safety of the State of Texas who previously had worked as a sheriff’s deputy in Hidalgo County, and is survived by his wife of five years, Iliana.

Law enforcement officers who fall in the line of duty deserve recognition for their service, and a highway memorial allows Texans to acknowledge and pay respect to selfless individuals such as Trooper Chávez who put their lives at risk and sometimes pay the ultimate price to keep us safe. The goal of HB 442 is to commemorate the life and service of Trooper Eduardo Chávez. HB 442 changes current law relating to the recognition of a portion of U.S. Highway 83 as a memorial to Trooper Eduardo Chávez.

• House Bill 1090 (Mando Martínez, Lucio, III, Canales/Hinojosa)

Relating to the creation of Texas Task Force 1 Type 3 Rio Grande Valley and authorizing the creation of a Texas Task Force 2 by certain municipalities.

HB 1090 will locate a regional response search-and-rescue task force – know as a Texas Task Force 1 Type 3 Rio Grande Valley – in deep South Texas, which is one of the areas of the state vulnerable to hurricanes.

The Valley is too far removed from the rest of the state to fully count on assistance from Texas Task Force 1 in times of emergency, nor can it fully contribute to task force missions.

The Valley’s combination of low-lying areas and flood prone highways means it should have its own task force to deal with emergency search and rescue in the event it is cut off from the rest of the state.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed HB 1090 because of unrelated concerns to public safety, but still took positive action that has the same effect as HB 1090. The governor instructed the Texas A&M System Board of Regents and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to still create the Texas Task Force 1 team, to be based in the Valley, to help with any disaster in South Texas.

• House Bill 1422 (Geren, Canales/Eltife)

Relating to the reporting in a lobbyist registration of certain persons from whom compensation or reimbursement is received.

A registered lobbyist who also acts as a campaign consultant is not currently required to disclose information related to the lobbyist’s consulting activities.  This lack of disclosure can potentially lead to conflicts of interest between lobbyists and members of the legislative body and can breed distrust with the public.

HB 1422 addresses this issue and promotes transparency by expanding lobbyist disclosure requirements.  Specifically, HB 1422 changes the Government Code to require a lobbyist to include on the lobbyist’s registration form the name of any lawmaker who compensates or reimburses the registrant from campaign funds for services, including political consulting services.

• House Bill 1562 (Harless, Canales/Hinojosa)

Relating to notice provided when a bail bond surety is in default.

Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 17.11 governs sureties for bail bonds. Under sec. 2, a surety, such as a professional bail bond agent that is in default on a bail bond is disqualified to sign as a surety on any other bail bond. The clerk of the court is required give notice in writing of a default to the sheriff, chief of police, or other peace officer but not to provide notice to the bail bond agent, which would hasten payment of bail bonds in default and enable bail bond agents to continue to act as sureties.

HB 1562 will require the clerk of a court where a surety was in default on a bail bond for an offense other than a class C misdemeanor (maximum fine of $500) to send notice of the default by certified mail to the last known address of the surety.

• House Bill 1960 (Cortez, Moody, Canales/Campbell)

Relating to reciprocity for emergency medical services personnel certification for certain United States military personnel.

HB 1960 will allow U.S. experienced combat medics, once they finish their military tours of duty, to qualify for certification by the state as emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in Texas.

• House Bill 2424 (Mando Martínez, Muñoz, Jr., Canales/Hinojosa)

Relating to the designation of the part of U.S. Highway 83 Business in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties as a portion of the national Purple Heart Trail. HB 2424 changed current law relating to the designation of the part of U.S. Highway 83 Business in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties as a portion of the national Purple Heart Trail.

• House Joint Resolution 147 (Guerra, Canales, et. al./Hinojosa)

Proposing a constitutional amendment repealing the constitutional provision authorizing the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County. HJR 147 would allow Hidalgo County, with voter approval, to raise local revenue and generate additional money from state and national sources, to help provide medical care to the poor and uninsured.

• House Bill 78 (Simpson, Canales, et. al./Etlife)

Relating to the exemption from the sales and use tax for certain coins and precious metals.

HB 787 will allow more Texans, especially lower and fixed-income residents, to invest in the financial security offered by precious metal coins without being penalized by the sales tax. The difficulty with Texas’ current tax treatment of precious metal coins is that the tax break is out of reach for most Texans.

The current policy actually punishes those who would like to save but can only purchase precious metal coins in lower denominations. Those who wish to protect themselves against possible future increases in inflation should not be penalized 8.25 percent for making smaller investments in gold and silver.

It is difficult for those with low or fixed incomes, such as teachers who want to invest in metal coins to pay for retirement, to save enough for their precious metal purchases to be exempt from sales tax. These individuals should be able to make small transactions to help make themselves financially secure, as opposed to making their purchases out-of-state, which leaves them unprotected by consumer protection laws.

HELPING PEOPLE IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT

Following in the footsteps of his father, Terry A. Canales, a former State District Judge, and his uncle, Arnulfo González, Jr., by earning a law degree from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio.

He is a general practitioner with a distinguished trial record and a reputation for zealously advocating for his clients.

He specializes in oil and gas litigation, criminal defense, personal injury, family law, real estate, and municipal law. Having represented thousands of clients and multiple municipalities, he is on the forefront of many issues that affect all Texans. Canales says being an attorney counselor at law is extremely rewarding.

“Helping people is what the practice of law is all about, and pro bono work is the staple of every successful practice,” he said.

Canales made history on January 8, 2013, when he took his oath of office at the State Capitol to serve as a state representative.

His victories in the 2012 Democratic primary, run-off election, and November general election marked the first time in Texas history that three members of an immediate family were elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

His father, Terry A. Canales, was the first Hispanic state representative to represent Jim Wells County, serving from 1973 to 1977.

His sister, Gabriella “Gabi” Canales, served in the House of Representatives in 2003 and 2004.

His father and sister are Democrats.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is also the sixth member of his extended family to serve in the Texas House of Representatives.

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Gov. Perry, UT System, Edinburg, and Rio Grande Valley leaders celebrate birth of new university and full-fledged UT medical school

By MELISSA VÁSQUEZ

From a young age, Anju Abraham knew she was going to be in the medical field. Today, she is a junior at South Texas High School for Health Professions in Mercedes who is looking forward to attending school at the new university – the result of the merger of the University of Texas-Pan American and UT-Brownsville – in South Texas, expected to open its doors in August 2015.

For Abraham this new university – it’s new name will be determined at the end of this year – that will combine the assets and resources of UT Pan American and UT Brownsville and establish a new medical school could not have come at a better time for the Middle Eastern-born student. She was not looking forward to leaving her loved ones behind to pursue her dream of becoming an anesthesiologist.

“All students in the Rio Grande Valley will have options — (because of this university) — options to stay with family and friends and options to better serve the community,” Abraham said. “Thanks for giving me something exciting to look forward to.”

Abraham addressed a crowd of more than 500, which included Gov. Rick Perry, during a celebration at The University of Texas-Pan American on Tuesday, July 16, marking the landmark legislation that authorized the creation of the new university in the Rio Grande Valley.

Joining Perry for this once-in-a-lifetime moment were UT System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, UT Pan American President Robert S. Nelsen, UT Brownsville President Juliet V. Garcia, along with numerous Texas legislators, community leaders, UTPA alumni, students, staff and faculty who witnessed one of the university’s most historic events in the campus’ 85-year history.

Perry ceremonially signed copies of Senate Bill 24 that combines the two South Texas institutions and a new medical school into a single institution for the region. Also applauded was the $40 million allotted to the new university from the Permanent University Fund (PUF), bringing this important resource to the area for the first time. UTPA and UTB were the only UT System institutions that, by law, had no access to PUF.

“I’ve had some wonderful moments as governor and, in 30 seconds, one of the greatest moments in my governorship will be to put pen to paper to this piece of legislation,” Perry said before he signed the bill.

Perry thanked all the individuals, from legislators to the UT System officials, who believed in the vision of this new university that will be a “game-changer for South Texas.” Perry said the new university, temporarily dubbed “Project South Texas,” will improve job quality and the quality of lives for everyone in the Valley.

“It will mean new doctors to treat South Texas patients, new startups utilizing discoveries made in the Valley and new opportunities for all Texans across the state,” Perry said.

During the event, founders for the new vision for South Texas higher education, Powell, a Valley native from Weslaco, and Cigarroa, shared with the public the timeline and guidelines for the new university.

“In August, we will hold town hall meetings for people across the Rio Grande Valley…for stakeholders to take an active role in the institution we will build together,” Cigarroa said.

Timeline highlights include the following:

• Name for new university to be finalized in November-December 2013;

• President of the new university to be announced in January-February 2014;

• Recruitment of inaugural first class through January-December 2014;

• Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) approves new university in June 2015; and

• Inaugural class enrolls in new university in August 2015.

For Nelsen, July 16, 2013 marked the final chapter for his beloved UT Pan American, which he has led for the past three years.

“Today we lift the name (The University of Texas-Pan American) up into the rafters. Pan Am we will always love you and keep you in our hearts,” Nelsen said.

Nelsen called the new university a rebirth for UTPA and the region he calls the “Magic Valley”.

“Today is an amazing day for this university… We celebrate the literal birth of the new university that will transform the Valley and the entire state…What a baby it is!” Nelsen said.

Perry, joined by UT System officials and the Valley legislative delegation, traveled to UT Brownsville to have another ceremonial signing that afternoon.

To stay up to date with the happenings for Project South Texas, visit http://www.projectsouthtexas.com.

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Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1 helped boost Edinburg construction figures to $73.8 million from January through May 2013, reports EEDC

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The city’s latest luxury homes complex, the Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1, helped boost the value of construction in May to more than $14 million, almost three times better than the same month in 2012, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

“For the month of May 2013, total construction in Edinburg was valued at $14,157,660, compared with $5,048,148 in May 2012, according to the Code Enforcement Department of the City of Edinburg,” said Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. “Year-to-date, the value of all construction in Edinburg reached $73,795,848 during the first five months of 2013, compared with $42,618,060 from January through May 2012.”

The Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1, classified as a multi-family project, represented the single-most valuable undertaking in May 2013.

According to the Code Enforcement Department for the City of Edinburg, the 168-unit Class-A luxury apartments complex is valued at $7 million, based on the building permit issued for its construction.

Building permits do not include the value of the land.

Two commercial enterprises were ranked the second- and third-most valuable projects in May, based on the building permits issued.

The Cinemark Movie Bistro, located on the northwest corner of Trenton Road and Rhonda Street, was issued a building permit for remodeling work valued at $800,000.

Starbucks Coffee Co. was issued a building permit for new construction of a coffee house, valued at $700,000, at 2720 West University Drive, which will be in front of Lowe’s. A second Starbucks is planned for construction in Edinburg later this year.

Year-to-date, in addition to the value of all construction, Edinburg showed increases in construction activities in four major categories.

From January through May 2013, permits were issued for work valued at $40,494,700 for the construction of 53 multi-family buildings, compared with $11,841,970 for the construction of 42 multi-family buildings the same five-month period in 2012.

Multi-family buildings include duplexes, fourplexes, and larger housing structures, such as apartment complexes, which have five or more units.

From January through May 2013, permits were issued for work valued at $13,786,979 for the construction of 138 single-family residences, compared with $12,368,738 for the construction of 123 single-family residences during the same five-month period in 2012.

From January through May 2013, permits were issued for work valued at $7,448,909 for alterations/remodeling of commercial buildings, compared with $2,642,135 for the same five-month period in 2012.

From January through May 2013, permits were issued for work valued at $3,886,946 for alterations/remodeling of residences, compared with $1,972,223 for the same five-month period in 2012.

Another key category for construction activities from January 2013 through May 2013 showed that building permits were issued for new commercial construction valued at $7,981,200, compared with $11,630,027 from January 2012 through May 2012.

The Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1 development is located on approximately 20 acres fronting Sugar Road near Alberta Road, just west of U.S. Highway 281. The first phase of the development also will include the development of two 1.13-acre commercial pad sites fronting Sugar Road. Each commercial pad site will accommodate at least a 3,000 square-feet of commercial or retail building.

Phase II is slated to include the addition of between 132 and 150 additional units of Class-A luxury apartments.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is providing financial assistance on the utility infrastructure cost for the commercial portion of the The Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1.

Cinemark Movie Bistro is an entertainment venue that will feature a six-screen movie theatre as well as meals and beverages, including beer, wine and margaritas – the first of its kind in the Valley.

In mid-January, Cinemark Holdings, Inc., announced that it had taken over the stalled Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which never opened for business due to financial problems.

The Cinemark Movie Bistro, scheduled to open later this year, will boast a state-of-the-art entertainment environment offering digital projection, RealD 3D capability, and enhanced sound systems. Additionally, the new Cinemark Movie Bistro will feature an expanded menu with high-quality food offerings such as fresh wraps, hot sandwiches, burgers, gourmet pizzas, alongside favorites like freshly popped popcorn, hot dogs, and popular candy brands. As for beverages, customers have the opportunity to select from microbrewed beers, premium wines, margaritas, and of course, Coca-Cola fountain beverages.

Starbucks, the Seattle-based national corporation that promotes its stores “as a neighborhood gathering place for meeting friends and family”, has more than 17,500 outlets worldwide.

Also according to its website, Starbucks features more than 30 blends and single-origin premium coffees, plus handcrafted beverages, such as hot and iced espresso beverages, Frappuccino® coffee and non-coffee blended beverages, smoothies, and Tazo® teas.

Starbucks also sells merchandise, such as coffee- and tea-brewing equipment, mugs and accessories, packaged goods, music, books and gifts, as well as fresh food, including baked pastries, sandwiches, salads, oatmeal, yogurt parfaits and fruit cups.

Additional details on the Villages at Sugar Road, Phase 1 were initially issued on May 7 by RightQuest Edinburg, LLC, an affiliate of RightQuest, LLC, a Dallas-based real estate investment and development firm.

The announcement by RightQuest Edinburg LLC provided the additional background:

The site’s proximity to U.S. Highway 281 provides fantastic visibility and access to all parts of the Rio Grande Valley. The project is located within a one-mile radius of Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance, Women’s Hospital at Renaissance, Cancer Center at Renaissance, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg Children’s Hospital, and Cornerstone Regional Hospital, making it highly desirable for a mix of uses and drawing demand from the growing number of healthcare professionals working in the area.

The project is also located on the direct route to The University of Texas Pan American, just three miles north, making it an ideal residence for the student population as well. A Wal-Mart Super Center, Cinemark Movie Bistro and Applebee’s are within a one-mile radius of the site, as well as The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, which includes JC Penny, Burlington Coat Factory, Ross, TJ Max and other fine retailers.

RightQuest Edinburg is developing the property on behalf of Brownsville-based JTMR, LLC, a privately-held company that gave the groundbreaking the green light in May.

The two companies began working on Phase I of the Project in March of 2012, bringing onboard the San Antonio architectural firm of B&A Architects and the Edinburg-based civil engineering firm of Melden & Hunt, Inc. to coordinate the design.

The general contractor for the project is Peterson Construction, Inc., which is currently mobilizing on the site. Peterson Construction has offices in both McAllen and Frisco, Texas.

Phase I of the development has several Class-A amenities including a clubhouse with media center, complimentary business center, state-of-the-art fitness center, resort-style swimming pool, poolside cabana/BBQ area, laundry facility, playground, limited access control system, 24-hour emergency maintenance, detached garages, onsite storage facilities, covered parking and several other amenities.

Most living spaces will include private patios/balconies, nine-foot high ceilings, large walk-in closets, gourmet kitchens, washers/dryers, microwaves, upgraded finishes, etc.

Rents range from $580 to $1180 for efficiency, one, two and three-bedroom units. The first units will be available for occupancy in January of 2014.

IBC Bank is providing the financing for the project.

The San Antonio office of Capstone Real Estate Services is providing lease-up and property management services.

Landscape design for the project is by SSP Design, and interior design services are by Davidson Design Group. Butler Burgher Group provided the market feasibility and demand analysis.

The development is a welcomed addition to the city’s tax base and helps achieve one of the city’s key objectives – to keep the growing number of Edinburg professionals living in Edinburg.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation 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 Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Jaime A. Rodríguez, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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UTPA Provost Havidán Rodríguez, as newest member of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, to serve as vital link in development of new university

By JAVIER ESPINOZA

Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas-Pan American, took on a new role recently to further advance the university’s commitment to community engagement.

On June 18, Rodríguez was appointed by the Edinburg City Council as the newest member of the Board of Directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC).

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

As part of its creation in the 1990s by Edinburg voters, one of the five members of the EEDC Board of Directors must represent UT-Pan American.

Rodríguez was appointed to the EEDC Board of Directors following the departure of a fellow university leader – Dr. Glenn Martínez – who was selected as Department Chair and Professor of Spanish, in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The Ohio State University, located in Columbus, Ohio.

“This opportunity to become a member of the EEDC is one of those where you lead by example and to work quite extensively on making the university an engaged university, which allows us to become a connected part of the community which UTPA interacts with on a regular basis,” Rodríguez said.

As a board member, Rodríguez will attend board meetings and vote on key issues regarding job creation and social, cultural and economic development of the community.

Rodríguez will also visit with potential business investors and consultants who work in collaboration with the city, as well as facilitate and attend joint meetings with the university and the city’s key officials.

“All of these types of commitments involve effort and time and I am very pleased to do so for the development of the University and our community. We need to do what we can to enhance and strengthen those partnerships,” Rodríguez said.

The EEDC plays a key role in assisting companies to expand, while helping to attract new business and industry to Edinburg. It also serves as an advocate with state and local governmental entities.

With the immense growth that will occur as a result of the recent merger of UTPA and The University of Texas at Brownsville and the creation of a medical school, Rodríguez said he will stand as an essential link between the EEDC, UTPA and the new university as well as with the Valley and the state of Texas.

“This will enhance and expand the role that I play in the EEDC and with the role the EEDC plays in the formation of the new university and the leadership of the elected officials with the city of Edinburg,” he said. “We believe we should always strive, as UTPA, to serve the entire Rio Grande Valley and beyond. We work across the Rio Grande Valley in a variety of initiatives such as education and economic development, with ties to local government and industry. The new university will serve to build and expand the strength of that and much more.”

Rodríguez credits both the University and the EEDC as a great combination in the way they work hand-in-hand as the city of Edinburg prepares for UTPA’s transition into a new and much larger university and economic powerhouse.

“This new university will have an impact on the economic well-being of the Rio Grande Valley. That ties in nicely to our role with the EEDC as the role of the EEDC is to create jobs, create employment, and impact the quality of life, while our responsibility at UTPA is to create and develop students with the skills, knowledge and education that can benefit from opportunities,” he said.

Agustín “Gus” García, executive director of the EEDC, is enthusiastic about the addition of Rodríguez to the board and believes the new university will have a major impact on the Valley’s growth and potential future.

“It’s important for UTPA to understand and interact with our local business community as Rodríguez’ position with EEDC is key to understanding the impact these changes will have on the region’s growth,” García said. “The EEDC is one more avenue for the University to embrace. The business communities across the region tout the University for the assets it brings to the table. Large employers and potential prospects want to see that an institute of higher learning exists. UTPA meets that requirement and more.”

Rodríguez joined UT Pan American in January 2011 as Provost and Vice president for Academic Affairs and as a tenured professor in the Department of Sociology.

Prior to coming to UTPA, he served as deputy provost at the University of Delaware, where he also was a professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and former director of the Disaster Research Center, the oldest and one of the leading social science disaster research centers in the world.

Rodríguez, who obtained his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin, held a faculty position and several administrative positions at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez for more than a decade, and served from 1995 to 1998 as Director of the Minority Affairs Program for the American Sociological Association.

He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Michigan’s Population Fellow’s Program (Summers, 2001-2003); was selected as the Frey Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Spring, 2002); received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Outstanding Achievement Award (2004); and was recognized as one of the Hispanics of the Year in the State of Delaware, for which he received the Professional Achievement Award (2007).

Rodríguez has served on a number of committees for the National Academies of Sciences and on review panels for the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and was the chair of the Latina/o Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Javier Espinoza is an intern with the Department of Public Affairs at The University of Texas-Pan American. David A. Díaz contributed to this story. Permission is granted for the use of all or portions of this photograph, caption, and article by the news media, including Internet-only news media sites. Credit to http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com is not required but would be appreciated. The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation 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 Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Jaime A. Rodríguez, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Former Rep. Jim Solis, D-Harlingen, gets 47-month prison sentence for role in Judge Limas bribery scandal

By ANGELA DODGE

Former Rep. Jose Santiago “Jim” Solis, D-Harlingen, has been ordered to prison following his conviction of aiding and abetting the extortion by former state district judge Abel Corral Limas, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced on Friday, August 2.

Solis pleaded guilty April 29, 2011.

On August 2, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who accepted the guilty plea, handed Solis a total sentence of 47 months in federal prison. At the hearing, additional testimony was presented including the impact suffered by victims as well as Solis’ family and friends.

Hanen took into consideration the testimony of witnesses before pronouncing the sentence and said Solis “betrayed the public trust and violated the oath to uphold the laws.”

Solis was further ordered to pay restitution of approximately $119,000 and will serve a term of three years of supervised release following completion of the prison sentence. An additional amount of $250,000 was ordered forfeited as proceeds derived from the offense.

Solis, 47, a life-long resident of Harlingen, has practiced law in south Texas for many years, focusing primarily in personal injury cases. Solis served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, representing District 38, for seven terms – retiring from the Legislature in 2007.

At the time of his guilty plea, Solis admitted his part in Limas’ use of the office of judge of the 404th District Court in Brownsville as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself and others, including Solis, through extortion.

Limas accepted money and other consideration from attorneys in civil cases pending in his court, including Solis, in return for favorable pre-trial rulings in certain cases, including a case involving a helicopter crash at South Padre Island in February 2008.

Solis specifically admitted to paying Limas $8,000 in May 2008, a payment they described as eight “golf balls,” for favorable rulings.

Evidence also showed Solis participated in a series of meetings with attorney Marc Garrett Rosenthal and Limas in the summer of 2008 during which they planned and negotiated the terms of Limas’ employment as an “of counsel” attorney with the firm.

During those meetings, Rosenthal promised Limas an advance of at least $100,000 as well as a percentage of attorneys’ fees earned in the helicopter crash case. Limas’ employment arrangements were confirmed in calls on August 28, 2008, between Limas and his wife and son. The intercepted calls indicated Limas was expecting to be “cut in” on 10% of the settlement/judgment of the helicopter crash case pending in his court and the $100,000 advance.

On December 31, 2008, Limas received a check for $50,000 payable from the Rosenthal & Watson Law Firm. On January 2, 2009, Limas received a check for $50,000 from Solis.

In October 2009, the helicopter case settled for approximately $14 million and Limas received approximately $85,000 from the Rosenthal & Watson Law Firm approximately two months later.

To date, a total of eight defendants have entered guilty pleas to related violations in the FBI’s four-year public corruption investigation, including Limas, former state district judge of the 404th District Court; local attorney José “Joe” Valle; former Cameron County District Attorney’s Office investigator Jaime Munivez; and José Manuel “Meme” Longoria; Armando Peña and his wife, Karina.

Three others – attorneys Ray Román Marchan, Marc Garrett Rosenthal and former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos were found guilty of public corruption-related charges involving their association with Limas after separate jury trials.

Marchan was previously sentenced to 42 months imprisonment, which was vacated upon his death.

Rosenthal and Villalobos will be sentenced September 23 and October 15, 2013, respectively.

Solis was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The investigation has been conducted by the FBI with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Brownsville Police Department. Southern District of Texas Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) Michael Wynne and Óscar Ponce are prosecuting this case.

The cases against Villalobos, Rosenthal and Lucio are being prosecuted under the direction of the Western District of Texas by AUSA’s Wynne and Greg Surovic.

••••••

U.S. Expressway 281, with expansions underway, added to Interstate Highway 69

Edinburg, Hidalgo County, and state leaders on Monday, July 15, celebrated the placement of the first signs marking Interstate 69 East, Interstate 2 and Interstate 69 Central, a ceremony that marked the first time the Rio Grande Valley will be served by the Interstate Highway System.

The 13.5 miles of U.S. Expresswat 281 freeway in Pharr and Edinburg is now signed as Interstate 69 Central, a designation that will eventually extend northward all the way to George West.

U.S. Expressway 77 through Cameron and Willacy counties is now signed as Interstate 69 East. This includes 53.3 miles of existing freeway starting at the Rio Grande River in Brownsville and running north past Raymondville.

These designations are the result of actions taken by federal and state agencies in May.

The east-west U.S. Expressway 83 that connects more than a dozen Valley cities has been designated as Interstate 2. It extends approximately 46.8 miles from Harlingen to west of Mission.

U.S. Expressway 83 was not designated by Congress as part of I-69 but the Alliance for I-69 Texas and community leaders have insisted over the years that it should be considered an interstate connector between the legs of I-69.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley interstate highway designations were made possible by the passage of milestone federal legislation championed by the Alliance for I-69 Texas over a period of several years and passed in 2012 as part of MAP-21.

The effort led by Congressman Blake Farenthold, D-Corpus Christi, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Texas’ U.S. senators – Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn – removed from federal law a requirement that completed highway segments must be connected to an existing interstate highway before they could be added to the Interstate Highway System.

Local leaders participated in the unveiling of the new signs at the now renamed I2/I69C interchange in Pharr.

Bringing the national interstate system to the Valley has been a goal of community leaders since they helped form the Alliance for I-69 Texas in 1993. Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was part of that effort in her 20 years in office and participated in the multi-location Valley celebration.

In late May, state officials explained the significance of the designations and upgrades.

“This is a landmark day in the 20-year effort to make I-69 a reality in Texas,” said John Thompson, Chairman of the Alliance for I-690 Texas. “It is the result of a sustained local, state and federal cooperative effort. Community leaders along the I-69 route have relentlessly pursued this goal because they know that moving people and freight efficiently is vital to our economy and our quality of life.”

The Alliance for I-69 Texas is a coalition made up of cities, counties, port authorities and community leaders building grassroots support for upgrading the entire Interstate 69 route in Texas.

At its May 30 public session, the Texas Transportation Commission gave final approval to the designation of an additional 117.1 miles of freeway in South Texas and Northeast Texas as part of the Interstate 69 system.

The Federal Highway Administration approved the four highway sections the previous week.

The newly designated interstate sections mean a total of 186 miles of the I-69 route that have been added to the Interstate System in the past two years.

Following the May 30 action by the Transportation Commission, Jeff Austin, III, of Tyler, one of five a members of that governing body, praised the work of the Alliance for I-69 Texas, the TxDOT I-69 Advisory Committee, and the five I-69 Segment Committees.

He noted that I-69 has become a reality “you can actually drive on”, noting that now I-69 in Texas  “starts” on the Rio Grande Valley.

The Texas Department of Transportation is governed by the five-member Texas Transportation Commission and an executive director selected by the commission. Commission members serve overlapping six-year terms and are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Texas Senate.

Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley pointed out the importance of continued development of I-69 as a very strategic corridor to the state.

“With a $1.4 trillion state economy there is no doubt that I-69 is significant to continuing to provide jobs and growth of the total assessed value of our state. My hat is off to Commissioner Austin and all the efforts that have gone into getting us to this point,” said Mosely, a Houston resident. “This is a dynamic corridor and it clearly ties in to international trade.”

Transportation Commissioner Fred Underwood of Lubbock praised communities along the I-69 route for working together and not letting their thinking stop at the county line.

“The more this happens it makes it so much more easy for our staff and for the commission to help because everyone is working in the same direction,” he said.

In a related development, the Texas Department of Transportation is conducting a study to determine what upgrade improvements will be necessary to bring U.S. Expressway 281 up to interstate highway standards along the Interstate 69 Central route.

The study area begins at the intersection of U.S 59 and Interstate 37 in Live Oak County. It extends west on U.S. 59 to George West and then south on U.S. 281 to the intersection with Interstate 2/U.S. 83 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

A draft Interstate Development Plan will be compiled in the coming months and a final Feasibility Study Report is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

The study area covers a five-mile stretch on U.S. 59 and 149 miles on U.S. 281.

All of the route is at four-lane divided standard, and sections at Alice, Ben Bolt, Falfurrias, Edinburg and McAllen are at full interstate standard.

A separate U.S. 281 study is underway to determine the routing and schematic designs for freeway lanes through the town of Premont in southern Jim Wells County.

Projects to upgrade sections of U.S. 281 to freeway standard are currently underway at Alice, Rachal and at the north edge of Edinburg. The Alice project includes an overpass at FM 1554, now approximately 50% complete.

Work on an overpass at FM 755 in Rachal began earlier this year.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 called for uniform geometric and construction standards for the Interstate System. The standards were developed by the State highway agencies, acting through the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and adopted by the FHWA.  The standards are included in the AASHTO publication A Policy on Design Standards — Interstate System available from the AASHTO web site.

Examples of design standards for the Interstate System include full control of access, design speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour (depending on type of terrain), a minimum of two travel lanes in each direction, 12-foot lane widths, 10-foot right paved shoulder, and 4-foot left paved shoulder. Initially, the design had to be adequate to meet the traffic volumes expected in 1975.

Later, the requirement was changed to a more general 20-year design period to allow for evolution of the System.

••••••

Edinburg School Board named Regional School Board of the Year by Region One Education Service Center

By ANNETTE S. GARCÍA

The Edinburg school board on Wednesday, July 31, was selected as the 2013 Regional School Board of the Year by The Region One Education Service Center on Wednesday, July 31, qualifying them to compete in September for the honor as best school board in Texas.

As a regional winner, Region One ESC will nominate the Edinburg School Board in the Texas Association of School Administrators “Outstanding School Board of the Year” program. The program recognizes school boards across the state that have demonstrated outstanding dedication and rendered ethical service to the children of Texas.

Members of the 2012-2013 Board of Trustees for the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District are Juan “Sonny” Palacios, President; Dr. Martín Castillo, Vice-President; Jaime R. Solis, Secretary; David Torres, Member; Jaime R. Chavana, Member; Carmen G. González, Member; and Robert Peña, Jr., Member.

Region One Education Service Center (http://www.esc1.net) serves more than 419,000 students and educators in seven counties in south Texas including Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties. Region One works to assist school districts in improving student performance, assist districts to operate more efficiently and economically, and implement initiatives assigned by the legislature or the Commissioner of Education.

Nominations were submitted to the Region One Education Service Center and were reviewed by a committee of Region One school superintendents. The criteria used to evaluate nominated school boards included the board’s adherence to adopted board policies, its role as a policy-making body, as well as demonstrated support for educational performance of state-established standards and educational improvement projects, a commitment to a code of ethics, community awareness, maintenance of a harmonious and supportive relationship among board members, provision of financial support for the school system, professional development, and the placement of the welfare of children served by the school system above personal or political motives.

“The Edinburg CISD Board of Trustees has demonstrated through its actions and leadership how a school board should effectively function within a school district. We congratulate the Edinburg CISD School Board members on their receipt of this prestigious award, and are proud to have them represent the Region One area,” said Dr. Cornelio González, Region One ESC Executive Director.

Five school boards from the state’s 20 service centers will be selected and recognized as Texas Honor School Boards by the Texas Association of School Administrators. The five boards will be interviewed by the TASA School Board Awards Committee and the winner of the Texas Outstanding School Board will be announced at the joint conference of the Texas Association of School Administrators/Texas Association of School Boards, September 27-29, 2012 in Dallas.

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Edinburg Chamber to host Public Affairs Luncheon on Thursday, August 15, featuring UTPA President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen

By RONNIE LARRALDE

Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, the 8th president of The University of Texas-Pan American, On Thursday August 15, will be the keynote speaker for the Public Affairs Luncheon, coordinated by the Public Affairs Committee of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center, located at 1903 South Closner in Edinburg.

Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance is the sponsor for the event.

The Public Affairs Luncheon, an initiative introduced in 2006, features popular topics with speakers that cover important legislative and community issues. Cost to attend the luncheon is $12 per person or $125 for a table of eight, and includes a hot lunch, non-alcoholic beverage and dessert.

Nelsen was raised on a small cattle ranch in the “Big Sky Country” of Montana, just outside of  Yellowstone Park. Like the majority of students at UTPA, Nelsen faced great financial hardships while obtaining his education. He put himself through college by working as a janitor in the pre-dawn hours before classes and by selling fish hooks and western clothing in the evenings.  Through his hard work and dedication he was able to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science.

Nelsen continued his education by earning a Ph.D. from the Committee on Social Thought at The University of Chicago. His Ph.D. fields of specialization are modern literature, modern philosophy and modern political theory. Today he’s a literature and philosophy scholar, experienced

administrator, award-winning professor, published writer and author.

For more information on this event or to make a reservation. please call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.

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Ramón De La Garza, former biller for RGV DME, gets more than 11 years in federal prison for his role in $11 million health care fraud

By ANGELA DODGE

One of the billers for a now defunct McAllen area durable medical equipment (DME) business has been ordered to prison for his role in a conspiracy and scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid through fraudulent billings, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced on Wednesday, July 24.

Ramón De La Garza, 52, of Mission, was a biller for RGV DME from approximately August 2004 through approximately April 2009. The scheme involved approximately $11.1 million in false claims to Medicare and Medicaid.

On July 24, De La Garza, was handed a sentence of 110 months for conspiracy to defraud Medicare and Medicaid and an additional mandatory 24-month-term for aggravated identity theft. which must be served consecutively to the other sentence imposed, resulting in a total sentence of 134 months in federal prison.

He will also serve three years of supervision following his release.

In addition to the prison sentence, he was ordered to pay restitution to Medicare and Medicaid in the amount of $5,059,198.96, and a money judgment will be entered against him for that amount.

De La Garza and former RGV DME Owner Marcello Herrera, 40, along with his wife Carla Cantú Herrera, 32, both from Mission, pleaded guilty on February 21, 2013, to conspiring to defraud Medicare and Texas Medicaid.

Beatriz Ramos, 28, of Edinburg, another former biller for RGV DME, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy on October 16, 2012.

Marcelo Herrera and De La Garza also pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft for unlawfully using the identity of a beneficiary to bill Medicare and Medicaid $5,000 for a power wheelchair that was not requested, prescribed, needed or delivered.

Marcelo Herrera was sentenced earlier this month to 120 months for the conspiracy as well as the mandatory 24 months for aggravated identity theft for a total of 144 months in federal prison. The court ordered him to pay restitution to Medicare and Medicaid in the amount of $6,103,953.74 and that he forfeit wheelchairs, scooters and other DME items discovered in his leased storage facility in Alamo, which had been rented by him and ultimately seized by the FBI.

From early 2004 through late 2011, Marcello Herrera, who did business as RGV DME in the McAllen area, engaged in and directed a scheme to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare and Texas Medicaid for power wheelchairs, scooters, incontinent supplies, hospital beds and mattresses as well as other DME supplies.

At various times, his wife – who admitted to being marketing director, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, office manager, human resources manager and co-owner of RGV DME – and billers De La Garza and Ramos all participated in the conspiracy and aided Marcello Herrera and each other in the submission of fraudulent billings, wire fraud and theft of the identities of beneficiaries and doctors.

In court on February 21, 2013, De La Garza admitted that during his participation in the conspiracy the fraudulent billing exceed $9.6 million for which payments exceeded $5 million.

Marcelo Herrera acknowledged he submitted or caused the submission of more than $11.1 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Texas Medicaid for which he illegally received in excess of $6.1 million, while Carla Herrera admitted that during her participation in the conspiracy, the fraudulent billings exceeded $9.9 million for which they received illegal payments exceeding $5.5 million.

Marcelo Herrera, his wife and De La Garza also admitted that approximately 85% of their Medicare and Texas Medicaid billings were false and fraudulent.

The three defendants in court on February 21, 2013, also admitted that marketers were used to obtain Medicare and Medicaid identification numbers and other information from beneficiaries, which they in turn used to fraudulently bill Medicare and Medicaid for DME that was either never prescribed or prescribed but never delivered.

Ramón De La Garza has been in custody since his arrest on June 28, 2012. He will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Sentencing for Carla Herrera and Ramos are set for September 18, and 26, 2013, respectively.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Special Assistant United States Attorney Rex Beasley and Assistant United States Attorney Grady Leupold are prosecuting the case.

Office of Inspector General and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Special Assistant United States Attorney Rex Beasley and Assistant United States Attorney Grady Leupold are prosecuting the case.

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Alexis Espinoza, son of Hidalgo Chief of Police Rudy Espinoza, pleads guilty in plot involving law enforcement officers stealing illegal drugs

By ANGELA DODGE

Alexis Espinoza, 30, on Wednesday, July 24, entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson has announced.

Espinoza is son of Hidalgo Police Chief Rudy Espinoza.

Espinoza, of McAllen, admitted that during 2012, he utilized his position as a law enforcement officer to traffic narcotics. Espinoza, a former officer with the Mission Police Department (MPD), along with other MPD officers and deputies of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, used his law enforcement authority to steal narcotics, which were then sold to local drug dealers.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, who accepted the guilty plea, has set sentencing for September 10, 2013, at which time he faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison, along with a potential fine up to $10 million. Espinoza was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations-Office of Professional Responsibility and Texas Department of Public Safety.

Assistant United States Attorneys James Sturgis and Anibal Alaniz are prosecuting the case.

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Edna Edith Sepulveda indicted for alleged $232,351.19 bank fraud of Inter National Bank of McAllen

By ANGELA DODGE

Edna Edith Sepulveda, 39, of McAllen, has surrendered to federal authorities following the return of an indictment alleging she perpetrated more than $200,000 in bank fraud, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced on Monday, July 15.

The indictment was returned July 9, 2013, and she made her initial appearance today, at which time she was permitted release upon posting bond.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.?A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

According to the indictment, Sepulveda was a former employee of Inter National Bank of McAllen. Beginning in January 10, 2006, she allegedly devised a scheme to take money from Inter National Bank by fraudulent means. She then placed the funds into the accounts of her parents allegedly intended for her own personal use, according to the allegations. The total amount of loss to Inter National Bank is $232,351.19.

If convicted, Sepulveda faces up to 30 years in federal prison as well as a $1 million fine.

This case is being investigated by the FBI with the cooperation of Inter National Bank.

Assistant United States Attorney Jason C. Honeycutt is prosecuting the case.

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Attorney General Abbott sues to allow prayers before the meetings of governmental bodies

The Texas Attorney General’s Office Friday, August 2, filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a federal appeals court’s ruling that struck down the town of Greece, New York’s practice of allowing  citizens to offer a prayer to begin monthly town board meetings.

Abbott and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed the “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the 23-state coalition, arguing that the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is improper and contrary to the longstanding history and tradition of legislative prayer in this country.

“Despite hundreds of years of established tradition and a Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of legislatures to convene each day with a prayer, the town of Greece, New York, has been improperly prohibited from beginning their monthly town board meetings with a prayer,” Abbott said. “Today’s legal action reflects a bipartisan, multistate effort to defend the longstanding and constitutionally protected right of legislative

The case involves an Establishment Clause challenge to the town of Greece, New York’s practice of allowing citizens to offer a prayer during monthly town board meetings. Atheists sued the city, and a federal appeals court ruled against the town of Greece’s practice.

In the amicus brief filed on August 2, the states argue that public acknowledgments of God at official functions have been customary since the nation’s founding. The states point out that many governmental bodies on the local, state and federal level – indeed, the United States Congress and all 50 state governmental bodies – have a long history of beginning meetings with prayer.

In Marsh v. Chambers, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of governments opening every legislative session with a clergy-led prayer.?The states are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision by the federal appeals court and hold that legislative prayers remain constitutional.

The states’ brief also asks the high court to use this case to provide clarity to the Establishment Clause doctrine by adopting a single Establishment Clause test that is clear, workable and faithful to the text and history of the First Amendment.?The State of Texas’ action in the Greece, N.Y., case is just the latest of Abbott’s many efforts to defend public acknowledgments of religion.

Texas’ religious liberties cases include:

• In 2012, the Attorney General’s Office intervened in the Kountze High School cheerleader case after the cheerleaders were improperly prohibited from including religious messages on the banners they created for football games. The attorney general’s actions defended the cheerleaders’ right to exercise their personal religious beliefs and the constitutionality of a state law that protects religious liberties for all Texans;?•

• In 2011, Abbott sent a letter to Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders in response to a threat the county had received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation regarding a nativity scene on the grounds of the Henderson County courthouse;

• In 2011, the Attorney General’s Office submitted a legal brief asking a federal appeals court to uphold Medina Valley High School graduates’ constitutional rights to freely express their religious beliefs during graduation ceremonies.?;

• In July 2010, Abbott led a multistate coalition of 29 attorneys general in taking legal action to defend the annual National Day of Prayer;

• In January 2009, after Abbott submitted a legal brief joined by all 50 state attorneys general, a federal judge cleared the way for President Barack Obama to include references to religion during his presidential inauguration;

• In 2007, Abbott defeated a lawsuit that attempted to remove the words “under God” from the Texas Pledge of Allegiance;

• In 2005, Abbott appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court and defended the State’s Ten Commandments monument, which stands on the Texas Capitol grounds. In that case, Van Orden v. Perry, the plaintiff sought to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds, but Abbott successfully argued that the monument was entirely constitutional; and

• After Abbott submitted a legal brief defending the right of Texas schoolchildren to begin each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a minute of silence to “reflect, pray, [or] meditate” before class, a federal appeals court upheld the Texas Moment of Silence law.

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A growing share of U.S. Latinos – 32 percent – get their news exclusively in English; TV is the most used medium; Internet use is on the rise

By RUSS OATES

The language of news media consumption is changing for Hispanics: a growing share of Latino adults are consuming news in English from television, print, radio and internet outlets, and a declining share are doing so in Spanish, according to survey findings from the Pew Research Center.

In 2012, 82% of Hispanic adults said they got at least some of their news in English, up from 78% who said the same in 2006. By contrast, the share who get at least some of their news in Spanish has declined, to 68% in 2012 from 78% in 2006.

Half (50%) of Latino adults say they get their news in both languages, down from 57% in 2010.

The rise in use of English news sources has been driven by an increase in the share of Hispanics who say they get their news exclusively in English. One-third (32%) of Hispanic adults in 2012 did this, up from 22% in 2006. By contrast, the share of Hispanic adults who get their news exclusively in Spanish has decreased to 18% in 2012 from 22% in 2006.

These changes in news consumption patterns reflect several ongoing demographic trends within the Hispanic community: a growing share of Latino adults who speak English well; slowing migration to the United States; Latino immigrants living in the U.S. for longer periods of time; and the growth of Latinos born in the U.S.

Even though the share of Hispanic adults who consume news media in Spanish has declined, the number of potential Spanish news media consumers is growing as a result of the rapid overall rise in the number of Hispanics in the U.S.—- to 52 million in 2011, up from 35 million in 2000. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, a record 35 million Hispanics ages 5 and older speak Spanish (at home), up from 25 million in 2000 and 10 million in 1980. At the same time, a record 31 million Hispanics ages 5 and older are proficient in English, up from 19 million in 2000 and 8 million in 1980.

Among the report’s other findings:

FOLLOWING THE NEWS:

About eight-in-ten Hispanic adults say they keep up with the news “a lot” (45%) or “some” (36%) and about two-in-ten keep up “not much” (15%) or “not at all” (4%).

TELEVISION MOST POPULAR: INTERNET ON RISE

Fully 86% of Latino adults say that on a typical weekday they get their news from television. That is down slightly from 92% who said the same in 2006, but is higher than the share of Latinos who get their news from radio (56%), the Internet (56%) or print newspapers (42%). Use of Internet news media has grown among Latino adults since 2006 while radio news media and print newspapers have seen the biggest declines.

NUMBER OF PLATFORMS USED

Latino adults on average use 2.4 news media platforms among the four tested—- television, print newspapers, radio and the Internet —- when they consume news media. Overall, 3% of Latino adults do not use any of the four news media platforms tested, 17% use one, 32% use two, 33% use three and 15% use all four platforms.

ACCURACY

When asked if news organizations get their facts straight or are often inaccurate, 60% of all Hispanics say Spanish-language news organizations “get the facts straight” and 59% say the same of English-language news organizations.

BEST AT COVERING NEWS RELEVANT TO HISPANICS

Seven-in-ten Hispanic adults say the Spanish-language news media do an “excellent” (24%) or “good” job (46%) covering news specifically relevant to Hispanics in the U.S. By contrast, about six-in-ten Hispanic adults say the English-language news media do an “excellent” (17%) or “good” job (42%) covering news relevant to Hispanics in the U.S.

This report is largely based on a nationally representative bilingual telephone survey of 1,765 Latino adults conducted from September 7 to October 4, 2012.

The report, A Growing Share of Latinos Get Their News in English, authored by Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, research associate, is available at

http://www.PewHispanic.org

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan source of data and analysis. It does not take advocacy positions. Its Hispanic Center, founded in 2001, seeks to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos’ growing impact on the nation.

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