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DPS troopers, Texas Rangers, and other eligible Highway Patrol personnel would receive daily overtime pay protections while promoting public safety under plans by Rep. Canales, Rep. Miller, and Sen. Hinojosa

Featured: Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, wearing their traditional “Texas Tan” uniforms and cowboy hats with their patent leather gun belts, showed up on Friday, March 3, 2017, along with other South Texas law enforcement professionals for the groundbreaking of the multi-million dollar Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, located at 4300 S. Cage Boulevard in Pharr. The upcoming campus is a collaboration between South Texas College, the City of Pharr, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District, and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). “The facility will benefit the region by adding additional programs in public safety, law enforcement, border security, and fire science. These programs provide college level certificates and degrees for public safety and law enforcement professionals in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Mario Reyna, Dean for Business and Technology at STC. “Furthermore, this center will be able to accommodate the professional continuing education courses required by all law enforcement officers. The spectrum of courses offered will cover all the needs of our region. Traveling to College Station or San Antonio for specialized training will be a thing of the past.”

Photograph By ALEX RÍOS

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers and other DPS commissioned officers, such as Criminal Investigations Division Special Agents, Texas Capitol Security, and other personnel within the Texas Highway Patrol, would earn overtime pay on a daily basis under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. House Bill 483 by Miller/Canales and Senate Bill 297 by Hinojosa, which are identical in language, would change Section 411.016, Government Code, to allow DPS, which is a state police force, to calculate overtime for eligible staff – including its Homeland Security Division and Counterterrorism Division – based on working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, according to the bill analysis of both measures. The two bills would benefit officers because it would allow them to take sick leave or other types of leave without risking the loss of earned overtime. As DPS officers move to a standard 50-hour work week, they will develop a reasonable expectation of paid overtime based on the standard schedule. “In order to increase protection for our citizens, DPS often has its troopers on duty for up to 12 hours a day, which is 48 hours during four days of a five-day, eight hour a day, workweek. ” Canales explained. “But currently, if for whatever reason, any trooper who has worked more than 40 hours in four days is not available or not needed on the fifth day, he or she would not receive any overtime pay. That’s not fair. Our law enforcement professionals put their lives on the line for us every day.”

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Sen. Hinojosa the only Valley lawmaker serving on Senate/House Conference Committee that will decide final version of Texas’ state budget

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Featured, from left: Lissette Almanza of Houston and Christopher Vela of Edinburg, both staff members for Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Sen. José R. Rodríguez, D-El Paso, a graduate of then-Pan American University who was raised in Alamo, outside the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol.

Photograph By SENATE MEDIA

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen,was one of only five Senate appointees – and the only Democrat – selected on Thursday, April 23, by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve on the Senate/House Conference Committee that will come up with a final state budget for the 2016-17 biennium. “I am honored to have been selected by Lt. Governor Patrick for such an important responsibility,” said Hinojosa, who is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which came up with the Senate version of the state budget. “Through this appointment I am able to help craft a state budget that will pave the way for an educated and healthy workforce and a successful Texas economy.” A conference committee is a special legislative panel appointed by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House when there are differences between a Senate bill and a House bill that deal with the same issue, such as the proposed state budget that has been approved by the Senate and the proposed state budget that has been approved by the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, April 1, the House approved $209.8 billion budget, followed by the Senate, which on Wednesday, April 14, voted for a $211.4 billion budget. There are major differences in how much money is provided for certain programs and tax cuts, which resulted in the creation of the conference committee. “It is critical we work together to sort out the significant differences between the House and Senate versions to invest efficiently in our state programs so that we provide the services needed by our most vulnerable populations and that we wisely invest in infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, border security, and our students.” For example, the Senate budget proposes an $811 million increase for border security while the House budget calls for a $565 million boost. The Senate budget does not provide any increase for increasing Medicaid payments to doctors, while the House budget provides a $460 million boost. “Serious discussions will be taking place during the final budget process in the coming weeks and I am fully committed to support the funding priorities we need for South Texas and our entire state,” Hinojosa pledged.

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Texas veterans denounce Texas Monthly’s attack on Rep. Flores for fighting for disabled war heroes 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, flanked by leaders of local veterans’ groups, on Thursday, June 11, explained why he took on powerful legislative enemies in order to get his bill passed that will provide up to a 100 percent home property tax break for thousands of disabled veterans. "We veterans, we don’t leave anyone behind, and I wasn’t about to leave these veterans behind," Flores said during a press conference organized by the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. The group chose the Rio  Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission as the site for the news event, noting that Flores had also been the principal architect in bringing the state veterans cemetery to the Valley. Despite behind-the-scenes legislative opposition to his measure, Flores, a U.S. Army veteran, outmaneuvered his  political rivals and passed the veterans’ home tax break. Flores praised Texas veterans groups for playing a key role in the measure’s hard-fought success.  See lead story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured first on right, was rated as one of the best state lawmakers in Texas by Capitol Inside, a non-partisan web site news service has been a big hit with Republicans, Democrats and diehard independents as well since making its debut online in January 2003. At the conclusion of each legislative session, several political publications and websites name best and worst performers based on their service to their districts and the state. This year, Capitol Inside and political strategists Ted Delisi and Harold Cook compiled top ten lists, each naming Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as one of Texas’ top ten legislators. Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as a veteran legislator that "just keeps getting better."  The Delisi/Cook list noted Hinojosa’s ability to secure funding for District 20 projects, including highway infrastructure, and millions of dollars for health care delivery services. From left, during a recent visit to the Capitol, are Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa (no relation to the senator), Hidalgo County County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr., and Hinojosa. See story on the Capitol Inside ranking later in this posting. 

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South Texas firefighters were among the dozens of area groups which visited state lawmakers at the Capitol during the recently-concluded five month regular session. On Wednesday, April 1, a Valley delegation brought their issues to Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. Featured with Lucio, in his office, are, from left: Manuel Vargas, McAllen; Raul R. Zúñiga, Jr., San Benito; Javier Gutiérrez, McAllen; Lucio; Ramón Martínez, San Benito; Jesús Tijerina, San Benito; and Ernest Abrego, Harlingen. Later in this posting, Lucio writes about several key measures approved by the Legislature that will benefit another key constituency – military veterans.  

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The Convention Committee of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is finalizing plans for the 34th annual Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) Convention, which this year will be held at the McAllen Convention Center from July 29 through August 1.  The theme to the convention is “Growing Hispanic Business, for a Stronger Texas Economy”. Featured, front row, from left:  Sam Guzmán, TAMACC president;  Froy Garza with Congressman Henry Cuellar’s office; and Salomon Torres with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s office. Back row, from left: Rick Carrera, University of Texas-Pan American Small Business Development Center; Dr. John Thomas, MHCC board of directors; Mark Winchester, UTPA’s Director of the Rio South Texas Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO; Letty Flores with Gov. Rick Perry’s office; Margie Treviño, Southern Minority Supplier Development Council; and María Juárez, UTPA Director of the Small Business Development Center. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Punch @ Lunch on Wednesday, June 24 at the Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive, sponsored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR). The business community of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley are invited to attend the free networking luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Persons who attend are being asked to bring their business cards to distribute during the chamber’s most notable social-networking luncheon, which includes food, door prizes and fun. Area residents interested in attending should RSVP by calling 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Joanna Álvarez, DHR Assistant Director for Marketing; McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who serves as DHR’s legal counsel; Mario Lizcano, DHR Director for Marketing; Marissa Castañeda, DHR’s Chief Operations Officer; and Frank Lara, Membership Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  

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Texas Monthly ignores Valley lawmakers’ successes, again puts Hispanics in negative light, says Rep. Flores

The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit appears to have caused some confusion among members of the media and news consumers, according to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. That organization is encouraging news organizations to avoid any confusion over Sotomayor’s ethnic background. Her Puerto Rican parents are not immigrants, as some journalists have reported, since island-born residents are U.S. citizens, conferred by an act of Congress in 1917. "People who move to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico are no more immigrants than those who move from Nebraska to New York," said Iván Román, NAHJ’s executive director. "Her nomination to replace Justice David H. Souter represents the possibility of the first Latino sitting on the nation’s highest court. As the debate over her qualifications develops, NAHJ would encourage the highest form of discourse." Sotomayor, 54, is featured here on May 26 with President Obama and Vice President Biden following her nomination by the president to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Congressman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, featured here, third from right, during an unrelated photograph with constituents and then-President Bush, on officially launched the Congressional Media Fairness Caucus (MFC) to counter what he says is media bias. The purpose of the MFC is not to censor or condemn, but to encourage the media to adhere to the highest standards of reporting and to provide the American people with the facts, balanced stories and fair coverage of the news, Smith contended. A study by the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs found that network news programs gave President Obama more than three times the coverage that they gave former President George W. Bush early in his presidency, Smith noted. See related story later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured here, front row, second from left, with fellow members who first came into the Texas Legislature with him about six-and-a-half years ago, on Friday, June 5, declared that legislation authorizing the establishment of a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley was his and the region’s number one legislative priority. "The Rio Grande Valley has been long underserved in access to healthcare and health care providers," said Peña. "The establishment of a medical school and health science center will not only serve to bridge that gap but it has the power to transform our economy. I applaud Sen. Eddie Lucio for his leadership, our legislative delegation and community and business leaders for all their efforts. While we can relish this achievement we have a lot of important work ahead to ensure that the facility is fully funded and world-class." See story later in this posting.

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The employees of South Texas College have been recognized by the United Way of South Texas for being the most charitable among all staffs at state agencies across the Rio Grande Valley, including outperforming other major universities and state offices. STC employees pledged more than $40,000 through the 2008 State Employees Charitable Campaign (SECC), administered by the United Way of South Texas. The college merited the SECC Lone Star Award for its effort. Featured, representing STC and UWST, are, from left, front: Gloria Ann Hernández, community relations public sector campaign for UWST; Thelma Garza, UWST president; and Diana Peña, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services for STC. Back row, from left: Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of STC; Jeff Heavin, instructor, STC Human Resources Specialist Program; and Shirley Ingram, Director of Human Resources for STC. See story later in this posting.

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Disabled veterans’ home property tax breaks, Valley VA Hospital plan, posting big victories in Legislature

Paul Cowen, longtime chief-of-staff for Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and an alumni of then Pan American University, on Monday, June 1, was honored by the Senate for his legislative work on behalf of the Valley and Texas. Cowen will be leaving his Senate post on August 31. “Paul has been the most loyal employee and friend. His enormous contributions to state government and to the people of District 27 will never be forgotten,” said Lucio. “His work has been exemplary and of the highest quality, and as one of the Texas Senate’s most valuable employees, he will be greatly missed by all of us.” See story later in this posting.

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“Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott once said, “helping one another is part of the religion of sisterhood.” No need to tell that to the “Trigo sisters” of Edinburg, as they have come to be known in the College of Education at The University of Texas-Pan American. The three siblings – featured from left, Elda Trigo, Armidia Trigo Ríos, and Iliana Trigo – all celebrated earning their master’s degrees at the same time in the same field – bilingual education – at one of three UTPA commencement ceremonies held May 9 at the McAllen Convention Center. See story later in this posting.

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Julissa Barrera, shown second from left, learned over her years as a student at The University of Texas-Pan American that leadership requires creativity, determination and perseverance. For her final project as a member of the four-year Student Leadership Program at the university, Barrera created, researched and implemented a drive in which she successfully collected nearly 8,000 diapers to give to clients of AVANCE Rio Grande Valley, a local nonprofit agency providing services to lower income Valley families. Featured at a recent ceremony to present diapers to AVANCE RGV collected as a part of a UTPA Student Leadership Program senior project are, from left: Noelia Telles, family service coordinator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; Julissa Barrera, who graduated this spring; Cecilia Quiroga, parent educator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; and Teresa González, supervisor of family programs, AVANCE RGV. See story later in this posting.

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Top leaders with South Texas College and Texas A&M-Kingsville recently signed an agreement to ease the transfer of students studying education. Featured, seated from left, are: Steven Tallant, TAMUK president; Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs; and Ali Emaeili, STC dean for bachelor programs and university relations. Standing, from left, are: Marilyn J Bartlett, TAMUK dean of the College of Education; Art Montiel, chair of STC’s Education Department; and Mike F. Desiderio, TAMUK chair for education. See story later in this posting.

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