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Dr. Larry Balli, health care and economic leader, honored for life’s work by Gov. Perry, Legislature

 

Every year, Texas Monthly publishes much-anticipated reviews of some of the state’s best medical, legal, and community leaders, based on a strict and independent research process that identifies Texans who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Dr. Larry Balli, one of the area’s most influential dentists, has long enjoyed a stellar reputation in Edinburg. Late last year, he was bestowed the coveted honor of "Super Dentist" by Texas Monthly, a major statewide magazine with a national following. Now comes news that his professional and civic contributions to the region have earned him praise from Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature, which have approved a legislative resolution publicly recognizing him for his efforts in the Lone Star State. See lead story later in this posting. 

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As the veto period came to a close on Sunday, June 21, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured here during a McAllen Chamber of Commerce legislative update on Wednesday, June 17, announced final approval of 59 measures that he authored or sponsored. Hinojosa’s legislative package includes bills on transportation, natural resources, criminal justice, infrastructure, and health care issues, benefitting South Texas and the entire state.  See story later in this posting. 

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SOCIALIFE News Magazine, the five-year-old creation of South Texas entrepreneur Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, featured here with Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has been honored by the Texas House of Representatives for its vital role of promoting a positive image of the Rio Grande Valley and by helping charitable organizations in the state and nation.  The honor, contained in House Resolution 2283 filed by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was unanimously approved by House of Representatives on May 25. See story later in this posting. 

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The laboratories at McAllen Heart Hospital and McAllen Medical Center were accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) after site inspections on April 1 and May 1. Both laboratories received complimentary remarks by CAP inspectors on the quality of patient testing, documentation and organization. The laboratories also received  exemplary marks on their standard of laboratory practices. Featured here are some of the employees of McAllen Medical Center and McAllen Heart Hospital who are instrumental to the quality of care and services the laboratories provide. From left, first row: Dr. Feliberto Cavazos, pathologist; Sobie Treviño, system assistant director; Grace Garza, system lab director; and Robert Tamez, hospital administrator. Second row, from left: Dr. José Luis Valencia, pathologist; Norma Rodríguez; and Lester Alvarado. Third row, from left:  Denisha Niño; Aida Galván; Diana Villarreal; Janice Milford; and Jennifer Ríos. Four row, from left: Elisa Díaz; Mylene Trasmonte; Becky Flores; and Sylvia Aguinaga. Fifth row, from left: Virgil Zuñiga; Robert Hockaday; Alejo Romero; Andy Romero; and Aydee García. See story later in this posting. 

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Hundreds of future South Texas College graduates, such as these featuring during this spring’s commencement exercise, will benefit from a major grant, to be dispersed over the next three years, for expanded development education programs. On Monday, June 22, STC leaders announced that the college has been named as one of 15 national recipients – and only four in Texas – of a new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MDC, Inc. Together the groups are giving $16.5 million to community colleges across the nation, $743,000 of which will come directly to South Texas College. “At STC we are so happy to receive the funds because it will help us institute a change to the respective course contents in our developmental programs to create learning connections for students among the three developmental education disciplines through contextualization of the curriculum,” said Dr. Ali Esmaeili, dean of developmental studies for STC. “We plan to implement a robust case management student support framework to ensure a consistent and reliable contact experience for all of our developmental students.” See story later in this posting. 

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Lawmakers working on major CHIP expansion to help both low- and middle-income families, says Rep. Flores

 

President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Memorial Day commemorations at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Memorial Day, May 25. After being introduced by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President told an audience gathered inside the Memorial Amphitheater that Arlington’s hallowed grounds contain the remains of, “presidents and privates, Supreme Court justices and slaves; generals familiar to history, and unknown soldiers known only to God.” See story later in this posting. 

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South Texas Health System, which was recently awarded a contract by the Veterans Administration to provide medical care and treatment to veterans in South Texas, will be holding an enrollment fair at Edinburg Regional Medical Center on Saturday, June 20, from 8 a.m. to noon. The Hidalgo County Veterans Services Office will be onsite with applications for health care benefits. Veterans will be required to complete an application (form 1010-EZ) and provide a copy of their DD214 (discharge papers) for enrollment.  Edinburg Regional Medical Center, located at  1102 W. Trenton Road,  is part of a network of Hidalgo County hospitals, including McAllen Medical Center, featured here recently, when it announced it was going to provide VA medical services at that location. Valley veterans and their families are invited to attend the June 20 event in Edinburg, where a variety of health screenings for the veterans and their families will be provided. In addition, family entertainment, food, and many door prizes will also be available.  For more information, contact Edinburg hospital officials at 388-2036. 

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Óscar Longoria Jr., featured second from right, was sworn in on Thursday, May 21, as the District 2 trustee for South Texas Community College. He succeeds Irene García, who last November had to resign her post at STC because she had been elected to the Mission school board, and state law prohibited her from holding both positions at the same time. Longoria, 27, is an attorney, and is the youngest person to serve on the STC Board of Trustees. In a special election in April, he defeated Graciela Farias and Connie Garza. Longoria, who is a resident of Mission and native of La Joya, represents the constituents of La Joya, western Mission, Palmview, Sullivan City, Penitas and western Alton. Featured with him are his parents, Óscar, Sr. and Rosa, along with his brother, Jason.  See story later in this posting.

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Ana De Luna, a collection specialist with the Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office, on Wednesday, May 20, was honored with the Collector of the Year Award by the Government Collectors Association of Texas. This award is presented to the collector selected as having had the greatest impact on collections efforts for their respective city or county in the past year.  The local county’s Collections Department also received the Excellence in Service Award, which is presented to programs selected for unselfishly providing assistance to others embodying the elements of dedication, commitment and service to the association and its membership. The association consists of professionals from across the state of Texas responsible for the collection of funds for the governmental entities for which they are employed and is devoted to the education, strategies, techniques and tools for judicial collections. Ms. De Luna is featured here with her colleagues, during a ceremony celebrating her award. “I feel very honored and privileged for having received such a prestigious award which reflects the collection efforts our county strives for.  I am so thankful for the wonderful supervisory leadership I have and the support of my co-workers.  It is through team work that we can achieve our goals,” said De Luna. She has been employed with the district clerk’s office since August 2007 and will continue serving in her capacity as a Collections Specialist. 

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U.S. Senate hopeful Sharp, a Democrat, backs VA Hospital plan for the Valley filed by Rep. Flores

The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor Committee has met and approved Private Pedro Cano of Edinburg as the posthumous recipient of the state’s highest military decoration. "I am pleased to report that the committee has made the formal selection of Pedro Cano to be the Legislative Medal of Honor recipient for the 81st legislative session," said Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. "Pedro Cano’s heroism will always speak for him but the testimony given by our local veterans and the Cano family was instrumental in moving the committee’s formal nomination." Peña is the author of HCR 5 which would posthumously confer the Legislative Medal of Honor to the World War II hero. Members of the nominating committee are: Texas Adjutant General José Mayorga; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Speaker of the House Joe Straus; Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, who is chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee; and Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, who is chair of the House Defense & Veterans’ Affairs Committee. After review of testimony and evidence, Mayorga made the motion for the nomination of Pedro Cano. Cano was not the only candidate up for consideration at the hearing held on Friday, May 15. HCR 5 is a step away from being approved, with the Senate scheduled to hold a public hearing on the matter on Wednesday, May 20, with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, serving as the Senate sponsor. Cano received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, for his heroism in WWII. Cano would be the second recipient from Edinburg to receive Texas’ highest military decoration. In 2007, Peña passed legislation posthumously conferring the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to Freddy González, also of Edinburg. González was a Marine sergeant, killed in Vietnam, who was posthumously bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor.  

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Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, recently greeted a Rio Grande Valley delegation of veterans visiting the Austin Capitol to voice support for their issues, including a Veterans Hospital in the area. "The federal government received a clear message from the Texas Legislature that the Rio Grande Valley needs a hospital for veterans of South Texas," said Peña. "I offer my sincere appreciation to those veterans who traveled to Austin to testify on this legislation and to Sen. Lucio for his work on this issue. Together we are going to get this hospital built. "Featured, front row, from left: Ruben Cantú, Chapter 21 Commander, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), of Harlingen; Sen. Lucio; Rep. Peña; Emilio De Los Santos, Director, Hidalgo County Veterans Department, of Edinburg; Olie Pope, Veterans Service Officer, of Austin; and José A. Leal, Incoming Commander, DAV Chapter 121, of Harlingen. Center row, from left: Homer Gallegos, VFW Post 8788 Commander, of McAllen; and Rey Oropez, Assistant Veterans Service Officer, of Edinburg. Top row, from left: Mike Escobedo, America’s Last Patrol, of Donna; Antonio Arenas, VFW Post 8788, of McAllen; and Nicanoor R. Chávez, American Legion, of Raymondville. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, recently honored participants of the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run in Austin with a Senate Resolution honoring the yearly event and all Vietnam Veterans. Lucio presented Senate Resolution 863 that recognizes the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run held annually in March to pay tribute to Vietnam Veterans and their return home. "When I returned stateside, I recall that our military flight plane was forced to divert from its intended airport in California to Washington state due to anti-war protests at the original site," said Daniel D. Piñeda of Mercedes, a combat veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Vietnam in 1969. "Once back home in the Valley, for the most part, I, like most other Vietnam veterans, was shunned by the general public. There were no expressions of ‘welcome home soldier’ or anything of the sort." Piñeda explained that the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run "serves to help the Vietnam veterans who were never welcomed home decades ago, but rather, if you would, just swept under the rug. As we ride from town to town in Texas along U.S. Highway 83, we see people, complete strangers, lined up cheering, waving and shouting ‘welcome home.’  It’s the patriotic display of our nation’s people honoring its forgotten veterans." Featured, front row, from left: Marietta Johnston of Junction: Alex Armendáriz of Pflugerville; Brent Jackson, founder of the Run, of Wolfforth; Richard Scibek of Houston; and Hazel Webb of Slaton. Back row, from left: Keeton Johnston of Junction; Mr. and Mrs. Pablo Aguillón of Crystal City; Sen. Lucio; Stephen Arthur of Amarillo; Brenda Jackson, co-founder of the Run, of Wolfforth; Kim Felix of Austin; Lester Nye of Granbury; Chuck Bayes of Houston; and Woody Webb, of Slaton. See story later in this posting.

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Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured left, accepts the "Leadership Award", bestowed by The Rio Grande Council, Boy Scouts of America, from his mentor, former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, who is accompanied by Ernesto Carballo, Scout Executive and CEO for the Rio Grande Council, Boy Scouts of America. The public ceremony was part of a fundraiser dinner for scouting in deep South Texas. The event, which was part of the scouts’ national Centennial Celebration, was held on Thursday, May 14, at The Club at Cimmaron. The successful gathering helped raise about $50,000 for Valley scouting efforts. The “Leadership Award” has been designated by the Rio Grande Council, BSA as an award to be presented to a civic, community, or business leader who has demonstrated patriotism, leadership, and service at a local, state, or national level. Sharp, who served as the keynote speaker, later said he said Valley hopes for a Veterans Administration Hospital would be greatly improved if Texas had at least one Democratic U.S. senator in Washington. Sharp is an announced Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is expected to vacate her seat in the coming months in order to campaign for governor in the March 2010 Republican Party primary. See lead story on Sharp’s support for a state-federal partnership to build Valley VA Hospital, as envisioned by state legislation by Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, and how Sharp says he can make a difference on that goal in securing federal funding because of his Democratic Party affiliation. 

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Texas Transportation Commission would include South Texans under measure approved by House

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, featured in Edinburg last year with Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, has secured House passage of his legislation that would prevent the sale and distribution in Texas of flame-producing lighters that look like toys – mechanisms that have been linked to injuries and deaths of children nationwide. His House Bill 90, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 1, now goes to the Senate for its consideration and action. The bill defines "toy-like lighter" to mean a mechanical or electrical device typically used for lighting cigarettes, cigars, or pipes that resembles in physical form or function articles designed or intended for play by children under 10 years of age. "HB 90 would protect the public, and especially children," said Martínez, who is a firefighter, licensed paramedic, critical care flight paramedic, and Texas Department of Health instructor and coordinator. "Deadly fires have  been caused across the country by these lighters. These objects are easily  mistaken for toys and are enticing to children. They do not have  disclaimers and are inherently dangerous." Gonzáles is a co-author of Martínez’ legislation. See story later in this posting. 

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Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, right, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday, May 7, in Washington, D.C., to discuss border security and the appointments of U.S. District Judges, U.S. Marshalls, and U.S. Attorneys. The gathering was part of a meeting between the Texas congressional delegation and Holder. Also on May 7, Cuellar, during a separate event, joined a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.  The bill, which cracks down on predatory lending practices and ensures that the mortgage industry follows basic principles of sound lending, responsibility, and consumer protection, passed the U.S. House on a 300-114 vote. See story on the mortgage legislation later in this posting. 

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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, on Tuesday, May 5, marked the Texas Senate’s passage of legislation that would require convicted sex offenders to provide their online and cellular telephone account information to the state’s Sex Offender Registry.  Senate Bill 689 passed the Senate on Monday, May 4, and is now pending in the Texas House of Representatives, where the Edinburg lawmaker will carry it as the sponsor. “This legislation will help protect children by ensuring that state law keeps up with modern technology,” Abbott said. “By requiring sexual predators to provide their electronic identities, the Legislature is simply improving existing registration requirements – which require convicted sex offenders to provide their addresses to the Department of Public Safety. As Attorney General, I am grateful to Sen. Shapiro and Rep. Peña for their innovative approach and commitment to Texas children.” See story later in this posting. 

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Rio Grande Valley members of the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas are featured behind the Senate chamber, greeted by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, during their visit to the Texas Capitol on April 29. The group was in Austin to attend a conference. From left: Linda M. Luna of Brownsville; Abel Zapata of La Feria; Sen. Lucio; Al Elizondo of San Benito; Luis Flores of Harlingen; and Javier Losoya of Harlingen. 

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House passes bill by Rep. Martínez to protect Texas’ $159 million citrus industry from new plant plague

 

Hidalgo County leaders on Friday, May 1, commemorated the historic infusion of about $300 million in federal funds for the Hidalgo County Levee Rehabilitation Project during a special recognition ceremony and press conference at the Hidalgo Pump House Museum and World Birding Center Nature Park.  Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured first on right, released an economic impact study, commissioned by his office and conducted by Sai Mullapudi of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Data and Information Systems Center Division of Community Engagement, that highlighted the economic impact of the levee upgrades.  The study indicates that the entire levee rehabilitation project, when completed, will produce nearly 5,000 local jobs and generate $508 million in economic impact. From left, in this photograph, are: Ron Vitiello, chief for the Rio Grand Valley Border Patrol sector; Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; and Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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May marks National Mental Health Month and to recognize the month-long health campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, the South Texas Behavioral Health Center hosted an advocacy reception for community leaders on Friday, May 1. Area leaders spanning from law enforcement, military, elected officials, health care practitioners and social service providers attended the event in recognition of the advancements and challenges of mental health care in the Valley. Standing, from left, are: Solomon Torres, District Director for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Doug Matney, Vice President of Acute Care and Group Director for South Texas Health System; César Matos, MD; Joe Rodríguez, CEO for South Texas Behavioral Health Center and Michael Sauceda, Business Development Director for South Texas Behavioral Health Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Manuel Garcia and Johnny Rodriguez, two of the board members for Edinburg Child Care, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to providing nutrition and education services to children in day care homes, display a cake that helped mark the 25th anniversary of the local entity.  The local firm, which helps generate a multi-million dollar economic impact for the region, hosted a celebration in the Edinburg/San Manuel region on April 25, 2009, as a treat for many of its participants. Operations consist of reimbursements to day care homes and day care centers for meals served to children under their care and administrative costs.  All seed funds/startup costs were provided by Romeo Villarreal, a local businessman and educator. The policy-making board of directors oversees the program, which is administered by an executive director. Since 1991, this program has generated between $2 million to $2.3 million dollars annually and disbursed to providers from Corpus Christi to Laredo, to Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. Three hundred to 500 small business owners of day care centers are being supplemented annually through this agency. Edinburg Child Care, Inc. is located 2002 West University, Suite 3, Edinburg, 78539. They may also be contacted by telephone at 956/383-6789; by fax at 956/383-6888; and toll-free at 1/800-281-6780. Mary Villarreal, the company’s executive director, may also be reached via Internet mvillarrealmmv@sbcglobal.net or edinburgchildcare@hotmail.com. 

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The Texas Senate on Monday, May 4, unanimously voted for Senate Bill 1443 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee,  that would provide financial relief to students and their families, while recognizing the shared responsibility of the legislature and higher education institutions to keep college affordable and accessible without sacrificing excellence. The bill focuses on total academic costs, not simply on tuition; caps increases and links them to formula funding; offers an optional 4-year guaranteed tuition rate; includes additional cost-cutting measures; and establishes legislative oversight. See story later in this posting. 

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Asian citrus psyllid nymphs, shown here in their development stages by a U.S. Department of Agriculture photograph, can live on citrus trees that are infected with the Citrus Greening Disease and can acquire that plague just before reaching the adult stage. Once that happens, those insects can immediately transmit the disease to uninfected trees, which ruin the trees and citrus.  The greening disease, which has not yet been detected in Texas, could devastate the state’s $159 million citrus industry, most of which is located in Hidalgo County. A bill by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has been passed by the House of Representatives. The measure would give the Texas Department of Agriculture the needed policy powers to help citrus growers prevent a potentially-devastating outbreak of this plant disease. See lead story later in this posting. 

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