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General Interest General Interest

Voting centers discussions continue

EDINBURG — The formation of voting centers for the upcoming November elections continues to be a hot-button topic with Yvonne Ramon, director of the Elections Department, recommending adding 31 voting sites at this week’s Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court.

Using the voter center concept, any Hidalgo County resident could vote at any voting site regardless of whether it was located in the precinct where they lived.

Judge Ramon Garcia questioned whether the purpose of voting center might be to reduce the number of locations for voting and save money by creating centers convenient to voters.


Medical school to cost $45-$60 million to maintain

The new university and medical school for the Rio Grande Valley has been a high priority for many local government officials and community members. But after gaining very positive momentum in the state legislature this session, the proposal was nearly derailed due to a tug-of-war between Hidalgo and Cameron County leaders over where the new school should be located.

In the final weeks of the session, lawmakers in Austin and leaders from both counties worked out an agreement, gaining approval of the necessary legislation creating the medical school in the Valley. Both the Texas House and Senate passed Senate Bill 24, which makes possible the merger between the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville and creates the new medical school.

Currently, the bill is waiting for approval by Texas Governor Rick Perry.


Rep. Sergio Muñoz reviews 83rd legislative session

20130531 Sergio-Munoz-JrMISSION—After closing out the regular Texas 83rd Legislative Session, Texas House Representative Sergio Muñoz Jr. (District 36) reviewed this session’s top bills making a significant impact on the Mission area.

Senate Bill 1

Senate Bill 1 calls for a $197 billion state budget for the fiscal biennium 2014-2015. The budget, approved by both the state senate and house, has been sent to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Susan Combs, for certification. Then it will be sent to the governor for final approval.

During the 82nd legislative session two years ago, over $4 billion was cut from education. SB 1 restores $3.8 billion in funding to public education. In addition, the bill funds critical health and human services programs and increases the state’s contribution to the teacher retirement system.


TxDOT reminds drivers, passengers to ‘click it or ticket’

AUSTIN — Texans wear their belt buckles with a certain Lone Star pride, but it’s the buckles in their vehicles that could save their lives. More functional than fashionable, life-saving seat belts first debuted 45 years ago when Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and The Highway Safety Act went into effect mandating that all automobiles have seat belts as a standard feature. To honor President Johnson’s pioneering dedication to safety, the Texas Department of Transportation recently launched its 12th annual Click It or Ticket campaign at the LBJ Library in Austin with a car show demonstrating the progression of seat belts through the ages.

“The cost of not wearing seat belts is far greater than a ticket or fine,” said Phil Wilson, TxDOT executive director. “Simply put, a seat belt could save your life. Public awareness is working, but we still see some teenagers, pickup truck passengers and rural Texans who aren’t buckling up.”


County plan to establish voting centers hits snags

The effort to establish countywide voting centers for upcoming elections is running into snags with disagreement among committee members as to what is actually needed. Yvonne Ramon, head of the County Elections Department, told Hidalgo County Commissioners in their Tuesday, May 21, meeting, the committee had been divided into four parts due to the size of the county. Each group was given instructions and had 18 days to determine where voting centers should be located. Two of the four subcommittees had done their jobs and located suitable locations for voting centers. Two had not.

Ramon told the Progress Times that the legislature had given counties permission to reduce the number of polling sites by up to 65 percent the first year. For Hidalgo County, that would be 48 polling places instead of the current 74 polling places. She said the number could be reduced by 50 percent the second year. Recent studies have shown that 70 percent of the people voted in 25 locations.


County water concerns not over

“In spite of the recent rains, the water crisis in Hidalgo County is not over. While the rains may have helped the farmers, the water level in the dam is still under drought conditions,” said Oscar Montoya, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Director. “Long term solutions to the problem are still needed.”

Montoya went on to say the recent hurricane preparedness seminar was well attended by representatives from cities and counties and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). According to Montoya, some of the discussion centered around how flood waters from storms could be retained and used to help in future drought situations instead of allowing all the water to flow to the Gulf of Mexico, as it did two years ago when the Rio Grande flooded.


OWLS oppose proposed commuter rail line

Under public forum during Tuesday’s Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting, OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) representative Frank Travers asked the county to withdraw its support from the proposed Hidalgo County Commuter Rail District. The HCCRD was to have a meeting on Wednesday, May 8, which included an agenda item “relating to creation of a regional transit authority, and granting the power of eminent domain, providing authority to impose a tax and issue bonds for the HCCRD.”

Travers said the research he continues to do show there are no effective rail districts operating in the United States. He further stated the Valley had no high-rise business district like those in New York and Chicago were many people take trains to work daily.


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