BACK-TO-SCHOOL TAX FREE WEEKEND IS THIS WEEKEND AUGUST 11-13

AUSTIN, TX –  Texas’s highly successful annual Sales Tax Holiday is scheduled this year for Friday, August 11 through Sunday, August 13 and will offer Texans an opportunity to save millions in sales tax on clothing and various back-to-school items.  With the new school year almost upon us, the timing is perfect for students of all ages to stock up on clothes and supplies.

“The back-to-school season is an excellent opportunity for our Texas families to find bargains and low prices, and at the same time is an economic driver for our local businesses. I encourage you to take full advantage of the tax holiday and save more of your hard earned dollars by shopping during this coming weekend,” Senator Hinojosa stated.

Texans who shop during this weekend will not have to pay taxes on clothing, school supplies, or footwear priced under $100 and includes such items as baby clothes, diapers, and work uniforms. Items sold online as well as layaway plans also qualify. The following link to the Texas Comptroller’s webpage will provide more information and a complete list of tax-free items:

https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/publications/98-490/

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SENATOR HINOJOSA RESPONDS TO AN OPEN RECORDS REQUEST FROM AGUA SUD

A public information request was recently made to my office by Agua SUD for all documents related to Senate Bill 814, legislation I passed this session to increase transparency and curb conflicts of interests within the Agua SUD board. Today, I am releasing all information our office has on this issue, including all correspondence and documents in compliance with the Texas Public Information Act. Agua SUD should do the same and comply with all open records requests made by members of the public.

Since October of 2016 Agua SUD has received more than 30 open records requests from news outlets such as the Progress Times, The Monitor, Valley Central Channel 4, and other individuals requesting copies of all professional services agreements between Agua SUD and all the consultants they have hired. They refuse to release this public information and instead have appealed to the Attorney General’s office for an official opinion of whether they must do so.

These are taxpayer funds they are dealing with. The public has a right to know why, when, and how our government entities spend taxpayer money. Instead, Agua SUD is politicizing a taxpayer utility district for their own political agenda. I am amazed at the amount of time, energy, and taxpayer money that they are willing to waste to protect themselves and keep the public in the dark.

Agua SUD is an important utility district in one of the fastest growing areas in Hidalgo County. There must be transparency, accountability and protections of taxpayer money.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SINE DIE: SENATOR HINOJOSA ANNOUNCES THE END OF THE 85TH LEGISLATIVE SESSION

AUSTIN, TX – Today, the Texas Legislature adjourned Sine Die for the 85th Regular Session. Sine Die is the last day of the 140 days every-odd numbered year the Texas Legislature meets.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Despite a difficult and challenging session, I am proud of what we accomplished this session for South Texas and the entire State. We had important legislative victories and crafted a balanced budget that takes care of Texans. This session I passed about 60 individual pieces of important legislation and secured millions of dollars for our priorities in South Texas and the Coastal Bend regions.

As Vice Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of five Senate conferees on SB 1, the state’s General Appropriations Act, I was involved in countless hours of budget negotiations that resulted in many of the cuts in the original version of the budget being restored.

In the final budget, I was able to secure $53.5 million for our medical school at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). I was also able to secure first time ever funding for the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft  Systems program at Texas A&M- Corpus Christi (TAMUCC), and $40 million for infrastructure to improve access to and from our Texas ports.

Although a tight budget for the next two years, it is fiscally responsible and invests in infrastructure, border security, healthcare, and our students. The budget will pave the way for an educated and healthy workforce and a successful Texas economy.”

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Texas Legislature Passes HB 351, Debtors-Prison Reform

AUSTIN, TX – Today, House Bill 351 authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Senator Judith Zaffirini, and Representative Terry Canales was sent to the Governor’s Desk with overwhelming approval from the Texas Legislature. HB 351 includes comprehensive changes recommended by the Texas Judicial Council to provide judges with new tools and procedures to hold low-income Texans accountable without jail time when they cannot pay their fines and court costs in criminal cases. 

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Our current system is counter-productive, and it traps people into a cycle of debt when they cannot pay their tickets and other low-level, fine-only citations. Our current practice also leads to license suspensions and arrest warrants. In 2015, fines in over 677,00 cases were satisfied through jail credit and over 230,000 Texas were unable to renew expired licenses until their fines and fees were paid off.

HB 351 allows courts to ask about a defendant’s ability to pay during the sentencing phase. After making that determination, courts would be allowed to reduce or waive fines and costs and offer community service as an alternative. In 2015, judges resolved fine-only cases with community service just 1.3 percent of the time. HB 351 seeks to put the justice system’s time and resources to more efficient use by holding people accountable while saving money and increasing public safety.”

As a condition of community supervision, HB 351 also allows a judge to require participation in a pretrial diversion program.  Furthermore, the bill extends the “Commission to Study Certain Penal Codes” to review criminal offenses outside the penal code and updates the threshold ladder for forgery crimes related to fake checks, money orders and other simple transactions to match the penalty ladder for the rest of Texas’ theft offenses.  Current law designates “fake checks” to be an automatic state jail felony. This would create consistency and keep non-violent offenders out of Texas state jails.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

TEXAS LEGISLATURE PASSES HB 3649, VICTIM INFORMATION PRIVACY ACT

AUSTIN, TX – Today, House Bill 3649 authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and by Representative Abel Herrero was sent to the Governor’s Desk with overwhelming approval from the Texas Legislature.  HB 3649 makes communication between a domestic violence victim and their communications with family violence center advocates confidential.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Seeking lifesaving services should be safe and confidential. Thirty-nine states have some form of enhanced state-level victim information privacy protections for victims of domestic violence.  However, Texas lacks strong legal protections for private conversations between domestic violence victims and their family violence advocates.

HB 3649 shields information that family violence survivors share with victim advocates from disclosure, ensuring they can seek assistance without fear that their personal stories will be used against them. As survivors leave abusive homes for the safety of their families and themselves, this bill makes sure the state provides protection as well.” 

Over 70,000 Texans seek services every year and each of them deserves to have their private information respected.  Enhanced privacy and confidentiality stand as critical elements of fostering a therapeutic and effective environment for victims to seek help.  

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Texas Legislature Passes SB 1136 by Senator Hinojosa for the City of Edinburg Sports Facility & Field Construction

AUSTIN, TX – Today, Senate Bill 1136, authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and sponsored by Representative Terry Canales was sent to the Governor’s desk with overwhelming approval from the Texas Legislature. SB 1136 authorizes the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue for sporting-related facilities for the City of Edinburg.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Edinburg is experiencing rapid growth and quickly becoming a tourist destination, having just finished the construction of a 9,000 seat professional soccer arena attracting tourists from all over the state. SB 1136 will allow Edinburg to use the municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue to pay for the construction, maintenance, and expansion of the new soccer stadium and other sports related venues.

I am proud to author legislation that allows Edinburg to utilize municipal hotel tax revenue to build more sports related facilities, and at the same time attract tourists to the Rio Grande Valley so that our hotels and restaurants continue to experience significant growth and sales.”

SB 1136 amends the tax code to allow for the HOT revenue collection if certain criteria are met, specifically if the municipality’s sports facilities and fields have been used in the preceding year a combined total of 10 times for district, sate, regional, or national sports tournaments. The city has 10 years to ensure the tax revenue on the sports facilities are less than the revenues of the area hotels attributable to sporting or other events held at the facility of fiend. If not, the city will reimburse the municipal HOT revenue fund from the city’s general fund.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Texas Legislature Passes SB 712, Expanding Long-Term Protective Orders

AUSTIN, TX – Yesterday, SB 712 authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and sponsored by Representative Todd Hunter was sent to the Governor’s desk with overwhelming approval from the Texas Legislature.  SB 712 authorizes a court to render a protective order that exceeds two years if the court finds that the offender commits an act(s) constituting felony-level family violence.  Lethal family violence felony offenses include strangulation, continuous violence against the family, continuous violation of a protective order, or enhanced assault family violence, among other felonies.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“In Texas, 158 women were killed by their intimate partner and 1 in 3 adult women are victims of family violence. The most dangerous time for victims are the weeks leading up to their escape and the weeks following.

Currently, courts may allow long-term protective orders, if there have been either two prior protective orders involving the same parties or if the offender has caused serious bodily injury to the victim. SB 712 will now include lethal family violence offenses to expand a protective order longer than two years to better protect victims.”

This session, Senator Hinojosa is working alongside fellow Nueces County lawmakers, Rep. Todd Hunter and Rep. Abel Herrero, to move a number of bills forward to end family violence. The lawmakers have also worked closely with the Texas Council on Family Violence and the Women’s Shelter of South Texas in finding the best ways to end domestic abuse.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Cindy Leon’s Reappointment to the Public Safety Commission Confirmed by the Texas Senate

AUSTIN, TX — Today, the Texas Senate confirmed the reappointment of Anne Cynthia “Cindy” Leon to the Texas Public Safety Commission for a term set to expire January 1, 2020. Cindy Leon was appointed by former Governor Rick Perry to the Texas Public Safety Commission in January 2011; served as the chairman from April 2012 to March 2017; and was reappointed as a member of the commission by Governor Greg Abbott on March 8, 2017.

Senator Hinojosa released the following statement:

“I was honored to support and confirm the reappointment of Cindy Leon to the Texas Public Safety Commission. Cindy, a resident of Mission, Texas, brings a border perspective to the Commission and a deep and personal understanding of the security issues we face on our borders. I congratulate her and her family for this honor and wish her much success as she continues to serve the State on the Public Safety Commission.”

Cindy Leon retired from a 36-year career with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She was appointed to the position of HUD Regional Director, Region VI, by President George W. Bush on December 3, 2001 – she served in that capacity until her retirement.

Ms. Leon’s career in public service began with her first job as a VISTA volunteer in 1969. Later on, she became the Director of Native American Programs, the Director of Public Housing in the Denver Regional Office and the Director of HUD’s San Antonio office until her appointment of Regional Director – where she was responsible for the delivery of HUD programs and services to more than 33 million Americans living in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SB 814 AGUA SUD PASSES SENATE UNANIMOUSLY

AUSTIN, TX – Today, Senate Bill 814, authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, passed unanimously out of the Texas Senate, 31-0 . This critical legislation increases transparency and curbs conflicts of interests within the Agua SUD board in Hidalgo County. The public loses confidence in the integrity of a governmental entity if it perceives that the governing board is influenced by personal interests. Public servants must avoid creating even the appearance of impropriety.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“I am pleased with the unanimous vote and strong support in the Senate for SB 814 and the recognition from the legislature that the conflicts of interests and impropriety must end, especially when dealing with taxpayer funds.

SB 814 would stop Agua SUD from employing La Joya School Board members to work for the utility district. Conflicts of interest must not be tolerated and my legislation gives the two La Joya School Board members affected four years to decide if they want to run for re-election or continue their employment at Agua SUD (grandfather provision).

The bill has been amended to focus on the conflict with Agua and the La Joya Independent School District, since the majority of the Agua SUD board members are employees of the La Joya School District. Thus, the La Joya School Board controls Agua SUD.

I am amazed at the amount of time, energy, and taxpayer money that Agua SUD is willing to waste to protect the employment of their bosses. They are politicizing a taxpayer utility district for their own political agenda. Agua SUD is an important utility district in one of the fastest growing areas in Hidalgo County. There must be transparency, accountability and protections of taxpayer money.”

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SENATOR HINOJOSA’S STATEMENT ON AGUA SUD

Yesterday, the Agua Special Utility District (SUD) announced that the board was hiring an attorney at taxpayer expense to conduct an internal audit. It is like the fox guarding the henhouse. It is more waste of taxpayer money.

Since October of 2016 Agua SUD has received more than 30 open records requests from news outlets such as the Progress Times, The Monitor, Valley Central Channel 4, and other individuals requesting copies of all professional services agreements between Agua SUD and all the consultants they have hired. They refuse to release this public information and instead have appealed to the Attorney General’s office.

These are taxpayer funds they are dealing with. What are they afraid of? What is it they are hiding? Why do they not want to disclose public documents when the public has the right to know.

Agua SUD is willing to spend thousands of dollars to hire not an auditor, but yet another highly paid consultant that can help them find ways to justify the questionable actions and practices of the District. This attorney has been hired by the Agua board and has already made up his mind and does not want to be confused by the facts, which is proven by the statements he made at the press conference that SB 814 is based “off of rumors and not proof of actual misconduct.”

The Agua board has a long history of mismanagement and was placed in receivership when it used to be the La Joya Water Supply Company. Last year, the Agua board tried to fire the previous Executive Director and replace him with a La Joya School Board member with no experience whatsoever related to water or waste water infrastructure or experience with state or federal contracting.

Another example is when the Agua board delegated to their own engineering company S&B, a nationwide and very reputable engineering company, to make a recommendation on a contractor for Phase II of the wastewater project. After their own engineering company made a thorough review and verified the qualifications of the bids, they recommended the lowest bidder who had been working on Phase I. The board instead rejected their own engineer’s recommendation and awarded the contract to a construction company who bid $1 million higher than the recommended company. This is an additional $1 million cost to taxpayers.

When questioned and investigated by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for this contract decision, the Agua justification was found not sufficient. This week the TWDB made a decision to not release funding for this project, pending further investigation.

I filed SB 814 to increase transparency and accountability and to curb conflicts of interests within the Agua SUD board. Public servants must avoid creating even the appearance of impropriety. The bill has been amended to focus on the conflict with Agua and the La Joya Independent School District, since the majority of the Agua SUD board members are employees of the La Joya School District. Thus, the La Joya School Board controls Agua SUD.

SB 814 would stop Agua from employing La Joya School Board members to work for the utility district. The conflicts of interest must end and my legislation gives the two La Joya School Board members affected four years to decide if they want to run for re-election or continue their employment at Agua SUD (grandfather provision).

I am amazed at the amount of time, energy, and taxpayer money that Agua SUD is willing to waste to protect the employment of their bosses. They are politicizing a taxpayer utility district for their own political agenda.

Agua SUD is an important utility district in one of the fastest growing areas in Hidalgo County. There must be transparency, accountability and protections of taxpayer money.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.