- Category: General Interest
- Published: Friday, June 07 2013 08:00
- Written by Carina A. Brunson
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.
MISSION—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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
House passes voter assistance bill
AUSTIN — Legislation to amend the state elections law as to how much a person may assist others in voting was passed by the House on April 26
Committee Substitute House Bill 148, authored by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Mesquite, received a final vote of 93-48, but not before lengthy and contentious debate on the House floor a day earlier.
Opponents of the bill, who were rebuffed in multiple attempts to amend the bill, warned that its passage likely would result in a federal court challenge under Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965, a part of the law that affects states showing a pattern of discriminatory behavior in election-related practices.
An official state analysis of CSHB 148, in short, asserts: "In certain localities, individuals receive compensation for harvesting mail-in ballots or for going door to door collecting eligible ballots and posting them on behalf of voters. Such individuals are compensated on a per-ballot basis. There currently is no limit on the number of times a person may act as a courier for mail-in ballots in a given election, and concerned parties contend that some mail-in ballot harvesters provide unlawful assistance or unlawful witness to voters and may even electioneer in the presence of an active ballot."
The bill would create misdemeanor offense for a person convicted of compensating an individual for assisting 10 or more voters in prohibited ways, and for engaging in other specific and prohibited voting-related actions.
Travis DA sentenced
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunken driving on April 12 and is serving a 45-day sentence in the Travis County Jail.
Lehmberg's duties include heading the Public Integrity Unit, a statewide office that handles ethics complaints against elected officials.
On March 8, HB 3575 by Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, was filed, proposing to move the Public Integrity Unit out of Travis County's offices and into the Office of the Attorney General. The bill is scheduled for a House committee hearing on May 1.
Texas joins EPA challenge
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and attorneys general from 11 other states have filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Obama Administration's enforcement of environmental regulations under the Clean Air Act.
Petitioners claim the U.S Environmental Protection Agency "ignored Congress' lawmaking role by rewriting federal laws through administrative rulemaking," Abbott's office stated in an April 22 news release.
Abbott said the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations "were unlawfully created out of whole cloth and are a massive burden on states and businesses."
Timothy Cole bill passes
HB 166 by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was approved by the House on April 24.
The legislation would establish the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission to review and investigate cases in which an innocent person was convicted and then exonerated or released on writ of habeas corpus.
The nine-member commission would review practices and procedures leading up to wrongful convictions and seek ways to minimize erroneous outcomes. The commission would not consider sentencing issues such as the death penalty and would not intervene in any pending cases, McClendon said.
The bill honors the memory of Timothy Cole, a Texan who in 1999 died in prison, having served 13 years of a 25-year rape sentence before the legal system was satisfied that another individual had committed the crime. Cole received a posthumous pardon from Gov. Perry in 2010.
Presidential center opens
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was formally opened and dedicated at its location on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas on April 25.
The 207,000-square-foot complex will serve as the archive for more than 70 million pages of documents and 80 terabytes of electronic records, in addition to collections of photographs, memorabilia and educational materials.
George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, served from 2001 to 2009, and served as governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000.
West continues rebound
Relief assistance of all kinds poured into the city of West last week.
West has been in a state of disaster emergency since April 17, when a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant tore through the town, killing 14 people and injuring as many as 200 others.
A memorial service for those lost and injured in the explosion was held at Baylor University in Waco on April 25. President Barack Obama spoke, honoring those who rushed to assist and giving solemn regard to "the wounded, the heartbroken, the families who lost their homes and possessions in an instant."