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Legislation that would merge the University of Texas-Pan American and UT-Brownsville – and also creates a UT medical school in the Rio Grande Valley as part of the proposed system – was passed by the Texas Senate on Wednesday, March 13.

The Senate vote paves the way for action in the coming days by the House of Representatives.  

“Among many advantages it represents for South Texas, this bill would allow UT-Pan American, which is in my legislative district, UT-Brownsville, and the planned UT medical school access to the multi-billion dollar Permanent University Fund, which helps pay for major construction projects,” said freshman State Representative Terry Canales.

The measure approved by the Senate, Senate Bill 24, is authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

“This is a historic step in giving the Rio Grande Valley the potential for endless educational and healthcare benefits for our families that this legislation would achieve. We are now another step closer to serving the unique and critical needs of South Texas and to transforming the Rio Grande Valley through education,” said Hinojosa. “I am proud of the tremendous bipartisan support that was shown in the Senate.”

SB 24 will be carried in the House of Representatives by Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, as the lead sponsor, along with Canales, Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya as sponsors.

Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, will be among the leading cosponsors of SB 24.

 An identical bill, known as the companion bill, is currently awaiting action in the House of Representatives.House Bill 1000 by Oliveira could be heard by the full House as early as Tuesday, March 19.

Under the legislative process, whichever bill – Senate Bill 24 or House Bill 1000 – that first receives final approval from the full Texas Legislature and is approved by the governor will be the measure that goes into law. Efforts to bring a UT medical school to the Valley began in the late 1980s, eventually materializing with the creation of the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg, Harlingen, and Brownsville in the mid-1990s. The RAHC would be eventually transformed into a full-fledged UT medical school under SB 24 and HB 1000.

“The possibilities are endless – more jobs, lower poverty levels, higher educational levels, more healthcare services, more doctors, more access to those doctors and more resources to serve the unique and critical needs of the people of the Valley,” said Hinojosa.

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