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20130118 Sergio-Munoz-JrWith the new state legislative session just getting underway, the Progress Times interviewed State Representative Sergio Muñoz Jr., District 36, who discussed some of the big issues facing the Texas Legislature this session.

Muñoz said the main focus of local legislators is to create more opportunity for those living in the Valley, going to school and working in the Valley.

Muñoz, and others, are working on several education related items this legislative session. At the top of their list is restoring education funding that was cut from the last state budget two years ago.

The representative said they are looking again at the budget. Revenue projections have been more positive than they were two years ago.

“The biggest question now that we face is can we work to push to restore funding in education?” said Muñoz. Can we look at enrollment growth in our schools, enrollment growth in health and human services?

“Those are some of the same items we looked at two years ago, but also meeting the needs of our state. We don’t want to plan (only) for right now, but also the future,” he said.

Muñoz said he knows water is going to be a topic as well. Legislators will need to develop a statewide water plan, and how that’s going to be financed. And examine the possibility of building a water stabilization plan.

Legislators will also looking at the needs of the state to stay economically competitive and bring more businesses to the state, and to continue economic development for cities and the state.

For Muñoz and his local constituents, a big topic is a University of Texas medical school for the Valley and merging University of Texas at Brownsville and University of Texas-Pan American. Muñoz said the merging of the two schools is a component of the proposed medical school.

He said by bringing the two universities together, the schools will be able to offer more programs and opportunities to students to achieve higher education.

“Getting the best of both universities,” said Muñoz. There’s a lot of stuff we have to cover before we get there,” he added.

In creating a medical school, they are looking at placing it where it will be able to benefit from the resources available and work with local hospitals and making sure it will provide for residency slots in the future.

“We have to develop a long range plan, not just getting the school off the ground, but financing it as well and creating sustainable finance for the future.

“We are also working with South Texas College in adult education where we can make that more accessible and increase bachelor programs available, continue to expand on those, and maintain current funding.

“It goes toward the overall goal of just trying to create more opportunity for the people that live here,” said Muñoz. “Not only in the district, but for the region.”

Although Muñoz and his constituents don’t have a name for the legislation yet, they are looking at something that would help producers who want to carry bigger loads on their trucks going back and forth between the United States and Mexico. Some of the bridges only allow a certain weight or size. Legislators are looking at designating a certain section of highway where tractor-trailers carrying produce or other goods can transport a greater weight instead of having to separate their loads into two to three separate trucks. They are also looking at where money can be obtained to help finance and maintain those roads because of the increased capacity they will be taking.

Muñoz said school security is definitely a concern, but it is too early right now. The House side has looked at giving teachers and faculty more tools and resources, but nothing definitive.

Border security is also a topic sure to be discussed this session. Muñoz said legislation last sesson increased the amount of monies allocated for border security. He said a concern is working with the Department of Public Safety to make sure there is enough manpower and resources to keep the border secure. He said they also have to work with local agencies and partner with them to share resources, information and help each other out.

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