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Featured, from left: Wanda F. Garza, Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services, South Texas College; Rose Benavídez, Member, Board of Trustees, District 1, South Texas College; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, at the House District 36 lawmaker’s Capitol office on Tuesday, February 3.

Photograph By PETER SALINAS

With the goal of increasing educational opportunities while improving public safety and border security, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, is carrying several measures designed to help fight crime, including landmark legislation that could eventually lead to the establishment of a full-fledged South Texas College campus in Pharr. House Bill 1887, filed by Muñoz on Tuesday, February 25, would allow South Texas College to create the Regional Center for Public Safety, which would be built on a yet-undisclosed 50- to 60-acre site to be donated by the City of Pharr. With Muñoz serving as the primary author – which means the legislation is the idea of the Mission Democrat – Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Monday, March 9, signed on as a joint author in support of HB 1887. “Having such an educational facility for our current and future law enforcement officials will be a tremendous benefit for the delivery of justice and the protection of all of us in deep South Texas,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes 19 percent of the City of Pharr. “I appreciate Rep. Muñoz allowing me to sign on as joint author of HB 1887, and I look forward to working with him and the leadership of Pharr and South Texas College on this most important legislative effort.” Muñoz’ House District 36 includes 76 percent of the City of Pharr. Included in HB 1887 is language that would authorize South Texas College to also allow “aspiring law enforcement officers to earn a bachelor’s degree that will provide more career opportunities for our community,” Muñoz said. “STC is positioned to offer a bachelor’s degree in Homeland Security, Public Safety and Law Enforcement, or whatever degree specifically responds to the needs of our metropolitan region.” STC officials would be responsible for developing the appropriate bachelor’s degree program, which would have to receive final approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the lawmaker added. Currently, 1,751 law enforcement officers are employed in Hidalgo and Starr counties, with the intent to hire 134 additional certified officers during the current fiscal year. The Texas Workforce Commission predicts that there will be a 22 percent increase during the next 10 years for more certified police officers in these two counties, but access to training opportunities is limited. “HB 1887 would serve the greater need of the Valley’s law enforcement personnel, as facilities become available, by increasing the number of instructional programs offered in deep South Texas with new certificate and associate of applied science degree in programs such as police administration, forensics, emergency management, leadership, aircraft rescue, homeland security, special weapons and tactics,” said Muñoz. HB 1887 states that STC would administer the regional center in partnership with political subdivisions and participating school districts in the Valley, and would require the headquarters of the regional center to be located “at South Texas College in Pharr.” His bill would allow the regional center to use property and facilities at other locations in Hidalgo and Starr counties. Muñoz is working with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to secure support in the Senate.

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Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, authored by Rep. Muñoz, Rep. Canales, among key priorities for South Texas College leadership

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

With the goal of increasing educational opportunities while improving public safety and border security, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, is carrying several measures designed to help fight crime, including landmark legislation that could eventually lead to the establishment of a full-fledged South Texas College campus in Pharr.

House Bill 1887, filed by Muñoz on Tuesday, February 25, would allow South Texas College to create the Regional Center for Public Safety, which would be built on a yet-undisclosed 50- to 60-acre site to be donated by the City of Pharr.

With Muñoz serving as the primary author – which means the legislation is the idea of the Mission Democrat – Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Monday, March 9, signed on as a joint author in support of HB 1887.

“Having such an educational facility for our current and future law enforcement officials will be a tremendous benefit for the delivery of justice and the protection of all of us in deep South Texas,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes 19 percent of the City of Pharr. “I appreciate Rep. Muñoz allowing me to sign on as joint author of HB 1887, and I look forward to working with him and the leadership of Pharr and South Texas College on this most important legislative effort.”

Muñoz’ House District 36 includes 76 percent of the City of Pharr.

Muñoz is working with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to secure support in the Senate.

BORDER SECURITY ADVISORY COUNCIL TO HAVE STATEWIDE IMPACT

In a related public safety action, House Bill 2030, filed by Muñoz on Friday, February 27, would create the Border Security Advisory Council, which would provide state officials and the public, including through the website of the Texas governor, constant communication about border security measures affecting residents from Brownsville to El Paso.

“The advisory council would develop performance standards and auditing methods to ensure that funds allocated for purposes related to border security are used properly, and that the recipients of the funds are held accountable,” Muñoz said of HB 2030. “It is important to bring local stakeholders to the table when discussing border security, so these issues are handled with the utmost regard to border citizens.”

HB 2030 states that the advisory council would consist of the executive head of each state agency receiving state funds for border security, a representative from at least three local municipalities receiving border security grants from the Department of Public Safety, and at least three mayors of local border cities, which state funds are designated for the purposes related to border security.

FOUR-YEAR DIPLOMAS COULD INCLUDE HOMELAND SECURITY, PUBLIC SAFETY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

But it is the South Texas College measure, HB 1887, that may carry the most interest to Pharr because STC is one of only three community colleges in the state with the authority to provide four-year university-level degrees.

Included in the legislation is language that would authorize South Texas College to also allow “aspiring law enforcement officers to earn a bachelor’s degree that will provide more career opportunities for our community,” Muñoz said. “STC is positioned to offer a bachelor’s degree in Homeland Security, Public Safety and Law Enforcement, or whatever degree specifically responds to the needs of our metropolitan region.”

STC officials would be responsible for developing the appropriate bachelor’s degree program, which would have to receive final approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the lawmaker added.

HB 1887 states that STC would administer the regional center in partnership with political subdivisions and participating school districts in the Valley, and would require the headquarters of the regional center to be located “at South Texas College in Pharr.”

The bill would allow the regional center to use property and facilities at other locations in Hidalgo and Starr counties.

“HB 1887 would serve the greater need of the Valley’s law enforcement personnel, as facilities become available, by increasing the number of instructional programs offered in deep South Texas with new certificate and associate of applied science degree in programs such as police administration, forensics, emergency management, leadership, aircraft rescue, homeland security, special weapons and tactics,” said Muñoz.

DEMAND FOR NEW PEACE OFFICERS COULD JUMP BY 22 PERCENT

Currently, 1,751 law enforcement officers are employed in Hidalgo and Starr counties, with the intent to hire 134 additional certified officers during the current fiscal year. The Texas Workforce Commission predicts that there will be a 22 percent increase during the next 10 years for more certified police officers in these two counties, but access to training opportunities is limited.

Muñoz and STC leaders contend the legislation would help provide for the regional training needs for public safety and law enforcement officials in the Valley, a region with more than 1.4 million residents and hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens who cross into the area every day on business and personal matters.

“According to Texas Workforce Commission data, demand for law enforcement-related jobs will increase 22 percent between 2012 and 2012,” Muñoz reported. “A regional training facility that serves the entire Rio Grande Valley would guarantee that our law enforcement officials are equipped with the latest training programs to keep our communities safe.”

The McAllen Police Academy, the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Academy, the Pharr Police Academy, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council Police Academy are among the law enforcement institutions authorized by the state, through the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement(TCOLE), to offer basic peace officer licensing courses, according to STC officials.

“The training provided by the certification at these police academies does not provide college credit, but our law enforcement professionals are eager to earn college credit and college degrees in their field,” Muñoz explained. “The proposed Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence would also include continuing education training as required to maintain certification, which is now available on a very limited basis and usually outside the geographical area.”

KEY FINANCING STRATEGIES, OTHER BENEFITS OF PROPOSED REGIONAL CENTER

As within any profession, local police departments run the risk of losing their talent to other law enforcement agencies, Muñoz added.

“Not only is it difficult to train new officers, TCOLE certified police officers in local police departments are being recruited for positions with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” Muñoz said. “This creates an urgency for training public safety and law enforcement officials to serve the critical, and growing needs, of deep South Texas, especially in Hidalgo County and Starr County.”

Further insights into the proposed legislation, as provided by STC, follow:

• South Texas College has agreed to fund $4.2 million for construction of a 16,000 square-foot facility to include a vehicle driving range, outdoor shooting range, firearms simulator, mobile firearms simulator/live firing range, driving simulator, obstacle course, fitness rooms, classrooms and administrative offices;

• The City of Pharr has agreed to contribute 50 to 60 acres for the construction of the facility;

• The timeline to construction the facility would be 18 to 24 months for an initial cost of $8 million;

• STC would partner with the Pharr Police Academy and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council Police Academy as training providers to complete the necessary requirements of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE); and

• The regional facility, once approved by TCOLE, also would allow local law enforcement agencies to be reimburses for training costs incurred at the facility, ultimately reducing the strain on an agency’s budget for these vital trainings.

Other key advantages of the legislation, according to Muñoz and STC leaders, are:

• Goodwill will be created for supporting an employment sector that has had limited access to college-level training for their profession;

• Police officers and public safety professionals in the Valley currently must travel to far-away locations in Texas to receive their continuing education and training required for them to remain current on their professional skills; and

• This current continuing education and training now required away from the Valley are done at the expense of local police departments, which takes away financial resources from their crime-fighting efforts back home.

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Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, has served in the Texas Legislature since 2011 and represents all or parts of the cities of Hidalgo, Granjeño, McAllen, Mission, Palmview and Pharr. His Capitol office is located at E1.508 in the Capitol extension, and may be reached at (512) 463-0704. His District Office is located at 121 E. Tom Landry, Mission, and may be reached at (956) 584-8999.

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