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Featured, from left; Anne Drescher, Chief-of-Staff; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and Aisa Showery, Legislative Director, on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Edinburg. Guerra is carrying House Bill 1596, set for a public hearing in Austin on Thursday, March 19, to create the Hidalgo County Healthcare District.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

An effort to create the Hidalgo County Healthcare District, which would help support the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, provide health care for many residents who do not have health insurance, set a limit on the property tax rate that would come with its creation, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new jobs and businesses, will receive its first legislative hearing in Austin on Thursday, March 19. House Bill 1596, whose primary author is Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, is one of five measures set to go before the House Committee on County Affairs. The public hearing, which will be held in Room E2.016 of the Capitol Extension, will begin at 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment by the full House of Representatives. The event, which will be broadcast live and also be available for viewing afterwards, is accessible on the Internet. Information on how to access the live and recorded broadcasts are available by logging to http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/. The companion bill in the Senate, which seeks the same goals as HB 1596, is Senate Bill 626 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville. Although no action has been set on SB 626, that measure is currently before the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs, of which Lucio serves as Chair. In response to feedback received from voters, who in November 2014 narrowly voted against a different version of this legislation, Valley lawmakers have put safeguards into the current legislation in order to ensure the most protections for taxpayers. The name was changed to “Hidalgo County Healthcare District” to allow for a more comprehensive approach to the system which the Valley’s Hidalgo County state legislative delegation hopes to implement. Some of the key differences in this measure from the one last year are: the tax rate would be capped at 25 cents per $100 valuation; the budget must be approved by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court to ensure proper oversight; all residence homestead exemptions will be provided, including an exemption for elderly and disabled residents as well as a total exemption for 100% disabled veterans and their surviving spouse; and all rollback tax provisions apply. Joining Guerra in support by signing on as Joint Authors are Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission.

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Hidalgo County Healthcare District legislation set for public hearing at Texas Capitol on Thursday, March 19

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

An effort to create the Hidalgo County Healthcare District, which would help support the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, provide health care for many residents who do not have health insurance, set a limit on the property tax rate that would come with its creation, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new jobs and business, will receive its first legislative hearing in Austin on Thursday, March 19.

House Bill 1596, whose primary author is Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, is one of five measures set to go before the House Committee on County Affairs. The public hearing, which will be held in Room E2.016 of the Capitol Extension, will begin at 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment by the full House of Representatives.

The event, which will be broadcast live and also be available for viewing afterwards, is accessible on the Internet.

Information on how to access the live and recorded broadcasts are available by logging to http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/.

Joining Guerra in support by signing on as Joint Authors are Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission.

The companion bill in the Senate, which seeks the same goals as HB 1596, is Senate Bill 626 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville. Although no action has been set on SB 626, that measure is currently before the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs, of which Lucio serves as Chair.

The House Committee on County Affairs features Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, as Chair, and Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, as Vice Chair.

The remaining committee members are: Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock; Rep. Ramon Romero, Jr., D-Ft. Worth; Rep. Leighton Schubert, R-Caldwell; Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman; Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford; Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, and Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston.

In response to feedback received from voters, who in November 2014 narrowly voted against a different version of this legislation, Valley lawmakers have put safeguards into the current legislation in order to ensure the most protections for taxpayers.

The name was changed to “Hidalgo County Healthcare District” to allow for a more comprehensive approach to the system which the Valley’s Hidalgo County state legislative delegation hopes to implement.

Some of the key differences in this measure from the one last year are:

The tax rate would be capped at 25 cents per $100 valuation;

The budget must be approved by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court to ensure proper oversight;

All residence homestead exemptions will be provided. This includes an exemption for elderly and disabled residents as well as a total exemption for 100% disabled veterans and their surviving spouse; and

All rollback tax provisions apply.

While the Hidalgo County House legislative delegation prepares for the public hearing, Hinojosa and Lucio earlier this year detailed the need for the proposed public entity.

On Wednesday, February 18, Hinojosa and Lucio filed SB 626 to create the Hi dalgo County Healthcare District. It is a top priority this legislative session for Hinojosa and Lucio, who pledged to work together with the Valley House delegation to ensure its passage.

“The Hidalgo County Healthcare District is critical for our families in the Rio Grande Valley to provide resources to support a medical school, to cover our community’s healthcare needs for both the insured and uninsured, and to decrease the tax burden on our county taxpayers,” said Hinojosa. “The millions of dollars over the next 10 years is expected to generate new tax revenue than it would cost the county and create thousands of new jobs.”

Hinojosa said that currently, healthcare providers in Hidalgo County provide millions of dollars in care to people who can’t afford it ever year, “forcing them to pass the bill onto county taxpayers or to people with insurance through higher fees and premiums.”

The Healthcare District will benefit taxpayers by bringing more federal dollars to the county and putting the uninsured into the system with a focus on prevention and early treatment, Hinojosa contended.

Lucio agreed with Hinojosa.

“I am pleased to joint author this bill which is critical to healthcare delivery in Hidalgo County. We have some of the highest rates of uninsured individuals and amongst the worst health care outcomes in the nation,” Lucio said. “Senate Bill 626 will allow Hidalgo County to improve our indigent care program as well as leverage and draw down additional federal funds to address health disparities. The Hidalgo County Healthcare District will provide the ability to improve health outcomes in some of the most vulnerable communities, and the benefit to all cannot be underestimated.”

In response to feedback received from voters, elected officials, and community leaders, the Valley lawmakers put safeguards into the legislation to ensure the most protections for taxpayers. The name was changed to “Hidalgo County Healthcare District” to allow for a more comprehensive approach to the system they hope to implement.

If the Healthcare Distri ct is created in the future, Hinojosa and Lucio said they anticipate the county commissioners court will reduce their tax rate accordingly.

“This is a shift in money from the county to the healthcare district that multiplies our resources. Revenue that is raised lets us take advantage of a federal program allowing us to receive federal matching money for every local dollar invested – a three to one investment that creates significant earnings,” Hinojosa explained.

Lucio predicted the Hidalgo County Healthcare District, if passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, “will go a long way in helping to grow the medical school and extend medical services, including mental and behavioral health, for all residents and stabilize our property taxes.

“This investment will bring millions of dollars into our local economy, create thousands of new jobs, produce an educated and healthy workforce, and a healthier Hidalgo County for all of our families and children,” Lucio added.

The legislation follows in its entirety.

All words which are in BOLDFACE represent new additions to existing law.
 
All words that are within [brackets] and are in italics represent existing language that would be eliminated.
 
By: Guerra | Martínez, “Mando” | Longoria | Muñoz, Jr. | Canales
H.B. No. 1596
 
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
 
AN ACT
 
relating to the Hidalgo County Healthcare District; decreasing the possible maximum rate of a tax.
 
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
 
SECTION 1.  The heading to Chapter 1122, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
CHAPTER 1122. HIDALGO COUNTY HEALTHCARE [Hospital] DISTRICT
 
SECTION 2.  Section 1122.001(3), Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
(3)  “District” means the Hidalgo County Healthcare [Hospital] District.
 
SECTION 3.  Section 1122.002, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.002.  DISTRICT AUTHORIZATION.  The Hidalgo County Healthcare [Hospital] District may be created and, if created, operates and is financed as a hospital district as provided by Section 9, Article IX, Texas Constitution, and by this chapter.
 
SECTION 4.  Sections 1122.021(b), (f), and (g), Special District Local Laws Code, are amended to read as follows:
 
(b)  The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court shall order an election for the registered voters of Hidalgo County on the question of creation of the Hidalgo County Healthcare [Hospital] District if the commissioners court receives a petition requesting an election that is signed by at least 50 registered voters who are residents of Hidalgo County.
 
(f)  The ballot for an election under this section must be printed to permit voting for or against the proposition: “The creation of the Hidalgo County Healthcare [Hospital] District, providing for the imposition of an ad valorem tax at a rate not to exceed 25 [75] cents on each $100 valuation on all taxable property in the district. The initial ad valorem tax shall be imposed at the rate of ______ (insert amount) cents on the $100 valuation of all taxable property in the district.  District funds shall be used for district purposes, including improving health care services for residents of Hidalgo County, supporting the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, training physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals, obtaining federal or state funds for health care services, and providing community health clinics, primary care services, behavioral and mental health care services, and prevention and wellness programs.”
 
(g)  The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court shall find that the Hidalgo County Healthcare [Hospital] District is created if a majority of the voters voting in the election held under this section favor the creation of the district.
 
SECTION 5.  Section 1122.051, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.051.  DIRECTORS; TERM. (a) If the creation of the district is approved at the election held under Section 1122.021, the district shall be governed by a [nine-member] board of ninedirectors, appointed as follows:
 
(1) the county judge of Hidalgo County shall appoint one director;
 
(2) each county commissioner serving on the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court shall appoint [four directors] and
 
(3) [(2)] the governing bodies [body] of the four most populous municipalities located  [municipality with the largest population] in Hidalgo County shall each appoint one director [two directors;
 
[(3) the governing body of the municipality with the second largest population in Hidalgo County shall appoint one director;

[(4) the governing body of the municipality with the third largest population in Hidalgo County shall appoint one director; and

[(5) the governing body of the municipality with the fourth largest population in Hidalgo County shall appoint one director].
 
(b) Directors serve staggered three-year [four-year] terms, with three [as near as possible to one-fourth of the] directors’ terms expiring each year. The [terms of the] initial directorsappointed under this section shall draw lots as follows to determine [are as follows]:
 
(1) for the directors appointed by the governing bodies of the municipalities in Hidalgo County described by Subsection (a), [shall draw lots to determine] which director serves [two directors serve] a one-year term, which two directors serve [director serves] a two-year term, and which director serves a three-year term [, and which director serves a four-year term]; and
 
(2) for the directors appointed by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, including the director appointed by the county judge of Hidalgo County, [shall draw lots to determine] which two directors serve [director serves] a one-year term, which director serves a two-year term, and which two directors serve [director serves] a three-year term [, and which director serves a four-year terms].
 
(c) On expiration of the initial directors’ terms, successor directors shall be appointed for a three-year term by the person or governing body that appointed the initial director.
 
(d) A director may not serve more than three [two] consecutive three-year [four-year] terms.
 
SECTION 6.  Section 1122.052, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.052.  QUALIFICATIONS.  The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court shall by order provide for the qualifications of appointees to the board. The qualifications must provide that a person is not eligible for appointment to the board if the person is:
 
(1) an employee of Hidalgo County;
 
(2) an employee of a municipality located in the district;
 
(3) a district employee; or
 
(4) [(3)] related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity, as determined under Subchapter B, Chapter 573, Government Code, to a member of the Commissioners Court of Hidalgo County, to a member of the governing body of a municipality located in the district, [commisioners court] or to a person described by Subdivision (1), [or] (2), or (3).
 
SECTION 7.  Section 1122.056, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.056.  BOARD VACANCY.  A [If a] vacancy [occurs] in the office of director[, the remaining directors] shall be filled [appoint a director] for the remainder of the unexpired term by appointment by the person or governing body that appointed the vacating director.
 
SECTION 8.  Sections 1122.101, 1122.102, 1122.103, and 1122.106, Special District Local Laws Code, are amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.101.  DISTRICT RESPONSIBILITY.  The district has full responsibility for operating hospital facilities and providing medical and hospital care for the district’s indigent [needy] residents as required under this chapter, another applicable statute, and the constitution of this state.
 
Sec. 1122.102.  MANAGEMENT, CONTROL, AND ADMINISTRATION.  
 
The board shall manage, control, and administer the district [hospital system] and the money and resources of the district.
 
Sec. 1122.103.  RULES.  The board may adopt rules governing:
 
(1) the operation of the district and any district hospital [and hospital system]; and
 
(2) the duties, functions, and responsibilities of district staff and employees.
 
Sec. 1122.106.  DISTRICT PROPERTY, FACILITIES, AND EQUIPMENT. (a)  The board shall determine:
 
(1) the type, number, and location of buildings required to maintain an adequate health care district [hospital system]; and
 
(2) the type of equipment necessary to provide medical [for hospital] care in the district.
 
(b) The board may:
 
(1) acquire property, facilities, and equipment for use by the district [for use in the hospital system];
 
(2) mortgage or pledge the property, facilities, or equipment as security for payment of the purchase price;
 
(3) sell or otherwise dispose of property, facilities, or equipment for the district; or
 
(4) lease hospital facilities for the district.
 
SECTION 9.  Section 1122.151(a), Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
(a) The board and the district administrator shall jointly prepare a proposed annual budget for the district.
 
SECTION 10.  Sections 1122.152(d) and (e), Special District Local Laws Code, are amended to read as follows:
 
(d) At the conclusion of the hearing, the board shall adopt a budget by acting on the proposed budget [proposed by the district administrator]. The board may make a change in the proposed budget that the board determines to be in the interests of the taxpayers.
 
(e) The budget is effective only after:
 
(1) adoption by the board; and
 
(2) approval by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court.
 
SECTION 11.  Section 1122.153, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.153.  AMENDMENT OF BUDGET. After the budget is adopted, the budget may be amended if the proposed amendment is:
 
(1) adopted by the board; and
 
(2) approved by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court [on the board’s approval].
 
SECTION 12. Section 1122.201, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.201. GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS.  If authorized by an election, the board may issue and sell general obligation bonds in the name and on the faith and credit of the district to:
 
(1) purchase, construct, acquire, repair, or renovate buildings or improvements;
 
(2) equip buildings or improvements for district [hospital] purposes; or
 
(3) acquire and operate a mobile emergency medical service.
 
SECTION 13. Sections 1122.204(a) and (b), Special District Local Laws Code, are amended to read as follows:
 
(a) The board may issue revenue bonds to:
 
(1) acquire, purchase, construct, repair, renovate, or equip buildings or improvements for district [hospital] purposes;
 
(2) acquire sites to be used for district [hospital ] purposes; or
 
(3) acquire and operate a mobile emergency medical service to assist the district in carrying out its [hospital] purposes.
 
(b) The bonds must be payable from and secured by a pledge of all or part of the revenues derived from the operation of the district [district’s hospital system].
 
SECTION 14. Section 1122.251(a), Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
(a) The board shall impose a tax on all property in the district subject to [hospital district] taxation by the district.
 
SECTION 15. The heading to Section 1122.252, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.252. LIMITATION ON TAX RATE.
 
SECTION 16.  Section 1122.252(a), Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
(a) Unless a higher rate is approved at an election held as provided by Section 1122.2521, the [The] tax rate on all taxable property in the district for all purposes may not exceed 25 [75] cents on each $100 valuation of the property according to the most recent certified tax appraisal roll of the district.
 
SECTION 17. Subchapter F, Chapter 1122, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended by adding Sections 1122.2521, 1122.2522, 1122.2523, and 1122.2524 to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.2521. ELECTION REQUIRED TO INCREASE TAX RATE.
 
(a) The board may order an election to increase the district’s maximum ad valorem tax rate to a rate greater than the maximum rate provided by Section 1122.252.
 
(b) The ballot for an election held under this section must be printed to permit voting for or against the proposition: “The imposition of taxes by the Hidalgo County Healthcare District for district purposes at a rate not to exceed ____ (insert amount) cents on the $100 valuation of all property in the district.”
 
(c)  The board may impose taxes at the rate authorized by the proposition if a majority of voters voting at an election held under this section favor the proposition.
 
(d) This section does not authorize the board to impose taxes at a rate that exceeds the maximum ad valorem tax rate authorized by Section 9, Article IX, Texas Constitution.
 
(e) Section 41.001(a), Election Code, does not apply to an election ordered under this section.
 
Sec. 1122.2522. ROLLBACK TAX RATE PROVISIONS APPLICABLE. (a) If in any year the board adopts a tax rate that exceeds the rollback tax rate calculated as provided by Chapter 26, Tax Code, the qualified voters of the district by petition may require that an election be held to determine whether or not to reduce the tax rate adopted by the board for that year to the rollback tax rate.
 
(b) To the extent a conflict exists between this section and a provision of the Tax Code, the provision of the Tax Code prevails.
 
Sec. 1122.2523. RESIDENCE HOMESTEAD TAX PROVISIONS APPLICABLE. (a) The board shall ensure that all district residents receive all ad valorem tax exemptions and limitations that the residents are entitled to receive under the constitution and the Tax Code, including the exemption of the total appraised value of the residence homestead of a fully disabled veteran or the disabled veteran’s surviving spouse required by Section 11.131, Tax Code.
 
(b) The board shall adopt an exemption from ad valorem taxation by the district of a portion of the appraised value of a district resident’s residence homestead as provided by Section 11.13(d), Tax Code. Unless the board specifies a larger amount as provided by Section 11.13(e), Tax Code, the amount of the exemption required to be adopted by the board under this subsection is $3,000 of the appraised value of a district resident’s residence homestead. Section 11.13(f), Tax Code, applies to an exemption adopted by the board under this subsection.
 
Sec. 1122.2524. PROHIBITION ON PARTICIPATION IN TAX INCREMENT FUND. The district may not enter into an agreement to participate in a reinvestment zone designated by a municipality or a county under Chapter 311, Tax Code.
 
SECTION 18. Section 1122.303, Special District Local Laws Code, is amended to read as follows:
 
Sec. 1122.303. BALLOT. The ballot for an election under this subchapter must be printed to permit voting for or against the proposition: “The dissolution of the Hidalgo County Healthcare[Hospital] District.”
 
SECTION 19.  On the creation of the Hidalgo County Healthcare District, or as soon as practicable after the district is created, the Commissioners Court of Hidalgo County shall transfer to the district all operating funds, and any funds held in reserve for operating expenses, that have been budgeted by the county to pay the costs associated with administering a county program to provide to residents of the district indigent health care assistance under Chapter 61, Health and Safety Code, during the fiscal year in which the district is created.
 
SECTION 20.  This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2015.

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