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Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives in March 2015.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

House Bill 1887 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would allow South Texas College to create the multi-million dollar Regional Center for Public Safety on a yet-undisclosed 50- to 60-acre site to be donated by the City of Pharr, is set for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, May 21. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is serving as the Senate sponsor of HB 1887, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, April 29. “HB 1887 would increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” said Muñoz, who is the primary author of the legislation. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area would not.” According to the bill analysis of the legislation, HB 1887 would amend the Education Code to create the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to provide education and training for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley. “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. 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 instruction provided by the regional center would include: education and training toward an associate of applied science degree or certificate or another public safety or law enforcement- related associate degree or certificate; a baccalaureate degree for applied science or applied technology authorized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) officer certification; and a continuing education certification. During the Tuesday, April 7 public hearing on the bill by the House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety, STC President Shirley Reed and Pharr Police Chief Ruben Villescas testified for the bill. Also listed as supporting the measure during the House committee meeting, but not testifying, were Sergio Contreras, representing the City of Pharr, Lon Craft, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Texas Municipal Police Association, and Elizabeth Lippincott, representing the Texas Border Coalition.

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STC Regional Center for Public Safety, to be headquartered in Pharr, set for hearing before Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday, May 20

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

House Bill 1887 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would allow South Texas College to create the multi-million dollar Regional Center for Public Safety on a yet-undisclosed 50- to 60-acre site to be donated by the City of Pharr, is set for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, May 21.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is serving as the Senate sponsor of HB 1887, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, April 29.

“HB 1887 would increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” said Muñoz, who is the primary author of the legislation. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area would not.”

According to the bill analysis of the legislation, HB 1887 would amend the Education Code to create the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to provide education and training for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley.

“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.

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 instruction provided by the regional center would include:

• Education and training toward an associate of applied science degree or certificate or another public safety or law enforcement- related associate degree or certificate;

• A baccalaureate degree for applied science or applied technology authorized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board;

• A Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) officer certification; and

• A continuing education certification.

During the Tuesday, April 7 public hearing on the bill by the House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety, STC President Shirley Reed and Pharr Police Chief Ruben Villescas testified for the bill.

Also listed as supporting the measure during the House committee meeting, but not testifying, were Sergio Contreras, representing the City of Pharr, Lon Craft, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Texas Municipal Police Association, and Elizabeth Lippincott, representing the Texas Border Coalition.

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:

• 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.

The House Research Organization, which is the research arm of the House of Representatives, provided the additional following background and need for HB 1887:

HB 1887 follows legislation successfully filed by Muñoz and Hinojosa in 2013.

Two years ago, House Concurrent Resolution 219 outlined the development of the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, and documented the growing need for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley region and the collaboration that would take place to develop the regional center’s training programs.

The Texas Workforce Commission projects an estimated 22 percent increase in police officer positions in the South Texas region in the next 10 years, but only four police academies in the counties of Hidalgo and Starr offer basic police officer courses certified by TCOLE. In fact, 28 agencies in South Texas lack police academies. HB 1887 would provide law enforcement in the region with nearby training.

Officers in the Rio Grande Valley usually have to travel to College Station or San Antonio for specialized training or continuing education courses at the expense of local police departments. The bill would ensure officers did not have to leave the region for necessary training.

The City of Pharr is donating between 50 and 60 acres of land to make the center large enough to house various specialized facilities.

Although South Texas College already has the authority without the passage of HB 1887 to establish the regional center, there are many benefits to codifying the center into statute. The statute would serve as a model for future development of more regional centers of this kind that provide specialized training and college credit. Having the regional center in statute also would provide access to state and federal funding, including from the Department of Homeland Security.

The bill would require South Texas College to administer the regional center in partnership with political subdivisions and participating school districts in the Rio Grande Valley. The headquarters of the regional center would be located at the South Texas College in Pharr, Texas. The center could use property and facilities at other locations in Hidalgo and Starr counties.

The program or course curriculum developed by the regional center would be required to satisfy any requirements imposed by TCOLE for the center to operate as a commission-approved training provider.

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement could authorize reimbursement to a political subdivision or state agency for expenses incurred by personnel attending training offered by the regional center.

The regional center would be allowed to solicit and accept gifts and grants from any public or private source for the regional center, and the Legislature also could appropriate money for the regional center.

This bill would take immediate effect if finally passed by a two-thirds record vote of the membership of each house. Otherwise, it would take effect September 1, 2015.

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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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