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Featured, from left: Marissa Castañeda, Senior Executive Vice-President, Chief Operating Officer, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville; Cary Zayas, News Anchor, KRGV-TV in Weslaco; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; and  Edna X. De Saro, Senior Vice President and Marketing Director at Lone Star National Bank. The group met at the KRGV-TV studios, one of the locations for donations, on Wednesday, September 20, 2017.

Photograph By JUSTIN CANTÚ

The Rio Grande Valley’s state House and Senate members have collectively donated $10,000 to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, the devastating superstorm that hit most of the Texas coastal region, including Houston, on Friday, August 25, 2017, stalling over that region of the state for days, causing billions of dollars of property damage, displacing tens of thousands of residents, and killing at least 81 people. The contribution is going towards the Valley Relief Fund, coordinated by KRGV, Lone Star National Bank, and other area businesses. All monetary donations to the Valley Relief Fund will go to the Salvation Army and American Red Cross. “The devastation of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath are on a scale of historic proportions,” said Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen. “This is one way the Rio Grande Valley can help in the efforts to restore those communities affected. I’m honored to belong to a delegation that is willing to step up and help our fellow Texans.” Muñoz also shared his thoughts, and offered the following prayer from the Holy Bible for everyone hurt by Hurricane Harvey: “Do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand! – Isaiah 41.10.”

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Rep. Muñoz taking leadership roles in coming up with ways for Texas to reduce the impact of future natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
b>Legislativemedia@aol.com

Following the late summer 2017 catastrophe known as Hurricane Harvey, which missed the Rio Grande Valley but caused billions of dollars of property damage, much of it from historic levels of flooding, as well as the displacement of tens of thousands of Texans, at least 81 deaths, and misery for millions of people from Corpus Christi to Beaumont/Port Arthur, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, will be coming up with ways for Texas to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.

Muñoz, who serves on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, which shapes the $217+ billion state budget for the 150-member House of Representatives, has been appointed by Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to also review how the federal and state governments are helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey, which was one of the most powerful Atlantic storms to hit the U.S. mainland.

“It was a miracle that the Valley was literally the only region on the state’s coastline that was not struck by this monster storm,” Muñoz said. “What were are going to learn through these upcoming legislative hearings and fact-finding tours dealing with Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath surely will help protect all Texans in the future. I invite any Valley residents with ideas, especially as they affect the Valley, to contact me.”

First on the work schedule for Muñoz and his fellow lawmakers on the House Committee on Appropriations is a public hearing set forMonday, October 2, 2017 beginning at 10 a.m. in the Waldorf Ballroom at the University of Houston Hilton, according to Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., R-Richmond.

The UH Hilton is located at 4450 University Drive in Houston.

Information relating to live broadcasting of this hearing will be announced shortly, according to Zerwas.

“The Valley is no stranger to hurricanes and tropical storms, so the work of these House committees will affect everyone of us here at home,” Muñoz. “Anyone in the Valley who has ideas of how, as a region, we can better prepare for such natural disasters should contact me with their suggestions, and I will see that they get the attention they deserve.”

Muñoz, who has served in the Texas Legislature since 2011, represents all or parts of the cities of Hidalgo, Granjeño, McAllen, Mission, Palmview and Pharr. His Capitol office is located at CAP 4S.4 in the Texas Capitol, 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.

On Thursday, September 14, 2017, Straus asked three House committees to begin studying issues related to Hurricane Harvey and state preparations for future natural disasters.

“The next year will provide a valuable opportunity for committees to listen to the public, research solutions, and recommend action that the House should take in 2019,” Straus said. “However, we know that this is not going to be a normal legislative interim. Hurricane Harvey has devastated our state and upended the lives of millions of Texans. While the state is taking a number of immediate actions to help Texans begin to recover, and will continue to do so, the Legislature will have a substantial role to play in both the recovery process and in preparation for future storms. The importance of getting these issues right when we meet again demands that we start working on them now.”

In total, Straus issued five interim charges, which are instructions the Speaker gives House committees to guide their work preparing for the next legislative regular session, which begins in mid-January 2019. He plans to release a full list of interim charges, including more issues related to Harvey, in the next couple of months.

Straus announced the charges in a letter asking Members of the House to suggest issues that committees should study leading up to the next regular legislative session, which will begin in 2019.

“As we begin a legislative response to this devastating storm and as we look at all of the issues expected to come before the House in the next couple of years, I hope that we will continue to focus on doing what is in the best interest of Texas and the people we represent,” Straus added in his correspondence to the state representatives on the three House committees: the House Committee on Appropriations, the House Committee on Public Education, and the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“I also hope you’ll point us in a direction that will lead to new and innovative solutions, even as we confront familiar challenges,” Straus also stated in his correspondence to the members of those three House panels.

Straus announced the following charges on Thursday, September 14, 2017:

House Committee on Appropriations

Examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters. Also identify the need for state resources to respond to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, as well as opportunities for state investment in infrastructure projects that will reduce the impact of future natural disasters.

Muñoz and Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya, are the only two Valley lawmakers who serve on the House Committee on Appropriations.

House Committee on Public Education

• Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Harvey. Recommend possible state actions, such as changes to student counts or property valuation, to mitigate any negative impact on districts and ensure governance structures and parameters allow for effective responses.

• Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Harvey and its aftermath.

• Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

House Committee on Natural Resources

Examine the following issues within the committee’s jurisdiction regarding Harvey and flooding in general:

• The role of regional entities in developing projects to control flooding, both through new infrastructure and enhancing existing infrastructure;

• Mitigation efforts that would reduce the impact of future flood events, and

• Strategies to fund those efforts; and the response of public entities that own or operate dams to large-scale rain events, including how such entities make decisions regarding dam and reservoir operations during such events, coordinate with state and local emergency management officials, and communicate with the public.

Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, in the only Valley state representative who serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

According to Wikipedia:

Hurricane Harvey was an extremely destructive Atlantic hurricane which became the first major hurricane to make landfall in theUnited States since Wilma in 2005, ending a record 12-year drought in which no hurricanes made landfall at such an intensity in the country. In a four-day period, beginning on Friday, August 25, 2017, many areas received more than 40 inches (100 cm) of rain as the system meandered over eastern Texas and adjacent waters, causing catastrophic flooding. With peak accumulations of 51.88 in (131.8 cm), Harvey is the wettest tropical hurricane on record in the contiguous United States. The resulting floods inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people, and prompted more than 17,000 rescues.

Throughout Texas, more than 300,000 people were left without electricity and billions of dollars of property damage was sustained. As of September 14, at least 81 fatalities have been confirmed.

More than 48,700 homes were affected by Harvey throughout the state, including over 1,000 that were completely destroyed and more than 17,000 that sustained major damage; approximately 32,000 sustained minor damage. Nearly 700 businesses were damaged as well.Texas Department of Public Safety stated more than 185,000 homes were damaged and 9,000 destroyed.

GOV. ABBOTT ANNOUNCES COMMISSION TO REBUILD TEXAS

In a related legislative development, Gov. Gregg Abbott on Thursday, September 7, 2017  announced the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, which will be led by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.

The commission will oversee the response and relief effort between the state and local governments to ensure victims of the storm get everything they need as quickly as possible. The commission will also be involved in the rebuilding process, focusing on restoring roads, bridges, schools and government buildings in impacted communities.

“Although the storm is over, the recovery process is just beginning, and it will require a Texas sized response,” said Gov. Abbott. “This new commission, led by Chancellor Sharp, will ensure victims get everything they need, and seamlessly provide resources to these devastated communities. Texas will not rest until this process is complete, and I thank Chancellor Sharp for his leadership on this commission.”

In addition to the Thursday, September 7, 2017 announcement, Sharp will join the governor in traveling to regions impacted by Harvey to meet with local officials regarding the needs of their communities. During these meetings, Abbott and Sharp will also receive on-site briefings on the current response efforts in these areas and the ongoing recovery process.

State agencies in Texas will also play a major role in coordinating and collaborating with the governor’s commission. The heads of following agencies will be traveling with Abbott and Sharp in their visits to local communities:

• Texas Department Of Public Safety;
• Texas Commission on Environmental Quality;
• Texas Health and Human Services Commission;
• Texas Military Department;
• Texas Department of Transportation;
• Texas Education Agency;
• Texas Department of State Health Services;
• Texas Department of Emergency Management; and
• Texas Water Development Board

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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 CAP 4S.4 in the Texas Capitol, 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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