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Featured, from left: McAllen City Commissioner Omar Quintanilla; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; McAllen Mayor Jim Darling; Dr. John Krouse, UTRGV Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine; and UTRGV President Guy Bailey, on Wednesday, October 11, 2o17 at the Medical Education Building in Edinburg.

Photograph By PAUL CHOUY

The City of McAllen presented a $1 million check to The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, at the Medical Education Building on the Edinburg Campus. The contribution is in support of the school’s mission to educate students and residents and provide increased access to healthcare. The payment is part of a memorandum of understanding UTRGV signed with McAllen and other Valley cities to support and ensure the success of the School of Medicine.  “We are grateful for the City of McAllen’s support of the School of Medicine,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey. “These funds will support UTRGV and the School of Medicine in its mission to engage in innovative research, clinical care and the training of the next generation of physicians for the Rio Grande Valley.” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said the payment by the City of McAllen is its contribution to help improve the health and prosperity of the region. “In order to help the entire Rio Grande Valley grow and improve – as a community, in business, and most importantly, in our health – then a strong and vibrant UTRGV School of Medicine is tantamount to help make that possible,” he said. Dr. John H. Krouse, Dean of the School of Medicine and Vice President for Health Affairs, said McAllen’s support further solidifies the partnership between the UTRGV School of Medicine and the communities it serves. “It will allow our faculty, medical residents and students to continue providing healthcare to those who otherwise would not have access to care,” Krouse said, “and it will help fund the innovative research that addresses the healthcare needs of the Valley community.”

Featured, seated, from left: Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., R-Katy, the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya, the Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, prepare to lay out the proposed $217+ billion, two-year state budget late last spring on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. On Friday, October 13, 2017, Longoria was appointed by Zerwas to serve as Vice-Chairman of the newly formed Subcommittee on Disaster Impact and Recovery, which is part of the 27-member House Committee on Appropriations.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

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Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya, appointed Vice-Chairman of Subcommittee on Disaster Impact and Recovery following October 2, 2017 hearing on devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya, on Friday, October 13, 2017 was appointed to serve as Vice-Chairman of the newly formed Subcommittee on Disaster Impact and Recovery, which is part of the 27-member House Committee on Appropriations, according to Tony Flores, who is Longoria’s Policy Advisor at the Texas Capitol.

Longoria serves as Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, which in the recently concluded regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature, which took place from Monday, January 14, 2017 through May 29, 2017, helped write the $217+ billion, two-year state budget, which went into effect on September 1, 2017.

Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, also serves on the House Committee on Appropriations.

Muñoz, along with Longoria and the other members of House Committee on Appropriations, on Thursday September 14, 2017, were appointed by Straus 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.

Hurricane Harvey, which hit and stayed over the upper east Texas coastline during a four-day period that began on Friday, August 25, 2017, caused catastrophic flooding, with many areas receiving more than 40 inches of rain as the system, with peak accumulations of 51.88 inches, stalled over the state, according toWikipedia. In addition to killing at least 81 people, Hurricane Harvey is estimated to have caused as much as $180 billion in damages.

In heeding the call of the Speaker of the House, the House Committee on Appropriations promptly held its first public meeting, which took place on Monday, October 2, 2017 in Houston.

“We were able to hear firsthand from state agencies on their response efforts, and from local community leaders and stakeholders who have been directly affected by Hurricane Harvey,” said Longoria.

In considering future committee deliberations, Zerwas appointed the Subcommittee on Disaster Impact and Recovery from the results of that first field hearing.

“We are just coming off a legislative session where we worked tirelessly and thoughtfully on our state budget for the next biennium – keeping in mind situations such as this may occur,” said Longoria. “Gov. Abbott recently disbursed a $50 million check from the Governor’s Disaster Relief Fund to the City of Houston for debris removal and rebuilding.”

The money from Abbott came from funds provided by the Texas Legislature to the Governor’s Disaster Relief Fund, and which are earmarked for such natural disasters.

“Now as federal dollars continue to trickle down from Washington, we will carefully monitor that money to make sure they are used responsibly and swiftly. I have no doubt that Houston will rebuild even stronger from this unprecedented disaster,” Longoria added.

Longoria, who is serving his third two-year term, represents House District 35, which covers portions of Hidalgo County and Cameron County, and includes all or portions of  La Joya, Sullivan City, Peñitas, Alton, Mission, Hargill, Monte Alto, Edcouch, La Villa, Mercedes, Weslaco, Santa Rosa, Primera, Palm Valley, Combes, Harlingen, and La Feria.

The House Committee on Appropriations, in meeting as a whole or as subcommittees later to be created, will continue to examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Hurricane Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

In addition to the House Committee on Appropriations, Straus also appointed the House Committee on Public Education and the House Committee on Natural Resources to conduct public hearings related to natural disasters in Texas.

“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 the United States sinceWilma 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 Safetystated more than 185,000 homes were damaged and 9,000 destroyed.

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Tony Flores and Jennifer Berghom contributed to this article. 

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