Featured: Funding for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, which have major campuses in Edinburg, will be among the top priorities facing the South Texas state legislative delegation when the Texas Legislature returns to work for its 140-day regular session on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.
Photograph By PAUL CHOUY
As Texas Legislature prepares for regular session, Edinburg EDC on Wednesday, January 2, to consider agreement for professional legislative services
The possible hiring of an individual or a firm to help promote legislative issues important to the City of Edinburg – possibly such as state funding for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, which have major campuses in Edinburg – will be considered by the Board of Directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation on Wednesday, January 2, 2019.
The session, which is open to the public, will take place during a special meeting of the five-member governing board that will begin at noon.
The meeting will be held in the City Council Chambers on the first floor of Edinburg City Hall, 415 West University Drive.
The Texas Legislature will consider a wide variety of topics when it convenes in regular session on January 8, 2019.
The item is listed on the Edinburg EDC’s board meeting agenda, which was posted online on Friday, December 28, 2018, with the subject matter identified as “Discuss and consider authorizing the Executive Director to enter into a Professional Services Agreement for legislative services.”
The agenda packet did not contain any other information about the proposed agreement for legislative services.
However, in mid-December, the Edinburg EDC Board of Directors considered, but took no action, on an agenda item which involved investing $105,000 for a “City of Edinburg Public Affairs Liaison” to do lobbying in Austin and in Washington, D.C.
During the Tuesday, December 18, 2018 meeting, upon the recommendation of Aaron Vela, the attorney for the Edinburg EDC, board members took the public affairs liaison agenda item behind closed doors (executive session) upon Vela’s recommendation, because the item dealt with an employment matter.
When the Edinburg EDC Board of Directors returned from executive session, they announced they would not take any action at that time.
There are seven exceptions that generally authorize closed meetings, also known as “executive sessions.” The exceptions include discussions involving: (1) purchase or lease of real property; (2) security measures; (3) receipt of gifts; (4) consultation with attorney; (5) personnel matters; (6) economic development; and (7) certain homeland security matters. The governing body must first convene in open session, identify which issues will be discussed in executive session, and cite the time and applicable exception. All final actions, decisions, or votes must be made in an open meeting.
For the December 18, 2018 Edinburg EDC board meeting, some information was provided about the public affairs liaison proposal in the board’s agenda packet, which was posted online.
According to the proposed contract discussed in the December 18, 2018 executive session between the Edinburg EDC and the City of Edinburg, the $105,000 investment would involve a payment of $45,000 from the Edinburg EDC for FY 2018-2019, effective in December 2018, and a payment of $60,000, on October 1, 2o19, from the Edinburg EDC for FY 2019-2020, to the City of Edinburg.
The proposed contract between the Edinburg EDC and the City of Edinburg is known as an interlocal agreement, which is generally defined as a written contract between local government agencies such as a city, a county, a school board or a constitutional office. Interlocal agreements between public agencies should result in mutual benefits for all of the parties involved, according to LegalBeagle.com. In essence, an interlocal agreement is a collaborative contract between public bodies aiming to provide more efficient, less costly public services.
If approved, those lobbying services would have represented the continuation – beginning in the mid-1990s under the administration of then-Mayor Joe Ochoa – of the Edinburg EDC and the City of Edinburg taking active roles in directly shaping state and federal policies and laws to benefit and protect the interests of Edinburg residents.
As with Ochoa as mayor, Richard García, when he was mayor, also chose to hire lobbyists for the Edinburg EDC and the City of Edinburg.
Between those two mayors – and including current Mayor Molina, Mayor Pro Tem Torres, and City Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr. – Edinburg has come up dozens of impressive legislative gains over the past two-and-a-half decades.
The lobbyists for the Edinburg EDC and the Edinburg City Council have represented those two entities before important Texas state boards, commissions, and agencies, including the University of Texas System Board of Regents, as well as worked with the city’s state and federal lawmakers before the Texas Legislature and Congress.
Those lobbyists’ work resulted in as much as $500 million – and possibly more – in state and federal moneys coming to the city for a wide range of local priorities, such as major expansions of state roadways, the improvement of U.S. Highway 281 into Interstate Highway 69 , and the creation of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine in Edinburg.
Among the registered lobbyists who have been hired in the past by the Edinburg EDC and the Edinburg City Council are Elvia López, owner of Caballero Government Affairs, Guillermo Canedo; Oberlyn “Obie” Salinas, owner of Signature Advocacy, Inc., Rosalie Weisfeld, Holland & Knight, Signature Advocacy, Inc., Pathfinder Public Affairs, The Vela Group, and Troutman & Sanders.
In general, lobbying is defined as persuasion, or interest representation is the act of attempting to influence the actions, policies, or decisions of officials in their daily life, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobbying)
The Edinburg EDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mayor Richard Molina, Mayor Pro Tem David Torres, Councilmember Gilbert Enríquez, Councilmember Jorge Salinas, and Miguel “Mike” Farías, a member of the Edinburg school board.
Joey Treviño serves as Executive Director for the Edinburg EDC.
HOUSE RESEARCH ORGANIZATION PROVIDES AN ONLINE SUMMARY OF MAJOR ISSUES TO MOST LIKELY FACE THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE IN 2019
The House Research Organization (HRO) is a nonpartisan independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation and issues before the Texas Legislature.
The HRO is governed by a broadly representative steering committee of 15 House members elected by the House membership to set policy for the organization, approve its budget, and ensure that its reports are objective.
During legislative sessions, the HRO publishes the Daily Floor Report, which includes analyses of all legislation, except local and consent bills, scheduled for floor debate on the daily House calendar. Each bill analysis consists of a digest of the bill’s provisions, background, arguments for and against the bill, and additional pertinent information.
Year-round, the House Research Organization produces research reports on a wide range of issues affecting state government. These reports includes one of its most recent publications, titled “Focus report – Topics for the 86th Legislature”.
In its introduction page, the HRO states:
The Texas Legislature will consider a wide variety of topics when it convenes in regular session on January 8, 2019. Lawmakers are expected to consider proposals related to school finance, property taxes, costs incurred from Hurricane Harvey, school safety, criminal penalties, transportation funding, and Medicaid managed care contracts, among others. This report highlights many, although by no means all, of the issues the 86th Legislature may consider during its 2019 regular session.
A total of 32 agencies are under review this session by the Sunset Advisory Commission, including the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. During each regular legislative session, the commission reviews state agencies based on a schedule established in law and provides recommendations to the Legislature on whether to continue each agency and how to improve its functions.
Among some of those topics are:
The 86th Legislature may discuss the appropriate level of funding for border security. Total state funding for border security in fiscal 2018-19 was $800 million, with $694.3 million going to DPS.
Legislators also could debate the way state-funded border security efforts are measured and evaluated. The Legislative Budget Board is collecting expenditure and performance data that could be discussed during deliberations on border security spending. Legislators also could debate the type of information collected and reported by DPS about its activities on the border.
As areas affected by Hurricane Harvey continue to recover, the Legislature may consider recommendations from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas to improve responses to future extreme weather events.
According to the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, the state’s network of trauma centers saves lives and is a critical component of disaster response. Some areas of the state don’t have enough of these centers, particularly the Level I Comprehensive Trauma Centers. (The Rio Grande Valley has no Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center.)
The Legislature should consider investing the trauma network to ensure the infrastructure and personnel are in place before another disaster like Hurricane Harvey strikes the state (late August 2017). This will require significant capital investment, although there are no current estimates of the statewide need.
The Legislature could consider reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana or other drugs. This could include reducing some penalties to Class C misdemeanors or replacing criminal penalties with civil penalties, such as a fine. Proposals could emerge to legalize marijuana following the model of other states where it is taxed and regulated similar to alcohol.
The 86th Legislature may consider proposals to develop an industrial hemp market in Texas. Proposals may focus on processing and manufacturing requirements of hemp products, including feed, food, fiber, cosmetics, supplements, and building materials. Lawmakers may debate the definition of hemp, license or permit requirements for growers, regulation and certification of seeds, and legal protections.
The 86th Legislature may address concerns about the effects of two 2015 Texas Supreme Court rulings on public information, Boeing Co. v. Paxton and Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton. These rulings changed the way the Public Information Act is interpreted for government contracts with private companies and the use of tax dollars in contracts with large nonprofit organizations.
Lawmakers also may consider proposals to expedite agency responses to public information requests, to address whether dates of birth should be available in certain public records, and to award attorneys’ fees to a requester under certain circumstances in a civil lawsuit.
Lawmakers also may consider how governments obtain public records stored on private electronic devices.
Supplemental Appropriations For Fiscal 2019
The 86th Legislature will consider additional spending for the current fiscal year, including for Medicaid-related costs. HHSC estimates it will not be able to make payments to Medicaid providers beginning May 2019 without supplemental funding. The most recent estimate available for the Medicaid- and CHIP-related shortfall in the budget is $1.4 billion in general revenue.
Other supplemental appropriations could be considered, including for Hurricane Harvey-related expenses for school districts.
Rainy Day Fund
Legislators may consider proposals to use the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (“rainy day fund”) for fiscal 2019 spending or for spending in the upcoming fiscal 2020-21 biennium. They may consider proposals to use part of the fund for unmet state needs, infrastructure projects, or to reduce taxes.
Lawmakers could debate using the rainy day fund to pay for Hurricane Harvey relief and rebuilding efforts as well as for other purposes, such as debt relief. As required by Government Code, sec. 316.092, the Select Committee to Determine a Sufficient Balance of the Economic Stabilization Fund recently determined $7.5 billion to be a sufficient minimum balance for the fund for fiscal 2020-21.
Medicaid Managed Care
As most of the state’s Medicaid programs continue transitioning to managed care, lawmakers may consider proposals to encourage health provider participation in the Medicaid network and to address provider reimbursement rates under managed care.
Other proposals may include increasing transparency in the rate-setting process, developing more value-based payment models to improve quality care, and strengthening oversight of managed care contracts.
The full report by the HRO is available online at:
For more this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com)