Featured, from left: Irma Montemayor with A-Fast Bail Bonds; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission; and now-retired Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma García, on Wednesday, November 28, 2018, at the Social Club in Edinburg, which was the site of a reception hosted by the Hidalgo County Bail Bond Association to honor area elected leaders.
Photograph Courtesy RENE ANZALDUA/HIDALGO COUNTY BAIL BOND ASSOCIATION
As Rep. Muñoz begins fifth term, funding for statewide trauma system, impact of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey among key legislative issues
Now beginning his ninth year in the Texas Legislature, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, is optimistic that his District 36 and the Rio Grande Valley will be effective on key priorities, which include securing state resources to bring a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center to deep South Texas, and to improve protections and responses against natural disasters, such as 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.
“I’m ready and eager to begin this new chapter of the Texas Legislature led by Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton),” he said. “With his leadership, I am confident that our chamber will work steadfastly toward making this a productive legislative session focused on issues that will improve the quality of life of Texans.”
Bonnen, a 1994 graduate from St. Edwards University in Austin, on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, was unanimously elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. A banker and businessman, Bonnen has served in the Texas House since 1997, when he was only 24 years old. This is Bonnen’s first term as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
For his part, Muñoz, an attorney based in Edinburg, is a business graduate of the University of Texas at Austin who earned his law degree with honors at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University in Houston, graduating magna cum laude.
During Spring 2017, Muñoz served on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, which shaped the $217+ billion state budget for the House of Representatives. His expert knowledge of the state budget process, plus his growing legislative seniority (ranked 45th out of the 150 state representatives), helps make the Valley legislative delegation one of the most powerful in history.
Muñoz said he will be “embracing issues that are important to the people of District 36, such as properly funding our public education system, improving access to quality healthcare, and a greater focus on business development for our region.”
Muñoz’ House District 36 includes all or parts of the cities of Hidalgo, Granjeño, McAllen, Mission, Palmview and Pharr.
During his first four two-year terms as a state lawmaker, improving access to health care is featured throughout his votes and as part of his legislative agendas, including the following successful efforts which carry his name as an author or sponsor:
• Helping restore some of the rate reductions for Medicaid acute therapy services for children;
• Preserving a functioning program that provides pharmacy benefits to the Medicaid population in a cost-effective manner;
• Requiring Texas government to better identify and come up with solutions to communicable diseases;
• Allowing first responders to access the treatment they need for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder without fear of professional risk or stigma; and
• Helping create the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.
PUSH FOR A LEVEL I COMPREHENSIVE TRAUMA CENTER FOR THE VALLEY
Sure to be a priority for the entire Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation, during the current 140-day regular session of the Texas Legislature, will be working to bring a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center to deep South Texas.
In general, a trauma center is a hospital equipped and staffed to provide care for patients suffering from major traumatic injuries such as falls, motor vehicle collisions, or gunshot wounds.
A Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center is a wide-ranging regional resource that is a tertiary care facility central to the trauma system. A Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center is capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury.
The Valley state lawmakers already have a powerful ally in the effort to bring a Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center with the public support of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican.
Abbott, in a letter addressed earlier this fall to the Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation, has promised to use his critical influence in the Texas Legislature and elsewhere to help secure state money to establish at least one Level I Comprehensive Trauma Center in one of the largest metropolitan areas of Texas.
“A Level I trauma center would strengthen the healthcare network in times of disaster, and it would also serve as a needed resource to the 1.5 million people who call the Rio Grande Valley home,” Abbott stated in his letter, dated September 26, 2018. “This is why I fully support efforts to establish this goal.”
That powerful endorsement came as a result of a letter, coordinated by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, presented to Abbott on Tuesday, September 18, 2018, on behalf of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation when the governor came down for the grand opening and building dedication of the South Texas Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr.
In 2005, Muñoz was the House author of House Bill 1887, which created the South Texas Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr.
“Having access to a Level I trauma center is a critical component of disaster response and preparedness,” Abbott further stated. “During my travels around the state, I have heard from many Texans about the importance of the trauma system and the need to strengthen it. The reasons differ as to why the network should be strengthened, but there seems to be consensus that enhancements are needed. These issues should be included in discussions as Texas prepares for further disasters.”
DHR Health, which is one of the premier private hospital systems in Texas, has been helping lead efforts statewide to convince the Texas Legislature to increase state funding needed for such an advanced medical resource in the Valley.
Money is proposed to come from the Hurricane Harvey Supplemental Funding Package to create a grant program, administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, that would give trauma providers the needed resources to invest in strengthening the trauma network statewide.
DHR Health’s push for state funding also would benefit the Trauma Network in the State of Texas, which is made up of 288 designated trauma hospitals, first responders, and emergency medical service providers.
The Trauma Network in the State of Texas is comprised of 22 regions and includes 18 Level I Comprehensive Trauma Centers, 21 Level II Major Trauma Centers, 56 Level III Advanced Trauma Centers, and 193 Level IV Basic Trauma Centers.
The Senate Finance Committee, upon which Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has served for several terms, recently released a report which also supports the need for increasing state funding for trauma care statewide.
“A coordinated and adequately funded trauma system is essential to providing effective response and treatment for Texans experiencing trauma. Funding challenges in recent years have put dedicated funding for the state’s trauma system at risk,” noted one of the findings of the Senate Finance Committee. “Due to real concerns about the effectiveness of the DRP and red-light cameras, the Legislature should consider changes to these programs. However, as part of the discussion, the Legislature must carefully consider the negative fiscal impact to the trauma system.”
The Senate Finance Committee recommended that “when considering changes to trauma revenue sources, such as the Driver Responsibility Program and red-light cameras, the Legislature should identify permanent funding sources to sustain the state’s trauma system.”
Hurricane Harvey was a late Summer 2017 catastrophe which missed the Rio Grande Valley but caused almost $1 billion in 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.
That weather catastrophe was so shocking that it resulted in several state legislative committees spending months developing ways to better prepare for natural calamities of such magnitude.
“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.
As part of the report that reviewed and made recommendations about trauma funding, the Senate Finance Committee also reported that “Hurricane Harvey will prove to be the costliest disaster ever to hit the Texas coast. While immediate direct costs to the state are estimated to be approximately $900 million, the total costs are undetermined and will be incurred over the years ahead. As the state continues to monitor future costs, state agencies must coordinate to mitigate state costs and ensure that available federal funds are maximized. The Legislature must examine the lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey in order to improve the state’s ability to more effectively and efficiently respond to and recover from any future disaster.”
The Senate Finance Committee recommended the following actions:
• Continue to monitor the ongoing costs attributed to the impact of Hurricane Harvey and ensure that
state agencies, institutions of higher education and other governmental entities are maximizing available federal resources, including reimbursement for damaged facilities;
• Encourage local governments to apply for available federal funding for rebuilding efforts, including Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant funds, hazard mitigation grants, flood mitigation grants, and other federal assistance programs;
• Monitor the disbursement of hazard and flood mitigation funding to ensure there is a clear process for applicants and an appropriate cost-share between federal, state, and local governments;
• Continue to monitor Harvey’s impact on student population shifts and property value decline affecting local school districts;
• Review policies utilized during the interim to address these impacts and consider ways to streamline processes for future disasters;
• Implement a home single-inspector system for assessing storm-related damage. The inspection system should streamline government in a way that reduces burdens for homeowners and helps communities recover after a disaster;
• Improve public awareness of the National Flood Insurance Program. Better utilization of this program will help ensure families have the resources necessary to rebuild following a severe weather event;
• Consider ways to streamline agency reporting processes to improve the accuracy and availability of cost-related data for Hurricane Harvey and future disasters; and
• Consider ways to better track the flow of Disaster Fund transfers, reimbursements, and balance updates.
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. For more on 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).