Featured, from left: Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernández, MD, and Chief Medical Compliance Officer, DHR Health; Dr. Daniel King, Superintendent, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College; Víctor Pérez, Executive Director, Pharr Economic Development Corporation; Thomas J. Walters, Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC); Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; and Rose Benavidez, Vice Chair, Board of Trustees, South Texas College, and President, Starr County Industrial Foundation, on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence (RCPSE) in Pharr.
Photograph By PRISCILLA LOZANO
Millions of Texans may be able to legally display hunting and fishing licenses on mobile devices under measure spearheaded by Rep. Canales
With several million Texans required to carry state licenses to hunt or fish for sport or business, a measure that would allow digital images of those permits as proof of licensure is moving towards full approval in the Texas Legislature, according to Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.
Canales, who also serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation, is the main author of House Bill 547, which was approved on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 by the House of Representatives, endorsed by the Senate Committee on Water and Rural Affairs on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, and is awaiting to be scheduled for review and action by the Texas Senate.
HB 547 is being carried in the Senate by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.
If approved by the Texas Legislature and supported by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 547 would take effect September 1, 2019.
“HB 547 would modernize requirements for hunting and fishing licenses by allowing a person to show a photo or digital receipt of a hunting, fishing, or combination hunting and fishing license on the person’s phone as proof of licensure,” Canales said. “Game wardens routinely allow hunters and fishers to show these images on their phones. This bill would codify (make law) what already is practiced in the field. Game wardens can verify identities and confirm through an existing database the appropriate hunting or fishing license.”
Canales’ HB 547 is receiving broad support from Democrats and Republicans.
Serving as joint authors for his HB 547 are Rep. John Cyrier, R-Bastrop; Rep. John Bucy, III, D-Austin; Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster; and Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Ft. Worth.
In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure and have his or her name shown following the primary author’s name on official printings of the measure, on calendars, and in the journal. The primary author may authorize up to four joint authors.
In carrying HB 547 in the Senate, Perry is the sponsor of the measure. The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.
According to the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, the Parks and Wildlife Code sec. 42.002 requires a resident to have a license to hunt animals in the state, with certain exceptions, and sec. 46.001 requires a person to have a license to fish in public waters in the state. Sec. 50.001 allows the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to issue a combination hunting and fishing license.
In addition to HB 547 allowing the Parks and Wildlife Commission by rule to prescribe compliance requirements for the above licenses, the legislation by Canales, who is an attorney, includes key provisions to protect the privacy rights of Texans.
The display of an image that included one of these licenses would not constitute effective consent for a law enforcement officer or any other person to access the contents of the wireless communication device except to view the license information, the House Research Organization’s bill analysis noted. Also, a telecommunications provider could not be held liable to the license holder for the failure of a wireless communication device to display license information.
However, a court would not be prevented from requiring a person to provide a paper copy of the person’s hunting fishing, or combination license during court proceedings.
“Fishing and hunting has long been a tradition in Texas and I am hoping that this piece of legislation helps continue this tradition well into the 21st century and beyond,” said the House District 40 state lawmaker. “HB 547 simply clarifies in law what is already being allowed in the field by allowing Texans to show their digital receipt or a photo of their hunting or fishing license to game wardens to show proof of licensure.”
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:
A Texas hunting license is required before one can take most types of birds and mammals in the state, including both game and non-game species. The only situations in which a person does not need a hunting permit is when he or she is a qualified landowner who needs to hunt certain species that are causing a nuisance to their property or livestock. Hunting licenses are issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, otherwise referred to as the TPWD or the DNR. There are many different types of licenses available from TPWD, allowing a hunter to get the exact credentials he or she needs.
A hunting license also is required to take turtles and frogs. For information on Disabled Veteran, Texas resident active duty military, and Combination licenses, view combination hunting and fishing license packages.
A valid fishing license with a freshwater or saltwater endorsement is required to take fish, mussels, clams, crayfish or other aquatic life in the public waters of Texas. Exceptions to this requirement are listed on this page. In addition, recreational anglers must have a Texas fishing license and saltwater endorsement to possess in state water any fish taken in federal waters (see Fishing in Federal Waters) or possess fish on a vessel in the tidal waters of Texas.
Anglers can also enjoy free fishing all year at more than 70 state parks (park entry fees still apply). All other fishing regulations, such as length and bag limits, remain in effect. A fishing license and endorsement are not required if fishing on state park property or in waters completely enclosed by a state park. On man-made structures (docks, piers, jetties, etc.) within state parks, fishing is allowed by pole-and-line only, and each person is limited to two poles. Please check with the park before participating in any fishing activity and to confirm any additional regulations. Learn more about free fishing in state parks.
A fishing license is not required to fish on waters completely enclosed within private property.
Canales also provide to fellow lawmakers and the public the additional following information about his legislation in the following question-and-answer format:
How do people currently buy hunting and fishing licenses?
Texans can buy hunting and fishing licenses in physical stores and online through the Parks & Wildlife website When one buys these licenses online, the get the license mailed to them, but you get a receipt from the online store immediately.
In what ways is the current system outdated?
Texas law requires a physical copy of your hunting or fishing license; even though Game Wardens currently allow you to show a digital approximation of the license. There is a difficulty in trying to obtain the paper license, as one has to wait for it to be mailed to them or physically go to a store to get a license immediately.
Now more than ever people use digital devices for every day to day activity. Cell phones are becoming an integral part of who we are and by modernizing the process of obtaining a fishing and hunting license we can make it more convenient to every citizen.
Digital fishing and hunting licenses will aid Texans who have trouble holding on to licenses. Often, hunting and fishing are done in rough landscapes and dark places; such conditions increase the chance of licenses being lost, as well as damaged.
Digital license are less likely to be lost or damaged due to the attachment that we humans have with our phone.
How will the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department know if the picture is valid?
Game Wardens can check anyone’s license on an app they have on their cell phones.
What happens if the cellular device turns off/ has technical problems?
One still has the option of carrying a physical paper copy of their hunting and fishing license if they please. In the case of technological issue, it is up to the officer’s discretion to verify the hunting or fishing license through their systems in the event of a technical failure. The telecommunications agency provider for that person cannot be held liable
Would one be able to use tags digitally?
This bill would not replace the need for physical hunting and fishing tags such as for deer or certain fish.
How would allowing digital licensing for fishing and hunting license increase the amount of participants in the fields?
Currently it is up in the air whether the next generation of young people will continue to hunt and fish in Texas at the same rate as now. We should work to make sure these traditions are as accessible as possible. By modernizing the process, young people are more likely to get licenses as the process doesn’t require extraneous work.
How would the state prevent digital manipulation of the digital system?
Game Wardens can simply run the information in their system. Currently, game wardens do this when they run into someone who says they forgot their license at work.
Has this been done in any other state?
There are 20 states that allow for digital licensing of hunting and fishing license: Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin.
Would this transition make it a digital license only?
No, if a customer chooses to obtain a physical paper license they still have the option to do so. The purpose of this bill is to increase the avenues for obtaining licenses in order to increase participation. This bill is hoping to create a convenience factor that people will take advantage of.
SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE ANNOUNCES EDUCATIONAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OPPORTUNITIES
South Texas College celebrated its official partnerships with Pharr-San Juan Alamo ISD, the City of Pharr, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC), the U.S. Office of Field Operations (OFO) Academy, and the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) Academy at a special ceremony at the new Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence (RCPSE) on Wednesday, April 24, 2019.
The ceremony at STC’s RCPSE formalized the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreements with the FLETC, the OFO Academy, and the USBP Academy.
These were the agencies’ first partnership training agreements in the State of Texas.
Guests in attendance at the announcement included U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who provided the keynote address at the ceremony, preceded by Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College, and Paul R. Rodríguez, Chairman, Board of Trustees, South Texas College, who offered opening remarks.
STC Trustees present at the ceremony included Rose Benavidez, Vice Chair, Board of Trustees, South Texas College, and Gary Gurwitz, Member, Board of Trustees, South Texas College.
Also in attendance were Thomas J. Walters, Director, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers; David Higgerson, Director, Office of Field Operations for CBP; Isidro Lagos, Branch Chief, Field Operations Academy (USCBP); Carlos R. Ortiz, Acting Deputy Chief Patrol Agent, U.S. Border Patrol Academy (USCBP); and Ana García, South Texas Regional Director, Office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
Reed thanked partners like Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernández and Dr. Daniel King, Superintendent, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District for their engagement in making this initiative possible.
“The partnership agreement that we signed with our federal law enforcement agencies will grant college credit for the federal law enforcement academies graduates who want to pursue a Law Enforcement Associate Degree at South Texas College,” said Mario Reyna, STC Dean of Business, Technology, and Public Safety .
“This unique opportunity will allow all the federal agents in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to get a jumpstart on their education once they enroll with additional coursework at South Texas College,” Reyna added.
In addition to the Center providing law enforcement officials the opportunity to work towards a Law Enforcement Associate Degree with STC, the facility also currently hosts PSJA ISD high school students pursuing their Associate Degree in Criminal Justice with STC, as well as, PSJA’s Criminal Justice Academy.
The PSJA Academies currently include 20 fields of studies in the following areas: School of Public & Health Service; School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM; the School of Business and Industry; and the School of Arts and Humanities. These Academies provide hands-on learning in various specific fields of study supporting students as they work to obtain a Certificate or an Associate Degree from South Texas College. Through a cohort approach, students build positive relationships, receive rigorous instruction, and receive academic, emotional and social support to successfully complete the coursework.
Current 10th grade students from any PSJA ISD high school are eligible to apply to be part of the PSJA Academies, and can continue to attend their home high school.
For more information about the PSJA Academies visit http://www.psjaisd.us/academies.
The ceremony formalized Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreements with FLETC as well as the U.S. Field Operations Academy, and the U.S. Border Patrol Academy. These agreements expound how much college credit South Texas College will grant federal agents for training they have already completed through federal programs.
These new federal partnerships at the college’s Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence (RCPSE) are poised to enhance the ability of future and current federal law enforcement officers to expand their horizons and their careers, according to USCBP agent Héctor Escamilla, Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.
The issue of training and awareness is one that Escamilla is intently familiar with; after all, he has been educating citizens about Border Patrol operations for at least two decades.
In the late 1990s, Escamilla said he organized the first Border Patrol Citizens Academy, which enabled the public to participate in a six to eight week class in an attempt to give them an up close and personal view of the border.
Escamilla said he has trained hundreds of citizens over the years, which included municipal leaders, educators, and students. Classes included accompanying Border Patrol agents on the river or in helicopters to boost awareness of life on the job, he said.
“I think what STC has established here is wonderful,” Escamilla said. “I was here for the groundbreaking ceremony with Dr. Reed, and although I know it hasn’t fully come to fruition, I believe this is an outstanding endeavor, and it’s definitely going to enhance the ability of our young people, here in the community, to expand their horizons and their careers.”
“There is incredible potential with South Texas College, so I have to hand it to them; they accomplished all this in about a year, which is truly amazing,” Cuellar said. “This will be the model and the foundation for other places. South Texas College is setting the foundation so we can do this, and not only for the credit classes that they are expecting but for those trainees I want to bring in so they can become future CBP officers and Border Patrol agents.”
STC’s Regional Center, in particular, is working to meet the demand of careers in the fields of public safety, law enforcement, fire science, and Homeland Security. In alignment with its institutional mission to provide career and academic pathways for students of the South Texas region, STC is collaborating with federal law enforcement agencies to provide college credit for completion of federal training programs.
Graduates from the five Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) training programs will be eligible to claim between six to 17 hours of college credit at STC upon completion of two requisite courses.
Specialized FLETC training programs eligible for college credit at STC include criminal investigation, land management, and uniform police.
USCBP programs eligible for college credit include Border Patrol and Field Operations.
All course credit will count towards the Applied Associate of Science in Law Enforcement.
“Something has to be done to expand educational opportunities for all the agents working for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol,” said Reed. “It has taken 15 to 20 years, but here we are today in this beautiful facility that was only possible with the support of the City of Pharr, PSJA school district, the taxpayers of Hidalgo and Starr County, the state legislature, and we are optimistic that we will now receive federal funding.
“This truly has been a collaborative commitment to improve the preparation of all law enforcement officers: local, state, and federal,” Dr. Reed said. “We are committed to doing this collaboratively.”
STC initiated this process after visiting the FLETC training center in Glynco, Ga. in late 2017. Since then, college staff along with leaders from FLETC and USCBP have aligned the specialized training program outcomes with college coursework to allow federal agents and officers to be eligible to receive college credit.
STC pursued the partnership with FLETC, which is the name of the interagency law enforcement training body for 91 federal law enforcement agencies that provides tuition-free and low-cost training to state, local, campus and tribal law enforcement agencies through its Rural Policing Institute (RPI) and the Office of State and Local Training.
“This is our first foray into Texas and the first agreement of its kind,” said Walters. “It has great promise for here and now, and even greater promise for the future as we give our students who graduate from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center the opportunity to gain some credit for their professional careers, and we look forward to being able to outreach even better not just with Texas but other states in the union.”
STC officially launched Phase 1 of its $71 million master plan for the RCPSE in September 2018. Phase 1 is a 19,500 square-foot investment that consists of a training center, driving skills/skid pad, and shooting and driving simulation labs. The center also includes 180 additional acres for future expansion.
The new Regional Center intends to make STC the first border community college in the nation to establish integrative training along the US/Mexico border while meeting the demand for professionals seeking careers in public safety, law enforcement, fire science, and Homeland Security.
A true collaboration, the Regional Center would not be possible without significant contributions from the city, school district and the State of Texas.
The City of Pharr contributed 59 acres of land worth $2.5 million, and the Basic Peace Office Certification Program is operated in part with the Pharr Police Academy.
PSJA ISD contributed 10 acres of land and an additional $1 million for the construction of four classrooms to serve dual enrollment students in criminal justice and other public safety programs.
“We are a very loyal and a very assertive commission that believes very heavily in law enforcement and following the rule of law,” said Hernández. “We also know that the fastest way to get to any one point is a straight line with partnerships. We believe that we are not going to just stand on our two feet, but rather help those who are aligned with our vision just like Dr. Shirley A. Reed and South Texas College.
“We know we are at a pivotal moment, and this is a small pebble in the pond creating a large ripple effect that will forever transform this area,” the Pharr mayor added. “We know that Homeland Security as a whole needs a home, and we know that they have great places to go all over our nation, but this is ground zero.”
Students seeking information about programs available at the RCPSE can visit https://www.southtexascollege.edu/rcpse/ for more information. Those looking for information about the Law Enforcement or Fire Science programs can call 956/872-4200. Students who are seeking to earn an associate degree in Criminal Justice can call 956/872-6724.
José Gómez, Priscilla Lozano and Arianna Vázquez-Hernández contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who is the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426. 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)