Featured, from left: Ronnie Larralde, Executive Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Marsha Green, Vice President of Marketing, Bert Ogden Auto Group; Natasha Del Barrio, MBA, Chief Executive Officer, Bert Ogden Auto Group; Robert Vackar, Owner, Bert Ogden Auto Group; Janet Vackar, Owner, Bert Ogden Auto Group; Verónica Gonzáles, Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; and Mario Lizcano, Administrator of Corporate Affairs, DHR Health.
Photograph By DEANNA GARZA
Legislative update on University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine to be included in “State of the University Address” by President Guy Bailey on Thursday, May 30
Less than a week after the 86th Texas Legislature in Austin finished its 140-day regular session, a legislative update on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine is anticipated to be featured in a “State of the University Address” by UTRGV President Guy Bailey on Thursday, May 30, 2019.
The presentation, which is part of the Public Affairs Luncheon organized by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, will take place on that day from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m. at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, located at 118 Paseo Del Prado in Edinburg.
Tickets for the gathering will be available for purchase until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 by contacting chamber officials at 956/383-4974. The cost to attend the luncheon is $25 per person or $300 for a table of eight for members of the Edinburg Chamber, and $350 for a table of eight for non-members.
Bert Ogden Auto Group is serving as the Title Sponsor for the Public Affairs Luncheon, which is an initiative introduced in 2006 by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and since then has featured popular topics with speakers that cover important community and legislative issues.
The vision of the Public Affairs Luncheon includes informing, involving and educating chamber investors and civic leaders. The event also allows business professionals to meet, network and create opportunities for the companies they represent.
Sen. Hinojosa helps secure $69 million for UTRGV School of Medicine
Ahead of Bailey’s presentation, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, provided some insight into how state lawmakers helped UTRGV at the State Capitol, noting he helped secure “$69 million for our medical school at UTRGV, including $2 million for the fight against cervical cancer.”
Hinojosa also listed other key successes for his Senate District 27, an area which stretches from Hidalgo County to Nueces County.
“I am proud of what we accomplished this session for South Texas and the entire state. We reformed the public education funding system, provided property tax relief, made the Teacher Retirement System actuarially sound, and gave our retirees a much needed 13th check,” Hinojosa said. “We also passed legislation and funded projects to aid in the recovery and relief to areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey.”
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.
As well as voting for a balanced state budget “that takes care of Texans, this session I passed about 43 individual pieces of important legislation and secured millions of dollars for our priorities in the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend regions,” he said.
The final state budget, a two-year financing plan that begins on September 1, 2019, will provide more than $11 billion in new funding for our public schools, a sum that include $5.9 billion for the classroom, and $2 billion for a pay raise averaging $4,000 for public school teachers.
“We also appropriated $5.3 billion to provide property tax relief by increasing the state share of public school funding from 38 percent to 45 percent,” Hinojosa continued. “Examples of some of the funding items I was able to secure include $17 million for trauma infrastructure and preparedness, including funding for the first level 1 trauma center in the Rio Grande Valley, and $69 million for our medical school at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), including $2 million for the fight against cervical cancer. I was also able to secure $2.3 million for the Civil and Industrial Engineering program at Texas A&M- Corpus Christi (TAMUCC), and $40 million for infrastructure to improve access to and from our Texas ports.”
Hinojosa characterized the state budget as being “fiscally responsible” and it “invests in infrastructure, border security, healthcare, and our students, while paving the way for an educated and healthy workforce. The work done by the 86th Legislature will benefit all Texans and ensure the continued success of the Texas economy.”
LEGISLATURE CONCLUDES SESSION WITH TOP PRIORITIES ACCOMPLISHED
The 86th Texas Legislature concluded its five month regular session on Monday, May 27, 2019, with lawmakers delivering on a promise made by state leadership back in January: sweeping school finance and property tax reform, according to the Texas Senate News.
The Texas Senate News is the state-supported news and information division of the Senate.
“In my inaugural address I said that this will be the session we enact historical school finance reform by putting more money into the classroom, paying our teachers more, reducing recapture and cutting property taxes,” Gov. Greg Abbott said late Saturday, 25, 2019. “Tonight, without a court order, the Legislature did just that by passing one of the most transformative educational bills in recent Texas history.”
The Texas Legislature ended its work on Monday, May 27, 2019.
The two bills that saw final passage in both chambers on Saturday, May 25, 2019, were:
House Bill 3 was shepherded through the process on the Senate side by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, Chair, Senate Committee on Education, who served as the sponsor of the measure.
Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was the author of HB 3.
Serving as coauthors of HB 3 were Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. Alex Domínguez, D-Brownsville; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City; Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya; Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission.
The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). The Senate allows multiple primary authors for each bill or resolution. The House of Representatives allows only one primary author, the house member whose signature appears on the original measure and on the copies filed with the chief clerk. Both chambers also have coauthors, and the house of representatives has joint authors.
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.
The coauthor a legislator authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives allow an unlimited number of coauthors on a bill or resolution. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber in which the bill was filed.
House Bill 3 adds $4.5 billion into the classroom
Taylor said HB 3 represents groundbreaking reform for an education system that has lagged behind the changing needs of Texas schoolchildren.
“What we are doing here today will move us towards continued prosperity for this state,” he said.
In all, HB 3 would put $4.5 billion more into the classroom. This money would flow through funding formulas, and would direct more to students with economic disadvantages, those still learning English, and those with dyslexia.
HB 3 also would create an optional July term for eligible students and full-day, quality Pre-K programs for students from low-income backgrounds. The only outcomes-based funding in the final version would reward schools for every student they graduate ready for college, the workforce or the military.
Teachers would see a salary increase, but it wouldn’t be the even, across-the-board $5,000 originally included in the Senate version. Instead, it would create a mechanism by which teacher pay would increase whenever the Legislature ups the basic allotment, the fundamental variable in school formula funding.
HB 3 would raise that more than $1,000, to $6,160, of which nearly a third must go towards salaries for non-administrative public school employees. Districts would also have the option of developing a system to identify their best teachers and pay them more, but that system couldn’t factor in results from state accountability tests. There are also incentives for teachers who are willing to teach at high-need or rural campuses. Administrators will have flexibility in how these funds get distributed, so the actual amount of increased pay will vary district to district. In all, the bill puts about $2 billion towards teacher and other public school salary increases.
HB 3 would also reduce local school property tax rates by an estimated 13 cents per $100 valuation by 2021, providing more than $5 billion in property tax relief within two years. It also seeks to rein in rate growth by requiring districts to seek voter approval if they wish to exceed a 2.5 percent rate increase in any year.
SB 2 limits city property tax increases to no more than 3.5 recent
Senate Bill 2, by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would create a similar limit for most municipal tax rates, at 3.5 percent. That bill also includes a number of transparency and taxpayer education provisions. If voters approve no rate increases above these new limits, it would save an estimated $980 million in property taxes statewide by 2024.
Among the cosponsors of SB 2 were Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen.
“This is astonishing tax relief,” Bettencourt said of the two bills.
Following passage of both measures, Lt. Gov. Patrick, R-Houston, thanked the governor, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, and both chambers for working together to accomplish a landmark session.
“This is truly an historic evening,” Patrick said. “It’s going to save taxpayers a lot of money, give teachers more money and change the way we educate students and finance and make us number one in the country to lead on education reform.”
The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene again in January of 2021, when lawmakers will see how well these education and property tax reforms worked over the 19-month interim.
Other key bills passed this session
HB 1 – The state budget. The final version appropriates $164.2 billion in state money to pay for services through 2021, including the tax and education reforms passed in SB 2 and HB 3. Other highlights include: funding to increase capacity at state drivers’ license offices, funding to dispose of the backlog on sexual assault kit testing, $7.8 billion in mental health program spending across 23 state agencies, and $347 million for women’s health programs.
SB 500 – The supplemental state budget, truing up accounts between what was appropriated in 2017 and actual costs. Includes $3.5 billion in rainy day funds to assist with Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery as well as $800 million to offset lost property values for school districts in the disaster area.
SBs 6, 7, & 8 – Comprehensive Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery package. Leverages expertise at state institutions to improve disaster response and train local officials (SB 6). Creates a funding structure to pay for flood mitigation and prevention projects, pull down federal matching funds, and cover other costs associated with hurricane relief. (SB 7). Creates a statewide flood planning system that coordinates regional plans for the first time (SB 8).
SB 11 – School safety plan developed in the wake of the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting. Requires districts to develop safety plans for each campus, implements facility hardening standards and requires safety committees for individual campuses. The Texas School Safety Center in San Marcos will evaluate plans and offer logistical support to districts. SB 10, which creates the Texas Mental Health Consortium, was amended onto this bill in the House. That measure allows mental health professionals at state medical schools to consult with pediatricians and other providers on mental health issues affecting children. Also includes suicide awareness and prevention programs for students and training for teachers from SB 1390 (Menéndez).
SB 12 – Provides long-term fiscal stability for the state teachers’ retirement system through gradual increases in contributions from active employees, school districts and the state over the next six years. Also provides for a 13th bonus annuity check up to $2,000 for beneficiaries this fall.
HB 2048 – Repeals the state drivers responsibility program, a system that adds additional penalties to drivers who exceed a certain number of traffic violations in a year.
SB 1264 – Consumer protections against surprise medical billing for state-regulated health insurance plans. Effectively prevents the practice in cases where a person has no say in who is treating them, such as in an emergency room. Patients would still be responsible for deductibles, co-pays, and other expected costs at in-network facilities, but no more.
SB 21 – Raises the age required to purchase tobacco or other nicotine products like vaporizers from 18 to 21.
HB 1631 – Bans the use of red light cameras in Texas.
HB 3906 – State STAAR accountability test reforms that moves the test to a shorter, online version over the next five years, intended to reduce test taking time, stress and instructional time lost to testing.
Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s Audio/Video Archive.
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).