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Sen. Hinojosa named “2019 Senator of the Year” by the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters 1

Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Hidalgo County Commissioner Precinct 4 Ellie Torres, and Lorena Sáenz González, wife of Congressman Vicente González, during the third annual Christmas Bash & Toy Drive, hosted by the González family on Monday evening, December 2, 2019, at the Embassy Suites in McAllen.

Photograph By ISMAEL GARCÍA

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Sen. Hinojosa named “2019 Senator of the Year” by the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters

By DARIEL RAMÍREZ

The Texas State Association of Fire Fighters (TSAFF) on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, honored Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, with the 2019 TSAFF “Senator of the Year Award” during the organization’s annual conference in Houston.

He was recognized for his efforts during the 86th Texas Legislature – which took place from Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to Monday, May 27, 2019 – or his efforts on behalf of Texas firefighters, especially for passing his Senate Bill 2551, which makes it easier for a firefighter to file for worker’s compensation if diagnosed with one of 11 specified cancers. 

The Texas State Association of Fire Fighters was established in 1938 and it is Texas’ only professional, career firefighters organization, representing more than 18,000 firefighter members and 182 affiliate locals. The Texas State Association of Fire Fighters is affiliated with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The Texas State Association of Fire Fighters was established in 1938 and it is Texas’s only professional, career firefighters organization, representing over 18,000 firefighter members and 182 affiliate locals. We are affiliated with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

https://www.tsaff.org/about/who-we-are

Hinojosa represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Property Tax; Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture; and Select Committees on Redistricting and Texas Ports.

“I am thankful and humbled that the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters has recognized me with this distinguished award,” Hinojosa said. “Senate Bill 2551 addresses the challenges faced by firefighters trying to get compensation for work-related injuries or health issues.” 

All members of the Rio Grande Valley state legislative delegation voted for Senate Bill 2551.

Before Hinojosa’s Senate Bill 2551 became law on Monday, June 10, 2019, there was a question about what types of cancers would be covered or not covered. 

“Our firefighters have earned and deserve our support. These brave men and women do not hesitate to enter into a burning building to save lives and property. Firefighters incur a higher risk of being diagnosed with certain cancers due to exposure while on the job. By identifying specific cancers in the statute that has been proven to cause cancer, Senate Bill 2551 reduces the hurdles and ambiguity faced by our firefighters when they are fighting for the benefits they have earned.”

Senate Bill 2551 amends the Government Code and the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, Labor Code, “to specify the types of cancers for which a firefighter or emergency medical technician who suffers from cancer resulting in death or total or partial disability is presumed to have developed during the course and scope of employment,” according to the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives. 

“Senate Bill 2551, among other provisions, revises the presumptive standard used to determine an insurance carrier’s liability for such a person’s work-related disease or illness. The bill authorizes a political subdivision or pool of political subdivisions that self-insure to establish for the payment of workers’ compensation death benefits and lifetime income benefits an account whose assets may be invested in the interest of its beneficiaries,” the House Research Organization bill analysis further stated.

John Riddle, President of the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters, reflected on how Senate Bill 2551 was important.

He thanked Hinojosa and Burrows “for their recognition of and commitment to help fix problems with the workers’ compensation system,” Riddle said. “Their leadership and the passage of Senate Bill 2551 is an important step forward. Because of them and the efforts of Texas firefighters, Senate Bill 2551 is the first real worker’s compensation reform since 2005 when the state cancer presumptive act for firefighters and EMTs was enacted.”

https://www.tsaff.org/images/phocadownload/TSAFF_Newsletter_QTR2_2019.pdf

Hinojosa was the author of Senate Bill 2551; Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, was the primary sponsor of the measure in the House of Representatives.

As the author a Senate Bill 2551, Hinojosa is the legislator who filed the bill and guided 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.

As the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 2551, Burrows is the legislator who guided Senate Bill 2551through 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.

Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, was a joint sponsor of Senate Bill 2551.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Alex Domínguez, D-Brownsville were cosponsors of Senate Bill 2551.

A cosponsor is a legislator who joins with the primary sponsor to guide a bill or resolution through the legislative process in the opposite chamber. A cosponsor must be a member of the opposite chamber from the one in which the measure was filed.

In its bill analysis of the Hinojosa/Burrows legislation when it was considered during a May 20, 2019, public hearing of the House Committee on Public Health, the House Research Organization provided the following additional details of Senate Bill 2551:

Background

Government Code ch. 607 subch. B establishes the presumption that firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who contracted certain medical conditions leading to death or partial or total disability have done so during the course and scope of employment.

Sec 607.052(a) establishes that this presumption applies only to those who had received, after becoming a firefighter or EMT, a physical examination that failed to reveal evidence of the illness or disease for which benefits or compensation were sought; who had been employed for five or more years as a firefighter or EMT; and who had sought benefits or compensation for a disease or illness that was discovered during employment as a firefighter or emergency medical technician.

Sec. 607.055 establishes that the presumption applies in the case of cancer resulting in death or total or partial disability if:

• The firefighter or EMT regularly responded on the scene to calls involving fires or firefighting or regularly responded to an event involving the documented release of radiation or a known or suspected carcinogen; and

• The type of cancer is known to be associated with fire fighting or exposure to heat, smoke, radiation, or a known or suspected carcinogen, as determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Some have called for the state to bring greater clarity to the law governing workers’ compensation claims arising from cancer suffered by a firefighter or emergency medical technician.

Digest

CSSB 2551 would modify the criteria for determining whether a firefighter or emergency medical technician (EMT) who suffered from cancer was presumed to have developed cancer during the course and scope of employment. The presumption would apply to:

• Cancer that originated at the stomach, colon, rectum, skin, prostate, testis, or brain;
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma;
• Multiple myeloma;
• Malignant melanoma; and
• Renal cell carcinoma.

For determining whether the presumption applied, the bill would remove the criterion that the type of cancer was known to be associated with firefighting or exposure to heat, smoke, radiation, or a known or suspected carcinogen, as determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

MCALLEN AWARDED ALMOST $350,000 STATE GRANT FROM FLOOD INFRASTRUCTURE FUND BY TEXAS WATER DEVELOPMENT BOARD

On Thursday, December 19, 2019, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), at their regularly scheduled board meeting in Austin, allocated $349,606.25 from the Flood Infrastructure Fund to McAllen to meet its local match requirement for the federal funds previously awarded under FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance grant program.

FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is an agency of theUnited States Department of Homeland Security, initially created by Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 and implemented by two Executive Orders on April 1, 1979, according to Wikipedia. The agency’s primary purpose is to coordinate the response to a disaster that has occurred in the United States and that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Emergency_Management_Agency

In May 2018, FEMA had accepted McAllen’s application for a federal grant of $1,048,818.75 for a drainage mitigation project. The federal grant provided through this assistance is funded through FEMA and then distributed by the TWDB. 

However, the grant program can require up to a 25 percent local match from the city in order to receive the federal funds. In some circumstances, cities are unable to provide the local match which results in federal dollars going unused or reallocated to other states.

During the 86th Texas Legislature, several bills were passed related to funding flood mitigation projects. 

As Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was instrumental in securing funding to help local communities plan for future flood events. 

Hinojosa was a coauthor of Senate Bill 500, which authorized a one-time transfer of $793 million from the “Rainy Day” Fund to the Flood Infrastructure Fund created under another bill coauthored by Hinojosa, Senate Bill 7. 

Using the Flood Infrastructure Fund, the Legislature authorized the Texas Water Development Board to use the funds to provide eligible political subdivisions with grants to satisfy the local match requirements in a federal program for flood projects. 

As a result of the action taken in mid-December 2019 by the Texas Water Development Board, the City of McAllen and its taxpayers will not have the financial burden to meet its local match requirement to receive the federal funds previously approved by FEMA.

“I was proud to support the funding that allows the state to provide grants for our local governmental entities that will help cover the local match requirement for federal funding. The flooding events we have had the past few years show how vulnerable our communities remain to flooding,” Hinojosa said. “I commend McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, the city commission, and their staff for applying for this federal grant for a drainage mitigation project. I am pleased the state is doing its part to eliminate the burden of the local match to provide flood control for our communities.”

Hinojosa represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Property Tax; Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture; and Select Committees on Redistricting and Texas Ports.

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David A. Díaz contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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