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Featured: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, participated at the Texas Capitol in a joint meeting of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee and the Senate and Water Resources Committee. Featured, back row, from left, are: Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper; Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney; Sen. Peter Flores, R-Pleasanton; Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills: and Zaffirini, who is Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. Front row, from left, are: Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston; Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas; Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; and Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.

Featured: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, participated at the Texas Capitol in a joint meeting of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee and the Senate and Water Resources Committee. Featured, back row, from left, are Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper; Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney; Sen. Peter Flores, R-Pleasanton; Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills: and Zaffirini, who is Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. Front row, from left, are Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston; Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas; Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; and Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso. 

Photograph by SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

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Sen. Zaffirini appointed to key Senate committees; UT System regents approve plan for a medical school at UT Health Science Center at Tyler

By SARAH POLLOCK

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, was appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve on the Senate Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Higher Education, replacing Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who recently announced he would be resigning on April 30, 2020, from the Texas Senate.

Watson is leaving the Texas Senate after being named on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, as Founding Dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs, which is part of the University of Houston.

Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet scheduled the special election, which could take place as early as May 2, 2020, the Austin American Statesman reported in early March 2020.

“I am grateful to Lt. Gov. Patrick for the opportunity to serve again as a member of these important committees,” Zaffirini said. “Promoting excellence within — and increasing access to — Texas’ institutions of higher learning always has been my passion, and I have long understood that the path to a college degree begins with quality early childhood education. We passed significant measures during the last legislative session that increased teacher salaries and promoted safety and transparency at our public schools and universities. We must build on this success if we are to ensure Texas has the best systems of public and higher education and all students achieve their academic goals.”

Zaffirini joins Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on the Senate Committee on Education. 

Lucio is Vice-Chair of that 11-member legislative panel. 

As the state senator whose Senate District 21 includes Starr County, Zaffirini is the only Valley legislator who now has a seat on the Senate Committee on Higher Education.

An educator with 13 years of teaching experience, including at the college and university levels, Zaffirini now serves on seven Senate committees. She is Vice-Chair of the Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee as well as the Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety. She also is a member of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, the Senate Committee on State Affairs, and the Senate Committee on Administration.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House (Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton), my legislative colleagues, education leaders, students and everyone interested in championing excellence for all Texas institutions of public and higher education,” Zaffirini said. “I also urge my constituents to share their experiences, concerns, and ideas for legislation during the interim as we prepare for the 2021 legislative session. Texas has some of the best schools, colleges, and universities in the nation, and their continued success is critical to the future of our great state.”

UT SYSTEM BOARD OF REGENTS GIVE GREEN LIGHT TO TYLER MEDICAL SCHOOL

The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday, February 27, 2020, unanimously approved a proposal to establish a medical school at the UT Health Science Center at Tyler. The school will be the first of its kind in Northeast Texas, providing a pathway for students to receive a comprehensive medical education there, and extending access to patient care, especially for individuals living in rural areas of the region.

The UT System and UT Health Science Center at Tyler are now authorized to work with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Legislature and other licensing and accrediting agencies to bring the school to fruition. An $80 million gift already has been secured to partially address planning and operational costs associated with the establishment of the medical school, which UT leaders hope will open in the fall of 2023.

“A medical school in Tyler is perfectly aligned with the Board of Regents’ commitment that Texans have access to quality education and health care, regardless where they reside,” Board Chairman Kevin P. Eltife said. “This important decision by the Board is a reflection, to a great extent, of the efforts of many community, business, and health care leaders and elected officials who have been deeply invested in Northeast Texas and worked tirelessly for years to bring a UT medical school to Tyler.”

Vice-Chairman Janiece Longoria, who also chairs the Board’s Health Affairs Committee, said that the medical school would play a critical role in allowing aspiring physicians from Northeast Texas to not only train there but to live and practice, too. 

Longoria is a daughter of the late Sen. Raul Longoria, D-Pharr.

“UT students in Tyler and surrounding areas will now be able to earn their undergraduate and medical degrees in one locale, and then remain in the region to live, build their careers and deliver high-quality health care,” Longoria said. “That’s good news for the entire state.”

“It’s a watershed time for Northeast Texas,” UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “UT institutions in Tyler, which have played a critical role in the region’s education, health, and economic infrastructure for decades, are now on the cusp of yet another great leap forward.”

The Board’s approval of the medical school – which would be the seventh in the UT System – marked yet another significant milestone among a cascade of recent major events in Northeast Texas to boost the impact of higher education and health care there.

In 2018, UT Health Science Center at Tyler joined with Ardent Health Services and the East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System to create a regional network of hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, freestanding emergency centers, and urgent care facilities, now called the UT Health East Texas Health System. As a result of that partnership, UT Health Science Center at Tyler is adding 200 new residency slots to expand the pipeline of physicians who complete their training in East Texas hospitals with hopes that they’ll remain there to practice medicine.

In November 2019, the Board of Regents allocated $95 million in Permanent University Fund proceeds for UT Tyler and UT Health Science Center Tyler to construct two facilities to accelerate high-quality health education and health care in Northeast Texas. The allocation is the single largest PUF appropriation awarded to Tyler at one time.

Then in December, Regents authorized the integration of talent and assets at UT Tyler and UT Health Science Center at Tyler to create a unified institution to enhance education, research and clinical delivery for the region. An operational team composed of leadership from both Tyler institutions, the UT System and a community advisory board, is working to move that plan forward.

Earlier in February 2020, leaders from the UT System, UT Health Science Center at Tyler and UT Tyler joined together to announce the intention to launch a medical school. And less than a week later, UT Health Science Center at Tyler announced a commitment of $80 million from the East Texas Medical Center Foundation to help establish the medical school.

“The sustained investment in our region, particularly over the last several years, has been extraordinary,” said Kirk A. Calhoun, president of the UT Health Science Center at Tyler. “We are profoundly grateful to the Board of Regents and UT System for recognizing both the need and the potential in Northeast Texas and for making it possible for a long-time vision to become a reality.”

About The University of Texas System

For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research, and health care. With 14 institutions, an enrollment of nearly 240,000 students and an operating budget of $21.1 billion (FY 2020), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. UT institutions produce more than 60,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and more than half of its health professional degrees. 

Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 8.2 million outpatient visits and 1.6 million hospital days last year. Across UT institutions, research and development expenditures total $2.9 billion – the highest in Texas and second highest in the nation among public higher education systems – and the UT System is regularly ranked among the top 10 most innovative universities in the world. 

The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and more than 83,000 health care professionals, researchers and support staff.

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Karen Adler 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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