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Rio Grande Valley School of Law plan unanimously approved by House Committee on Higher Education, awaiting date for vote by full House of Representatives

FEATURED: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, participates in an announcement on Thursday, January 23, 2020, providing details on a donation of more than $100,000 from AT&T for a pilot program to help low-income students at South Texas College to become first-responders through STC’s Regional Center for Public Excellence, located at 3100 S. Cage Boulevard in Pharr.

Photograph By PETER SALINAS

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Rio Grande Valley School of Law plan unanimously approved by House Committee on Higher Education, awaiting date for vote by full House of Representatives

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

A proposed Rio Grande Valley School of Law, authored by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, on Thursday, April 1, 2021, was unanimously approved by the House Committee on Higher Education.

House Bill 695 by Martínez calls on the Texas Legislature to begin the process that would lead to the establishment of a public law school in Hidalgo County or Cameron County, with state funding authorized to begin September 1, 2027, for the operation and maintenance of that law school.

A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both chambers (House of Representatives and the Senate) of the Legislature and action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state. “Bill” types include Senate and House bills, Senate and House Joint Resolutions, Senate and House concurrent resolutions, and Senate and House resolutions.

A committee is a group of legislators appointed by the presiding officer of the House of Representatives or the Senate to which proposed legislation is referred or a specific task is assigned.

Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, who is the only Valley state representative on that committee, made the successful motion calling on his fellow members on the House Committee on Higher Education to support House Bill 695.

As the author, Martínez is the legislator who filed House Bill 695 and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). 

“I am proud to present House Bill 695,” he said. “This bill aims to establish a long-overdue law school in the Rio Grande Valley, and will provide educational equity (fairness) and opportunity in the South Texas region.”

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, are also key supporters of House Bill 695, serving as joint authors of the measure. 

A joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution – in the case of House Bill 695 – to join in the authorship of the measure and have his or her name shown following the primary author’s name (Martínez ) on official printings of the measure, on calendars, and in the journal. The primary author may authorize up to four joint authors.

House Bill 695 will be sent to one of the two House calendars committees, whose members decide if and when legislation is scheduled for review and a vote by the full House of Representatives.

https://tlc.texas.gov/docs/legref/Glossary.pdf

LANGUAGE OF HOUSE BILL 695 FOR ACTION IN 2021

The process and timetable for the proposed Rio Grande Valley School of Law provided by House Bill 695, if approved in its current language, by the 87th Texas Legislature follows:

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A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT

relating to the establishment of a public law school in the Rio Grande Valley.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1.  Subchapter C, Chapter 61, Education Code, is amended by adding Section 61.0905 to read as follows:

Sec. 61.0905.  RIO GRANDE VALLEY SCHOOL OF LAW.  (a)  The governing board of a university system may establish and operate, as a professional school of the system, a school of law in Cameron County or Hidalgo County as the governing board considers appropriate.

(b)  In administering the law school, the governing board may prescribe courses leading to customary degrees offered at other leading American schools of law and may award those degrees.

(c)  The governing board may assign responsibility for the management of the law school to a general academic teaching institution in the university system.

(d)  The governing board may accept and administer gifts and grants from any public or private person or entity for the use and benefit of the law school. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the establishment of a law school under this section is subject to the availability of funding, either through appropriation or from another source.

(e)  The governing board of a university system that intends to establish a law school under this section shall notify the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. If the coordinating board receives notification under this subsection from more than one governing board, the coordinating board shall determine which of those governing boards may establish a law school under this section.  The coordinating board must base the determination on the need for a law school in a geographic area, potential student demand, available system resources, the feasibility of the specific proposal of each system, and other criteria the coordinating board considers appropriate.

(f)  Before the governing board establishes a law school under this section, the governing board shall request the coordinating board to prepare a feasibility study to determine the actions the system must take to obtain accreditation of the law school.  The coordinating board shall deliver a copy of the study to the governing board and to the chair of each legislative standing committee with jurisdiction over higher education.

SECTION 2.  For the purposes of Section 61.0905, Education Code, as added by this Act, no state funds may be appropriated for a state fiscal biennium ending on or before August 31, 2027.

SECTION 3.  This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution.  If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2021.

EXPANSION OF HIGH-SPEED INTERNET ACCESS TO MILLIONS OF TEXANS APPROVED ON WEDNESDAY MARCH 31, 2021 BY THE SENATE, ANNOUNCES SEN. HINOJOSA

The Texas Senate on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, passed Senate Bill 5, whose author is Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and which is co-authored by Sen.  Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, relating to the expansion of broadband services. 

The term broadband refers to high-speed Internet access.

As an author, Nichols is the legislator who filed Senate Bill 5 and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). 

As a coauthor, Hinojosa is authorized by the primary author of a bill  – in this case Nichols – or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure.

“Passing broadband expansion legislation is one of my priorities this session. Having access to the Internet is no longer a luxury or convenience, it is a necessity,” Hinojosa said. “Not having access to broadband at home prevents many from being able to telework, have access to virtual schooling, or be able to take advantage of telemedicine appointments.” 

Telework is a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform work, during any part of regular, paid hours, at an approved alternative worksite (e.g., home, telework center).  It is an important tool for achieving a resilient and results-oriented workforce.  At its core, telework is people doing their work at locations different from where they would normally be doing it. 

https://www.telework.gov/about/

A virtual school or cyber-school describes an institution that teaches courses entirely or primarily through the Internet.

Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology, such as the Internet.

“Senate Bill 5 gets us closer to ensuring all Texans have access to broadband and I appreciate that affordability is one of the goals of the State Broadband Plan,” Hinojosa continued. “With millions of federal dollars allocated for broadband, it is important that all levels of government are working together to maximize the use of these funds as we work to connect all our communities to broadband services.”

According to the Governor’s Broadband Development Council 2020 Texas Report, only 67.6 percent of Texas households subscribe to fixed broadband services such as DSL, cable, or fiber at home. 

What’s more, Hinojosa said, Texas is one of six states that does not have a state broadband plan.

Senate Bill 5 as passed by the Senate would create the State Broadband Development Office and establishes a board of twelve advisors to oversee and provide guidance to the State Broadband Development Office. 

The legislation requires one of the appointees to be a resident of South Texas. 

Legislation is a proposed or enacted (approved) law or group of laws.

Further, the State Broadband Development Office would serve as a resource for information regarding broadband service in the state, and engage in outreach to communities regarding the expansion, adoption, and affordability of broadband services. 

Additionally, the State Broadband Development Office will serve as an information clearinghouse regarding federal programs that provide assistance to local entities with respect to broadband service. 

The State Broadband Development Office will also prepare a state broadband plan that establishes long-term goals for greater access to, affordability, and adoption of broadband service.

Senate Bill 5 will now be considered by the Texas House of Representatives who also has a broadband proposal, House Bill 5. The differences between the two proposals will likely be consolidated in a conference committee before a final bill on this issue is sent to the governor’s desk.

Nichols told colleagues that the pandemic has shown that access to broadband internet has become a necessity in modern life. 

“We’ve learned in the last year that children cannot learn, employees can’t work, businesses can’t run, and access to healthcare is severely limited without broadband,” Nichols said. “Though most Texans have broadband, Nichols said there are still a million who have no access and another three million who can’t afford the service.

Senate Bill 5 would create a special department within the University of Texas system. 

This office would create new maps of broadband coverage in the state in order to pinpoint where fewer than 80 percent of households have access to broadband internet. The office would be empowered to create a program that would offer grants and low-interest loans to incentivize expansion in underserved areas. 

This office would also be charged with developing a statewide broadband plan, working with industry representatives and other stakeholders, to help draw down more federal funds and develop a strategy to ensure all Texans have high-speed broadband internet. Nichols said he couldn’t give a fair estimate of the cost of this program until the mapping process is complete.

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Texas Senate News 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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