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Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant by Rep. Guerra, Rep. Guillén, and Rep. Muñoz – which helps speed up safe, efficient entry of majority of Mexican farming products into U.S. through the Pharr International Bridge – approved for continuation by the House of Representatives - Titans of the Texas Legislature

FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernández; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Sergio Contreras, President and CEO, Rio Grande Valley Partnership. On Saturday, March 27, 2021, Pharr city leaders welcomed Texas’ two U.S. senators along with 19 other U.S. senators to get a firsthand view of the Pharr International Bridge, which recently received a Presidential Permit amendment approved by then-President Donald Trump for the second span expansion of the bridge.

Photograph Courtesy CITY OF PHARR FACEBOOK

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Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant by Rep. Guerra, Rep. Guillén, and Rep. Muñoz – which helps speed up safe, efficient entry of majority of Mexican farming products into U.S. through the Pharr International Bridge – approved for continuation by the House of Representatives 

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

The Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program, authored by Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, which helps speed up the safe and efficient entry of Mexican farming products into the United States through the Pharr International Bridge, has been approved to continue through September 1, 2025 by the House of Representatives.

As author of House Bill 1371, Guerra is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).

The Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program reduces the potential financial harm to Texas businesses caused by backups at border agricultural inspection sites and increases access to fresh produce throughout Texas and the nation, according to a bill analysis of House Bill 1371, which was filed by Guerra.

In 2019, Texas crossed nearly 230,000 truckloads of fresh produce. That is a growth of more than 127 percent since 2007, and is in-line with growth projections that show the industry continuing to grow for the next several decades. The Pharr International Bridge was responsible for handling nearly 80 percent of that volume, and continues to hold the position as the bridge which crosses the most fresh produce loads annually in the United States.

“The objective of this program is to reduce wait times for agricultural inspections on the Texas-Mexico border,” Guerra testified before the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock on Thursday, April 1, 2021. “Now is the time to extend this vital program, which has contributed to increased trade between Texas and Mexico.”

The House of Representatives passed House Bill 1371 on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, and the measure is now in the Senate.

Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, are joint authors of House Bill 1371.

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.

The measure was heard by the Senate Committee on Transportation, which includes Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. House Bill 1371 must still be approved by that committee and by the Senate, and not be opposed by the governor, before it can become state law.

“Many, many of the vegetables that we eat every day, all across the state, across the U.S., come across the border. It’s a huge, huge area that contributes tremendously to not only trade, but economic benefits to the state and to many of our farmers,” Guerra explained during his testimony on Thursday, April 1, 2021 before the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock. “Many of the farmers here in the United States and Texas also have farms in Mexico with the cooperation with the government.”

While Texas has been the nation’s top exporting state for well over a decade, many Texas agricultural producers operate on both sides of the border. These producers depend on imports throughout the year to help supplement their domestic operations and provide a variety of fresh foods for consumers.

During peak days and hours of commerce, the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program provides funding for additional agricultural inspectors to help border authorities expedite the inspection process. This helps products move across the border quickly and safely, and reduces the amount of spoiled goods, the House District 41 state lawmaker said.

“Agricultural goods comprise a sizable portion of Texas-Mexico trade,” said Guerra. “Perishable agricultural goods are particularly vulnerable to long wait times at the borders. I know this because I had seen it, and damage to these goods results in millions of dollars in lost revenue.”

The City of Pharr continues to be an economic engine for the region, with one of the busiest land ports of entry in this state and in the nation, Tony Martínez, Vice Chair, Pharr International Bridge, said during his testimony on Thursday, April 1, 2021 before the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock on Thursday, April 1, 2021. “

“Currently, the Pharr International Bridge ranks third in the nation for trade with Mexico as the seventh-largest, fastest growing land port of entry nationally, with the bridge now crossing 65 percent of the nation’s produce imported from Mexico, and over $36 billion in annual trade,” said Martínez. “It’s vital that our leaders continue to advocate our needs in relation to inspection inefficiencies.”

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, is the sponsor of House Bill 1371, while Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is a cosponsor of House Bill 1371.

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.

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.

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.

“File” is used to refer to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number. 

A bill analysis is a document prepared for all bills and joint resolutions reported out of committee. A bill analysis may include background information on the measure, a statement of purpose or intent, and an analysis of the content of the measure.

A bill analysis of House Bill 1371 was developed by the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives.

The House Research Organization is a nonpartisan independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation and issues before the Texas Legislature. The HRO is governed by a broadly representative steering committee of 15 House members elected by the House membership to set policy for the organization, approve its budget, and ensure that its reports are objective.

The House Research Organization’s bill analysis of House Bill 1371 follows:

Subject: 

Continuing the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program until 2025

Committee:  

Agriculture and Livestock

Vote:  

— favorable, without amendment 9 ayes — Burns, Anderson, Bailes, Cole, Cyrier, Guillen, Herrero, Rosenthal, Toth

0 nays

Witnesses:

For — Tony Martínez, Pharr International Bridge; Dante Galeazzi, Texas International Produce Association; (Registered, but did not testify: Cynthia Garza-Reyes and Michael Vargas, City of Pharr and Pharr International Bridge; J Pete Laney, Texas Citrus Mutual)

Against — None

On — (Registered, but did not testify: Dan Hunter, Texas Department of Agriculture)

Background:

Agriculture Code sec. 12.050 establishes the Trade Agricultural Grant Program and authorizes the Texas Department of Agriculture to partner with a nonprofit organization to assist in performing agricultural inspections on products entering from Mexico. The nonprofit organization is chosen through a competitive bidding process and is required to match all state funds granted.

Digest: 

House Bill 1371 would extend the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant program until September 1, 2025. The Texas Department of Agriculture would be required to evaluate the performance of the program and submit a report to the Legislature containing certain information relating to that performance by January 15, 2025.

This bill would take immediate effect if finally passed by a two-thirds record vote of the membership of each house. Otherwise, it would take effect September 1, 2021.

Supporters say:

House Bill 1371 would allow the proven benefits of the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program to continue until 2025. This program reduces the potential financial harm to Texas businesses caused by backups at border agricultural inspection sites and increases access to fresh produce throughout Texas and the nation.

Long wait times at federal inspection sites can have a detrimental impact on the quality of produce brought across the border and can disrupt a crucial component of the state’s food industry. The loss of imported produce can have serious repercussions across Texas, and the perishable nature of these products creates an urgent need for methods that decrease wait times for inspections at border crossings. 

The state has found the grant program to be an effective method to address this issue. Partnering with a nonprofit organization chosen through a competitive bidding process based on the organization’s proven experience working with border authorities and ability to match state funds effectively supplements existing inspection programs and should be allowed to continue.

To ensure effective implementation of the program, $725,000 could be made available to the Texas Department of Agriculture through a rider in Art. 11 of Senate Bill 1 by Nelson (Bonnen), the general appropriations act.

Critics say:

House Bill 1371 would continue the Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program, a useful tool in the effort to reduce inspection wait times for agricultural products at the border, but appropriations would need to be made in support of the program to accomplish the bill’s goals.

Notes:

According to a Legislative Budget Board estimate, the bill would have a negative impact of $500,000 on general revenue related funds through the biennium ending August 31, 2023.

TEXAS WATER DEVELOPMENT BOARD APPROVES FUNDING FOR CITY OF ALTON FROM FLOOD INFRASTRUCTURE FUND, ANNOUNCES SEN. HINOJOSA

The Texas Water Development Board on Thursday, May 6, 2021 approved a project application from the City of Alton for financial assistance through the Flood Infrastructure Fund for the North Stewart Boulevard Drainage Improvement Project. 

The proposed project will also reduce flood risk, improve roadways and travel conditions, improve water quality, and reduce infiltration and inflow to the wastewater collection system during flood events.

The project’s foreseen completion is July 15, 2024.

Following storms in June 2018, the city experienced flooding of roadways and structures that lasted for several days – resulting in several areas receiving between 10 to 15 inches of rainfall. 

The city qualified for a $2.975 million grant under the Flood Infrastructure Fund equal to 35 percent of the total project cost of $8.5 million. The remaining 65 percent, equal to $5.525 million will be in Flood Infrastructure Fund financing.

“The City of Alton has been proactive in addressing flooding problems over the past five years by seeking funding through our state programs. I appreciate the continued efforts of Mayor Salvador Vela and the city commissioners to improve their flood infrastructure in areas that experienced severe flooding following the June 2018 storms,” Hinojosa said. “I commend the City of Alton for taking advantage of this great opportunity available under the Flood Infrastructure Fund program. The city and its citizens will greatly benefit due to these investments.”  

The 2019 Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 7, which created the Flood Infrastructure Fund program to provide funding for flood mitigation (relief) projects. 

The Flood Infrastructure Fund program provides financial assistance in the form of loans with an interest rate of 0 percent and grants for flood control, flood mitigation, and drainage projects. 

As Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, and as a co-author of Senate Bill 500 during the 86th Legislative Session in 2019, Hinojosa was instrumental in securing funding to start the Flood Infrastructure Fund program through a one-time transfer of $793 million from the state’s Economic Development Fund, more commonly known as the “Rainy Day” Fund.

As of Friday, January 29, 2021, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glen Hegar estimated the the state’s Rainy Day Fund would have nearly $11.6 billion.

Texans approved a constitutional amendment creating the Economic Development Fund (“Rainy Day” Fund) in 1988, following an oil price plunge and economic recession that forced lawmakers to raise taxes to keep state government in the black. 

The Legislature structured the fund to automatically set aside some tax revenues in boom years to help the state during downturns. Subsequent legislation and another constitutional amendment made further changes to its funding mechanisms.

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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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