FEATURED: Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, successfully carried legislation through the Texas House of Representatives during Spring 2021 to develop a plan that will combine federal and state inspections of commercial vehicle traffic that travels through Texas’ ports of entry.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
New law sponsored by Rep. Martínez, authored by Sen. Blanco, paving the way for more efficiency in the movement of hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade between Texas and Mexico
Legislation to develop a plan to combine federal and state inspections of commercial vehicle traffic that travels through Texas’ ports of entry went into effect on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, paving the way for more efficiency in the movement of hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade between Texas and Mexico, according to Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco.
Legislation is a proposed or enacted law or group of laws.
Ports of Entry are officially designated areas at U.S. land borders, seaports, and airports which are approved by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Texas currently has 29 official U.S. ports of entry, more than any other state, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
Senate Bill 1907, sponsored by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, requires the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to consult with the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety of the State of Texas to conduct a study on colocated federal and state inspection facilities at ports of entry in Texas.
Colocated inspections are those which are conducted at the same location. Colocation has been effectively used at ports of entry in Arizona and California to cut down border wait times for commercial vehicles and improve efficient cross-border trade.
As a sponsor of Senate Bill 1907, Martínez is the legislator who guided the measure 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.
File is a term used to refer to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.
Sen. César J. Blanco, D-El Paso, is the author of the Senate Bill 1907.
As the author of the bill, Blanco is the legislator who filed the bill and guided it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Texas 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.
“All vehicle traffic that passes through Texas’ ports of entry is subject to inspection. Many states, including Texas, have their own inspection processes and requirements which differ from the inspections required under federal law,” Blanco said. “Therefore, commercial vehicles go through two separate inspections when crossing from Mexico into Texas at ports of entry.”
According to the Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan, which was presented on Thursday, December 10, 2020, to the Texas Transportation Commission:
Border inspection processes among multiple federal and state agencies are currently disjointed (disconnected), impacting total border crossing time efficiency.
For instance, a commercial motor vehicle crossing from Mexico into Texas may undergo up to five separate inspections:
• At U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Customs and Border Protection facilities;
• At Texas Department of Public Safety facilities;
• At weigh-in-motion stations to ensure weight limit compliance;
• At inspection facilities for specialized goods (such as produce); and
• Potentially with border patrol inspections (not always encountered).
All this contributes to total crossing times, especially when these processes cause bottlenecks at inspection points.
The Texas Department of Transportation, in collaboration and partnership with the Border Trade Advisory Committee, worked with binational federal, state, regional, and private sector stakeholders to undertake the development of the Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan.
The Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan is a comprehensive, multimodal, binational plan that identifies transportation issues, needs, challenges, and opportunities, and strategies of moving people and goods across the border and in the border regions and beyond. The Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan developed potential transportation investment strategies that support binational, state, regional, and local economic competitiveness.
During his prepared remarks delivered on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, before the House Committee on Transportation, Martínez also emphasized the economic importance of Texas’ ports of entry.’
“Trade with Mexico is an important component of the Texas economy. According to the United States Department of Commerce, trade between Mexico and Texas totaled $441.9 billion in 2019. This trade supports about 463,132 jobs and thousands of small businesses and manufacturers. All signs point to trade with Mexico continuing to increase over the coming decades,” Martínez stated. “The efficiency of the ports of entry between Texas and Mexico is therefore crucial for Texas’ economic future.”
A committee is a group of legislators appointed by the presiding officer of the house or the senate to which proposed legislation is referred or a specific task is assigned.
A bill analysis prepared by the House Research Organization provided additional information about Senate Bill 1907.
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.
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 House Research Organization 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 bill analysis, published on Saturday, May 22, 2021, follows:
HOUSE RESEARCH ORGANIZATION
Senate Bill 1907:
(2nd reading) Blanco (Martínez)
Commissioning a study on colocation of certain vehicle inspections
Transportation – favorable, without amendment
12 ayes — Canales, E. Thompson, Ashby, Bucy, Harris, Landgraf, Lozano, Martínez, Ortega, Pérez, Rogers, Smithee
1 absent — Davis
On final passage, April 29 — 31-0, on Local and Uncontested Calendar None
Senate Bill 1907 requires the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, in consultation with the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety, to conduct a feasibility study on erecting and maintaining a colocated federal and state inspection facility at each port of entry in Texas for the inspection of motor vehicles for compliance with federal and state commercial motor vehicle regulations.
The study would have to include a summary of:
• Past efforts by the Department of Public Safety and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to maintain colocated federal and state inspection facilities at each port of entry;
• Any current efforts to colocate or separate federal and state inspection facilities at ports of entry in other states;
• Current wait times at inspection facilities at each port of entry;
• Current priorities and expectations of the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety regarding motor vehicle inspections at ports of entry;
• The perspectives of the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety on the advantages and disadvantages of colocated federal and state inspection facilities; and
• The perspective of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on the advantages and disadvantages of colocated federal and state inspection facilities, as solicited by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
The study also requires the following elements to be included:
• Potential scenarios for the colocation of federal and state inspection facilities at each port of entry in Texas and an analysis of each scenario’s advantages and disadvantages;
• An analysis of potential economic benefits of colocating federal and state inspection facilities at each port of entry; and
• An analysis of the potential effects of colocating federal and state inspection facilities at each port of entry on wait times at inspection facilities.
In conducting the study, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute is required to solicit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration perspective on the advantages and disadvantages of colocated federal and state inspection facilities.
Before the study is completed, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute shall contact the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to arrange receipt of the report. By December 1, 2022, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute will report the study’s results and any recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the manner and format requested by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute will submit by Thursday, December 1, 2022, to the Legislature a report on the results of the study and any recommendations for legislative or other action.
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute is required to implement the bill’s provisions only if the Legislature appropriated money specifically for that purpose. If the Legislature did not appropriate money for that purpose, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute could, but would not be required to, implement the bill’s provisions using other appropriations available.
The estimated cost of the study is approximately $300,000 (three hundred thousand dollars), according to a bill analysis of Senate Bill 1907.
The bill, which took effect on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, and its provisions will expire on Sunday, January 1, 2023.
Senate Bill 1907 would require a study to explore potential efficiencies for the colocation of federal and state inspection facilities at each port of entry in Texas. Trade between Mexico and Texas totals hundreds of billions of dollars annually and is only expected to increase, making the efficiency of the ports of entry between Texas and Mexico crucial for Texas’ economic future.
Commercial vehicle traffic that currently passes through ports of entry in Texas is subject to separate federal and state inspections, leading to long wait times and less efficient cross-border trade. California and Arizona have had success with colocation strategies for federal and state inspections at ports of entry. The feasibility study proposed by Senate Bill 1907 could set Texas on a similar path to more efficient trade at the border.
No concerns were identified.
The House companion bill, House Bill 4201 by Martínez, was considered by the House Transportation Committee in a public hearing on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, reported favorably as substituted on May 4, and placed on the General State Calendar for May 12.
A companion bill is a bill filed in one chamber that is identical or very similar to a bill filed in the opposite chamber. Companion bills are used to expedite passage, as they provide a means for committee consideration of a measure to occur in both chambers simultaneously. A companion bill that has passed one chamber can then be substituted for the companion bill in the opposite chamber.
As trade between Mexico and Texas amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars annually and only continues to increase, the efficiency of Texas-Mexico ports of entry proves crucial for Texas’ economic outlook. Commercial vehicle traffic moving through ports of entry in Texas currently remains subject to separate federal and state inspections, resulting in extensive wait times and less efficient cross-border trade.
California and Arizona north experienced success implementing colocation strategies for federal and state inspections at ports of entry.
JOHN HABERMANN, RESEARCH ENGINEER WITH TEXAS A&M TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE, LEADS TEAM THAT RECOMMENDED WAYS THAT TRANSPORTATION PROFESSIONALS CAN HELP END HUMAN TRAFFICKING
John Habermann, Texas A&M Transportation Institute research engineer, recently co-authored the article“The Contribution of State and Local DOTs to Disrupting Human Trafficking” in the June 2021 issue of the ITE Journal.
The publication reaches nearly 16,000 subscribers and Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) members.
The article defines human trafficking as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of financial gain through labor and/or sex, essentially as slaves.”
According to Habermann and his coauthors, in 2016, some 400,000 people were “living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States alone.”
Roadways, terminals, stations, and vehicles are often the first places where victims are recognized by those looking to exploit them. The team traces where human trafficking intersects with transportation and recommends ways for transportation professionals to help end the practice.
For example, local or state departments of transportation can aid human trafficking prevention in this early stage by
• Increasing awareness of what human trafficking is;
• Conducting routine training on preventive measures;
• Partnering or assisting regionally to intervene; and
• Collecting frontline data to help other agencies join the fight.
As indicated by that last bullet, not only can transportation professionals help effect immediate change related to human trafficking, but they can also contribute to developing future counter-trafficking tools and strategies. The article points to examples where state transportation departments have already embraced these roles. For example, Texas has “laws requiring state transportation department employees to be trained in awareness and indicators of human trafficking.”
The Federal Transit Administration wants to improve training and awareness materials to help with crime prevention, including human trafficking, in transit facilities.
“Over the next year and a half, Texas A&M Transportation Institute will develop outreach materials and training curricula geared at increasing awareness at transit facilities about human trafficking led by Zach Elgart with support from Lisa Minjares-Kyle and Troy Walden,” said Habermann. “What once was a community-involvement activity for me has developed into a passionate research area in my Texas A&M Transportation Institute work.”
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute is an agency of the State of Texas and a member of the Texas A&M University System. For 70 years, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute has addressed complex transportation challenges and opportunities with innovation, objectivity, and unmatched technical expertise. Its staff delivers excellence, value, and thought leadership to ensure our research sponsors achieve their goals.
“It’s important to me to try to learn more about how my professional discipline can help disrupt and eventually end this reprehensible practice. Pursuing this was only possible through the support of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute leadership and Texas A&M Transportation Institute s commitment to contribute to a safe transportation system for all users including those marginalized by illicit activities.”
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute 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).