Featured: Rose Benavidez, Member, Board of Trustees, South Texas College, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, in the underground annex of the Texas Capitol, during Community College Day on Thursday, February 3, 2015.
Photograph By PETER SALINAS
Pharr could soon see construction begin on the South Texas Regional Center for Public Safety, to be located on a 113.9 site located between U.S. Highway 281 and South Veterans Boulevard, as a result of House Bill 1887 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission. On Tuesday, January 26, 2016 (today), the STC Board of Regents are scheduled to review and approve an interlocal agreement with the City of Pharr and the Pharr San Juan Alamo Independent School District that will see the landmark complex take shape, and with it, improve the quality of public safety in deep South Texas. The pending action is part of the STC Board of Trustees’ regular monthly meeting, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Ann Richards Administration Building Board Room at the Pecan Campus in McAllen. Muñoz predicted the planned STC facility and site also will pave the way in the future for a branch campus – and possibly more – in Pharr, which is part of his House District 36 legislative district. “South Texas College is one of the best college systems in Texas, it is only one of a handful of community colleges in the state which offer university-level bachelor degrees, it is poised for greater growth, and it has helped transform the South Texas economy through its outstanding graduates who are as skilled and talented as they are numerous and in demand,” Muñoz said. “This is just the beginning for STC in Pharr.” The three-term state legislator, who serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee which shaped the current $200+ billion state budget, praised his fellow Valley lawmakers for helping pass the state law authorizing and helping fund the South Texas Regional Center for Public Safety. “Sen. Juan Hinojosa was the Senate author of my House Bill 1887, while Rep. Terry Canales, Rep. Bobby Guerra, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, and Rep. Ryan Guillen were joint authors in the House, and they all deserve credit for this huge accomplishment,” said Muñoz. “There is no substitute for experience when it comes to getting what we deserve from the Texas Legislature.” According to STC, once the interlocal agreements with the city and school district are approved, it will take between 18 months and 24 months to build the 21,800 square-foot facility which will be the initial heart of The Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence. The project will include classroom facilities, vehicle driving range, outdoor shooting range, firearms simulator, mobile firearms simulator/live firing range, driving simulator, obstacle course, fitness rooms, and administrative offices. The estimated initial construction cost is $6.782 million, which includes $4.2 million from South Texas College’s Series 2013 Bond Issuance, $1.5 million provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, and $1 million provided by the PSJA School District. “The Regional Center for Public Excellence in Pharr shall increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” said Muñoz. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area do not.”
Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives in March 2015.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
House Bill 1887 by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would allow South Texas College to create the multi-million dollar Regional Center for Public Safety on a yet-undisclosed 50- to 60-acre site to be donated by the City of Pharr, is set for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, May 21. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is serving as the Senate sponsor of HB 1887, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, April 29. “HB 1887 would increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” said Muñoz, who is the primary author of the legislation. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area would not.” According to the bill analysis of the legislation, HB 1887 would amend the Education Code to create the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to provide education and training for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley. “Having such an educational facility for our current and future law enforcement officials will be a tremendous benefit for the delivery of justice and the protection of all of us in deep South Texas,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes 19 percent of the City of Pharr. “I appreciate Rep. Muñoz allowing me to sign on as joint author of HB 1887, and I look forward to working with him and the leadership of Pharr and South Texas College on this most important legislative effort.” Muñoz’ House District 36 includes 76 percent of the City of Pharr. South Texas College has agreed to fund $4.2 million for construction of a 16,000 square-foot facility to include a vehicle driving range, outdoor shooting range, firearms simulator, mobile firearms simulator/live firing range, driving simulator, obstacle course, fitness rooms, classrooms and administrative offices. The instruction provided by the regional center would include: education and training toward an associate of applied science degree or certificate or another public safety or law enforcement- related associate degree or certificate; a baccalaureate degree for applied science or applied technology authorized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) officer certification; and a continuing education certification. During the Tuesday, April 7 public hearing on the bill by the House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety, STC President Shirley Reed and Pharr Police Chief Ruben Villescas testified for the bill. Also listed as supporting the measure during the House committee meeting, but not testifying, were Sergio Contreras, representing the City of Pharr, Lon Craft, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Texas Municipal Police Association, and Elizabeth Lippincott, representing the Texas Border Coalition.
Featured, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, after addressing the South Texas College Board of Trustees at the Pecan Campus in McAllen.
Photograph By STEVE TAYLOR
Legislation proposing the creation of a South Texas College extension facility in the Delta Region of Hidalgo County, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 8, is set for a Senate committee hearing on Monday, May 18, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. Originally filed to create a branch campus of STC in the Delta Region, Canales changed the language of House Bill 382 to instead call for the creation of an extension facility in order to dramatically reduce the financial cost to the state, which significantly improves its chances of legislative passage. “By requiring an extension facility, STC would be directed by the Texas Legislature to set up a physical presence in the Delta Region, a move that can eventually lead to a branch campus,” Canales said. “What we are wanting to do is move this one step further down the line. We believe that whatever concerns the college may have about the fiscal viability of this program will be shown dramatically to be unfounded because it will quickly flourish.” According to the Texas Higher Education Agency, a branch campus is a major, secondary location of an institution offering multiple programs, usually with its own administrative structure and usually headed by a Dean. A branch campus must be established by the Legislature or approved by the Coordinating Board. He said that STC has an obligation to spread its resources to areas of Hidalgo County which have the population base and geographic location to deserve an extension facility, and eventually, a branch campus. “The Delta Region has historically been a neglected area that can see a positive change from this bill. The area needs better access to higher education to have the same opportunities (as other communities with STC campuses and sites),” Canales said. But times are changing, and for the better, in the Delta Region, further justifying predictions that STC would also grow with those communities. “If we talk about demographics and you look at companies and ask, ‘What are the demographics there?’ Well, they just opened up a Walmart Supercenter, and a new H.E.B., and those businesses conduct incredible demographic studies before they make those multi-million dollar capital investments,” he continued. Canales also spoke about ongoing plans by the state transportation leaders to connect FM 1925, known as the Monte Cristo Road project, between Edinburg and South Padre Island, a thoroughfare which will go through the Delta Region. “The Texas Department of Transportation has opted to expand what is the existing Monte Cristo Road into a highway that will go all the way to Cameron County,” Canales said. “That is why Rep. Lucio and his father, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and Rep. René Oliveira, support this bill.” The public hearing will take place before the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, whose chairman is Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville. The meeting, which is open to the public, was at 8:30 a.m. in Room E1.028 of the Texas Capitol complex. The session is available for live viewing on the Internet, or afterwards as a video recording in its entirety, by logging on to http://www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.phpby , find the desire program at the bottom of that web page, and click the “play” button. The live programs are listed by their scheduled start time. Lucio is the Senate sponsor of the measure, House Bill 382, of which Canales is the primary author. Canales’ proposal also enjoys vital support from House legislators from the two South Texas counties – Hidalgo County and Starr County – which STC serves. Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, are joint authors of Canales’ HB 382. The measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 8, would require STC, which has campuses in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City, to establish an extension facility in either Elsa, which is in Canales’ House District 40, or in Edcouch, which is in Longoria’s House District 35. Under the proposal, the STC Board of Trustees are directed to set up the extension facility beginning with the 2016-2017 academic year. The legislation does not authorize STC to increase its property tax rate.
Featured on Wednesday, February 26, 2o14 accepting a Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court proclamation in support of the creation of a South Texas College branch campus for the Delta Region are, front row, from left: Cynthia (Cindy) Garza-Reyes, Interim District Director of the Edinburg Office for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya; and Alex Ríos, District Director for Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. Back row, from left: Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios; Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; and Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, Jr.
Photograph By HIDALGO COUNTY PUBLIC AFFAIRS DIVISION
Legislation proposing the creation of a South Texas College branch campus in the Delta Region of Hidalgo County, with the proposed site to be located in Elsa or Edcouch, is scheduled for a public hearing before the House Committee on Higher Education for Wednesday, April 22, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. “South Texas College, which receives significant funding from all property taxpayers in Hidalgo and Starr counties, has an obligation to bring higher education opportunities and invest more of its resources in communities, such as in the Delta Region, which would most benefit from seeing a STC facility in its own backyard,” said Canales, whose House District 40 features portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. The measure, House Bill 382, would require STC “to operate a branch campus within the corporate limits of the municipality of Edcouch or Elsa.” The legislative committee hearing on Wednesday comes as Rio Grande City, McAllen, Weslaco and Pharr are positioned to reap the benefits of a $159 million bond election for new construction that was narrowly approved in early November 2013 by voters in Hidalgo and Starr counties. Canales’ proposal is listed as the second measure on the committee’s meeting agenda, and is one of several House bills that will have a direct impact on South Texas College. The committee is scheduled to begin its meeting at 8 a.m., and if needed, continue later in the afternoon once the full House of Representatives, which begins its work at 10 a.m., finishes up for that day. The session will be available for live viewing on the Internet, or afterwards as a video recording in its entirety, by logging on http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/ by clicking the House Committee on Higher Education. For the past few years, Canales has been working with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, to convince STC to establish a physical presence in that region. Longoria’s House District 35 includes Edcouch, La Villa, and Monte Alto. Hinojosa’s Congressional District 15, which covers Brooks, Duval, Guadalupe, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Karnes, Live Oak, and Wilson counties, includes Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and Monte Alto. Both Longoria and Hinojosa have ties to the STC Board of Trustees – Hinojosa was a founding member and first Chairman of the STC Board of Trustees, and Longoria served on the STC Board of Trustees before being elected to the Texas House of Representatives in November 2012. Canales, Hinojosa and Longoria first publicly brought up the need for the Delta Region branch campus when they addressed the STC Board of Trustees on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. “We outlined a proposal that would benefit the people in the Delta Region. The presentation included statistical data from the U.S. Census Bureau highlighting population pockets within our district and their needs,” said Hinojosa. “During the (March 25) presentation, trustees heard well-formulated plans to create a STC satellite campus in the Delta region. With a college anchored in the Delta Region, students from surrounding communities such as La Blanca, San Carlos, Hargill, Faysville, Linn, San Manuel and Puerto Rico will also have the opportunity to attend a campus that is more accessible.” The Delta Region communities are connected by East State Highway 107 between Edinburg and Weslaco. Although Weslaco has the STC Mid-Valley Campus, located about a dozen miles away from Edcouch and Elsa, that site is land-locked with limited space to expand, Canales reflected. “The Pecan Campus, which is the northernmost campus of STC, leaves huge areas of Hidalgo County with long commutes to attend classes,” Canales said. “A STC campus in the Delta Region would be able to expand in order to serve not only the students from the Delta Region but also from Edinburg and for future students from northern Hidalgo County, where much of our population increases will occur in the coming years.”
Featured, from left: Wanda F. Garza, Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services, South Texas College; Rose Benavídez, Member, Board of Trustees, District 1, South Texas College; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, at the House District 36 lawmaker’s Capitol office on Tuesday, February 3.
Photograph By PETER SALINAS
With the goal of increasing educational opportunities while improving public safety and border security, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, is carrying several measures designed to help fight crime, including landmark legislation that could eventually lead to the establishment of a full-fledged South Texas College campus in Pharr. House Bill 1887, filed by Muñoz on Tuesday, February 25, would allow South Texas College to create the Regional Center for Public Safety, which would be built on a yet-undisclosed 50- to 60-acre site to be donated by the City of Pharr. With Muñoz serving as the primary author – which means the legislation is the idea of the Mission Democrat – Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Monday, March 9, signed on as a joint author in support of HB 1887. “Having such an educational facility for our current and future law enforcement officials will be a tremendous benefit for the delivery of justice and the protection of all of us in deep South Texas,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes 19 percent of the City of Pharr. “I appreciate Rep. Muñoz allowing me to sign on as joint author of HB 1887, and I look forward to working with him and the leadership of Pharr and South Texas College on this most important legislative effort.” Muñoz’ House District 36 includes 76 percent of the City of Pharr. Included in HB 1887 is language that would authorize South Texas College to also allow “aspiring law enforcement officers to earn a bachelor’s degree that will provide more career opportunities for our community,” Muñoz said. “STC is positioned to offer a bachelor’s degree in Homeland Security, Public Safety and Law Enforcement, or whatever degree specifically responds to the needs of our metropolitan region.” STC officials would be responsible for developing the appropriate bachelor’s degree program, which would have to receive final approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the lawmaker added. Currently, 1,751 law enforcement officers are employed in Hidalgo and Starr counties, with the intent to hire 134 additional certified officers during the current fiscal year. The Texas Workforce Commission predicts that there will be a 22 percent increase during the next 10 years for more certified police officers in these two counties, but access to training opportunities is limited. “HB 1887 would serve the greater need of the Valley’s law enforcement personnel, as facilities become available, by increasing the number of instructional programs offered in deep South Texas with new certificate and associate of applied science degree in programs such as police administration, forensics, emergency management, leadership, aircraft rescue, homeland security, special weapons and tactics,” said Muñoz. HB 1887 states that STC would administer the regional center in partnership with political subdivisions and participating school districts in the Valley, and would require the headquarters of the regional center to be located “at South Texas College in Pharr.” His bill would allow the regional center to use property and facilities at other locations in Hidalgo and Starr counties. Muñoz is working with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to secure support in the Senate.