While the Rio Grande Valley succeeded in lobbying for legislation strengthening ports of entry and agricultural inspections during the 87th Texas Legislature, the state governing body failed to act on bills aimed at creating a law school in the Rio Grande Valley and legislation to help Hidalgo County manage brush pickup in rural neighborhoods.
Also, a long-running effort to dissolve Hidalgo County Water District No. 3 has made its way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, where the governor could sign it into law or veto it. However, if Abbott doesn’t sign it by June 21, the bill automatically becomes law.
Since the bill arrived at his office on June 1, a day after the legislature convened, the governor has 20 days to either take action or do nothing and let the bill become a law.
And the Valley, where residents have chronic health problems and live in an area with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, suffered the death of a bill that would have provided Texas with billions of dollars in federal incentives through the expansion of Medicaid, according to one Valley lawmaker
NOT THIS TIME
When the Texas House in April approved legislation to create a public law school in the Valley by a vote of 97-47, there was a sense from local legislators that this might be the year the effort came to fruition.
House Bill 695 made it to the Senate committee on higher education on April 19, where it stayed until it died when the Legislature convened May 31.
State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, had spearheaded the effort in the House.
“We are looking forward to getting it in the Senate and it being carried and passed, so that our students can have another opportunity in the Rio Grande Valley to accomplish their dreams,” Martinez said at the time.
He also filed the same legislation in the 2019 session.
The bill would have allowed a public university system to open a law school in either Hidalgo or Cameron counties and the state would begin to fund operations and maintenance in 2027.
NOT PICKED UP
Residents in unincorporated Hidalgo County and the county government both have a problem.
There is no trash pickup in unincorporated areas and state law prohibits Hidalgo County from charging a fee to provide this service in these areas.
This dilemma results in accidental fires from trash burning and illegal dumping, which leads to clogged drainage systems and standing water — perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes that can carry viruses like West Nile and Dengue.
Senate Bill 594 filed by Texas Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and co-sponsored by state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, sought to change that by modifying current law to allow Hidalgo County to charge a fee in these areas for trash pickup service.
That bill made it to the Senate’s committee on environmental regulation on May 11 where it died when the Legislature convened.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez previously said the county was seeking the bill to provide these services in unincorporated areas to try and mitigate illegal dumping and other public safety hazards, but also to recover costs already associated with battling a persistent problem.
“We’re not in the business of cheating people or trying to make a profit for services … we are simply wanting to recover costs,” he said.
And those costs continue to rise.
During an April 26 public hearing, four people testified in support for the legislation and two representatives from Cortez’s office spoke in support of the bill while no one testified against it.
One of those members is Cortez’s chief of staff, Isaac Sulemana.
“Unincorporated Hidalgo County is growing and straining our current sanitation framework. From 2017 to 2020, the Hidalgo County Sanitation Expenditures increased by 38% from $6.2 million to $8.6 million,” he said during the hearing.
However, there was precedent for this bill.
In 2017, a bill allowed Webb and Bexar counties to regulate solid waste collection in unincorporated areas.
The contentious fight for ownership of the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3’s water rights between a senator who represents McAllen and a recent mayoral candidate is on the governor’s desk.
The only way it won’t become law is if Abbott vetoes it.
The governor has until June 21 to either sign it, veto it or do nothing and just let it become law.
Senate Bill 2185 was filed by Sen. Hinojosa, who argues the district doesn’t serve a purpose, causing higher water rates for McAllen residents and that its general manager and board president, Othal Brand Jr., is abusing its power.
Hinojosa also said the district is an unnecessary level of government creating unnecessary taxpayer costs.
“The water district has a history of hindering the election process by excluding properties, potential new board members and by redrawing the boundaries every election to exclude voters that don’t support it,” Hinojosa said previously. “We don’t even know when they had the last election or who was on the ballot. And for us, this is a real problem and this water district is mismanaged.”
Brand fired back at Hinojosa, saying in a statement that the bill is an “illegal power grab” that is “doomed to fail” for the fourth time.
“The first times his legislation went down in flames. We are confident the same fate awaits this latest piece of thuggery,” Brand said in a news release.
He called Hinojosa’s bill grandstanding and unconstitutional.
“(We) know joke bills are filed, designed purely to allow a lawmaker to grandstand,” he said.
Brand also said the district is reliable and low-priced, saying McAllen is the entity hiking the water price for its residents.
This year, Texas Democrats supported a bill that would have expanded Medicaid in Texas.
The legislation would have impacted an estimated 1.4 million adults in Texas who under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, or Obamacare, would qualify for Medicaid, according to the Texas Tribune.
Supporters of the bill say its passage would open Texas up to billions of dollars in federal incentives and would provide affordable health care to more than a million Texans.
Opponents argue Medicaid is poorly managed and not financially sustainable and expands dependence on government and poor health outcomes, the Texas Tribune reported.
State Rep. Bobby Guerra, however, argues that while the state of Texas would have to spend money to qualify for the program, the end result for Texas is actually a net gain.
“If Texas expanded Medicaid, federal funds would pay for 90% of the state’s program funding — reducing Texas’ liability for Medicaid expenses to just 10%,” Guerra said in an op-ed. “Because Texas has failed to expand Medicaid, the federal government covers only 62% of our state’s Medicaid expenses — which means Texans pay 38% directly for Medicaid health care costs.”