|CORPUS CHRISTI, April 22 – The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security has before it a couple of bills of great significance to South Texas and indeed Texas as a whole.
The bills have been authored by state Sen. Eddie Lucio and address the tremendous shortage of workers we have in certain industries.
One of the bills, SB 1336, would grant permission to Gov. Rick Perry to enter into an agreement with the governor of a state in Mexico to allow guest workers to come into Texas to work. It is modeled on similar legislation passed by the State of Utah. The other legislation, a companion piece, is SB 1704. It deals with cooperation between the state and federal agencies on immigration issues and authorizes fees.
Lucio's legislation is important for industry but it is also important for homeland security because it would track which workers are coming in and out of Texas from Mexico. Let me explain why we need more workers in South Texas and how homeland security comes into the equation.
At the Port of Corpus Christi, the state and nation's homeland security is being improved as oil and gas is being exported. Exports have gone up because in 20 nearby counties involved in the Eagle Ford Shale (EFS) play production has increased enormously. The transformation of Corpus Christi from an energy importing port to an energy exporting one has been incredible. Where we used to make our trade balance worse by buying foreign oil for the refineries close to the port, we are now improving our balance of trade with the rest of the world by selling foreign countries our South Texas oil and gas.
However, there is a problem. After adding over 75,000 jobs last year alone, many filled by ranch and farm workers from nearby rural agribusinesses in South Texas, EFS drilling operations are stalling due to a lack of skilled workers. The demand for these skilled workers is overwhelming. So here's the scenario: a Texas oil and gas boom that brought in over $67 billion dollars in tax revenue for the State of Texas last year, never mind the additional jobs, is now being threatened by a lack of workers. At the same time, farmers and ranchers are finding it virtually impossible to replace former workers who are now plying their trades in the EFS oil patch.
What could be a more logical solution to this problem than to bring in PEMEX-trained and highly skilled oil and gas guest Workers from Mexico? This is what Lucio's proposed Pilot Project program would do.
Among the supporters of Lucio’s guest worker program legislation was Bob Perry of Bob Perry Homes. Sadly, for the state of Texas and this nation, Perry died aged 80 last week.
One would hope the legislators on the Senate Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security Committee would understand the importance of Lucio's bill. SB 1336 has yet to have a hearing. SB 1704 had a hearing last week but has yet to be voted on.
The chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security Committee is state Sen. Craig Estes, a Republican from Wichita Falls. Also on the panel is Republican freshman senator, Charles Schwertner of Georgetown. He is a sixth generation farmer and rancher. Two other members of the panel are from South Texas and therefore understand the importance of finding more workers for EFS. They are Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, the vice chair, and Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. The fifth member of the panel, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, also knows South Texas well because his district stretches south to Victoria.
As someone who has lived and worked in South Texas most of my life I would greatly encourage Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Chairman Estes to get behind Lucio’s legislation. If they were to venture south of I-10 they would see why it is so important.
Ron Whitlock is a veteran TV reporter and commentator based in the Rio Grande Valley. He is the executive producer of Ron Whitlock Reports, which has aired in the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Corpus Christi markets. He said the column published above is brought readers of the Rio Grande Guardian by Ron Whitlock Reports in association with Perry Homes of Houston.