|AUSTIN, May 29 - Overall, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa is very pleased with how the 83rd legislative session turned out.
The veteran legislator from McAllen had success with bills on issues such as education, healthcare, economic development, natural resources, criminal justice, transportation, veterans, and consumer protection.
However, one bill Hinojosa was keen to pass has not made it into law. He wanted to dissolve Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 and allow the City of McAllen to take over its operations, assets and liabilities. This is the second session Hinojosa has filed legislation to kill off HCWID No. 3. Both times he has failed. Two years ago he passed such a bill but it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. One could say the current score is Othal Brand, Jr., 2, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa 0. Brand is general manager and chairman of HCWID No. 3.
In his end of session wrap up interview with the Guardian, Hinojosa spoke about his efforts to dissolve Water District No.3 and why he failed. His legislation would have changed the composition of the voters that vote in HCWID No. 3 elections. By expanding the number of voters, Hinojosa hoped candidates favorable to the City of McAllen taking over the HCWID No. 3 would have won a majority.
“My bill passed the Senate and the Governor agreed on the changes that were made. In the House, we have close to 38 freshmen and another 35 or so sophomores. You have a lot of new members. Our delegation on the House side was having to deal with these new issues coming in and somewhere in the process it got caught up in Calendars,” Hinojosa said.
The House Committee on Calendars regulates the flow of legislation heard on the House floor.
“A legislator - we know who he is - tagged it and killed the bill within the Calendars Committee,” Hinojosa said. “On the House side it is more difficult because you have to go through the Calendars Committee. It is fraught with bumps and minefields and anyone can tag legislation towards the end of the session.”
When he learned his legislation had hit a minefield in the House Calendars Committee, Hinojosa added an amendment to legislation from state Rep. Oscar Longoria that dealt with water district issues in La Joya. Hinojosa explained what his amendment would have done: “That amendment was designed to help McAllen access water from other districts and other sources without having to go through Water District No. 3, which has a monopoly on the situation. It is an abuse of the power that Water District No. 3 has in that McAllen has to pay higher rates for water and at the same time the citizens of McAllen have to pay through taxes and water fees over a million dollars and more every year by having a water district that has outlived its purpose. Yet, it provides a block if you will to McAllen using other water uses.”
Hinojosa did not succeed in getting his amendment to Longoria’s legislation to stick. “The parliamentarian on the House side it was not germane but the reality is it was germane. We had difficulties with the House all session long. We had difficulty in getting the House to accept Senate amendments to their bills.”
Why does Hinojosa want to kill of HCWID No. 3? He explained. “The voters of McAllen do not support Water District No. 3. Every time an election is called what they do is manipulate the boundaries and cut out many voters from voting and take away their voting rights. It is disenfranchising. It is a tactic that has been used by Water District No. 3 for many years and it is very unfortunate because all the other water districts come in and take their side. The reality is we have done away with water districts in other parts of the state when they outlived their usefulness. Things need to be changed. Our taxpayers and water users in the city of McAllen have to pay a higher price.”
Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Asked if he will try again to abolish HCWID No. 3, Hinojosa said: “I will keep doing it as long as I am in the Legislature for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do, it is good public policy and at some point our McAllen voters and residents need to quit subsidizing Water District No. 3.”
Editor’s Note: The Guardian will be offering Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 an opportunity to talk about the 83rd legislative session and where it goes from here. Look out for the story in the coming days.