|AUSTIN, June 7 - State Rep. Bobby Guerra had to scale back legislation deemed important by cities and international bridge boards along the South Texas border because of the Texas House’s aversion to legislation with a fiscal note.
Guerra, D-McAllen, had wanted the Texas Department of Agriculture to train department employees so that could assist in inspecting produce being imported at international ports of entry on the Texas Mexico border. The goal was to reduce the wait time for an agricultural inspection of a truck crossing from Mexico.
Texas A&M Kingsville Citrus Center in Weslaco was earmarked as one of the places where the training would have taken place. McAllen Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Keith Patridge was among those who testified on the importance of Guerra’s HB 3761.
However, the bill that was finally passed simply asks the Department of Agriculture to consider the feasibility of creating and administering a program to train department employees to meet federal standards for agricultural inspectors performing inspections. In other words, Guerra got a study.
“We are going to be conducting a study to see if the program can be implemented. With that superhighway coming in from Mexico we need to start thinking about it and that is what that bill does. I think the study will show it is very much needed,” Guerra told the Guardian, as the 83rd legislative session was winding down.
Guerra said some of his colleagues in the House of Representatives did not want to get in a situation where his legislation was going to cost the state of Texas any more money.
“I had to do some adjustments because I did get some pushbacks. My bill had a fiscal note and that was not palatable with some folks in the House. I had to go back to the drawing board and find a way so that it did not have a fiscal note. Then, it became palatable for folks here in the House,” Guerra said.
The superhighway Guerra referred to will run from Mazatlan on the west coast of Mexico to Matamoros on the east coast. It will unite the states of Durango and Sinaloa through a 140-mile toll road and the Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge, reported to be the tallest bridge in the world, 1,321 feet above the Baluarte River. The superhighway is expected to be completed next year.
A lot of the fresh produce that is grown in the state of Sinaloa for consumption on the east coast of the United States enters the country via the port of Nogales in Arizona. When the superhighway is built much of that traffic will likely enter the United States via Laredo and Pharr. “We have seen estimates that carriers can save $1,500 per trip for trucks coming here, versus Nogales,” said Rigo Villarreal, superintendent of the McAllen-Hidalgo and Anzalduas International Bridges. “That is a big saving.”
In readiness for the increased fresh produce expected to come in, the City of Pharr is building a large cold storage industrial park next to its bridge. Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval has said he expects a "tsunami" of fresh produce to be entering the U.S. at his city's bridge. What the bridge board at Pharr does not want is lengthy delays for trucks because there are not enough inspectors to check the produce.
Guerra holds out hope that the study will conclude that the state of Texas should be helping the federal government train more produce inspectors.
“If we work cooperatively with the federal government in helping them help us get more inspectors along the border with existing assets, it will be a great, great help. We will be working with the federal government and my understanding is our congressmen are working on this as well. We are going to have to do something,” Guerra said.