|AUSTIN, May 18 - The Rio Grande Valley’s two state senators have welcomed the passage of amended legislation in the Texas House to create a new university and medical school for the region.
On Friday, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 24, including amendments by Valley lawmakers that give direction to the University of Texas System on where the medical school should be built.
"Senate Bill 24, to merge UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville and to create a free-standing medical school, has been our priority all session long and even though there were contentious issues to work out, I commend the Rio Grande Valley delegation for working through these difficult challenges,” said state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
“In the end, we have come together to pass this legislation that will greatly benefit and transform the entire South Texas region through education, healthcare and economically for years to come. “
Hinojosa said the expansion of educational opportunities will create greater access to health care and the related health care businesses that the medical school will attract will be a great boost to quality of life in the Valley.
“I thank my colleague Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. for working together on the Senate side, the leadership of Representatives René Oliveira , and Eddie Lucio, III and our Hidalgo County Delegation - Representatives Mando Martinez, Sergio Muñoz , Terry Canales, Bobby Guerra, and Oscar Longoria for their hard work, perseverance and leadership,” Hinojosa added.
A key amendment to SB 24 that ensured unity among the Valley delegation was offered by Rep. Lucio, D-Harlingen. The amendment directs the UT System to ensure that educational programs for first-year and second-year medical school students be located primarily in Hidalgo County, while educational programs for third-year and fourth-year students be located primarily in Cameron County.
The amendment also states that educational programs for all medical students take “full advantage” of existing educational facilities and programs at UT-Pan American’s Edinburg campus or successor campus, UT-Brownsville’s campus or successor campus, and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen and Edinburg. “Graduate medical education programs and activities shall be conducted throughout the region,” the amendment states.
The amendment included the words “or successor campus” because UTPA and UTB will have a new name when they are merged.
“I am delighted that the House today passed an amended version of Senate Bill 24,” Sen. Lucio said, in a prepared statement. “This bill will establish a new emerging world-class university in the Rio Grande Valley, and one of the largest Hispanic-serving institutions in the United States.”
Lucio, D-Brownsville, said the ultimate passage of Senate Bill 24 fulfills the “culmination of decades of work” in the Legislature to expand the Valley's access to the higher education and health care access. “Building the medical school and expanding the Regional Academic Health Science Center was always intended to be a regional project. I have no doubt that Senate Bill 24 will is one of the most meaningful pieces of legislation to impact the region in the last 20 years.”
Sen. Lucio said he wanted to thank his colleagues in the House for “working so hard to forge today's compromise language.”
If, as expected, the Senate accepts the amended version of SB 24 it would move quickly to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk to be signed into law.
Editor's Note: This is the second in a six-part series on the passage of legislation to create a four-year medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.