AUSTIN, March 13 - The only state senator to vote against legislation to create a new UT university and medical school for South Texas has explained his “no” vote.
Sen. Charles Schwertner is a Republican from Georgetown. An orthopedic surgeon, Schwertner said he supports training more physicians but does not see the need for more medical schools.
“Expanding our physician workforce is a vital component to improving patient care in Texas. However, the real problem is not a lack of medical schools, but the lack of available graduate medical education for our state's existing medical students,” Schwertner said.
"I believe the best use of our taxpayer dollars would be to expand the number of residency slots available to Texas medical school graduates, so they are not forced to leave the state to complete their training and ultimately practice medicine. Once we've addressed the need for these new residency slots, we can then focus our attention on the possibility of building new medical schools or expanding the enrollment of our existing institutions.”
Schwertner said this is the same reason he voted against SB 120 on Wednesday. SB 120, authored by state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, establishes Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso as an independent health sciences university.
Senate Bill 24 creates a new UT university and medical school in South Texas by merging UT-Pan American, UT-Brownsville, and the Regional Academic Health Center. The vote on SB 24 was 30-1. The legislation needed to win the support of two-thirds of the Senate in order to allow the new university to access the Permanent University Fund, a major money stream on which funding of the new university is predicated. There must also be two-thirds support in the Texas House.
SB 24 is authored by Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. Seliger chairs the Senate Committee on Higher Education.
Hinojosa, Lucio, Zaffirini and Seliger sharply disagree with Schwertner’s stance on the need for medical schools. They point out that while there are 240 doctors for every 100,000 residents in the United States and, on average, 165 doctors per 100,000 residents in Texas, in the Valley, there are only 124 doctors for every 100,000 residents. “This is why the Valley has been federally designated as medically underserved,” said Lucio.
Lucio made reference to the Valley being medically underserved in his floor speech. “Right now, the Valley doesn’t have nearly enough doctors to serve its citizens. Passage of Senate Bill 24, and the creation of the Valley’s first four-year medical school, will ensure that as many as 75 or 80 percent of future medical students will be able to stay, train, and practice medicine in the Valley after they complete their residencies,” Lucio said.
Hinojosa is the primary author of SB 24. He said he is proud of the “tremendous bipartisan support” that was shown in the Senate.
“This is a historic step in giving the Rio Grande Valley the potential for endless educational and healthcare benefits for our families that this legislation would achieve. We are now another step closer to serving the unique and critical needs of South Texas and to transforming the Rio Grande Valley through education,” Hinojosa said.
“I am honored to serve with legislators who have come together to invest in education and in the people of South Texas.”
Lucio set the context for SB 24 in his speech on the Senate floor, pointing out that the median household income in the Valley is less than $30,000 per year. Here are Lucio’s remarks in full:
“Mr. President and members, I am deeply honored to rise today to encourage passage of Senate Bill 24. Today is a historic day for the Rio Grande Valley. Today, by our vote, we place South Texas on the path to establishing a Tier One university for the 21st Century, with state-of-the-art facilities, top-notch faculty, and the future medical school.
“I commend my fellow joint authors on the bill - Senator Hinojosa, Senator Seliger, and Senator Zaffirini, as well as all of my colleagues who subsequently signed on as coauthors - for recognizing and supporting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this new university presents to transform the Valley into a future center for multinational culture, science, and commerce.
“Indeed, marshaling our higher education resources for the creation of a new university of this scale just makes sense. For one, it capitalizes on the region’s bicultural heritage. The Rio Grande Valley is one of the largest and fastest-growing geographical areas in Texas. Our demographics already offer a preview of what the nation’s demographics will look like within a generation. This new university will immediately become one of the largest Hispanic-serving institutions in the country.
“The passage of Senate Bill 24, of course, also offers more immediate positive impacts to the Valley in terms of jobs, access to health care, and greater educational opportunities. Through our actions today, we begin to correct generations of inequity in this economically-distressed area of the state.
“Right now, the median household income in the Valley is less than $30,000 per year. Passage of Senate Bill 24 is a first step toward building a vibrant healthcare industry that will attract professionals from all over the world, as well as build multinational industry around our water and international ports.
“Right now, the Valley doesn’t have nearly enough doctors to serve its citizens. Passage of Senate Bill 24, and the creation of the Valley’s first four-year medical school, will ensure that as many as 75 or 80 percent of future medical students will be able to stay, train, and practice medicine in the Valley after they complete their residencies.
“Right now, we’re desperate to find ways to educate our young people - young people that President Garcia at UTB and President Nelson at UTPA can tell you are eager and hard-working; they just need a chance to prove it. After passage of Senate Bill 24, we will attract more students by using technology, online learning, and the additional state-of-the-art campus facilities that will be made possible with access to the Permanent University Fund.
“To me, today marks the culmination of work that spans three decades for me of increasing education and health care in the Valley — from the creation of the University of Texas at Brownsville, creation of South Texas College, to the creation of the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio Regional Academic Health Center, to passage of Senate Bill 98 in 2009 to create the region’s first medical school — and finally to today.
“In particular, building the medical school has always been intended to be a regional project. I couldn’t be more proud to stand here with my colleagues and take one more certain step toward realizing that goal.
“We knew when we started the Session that creating this new, Valley-spanning university would be monumental. We couldn’t afford to limit ourselves. Congratulations members on taking this bold step toward creating a more prosperous Texas.”