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State Rep. R.D. 'Bobby' Guerra is pictured with fellow legislators at a hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock, held at the McAllen Convention Center on Oct. 7, 2014. The committee examined the impact of delayed wait times at land ports of entry.

AUSTIN, Texas – While state Sen. Eddie Lucio looks set to be the RGV lawmaker who passes legislation to get more fresh produce inspectors for the region’s ports of entry, state Rep. Bobby Guerra is also winning plaudits.

Guerra hosted an interim hearing on the issue in McAllen last October and governmental affairs leaders say this hearing paved the way for the legislation Lucio is carrying.

“Representative Bobby Guerra was very instrumental in helping us with this important piece of legislation for Texas international bridges. We appreciate his tireless efforts which trace back to the 83rd Legislature,” said Sergio Contreras, the City of Pharr’s director of external affairs.

“This past October, Representative Guerra facilitated an interim hearing by the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock, which consisted of a tour of the Pharr International Bridge. The tour of the bridge provided members of the committee a hands-on experience of the multiple activities that occur at our land port of entry and illustrated the need for Senate Bill 797.”

Contreras said both Lucio and Guerra are to be “commended” for helping pass legislation that will help reduce wait times at international bridges for trucks carrying fresh produce by creating the “Trade Agriculture Inspection Grant Program.”

Lucio is the author of SB 797. The bill calls for a two-year pilot program that allows state and local funds to be blended so that more fresh produce inspectors can be hired at peak times at border ports of entry. At the end of the pilot project a study will be undertaken to see how effective the pilot program has been. The study will be sent to the legislature.

Guerra is the author of House version, House Bill 979. Guerra said the idea is to reduce wait times for agricultural inspections at the ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border.

“Investing in the produce import industry is imperative for Texas. These ports of entry promote sustainable job growth in the surrounding communities, attract more businesses to invest in our state; and most importantly, bolster the Texas economy. Senate Bill 797 keeps Texas on an equal playing field with the rest of the global trade industry. I want to personally thank Sen. Lucio, Sen. Hinojosa, Rep. Muñoz and Rep. Lucio for working together on this very important piece of legislation.”

Guerra pointed out that in 2014, more than 170,000 truckloads of produce crossed into Texas from Mexico. He said this number is expected to grow even larger as the transoceanic “superhighway” between Mazatlán and Matamoros begins transporting fresh produce from the West coast of Mexico to the east coast of the United States via the Rio Grande Valley.

“Because of staffing shortages at land ports of entry, trucks transporting produce experience long periods of delay or do not make it through the inspection process, thereby lowering the shelf life and damaging quality which negatively impacts the bottom line for Texas importers,” a news release from Guerra stated.

Guerra said SB 797 will help more trucks to be processed at international bridges by creating the “Trade Agricultural Inspection Grant Program.” He said this grant program will be administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture and distributed to a nonprofit that has experience working with border inspection authorities to reduce border crossing wait times. The non-profit group is the South Texas Assets Consortium.

“This nonprofit would use the grant money along with matching industry and local municipality dollars to help pay for additional border agricultural inspectors or pay overtime to inspectors along the border,” Guerra’s new release states.

At a hearing at the McAllen Convention Center last October, Valley city, economic development and agriculture industry leaders testified on the need for more agricultural inspectors at international bridges. Among those to testify were Bret Erickson, president and CEO of Texas International Produce Association, Sam Vale, president the South Texas Assets Consortium (STAC) and owner of the Starr Camargo International Bridge, Fred Brouwen, director of operations at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, Paul Heller, director of farming operations for Paramount Citrus, and Keith Patridge, president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

“The primary focus of the hearing was to discuss the large increase of imported fresh produce from Mexico and to explore opportunities where the State of Texas could partner with the federal government and private industry to help expedite the movement of fresh produce across Texas ports,” Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian at the time.