MCALLEN, RGV – In one of his first public events since his return from the state Capitol, Sen. Juan Hinojosa has called the special legislative session a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Like many other border lawmakers, Hinojosa would give the session an “F” grade because too much of the focus was on politics and not good public policy.

“The session just ended was really a waste of taxpayers’ money. Except for three pieces of legislation that extended the authority for the state medical board, most of the other legislation was very politicized,” Hinojosa told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“The other legislation was not focused on the priority issues for us as a state. Public education? We did not fix that. The finance system for public education, is not working. We did not address our needs for healthcare. We did not focus on jobs. We did not focus on our business community. The whole focus was on politically divisive social issues that were not in the best interests of our state.”

Hinojosa made his comments at the end of an event held at Lincoln Middle School in McAllen. The event celebrated the fact that McAllen ISD has 18 campuses listed among America’s healthiest schools.

Asked what the public can do if the Legislature does not carry out public policy that improves the lives of most Texans, Hinojosa said:

“The elections are just around the corner and I tell voters to listen to what your public officials are saying. Take teachers, for example. Their healthcare costs are outrageous and yet we did not address it during the regular session. Why? Because we were too busy dealing with bathrooms and other issues that are not important to our community.

“We tried to address it during the special session because it is a very serious one. Our teachers have very little income and quite frankly their cost of healthcare continues to increase. So, we need to address those issues in a fundamental way and not get sidetracked by these other political, social, issues that don’t do anything for our state.”

Senate Bill 4

Asked about one of the most controversial bills passed during the regular legislative session, Senate Bill 4, Hinojosa said it is not good public policy.

SB 4 requires local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration authorities and allows police to ask for the immigration status of those they detain. The bill also imposes civil penalties on local officials if they do not cooperate with federal immigration law.

“Senate Bill 4 was not necessary. It was a very discriminatory bill that really focused on the Hispanic community,” Hinojosa said. “There are ways to deal with immigrants who are charged with a crime and they ought to be detained and prosecuted. The problem is Senate Bill 4 really targets Hispanic-looking people. Anytime you focus on a class within the community, that is discrimination.”

The City of McAllen recently passed a resolution critical of SB 4.

Healthy Schools Program

Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he also wanted to congratulate McAllen ISD. He pointed out that he authored Senate Bill 1873. The bill requires all school districts in Texas to submit a report on the status of their physical education programs. SB 1873 goes into effect on September 1.

“I congratulate McAllen ISD for taking the lead on a healthy kids challenge,” Hinojosa said. “Exercising makes a whole lot of difference: Better grades, better behavior, better at tests, less absenteeism in school. McAllen ISD has taken the lead in South Texas and the whole state.”

Also praising McAllen ISD was the head of the National Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The district has 18 campuses listed among America’s Healthiest Schools — the most of any school district in Texas and second most in the nation.

The Healthy Schools Program started in 2006 in 13 states. The Healthy Schools Program has since grown to become the nation’s most extensive effort to prevent childhood obesity in schools and is now building healthier school environments for more than 18 million students in more than 31,000 schools in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“McAllen ISD is truly a great leader, not just in the Valley, not just across Texas, but across the entire United States of America,” Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO for the New York-based Alliance, said during a press conference held Tuesday at Lincoln Middle School. “That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because of leadership.”

Dr. Wechsler listed reasons behind McAllen ISD’s success. These include:
•    High quality Physical Education and Health Education
•    More time for P.E. and recess
•    Meeting or exceeding federal school nutrition standards
•    Helping staff eat healthier

Wechsler added: “The fact is McAllen ISD is one of the greatest success stories in terms of a school district promoting the health and wellness of its schools.”

McAllen ISD Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez pointed out that over the past two years, McAllen ISD has had all 32 of its eligible schools reach the Bronze, Silver or Gold Level in the AHG’s listing of America’s Healthiest Schools.

“I want to thank all of you for the energy that you put in at McAllen ISD and having an impact on our student body,” Gonzalez said. “Know that, as you are inspiring these children … that you are going to have a profound impact (on students) for years to come.”