AUSTIN, Texas – The chairman of the Texas House Committee on Natural Resources has thanked two Rio Grande Valley legislators for coming up with a compromise on a controversial bill to dissolve Hidalgo County Water District No. 3.

Under an amendment offered state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg, Senate Bill 2185, authored by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, no longer abolishes the water district and no longer hands over its assets and liabilities to the City of McAllen. All of that language was struck from the bill. So, the district would stay in place. 

“This is a best practices amendment,” Canales said on the House floor on Tuesday. 

State Rep. Tracy King of Batesville is chairman of the Texas House Committee on Natural Resources.

The amended bill prevents a general manager from sitting on the water district’s board of directors. For many years, Othal Brand, Jr., has been president of the board and its general manager. The Canales amendment also requires the district’s directors to be educated on ethics and the duties of a board director. It also requires the district’s financial affairs to be posted on the district’s website. Currently, HCWID No. 3 does not have a website.

“I want to congratulate Senator Hinojosa and Chairman Canales on the great work they did, working on a compromise piece of legislation that helps the folks in the Valley and helps the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 move into the future,” said state Rep. Tracy O. King of Batesville.

“I want to thank Chairman Tracy King for working with Senator Hinojosa’s office to bring increased accountability and transparency to Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3,” Canales told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Through their collaborative approach, we have passed incremental changes that will provide much needed reforms. Transparency is the cornerstone of good government, and these measures will provide better accountability and significant protections for the residents of our community.”

SB 2185 has passed the Senate. It is being shepherded through the House by Canales. In a lively exchange with Canales on the House floor on Monday evening, King, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, called a Point of Order on SB 2185, arguing that it violated both the Texas Constitution and the House Rules. 

The Point of Order centered on the way the City of McAllen was bracketed to be the beneficiary of HCWID No. 3’s dissolution. The bill said the water district should go to a city that has a population greater than 100,000 and has more than half the water district’s territory within its corporate boundaries or extraterritorial jurisdiction. That could only have been McAllen. Thus it was what is called a “closed bracket,” which is unlawful.

After a lengthy conversation with Canales, Speaker Dade Phelan and the House parliamentarian, King pulled his Point of Order, which would have killed the bill, so that Canales could work on new language.

The amended bill will be heard on third reading today. If it is passed by the House it will go to the Senate where Hinojosa will have the opportunity to either accept it, reject it, or amend it. If he accepts the Canales amendment the bill goes to Governor Abbott’s desk for signature. If Hinojosa rejects the amended bill or amends it further it will go to a conference committee. The conference committee, comprising three members from the House and three from the Senate, will try to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. If they do not resolve the differences the bill dies.

Click here to read the language in Sen. Hinojosa’s bill dissolving HCWID No. 3 and handing it assets and liabilities to the City of McAllen.

Click here to read the amendment Rep. Canales offered to Hinojosa’s bill, striking out the dissolution part.

Whoever wins the runoff for mayor of McAllen will have to deal with SB 2185, if it is passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Abbott. Javier Villalobos and Veronica Vela Whitacre were asked what they thought of the Canales amendment.

Villalobos said: “I have not heard about the amendment. I do not know what is happening at the Capitol. That bill was not our deal. The senator is the one who was pushing it. It was not in our legislative agenda. So, I have not kept up that much. I am not sure what is occurring in Austin. Again, I have not kept up. Like I am telling you, it was not in our legislative agenda. That was the senator’s deal and he can run with it.”

Vela Whitacre said: “I have not asked yet (what has happened to the bill). I will have to call Roy (Rodriguez, city manager of McAllen). If I am elected mayor I do have plans to visit (with the water district) and work something out that is in the best interests of everybody in the city. We need to be able to talk to each other have somebody (from the city) on the board (of the water district) and make sure that things are in place because it is all for the best interests of the city of McAllen. That is what is most important.”

Editor’s Note: The author of this story had a brief business relationship in the past with the water district. In exchange for providing “eyes and ears” security for WD facilities at a heavily-trafficked border crossing, he was provided temporary accommodation.

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