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Under Senate Bill 1389, a task force of border mayors would advise the border commerce coordinator. The task force would likely include Eagle Pass Mayor Ramsey English Cantu (pictured above).

AUSTIN, Texas – A bill authored by four of the five Texas border senators to establish a Texas-Mexico Commission to deal with a range of issues important to the border region has been left languishing in a Senate committee.

However, a similar piece of legislation authored by the other Texas border senator is moving at a steady clip through the Legislature. Senate Bill 1389, introduced by Sen. Eddie Lucio sets up a border mayor task force, to be named the Texas Good Neighbor Committee.

The name of the committee derives from the Good Neighbor Commission, which was established in 1943 as a state agency to handle social, cultural, and economic problems of Mexican Americans in Texas and to strengthen political ties of Texas with Mexico and other Latin American nations.

The legislation that is languishing in committee without likelihood of a hearing is Senate Bill 1953, authored by Sens. Juan Hinojosa, Judith Zaffirini, Carlos Uresti, and Jose Rodriguez. The Texas-Mexico Commission that SB 1953 would have set up would have dealt with trade, transportation, infrastructure, environment and healthcare issues. A full explanation of what SB 1953 would have done is provided at the end of this story.

“Senate Bill 1953 was not given a hearing, but I am delighted that many of its goals would be accomplished by the passage of SB 1389 by Senator Eddie Lucio, which I co-authored with the other border senators. The Senate passed SB 1389 overwhelmingly on Monday,” said Sen. Zaffirini.

“SB 1389 would not only direct the state’s Border Commerce Coordinator to work to improve the movement of commercial vehicles across the border while increasing trade and mitigating congestion, but also would authorize the appointment of a task force of border city mayors to work with their counterparts in Mexico and advise the state on issues related to border trade, transportation and security. Accordingly, the bill would address key priorities of border communities, improve the flow of international trade and enhance cross-border communication and cooperation.”

Zaffirini said she looks forward to “continuing to work closely during the interim with my colleagues from the border region and throughout the state to further our efforts to improve border commerce.”

In addition to Zaffirini, Sens. Hinojosa, Uresti, Rodriguez, and Jose Menendez have signed on as co-authors of SB 1389. Lucio explained the purpose of his legislation when it came before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development on April 28. He said SB 1389 updates the statute dealing with the Border Commerce Coordinator.

“The bill directs the coordinator to work to improve movement of commercial vehicles across the border and work with the appropriate state and federal agencies to develop initiatives to mitigate congestion and increase trade at our ports of entry,” Lucio told the committee. “Senate Bill 1389 provides for the coordinator to appoint a border mayor task force that will advise the coordinator on key trade and transportation related issues important to border municipalities.”

The border mayor task force – to be known as the Texas Good Neighbor Committee – will comprise the mayors of border municipalities that have sister cities in Mexico. An analysis of Lucio’s bill by the Senate Research Center says the task force will “meet with their counterparts in Mexico in order to increase cooperation, communication, and the flow of information, and identify problems and provide recommendations to assist the coordinator in carrying out the coordinator’s statutory duties.”

SB 1389 says the task force will comprise “mayors from every municipality located in this state along the border between Texas and Mexico that has an adjoining sister city in Mexico.” The task force is required to:

(1)  advise the coordinator on key trade, security, and transportation-related issues important to the municipalities appointed to the task force;
(2)  hold quarterly meetings with mayors from Mexico to increase cooperation, communication, and  the flow of information; identify problems; and recommend solutions;
(3)  seek assistance and input from private sector stakeholders involved in commerce to identify issues to address; and
(4)  provide recommendations to assist the coordinator in carrying out the coordinator’s statutory duties.

Among those registering in favor of SB 1389 but not wishing to testify were Sergio Contreras, representing the City of Pharr and the Pharr International Bridge Board, Brie Franco representing the City of El Paso, Buddy Garcia, representing himself, Amber Hausenfluck representing the City of McAllen, and Elizabeth Lippincott, representing the Texas Border Coalition.

Lucio’s legislation passed the Senate on a 26 to 5 vote and has now moved over to the House, where it will be heard by the House Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Relations.

SB 1953, authored by Sens. Hinojosa, Zaffirini, Uresti and Rodriguez, would have set up a Texas-Mexico Commission. But, it has not been given a hearing by Sen. Troy Fraser, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development.

Editor’s Note: To differentiate SB 1389 from SB 1953, the text and actions of SB 1953 have been placed in this shaded typeface:

Senate Bill 1953 states that:

“The ongoing economic stability and growth of Texas and the improved quality of life for all Texans are dependent in part on coordination with neighboring states. Texas and the Mexican border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas face common challenges in the areas of infrastructure, health care, access to and availability of water, economic development and trade, security and public safety, and environmental protection. The commission will encourage a collaborative approach between Texas and neighboring Mexican states in specific areas so as to better address challenges and plan for the future.”

The commission would have been composed of the border commerce coordinator or a designee, the Secretary of State or a designee, one member appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the lieutenant governor, and one member appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives.

To be eligible for appointment to the commission by the governor, lieutenant governor, or speaker of the House of Representatives, a person must have resided in a county that borders the United Mexican States for the three years immediately preceding the date on which the person’s term will begin.

The Commission would have:

* represented government agencies within the Texas-Mexico border region to help reduce regulations by improving communication and cooperation between federal, state, and local governments;
* examined trade issues between the United States and Mexico;
* studied the flow of commerce at ports of entry between this state and Mexico, including the movement of commercial vehicles across the border, and establish a plan to aid that commerce and improve the movement of those vehicles;
* worked with federal officials to resolve transportation issues involving infrastructure, including roads and bridges, to allow for the efficient movement of goods and people across the border between Texas and Mexico;
* worked with federal officials to create a unified federal agency process to streamline border crossing needs;
* identified problems involved with border truck inspections and related trade and transportation infrastructure;
* worked to increase funding for the North American Development Bank to assist in the financing of water and wastewater facilities;
* explored the sale of excess electric power from Texas to Mexico;
* identified areas of environmental protection that need to be addressed cooperatively between Texas and the Mexican states;
* identified common challenges to health care on which all states can collaborate; [and]
* developed recommendations, when possible, for addressing border security challenges; and
* established and appointed committees as it considered necessary to study specific issues affecting the Texas-Mexico border region.

The commission would likely have met at least once a year. In each even-numbered year, the commission would have held a Texas-Mexico Border Summit to be held in a Texas county that borders the United Mexican States.  The commission would have invited to the summit representatives from the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas [during the Border Governors Conference] to discuss issues and challenges of the Texas-Mexico border region and developed strategic collaborative approaches for addressing the challenges.
Not later than January 1 of each odd-numbered year, the commission would have submitted to the legislature its recommendations to address challenges faced by the Texas-Mexico border region.