WESLACO, RGV – Joe Pickett, a state representative from El Paso, is calling for a joint hearing between state and federal lawmakers to drive border port of entry conversations forward.
The Texas House Committee on Transportation and the Texas House Committee on International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs met for a joint hearing at Knapp Conference Center Mar. 20. During the hearing, Pickett, a former chair of the transportation panel, called for a joint hearing between the state and federal lawmakers because he believes a formal setting will push the infrastructure proposals closer to reality.
“[The state and federal lawmakers] are intertwined–one can’t do without the other. You need both entities in the same place, including the local government source,” Pickett told the Rio Grande Guardian, at the conclusion of the hearing. “It really drives it home when you make it a formal setting. Everybody’s sitting around a dais sharing information and findings. I think it exhilarates, excites and motivates people to actually do something.”
House Speaker Joe Straus gave the two committees a joint charge to consider during the interim. It is to:
“Review the current state of infrastructure of Texas’ International shipping ports and border ports of entry in Texas. Identify transportation-related impediments to international trade and estimate the impact of those challenges, including border wait times, on the state’s economy. Make recommendations for improvements to facilitate international trade and economic growth.”
The hearing took testimony on international trade and infrastructure requirements at land and sea ports of entry, including the Pharr International Bridge and the Port of Brownsville. According to a previous article by the Rio Grande Guardian, the hearing was a great opportunity for the people of the RGV to voice their suggestions.
Pickett said he would like to see a conversation at the federal level about how additional customs personnel along the border can be compensated. One solution was to initiate a program that would take in donations to fund the employees. However, a concern is how these funding streams are maintained once the grants or donations go away.
Pickett believes the optimal solution would be for the federal government to make the commitment and state the level at which the funding would be maintained. In return, the region would put a thousand Customs and Border Protection along the border and also fund the infrastructure.
“This is a partnership with the federal government and once again we’re at the forefront,” Pickett said. “They’re asking us to do everything 100 percent ourselves and yet the nation benefits from the commerce and trade with Mexico, our biggest trading partner, and it seems that we’re falling short of the resources that we need.”
Another proposal Pickett made during the hearing, perhaps half jokingly, was to let trucks crossing the border to proceed into the interior of the U.S. uninspected. The trucks could have green stickers attached so the federal government could inspect them further inland. This, he said, would save border communities from having long lines of trucks struck on their international bridges.
“The border is all of Texas and I know people disassociate sometimes. [They say], ‘I’m from north Texas, I’m from east Texas or I’m from the Panhandle. The border isn’t important to me,’” Pickett told the Rio Grande Guardian, after the hearing had ended.
“Of course it’s important to you. Whatever got to you on a truck that came through the border had to stop somewhere first and that was my community. That was a point I was trying to make and it’s not just our community that benefits–it’s yours. So, we need help with the border.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows state Reps. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, Joe Pickett of El Paso, and Tan Parker of Flower Mound, in discussion at the conclusion of a joint hearing of the House Committee on International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs and the House Committee on Transportation.