AUSTIN, Texas – On Feb. 10, 2015, more than 100 community and business leaders and elected officials from the Rio Grande Valley visited Austin for RGV Day at the state Capitol.
They unveiled a legislative agenda packet at a luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel. The legislative agenda brochure focused on four areas: Border Security and Immigration, Infrastructure, Workforce Priorities, and Higher Education.
Steve Ahlenius, president & CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, gave a presentation on the Border Security and Immigration agenda. Julian Alvarez, president & CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, gave a presentation on the Infrastructure agenda. Carlos Margo, executive director of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Educational Initiative, gave a presentation on the Workforce Priorities agenda. Richard P. Sanchez, director of state and local governmental relations at UT-Rio Grande Valley, gave a presentation on the Higher Education agenda.
On visits to the offices of the 181 state lawmakers, the Valley leaders dropped off the legislative agenda packets. The Rio Grande Guardian is posting these four agenda items as they appear in the brochure:
1) RGV Legislative Agenda on Border Security and Immigration
Homeland Security is a top priority on the Texas-Mexico Border. It is also important to understand that stand-alone provisions will not succeed in preventing crime or illegal immigration.
Congress must approve a comprehensive immigration reform package. The legislation must include more Customs and Border Protection agents at the ports of entry and development of a viable guest worker program.
Currently, several proposed pieces of legislation by the State of Texas for securing the Texas-Mexico Border could lead to unintended consequences that would have far-reaching ramifications and costs beyond what the State of Texas is willing to assume. Border security and immigration are complex issues that need serious study and in-depth understanding beyond simple slogans and simple rhetoric.
Any legislation should ensure a system for safe, efficient and trouble-free visits for the millions of legal international visitors who come here. These visitors are here to conduct legitimate business, visit family and to see and experience the United States. The legislation should not cause significant disruptions to Texas and the national economy.
RGV Legislative position:
* Support initiatives for more state investigators to be located in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties;
* Invest in an additional Texas Ranger Company to be stationed in South Texas;
* Initiate and support funding proposals for southbound inspections at international bridges;
* Support expanded “permanent” stationing and training of Department of Public Safety troopers, aerial facilities and a cybercrime investigation unit;
* Provide state funding for overtime for local law enforcement;
* Fund and provide 150 additional game wardens to be stationed in South Texas;
* Oppose legislation that would require local law enforcement officers to interpret and enforce federal immigration laws – local law enforcement’s time and efforts should be focused on law enforcement;
* The National Guard deployment has not worked and has wasted valuable resources;
* Support comprehensive immigration reform, especially legislation that would meet employers’ needs and give them access to a legal workforce;
* Balance security with legitimate trade and travel because both are vital to the border economy;
* Secure the border against criminal elements and drug traffickers.
President & CEO
McAllen Chamber of Commerce
2) RGV Legislative Agenda on Infrastructure
Transportation and infrastructure are a top priority for the Rio Grande Valley for the current legislative session.
The RGV now has about 1.4 million people and because we are in an international zone we have tens of thousands more from across the Rio Grande that use our roads every day. That and the region’s trucks, carrying product and commodities to markets throughout Texas put a unique demand of the region’s roads.
Better transportation, better mobility is what can improve economic development. Increased mobility can create jobs, improve trade and lower the unemployment rate. The RGV’s economy is growing a quick clip. Cameron and Hidalgo counties especially continue to develop new jobs. Unemployment rates for McAllen, Edinburg, Harlingen and others are the lowest in seven years. Construction is also at its highest point in many years.
Our trade, tourism, medical and manufacturing sectors continue to expand. But, without funding to build better, wider, smarter roads – like the rest of Texas – the RGV’s growth could be limited. That’s why we are supporting funding for FM 1925 as a crucial east-west corridor, assistance for the Port of Brownsville for its deep water efforts and continued support of the second causeway to connect South Padre Island. These are some of our top priorities.
The Rio Grande Valley this 2015 legislative session will be asking our legislators to continue supporting our regional infrastructural needs which include the following maritime and transportation priorities:
* Continue supporting I-69 designation (US 77/US 281)
* FM 1925 Hidalgo County to Cameron County future connection to address capacity on I-2.
* SH 550 Direct Connector to Port of Brownsville
* Overweight Corridors in both Cameron and Hidalgo along US 281 Military Highway
* Continue supporting the Second Access to South Padre Island
* Deep water port funding for all seaport through TxDOT
All of the above-identified priorities play a key role in the growth of the Rio Grande Valley and to its Economic Development future.
President & CEO
Rio Grande Valley Partnership
3) RGV Legislative Agenda for Workforce Priorities
A highly skilled and competitive workforce is a priority for the Rio Grande Valley.
Community/technical colleges play an essential role in the economic prosperity of the local communities, region, and in the state. They link workforce demands to quality educational offerings that meet industry requirements. A key tool in achieving these goals is the Texas Workforce Commission Skills Development Fund. This customized training program establishes a partnership between community/technical colleges and industry.
The skills Development Fund is not keeping pace with the job growth in the state. Texas has increased the civilian labor force from 12.8 million in December 2013 to $13 million in December 2014. TWC trained 14,262 new and incumbent workers in 2013 through the SDF (65 percent were in the manufacturing sector). South Texas College has trained 15,000 workers since 1997.
In the Rio Grande Valley, for example, the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission MSA with a 5.2 percent change in the private sector jobs from 2007 to 2012 ranks third in the nation in job growth. A skilled workforce is vital to sustained economic growth in the region.
GED – Skills Credentials:
Texas has 3.4 million adults without a high school diploma. (At least 60 percent of jobs in Texas will require certification or a college degree in 2020).
Texas is not positioned to meet this demand. 44 percent of Texans over 25 never attended college (2012 American Community Survey).
With more jobs requiring some postsecondary education, it is critical to align adult education with college training to get many more Texans on a path to a career in high demand or emerging occupations.
RGV Legislative Priorities:
Support increasing funding level to $58 million for the TWC Skills Development.
Support the TWC’s request for $20 million to fund the Accelerate Texas Program to develop career pathways for students needing a GED Post Career/Technical Credentials.
President & CEO
McAllen Economic Development Corporation
4) RGV Legislative Agenda on Higher Education
The higher education landscape of the Rio Grande Valley has taken a major leap forward with the establishment of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) and the continued strength of our community and technical colleges – South Texas College, Texas State Technical College and Texas Southmost College – which fulfill a critical need for workforce development and transition to four-year institutions.
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley:
UTRGV opens in fall 2015 and will be a bold new institution that holds the promise to forever benefit the academic and economic well-being of South Texas.
UTRGV will be the result of the consolidation of the Valley’s higher education resources at UT Pan American, UT Brownsville, and the Regional Academic Health Science Center in Harlingen. With the addition of the Valley’s long-awaited Medical School, to welcome its inaugural class of students July 2016, the University will truly be a regional institution that will host nearly 30,000 students across a four-county region.
In higher education, a high priority for the 84th Legislative Session is to assure success of UTRGV’s School of Medicine and to leverage efforts previously made in the RGV by UT Health Science Center San Antonio. The new School of Medicine has the potential to transform the region, state and nation by becoming a leader in student success, teaching, research and healthcare. The University is requesting $40 million in new funds for start-up and operation of the School of Medicine.
RGV: Legislative Priorities:
* In-state tuition for undocumented students
* Performance-based funding based on student success points
* Common course number system and academic course guide manual
* Dual enrollment programs and House Bill 5 (including Early College High Schools & Texas Academy of Math & Science)
* Adult Basic Education
* Graduate Medical Education
* Extension of 1115 Waiver Funds
* Workforce Development and Career Pathway Program (i.e., JET and Accelerate Texas Program)
* Hazlewood Tuition Benefits (provide relief of the growing cost of this benefit to deserving veterans)
* Research funding for Coastal Studies Research Center, Biomedical Sciences Research, the South Texas Water Research Focus, Energy Research Focus, and the Center for Bilingual Studies Translation & Interpretation Initiative.
* THECB’s funding requests for TEXAS Grants, B-on-Time loans and work-study programs.
* Greater transferability of prior credits and classes from community colleges
* Removal of barriers to online education
* Competency-based education
* Tuition Revenue Bonds to support growing enrollments
* Bachelor Degrees offered by Community Colleges
* Tri-Agency Recommendations (TEA, THECB, TWC) for more accessible and affordable education and training opportunities for all Texans.
Oppose: Concealed or open carry of handguns on campus.
Ramiro Garza, Jr.
City of Edinburg
Richard P. Sanchez
Director of State and Local Governmental Relations
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Gold Sponsors for RGV Day at the state Capitol were: City of Edinburg, City of Harlingen, City of McAllen, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, McAllen Chamber of Commerce, McAllen Convention & Visitors Bureau, McAllen Economic Development Corporation, Rio Grande Valley Partnership, Texas Regional Bank, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Silver Sponsors of RGV Day at the state Capitol were: AIM Media Texas, AEP Texas, Anzalduas International Bridge, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP, Mission Economic Development Corporation, McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Port of Brownsville, South Texas College.