Members of the Texas House on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a bill to create a new South Texas university that includes a medical school.
House Bill 1000 by state Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, must be read and approved one more time by the House before it moves to the Senate. The Senate has already approved a similar measure, which calls for a merger between the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center.
Though the House's support on Tuesday was unanimous, the discussion of the bill was not without its testy moments.
State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, rose to question Oliveira about the Rio Grande Valley region's number of residency slots for graduate medical education. Davis said she did not want supporters of the bill — including herself — to have the impression that passing the bill would solve the state's physician shortage.
"It needs to be a priority in this body to increase residency capacity," she said.
Oliveira agreed but said that could be addressed in other bills. He said the South Texas medical school anticipates having sufficient residency slots.
He also noted that one of the major components of the bill is granting the new university access to the state's Permanent University Fund, a pot of money that only certain institutions can access. Neither UT-Brownsville nor UT-Pan American currently benefits from the fund.
In order for the new university to get access to the Permanent University Fund, the bill must pass with two-thirds approval in both chambers, which currently does not appear to be a problem.
A similar bill, Senate Bill 24 by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, passed the Senate on March 13 with only one vote in opposition, Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.
Schwertner's concerns stemmed from the residency capacity issues raised by Davis. "Once we've addressed the need for these new residency slots, we can then focus our attention on the possibility of building new medical schools or expanding the enrollment of our existing institutions," he said after casting his opposing vote.
That measure has yet to be referred to a House committee.