The Texas Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a controversial committee substitute to House Bill 1000, which creates a new university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s a historic moment,” said Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.

The bill merges the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American to create a new university and, if it passes with two-thirds support of the Legislature, allows that institution access to a source of revenue known as the Permanent University Fund, which only certain schools can tap.

As originally filed, the bill left decisions regarding the location of the medical school, which would be a component of the new university, to an advisory panel assembled by the University of Texas System. In the Senate Higher Education Committee, state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, tweaked the language so that the bill would establish that the first two years of students' medical education are to be conducted primarily in Hidalgo County and the second two years primarily in Cameron County.

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A bill similar to the House's original version, Senate Bill 24, which does not include Hinojosa's changes, is scheduled to be considered by the House on Friday. Before HB 1000 can be sent to the governor, the House would have to accept the Senate committee's substitute or conference with the Senate to reach a final agreement.

Supporters of the amendments say that they have been working to build a medical school in the region for more than a decade, and that they would prefer a bill that provides concrete details about the facilities rather than a further period of study. Critics argue that the change does not allow the UT System enough flexibility to create the best possible medical school, and that it's a last-second change after the initial language was already approved in both legislative chambers.

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