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New South Texas University Bill Heads to Governor's Desk

UPDATED: The Senate on Wednesday concurred with the House amendments to Senate Bill 24, creating a regional university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. The bill will now head to the governor's desk.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, speaks to aides on the Senate floor prior to laying out CSSB1420 the TXDOT sunset legislation on April 18, 2011.

Updated, May 22: 

The Senate on Wednesday concurred with the House amendments to Senate Bill 24, creating a regional university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. The bill will now head to Gov. Rick Perry's desk, where it is expected to be signed.

“The creation of this new university in South Texas is a historic moment for the future students who will fill the classrooms, proudly call this university their alma mater, and create a brighter future for themselves and their families," Perry said in a statement. "And through the creation of the new medical school, we continue our uncompromising commitment to improving access to care and keeping our growing population healthy.”

The amendments represented a compromise that allowed the bill to move forward after stalling due to disagreements over who would get to decide where the medical facilities were located.

As he made the motion to concur with the compromise language, state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said, "We look at a new day and a bright future for healthcare, education, and the Valley."

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said the bill's passage "marked the culmination of decades of work." He praised state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, for crafting the compromise.

"In the darkest and most challenging moments, he demonstrated incredible leadership," the elder Lucio said of his son.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, reminded her colleagues: "This is really about Texas. The focus is on South Texas but what is good for South Texas is good for the whole state."

Original story, May 17:

The Texas House unanimously approved a bill on Friday that was amended to reflect a compromise struck by the Rio Grande Valley delegation that will create a new university and medical school in the region.

The plan to merge the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center, all of which are under the auspices of the University of Texas System, entered the session with significant momentum but recently appeared to have stalled.

Then, with only two weeks left in the session, the bill sparked a dispute over who should decide where the medical school portion of the university is located. The original bills filed in the House and Senate called for an advisory group assembled by the UT System to make the determination. 

In the Senate Higher Education Committee, state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, added language to House Bill 1000 that would establish that the first two years of students' medical education are to be conducted primarily in Hidalgo County — his county — and the second two years primarily in neighboring Cameron County.

Some feared the bill would not allow the UT System enough leeway to build a top-tier medical school, but others felt it was necessary to clarify in statute where the facilities would be located rather than wait for the issue to be studied further.

When Senate Bill 24, which contained the original language, was brought up in the House on Friday, an amendment was added that state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, standing alongside the entire Valley delegation, said was a proposal from the UT System "that cemented us together."

"Like any family, we have squabbles, and like any family, we unite," Oliveira said.

The bill as amended creates an office to oversee undergraduate education in Hidalgo County and an office to oversee graduate education in Cameron County. It says educational programs for the first two years of students' medical education should primarily be run in Hidalgo, and programs for the third and fourth year should be run in Cameron. And it also says that the system must ensure that all existing facilities and resources are fully utilized.

"Ultimately, this leaves enough flexibility for the UT System to have a regional medical school," said state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen, the author of the amendment.

After SB 24 clears the House, it will go to the Senate, where it is expected to be easily approved. With the support of more than two-thirds of the Legislature, the new university will be eligible to receive money from the Permanent University Fund, a major source of revenue that only certain schools are allowed to tap.

Morgan Smith contributed to this report.

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