Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Yesterday, I received word that the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation, led in the House by Representative Rene Oliveira, has been successful in obtaining 100 members of the House to join as authors and co-authors of HB1000, the bill that would authorize the merger of UT Brownsville and UT Pan American and transform the Regional Academic Health Center into a medical school that would also become part of the new South Texas university. This means that if these same representatives vote as they have committed to vote by signing on as sponsors, the bill will receive two-thirds vote in favor in the House. It is a pivotal day in our destiny.
HB 1000 was the subject of the first hearing held by the Texas House Higher Education Committee this session. On February 20th Representative Rene Oliveira introduced the bill and named the creation of a new university in South Texas the most important bill during his 29-year career as a state legislator.
Members of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation each testified in support of the bill including Representatives Eddie Lucio III, Bobby Guerra, Terry Canales, Sergio Muñoz and Oscar Longoria. In a strong show of unity and harmony from both chambers, they were joined by Senators Eddie Lucio Jr. and Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, who showed their support for the bill. The legislators spoke passionately and personally about the long road that brought us to this pivotal moment.
Five students from the UT Brownsville Math & Science Academy who had traveled to Austin early that morning were eye witnesses to the historical hearing. Students attending included chemistry majors Alfred Ogletree, 18, and Samantha Gomez, 17; biology major Lauren Sanchez, 17; electrical engineering major Irania Rodriguez, 18; and accounting major Adrian Husain, 17. All are second year students in the program, which means that all are taking sophomore level college courses at UT Brownsville at the same time they are completing their requirements to graduate from high school. After two years at the Math and Science Academy, these students will have all completed their first two years of university studies earning at least 60 hours of college credit. For three of the five students, this trip marked their first trip to the state capitol and to Austin. They were accompanied by principal Dr. Steven Rosales and counselor Michelle Burkott.
In addition to attending the hearing, the students had the opportunity to meet several legislators and personally speak about their experience in the UTB Math and Science Academy. "It was great to realize that there are a lot of good people serving in government in Texas and that there are a lot of people who care about the Rio Grande Valley and our school," Lauren said.
After the legislators spoke, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, and UT Pan American President Robert Nelsen and I had the opportunity to speak about the great potential of the human capital of the Rio Grande Valley and the generations of people in our region who have been hungry for opportunity.
Last month the Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, Rep. Dan Branch, spoke at the press conference that announced the filing of HB 1000. He said his hope was that someday when people would talk about an innovative solution or a new commercialized product, they will have to ask which valley did that originate from: Silicon Valley or the Rio Grande Valley? Then last week, after learning more details during the hearing about the biomedical and gravitational wave astronomy research taking place at UT Brownsville, he concluded that he believed the Rio Grande Valley would become another hotbed of innovation even sooner than he had first anticipated.
Representative Oliveira closed out the testimony summarizing key features of the bill, reiterating the importance of the merger benefiting from broad-based regional support, thanking Governor Perry for his support of the bill in his State of the State Address, and making a passionate plea for bipartisan support.
As is customary when a bill is laid out, no vote was taken by the committee, however, it is anticipated to occur soon, as well as a Senate hearing on SB24.