FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 20, 2002
Legislative issues near and dear to the heart of South Texans are under discussion in Austin. This is all good and well, but what is needed is direct input from the citizens who know first-hand the needs of our region.
Before the 78th legislative session that begins on Jan.14, 2003, I plan to conduct pre-legislative conferences to give every citizen and local official the opportunity to tell me, their Senator, what they want for the betterment of our communities. Through town hall meetings, I will listen to the people I've proudly represented for years from Cameron and Hidalgo counties, plus new constituents I plan to get to know as well from Willacy, Kleberg and Kenedy counties, who I am fortunate to now be representing through redistricting.
Although I am a lifelong resident of South Texas familiar with our needs and goals, my work and efforts are much more effective when the communities I represent offer their ideas directly to me and my staff.
Already I am developing certain measures for the upcoming session, one of which will be a proposal to regionalize the selection of the University of Texas Board of Regents. My bill would divide the state into six regions, and each regent be given a dedicated spot on the board. The governor would still select the appointees, with the added benefit of having three at-large positions.
Another program that has caught my eye is the Texas School Breakfast Initiative, which would expand the existing program to make every public school child eligible for a cost-free school breakfast, plus a cost-free lunch. This program would be the Texas School Breakfast/Lunch Initiative.
Based on national studies and from the experience of Texas school districts which have already piloted the program, the following educational benefits can be expected from such a project: reduced visits to school nurses; increased attention to sound nutrition at home; reduced absences due to headache or stomach ache; improved overall health; and decreased absences due to illness. Currently, 85 percent of Texas schools and 99 percent of our 1,260 school districts participate in the School Breakfast Program.
Another initiative I am presently researching would encourage trauma care doctors to practice in our area. The potential for huge lawsuits that trauma care doctors face makes it impossible for them to afford liability coverage. My goal is to ensure that we create an environment where trauma victims can receive the best medical care and doctors can practice medicine effectively and safely. Ultimately, I hope that we can set a high standard of trauma care and that South Texans can have more confidence in our regional health care facilities.
On Sept. 15, 2001, just days after the tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York, our area experienced another tragedy when eight South Texans were killed after a string of barges crashed into the Queen Isabella Bridge, causing it to collapse. In honor of these victims, I will introduce legislation renaming the Queen Isabella Bridge the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge.
These proposals are a brief highlight of what type of legislative package I can present next session with public support, approval and most importantly, participation. There are numerous rural and urban issues we must address, as well as solving the critical shortage of affordable housing to meet the needs of an area with a fast-growing population. We are also facing a possible retraction of the manifesto program, which allows Mexicans shopping in Texas to a full rebate on sales taxes merchandise they take back to Mexico. The fear from many store owners is that the restriction on the sales tax rebates would slow the numbers of shoppers that bring great revenues to the border.
Perhaps the state can continue allowing the tax rebates, but limit them to a certain amount on each purchase based on the Comptroller's items in her Sales Tax Holiday in August for families buying back-to-school clothes and shoes. All items priced under $100 are exempt from sales tax for the three-day weekend of the holiday.
These proposals, as well as the ideas and concerns by citizens can and should be discussed in a public forum. That is why I will conduct pre-legislative conferences throughout my district so that everyone's needs and the needs of each region of my district are made known. I will also be holding a public hearing of the Subcommittee on Border Affairs in Brownsville during the month of May. I invite the public to attend this hearing as well.