FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 19, 2005
AUSTIN, TX - Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) filed the first of a series of bills addressing critical trade and transportation findings documented in the Senate Committee's International Relations and Trade (IRT) Interim Report. Co-authoring the bills are Senators Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso). Senator Lucio chairs the IRT Committee.
Senate Bill 183 will increase the effectiveness of the Texas Transportation Commission's Border Trade Advisory Committee. Since its creation in 2001, the Advisory Committee has yet to produce a single recommendation to address the critical transportation needs of the Border region. SB 183 will address this loss of opportunity by strengthening the membership of the Advisory Committee to include key transportation and Border leaders. As part of the reform, SB 183 makes the Texas' Border Commerce Coordinator the chair of the Advisory Committee.
"This bill addresses the 'steep learning curve' of the existing Border Trade Advisory Committee by broadening the membership of the Committee. It requires the new entity to define and develop strategies and make recommendations to the Texas Transportation Commission and the Governor for addressing the Border's highest priority transportation and trade challenges," said Sen. Lucio.
Senate Bill 185 will reform the powers and duties of the office of the Border Commerce Coordinator. The bill codifies two motions passed by the IRT Committee during its October Laredo hearing. It makes the Coordinator's Office more accountable by requiring the Coordinator to work with local governments, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and others in the Border transportation districts of Pharr, Laredo and El Paso to address the unique planning and capacity needs of Border communities.
SB 185 requires the Coordinator to establish an advisory committee to identify truck inspection problems at Texas' ports-of-entry and to develop recommendations to mitigate delays at our international bridges. The Coordinator is also required to develop a Commerce and Trade plan for the state of Texas.
"In order for Texas to continue to be competitive in trade, we must have a blueprint of what our goals and strategies should be for our state. We must develop initiatives that will increase trade by attracting new business ventures, supporting the expansion of existing industries and addressing our workforce needs. SB 185 requires the creation of a Commerce and Trade Plan to specifically address these goals," said Sen. Lucio.
Sen. Lucio also praised Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for establishing the Committee and affording them an opportunity to address Texas' economic development, trade and transportation needs. He added, "Gov. Dewhurst has provided the necessary leadership by giving the IRT Committee far-reaching charges critical to addressing the true infrastructure and commerce needs of the state."
"I want to commend the senior member of the Border delegation, Sen. Zaffirini and the vice-chair of IRT, Sen. Shapleigh, for co-authoring these two critical bills," added Sen. Lucio.
"NAFTA's benefits for the Border are complex," said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, senior senator for the border region, "as are its downsides, including increased traffic congestion and safety concerns, decreased air quality and a greater demand on our schools and social services. With Sen. Lucio's legislation and the leadership of Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, I am confident that we can see more of the positive changes NAFTA intended for our border residents."
Sen. Eliot Shapleigh noted, "Our Texas Border is the gateway to the future, if we expand economic opportunity along the Border, every Texan wins."
Another critical provision of SB 185 is to require the Commerce Coordinator to work with private industry and other entities so that low-sulfur fuel is sold along Texas highways carrying increased NAFTA-related traffic. The Coordinator will work with the Mexican government and the governments of neighboring Mexican states to increase the use of low-sulfur fuel.
"This bill may help reduce an emerging threat to air quality in Texas," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Texas Public Citizen. "Pollution from Mexican trucks is typically 30 percent greater than from U.S. trucks. As the Border opens, emissions from these trucks will threaten air quality in Texas cities. Studies have shown that the fastest way to reduce these emissions is to use low-sulfur fuels, both in Texas and in Mexico. We applaud the efforts of Senators Lucio, Zaffirini and Shapleigh to find solutions to this problem "
Staff Contact: Mr. Dan Esparza, JD, IRT Committee Director, 512-463-0385.