FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 16, 2007
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade (IRT), and as a member of the Finance Committee, I worked with fellow legislators during this recently completed session on a number of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of those living in economically distressed areas of the state, including in our Texas-Mexico border region.
I thank Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for his tremendous leadership that helped ensure our success on these and many other issues. The positive impact from these bills will affect not only those with low incomes, but everyone who calls Texas home.
We passed Senate Joint Resolution 20 (SJR 20), which I authored and that proposes a $250 million package of water and wastewater bonds. If approved by Texas voters in November (Constitutional Amendment 16 on the ballot), this initiative can provide critical water and sewer services by funding the Economically Distressed Areas Program II (EDAP II). This is a key program for the people of South Texas. According to the Texas Water Development Board, in my Senate District 27 alone, nearly 600,000 individuals live in 103 communities classified as Economically Distressed. If these communities have demonstrable water need, they may be eligible to apply for EDAP II funding. Contingent upon the passage of the constitutional amendment, our budget committees in the Senate and House provided enough money to issue a total of $87 million in all EDAP bonds within the next two years. That is why it is critical that everyone register and vote in November!
We also provided enough revenue to issue $43 million in transportation bonds under the Colonia Road Access Program that I authored and helped establish in 2001. School buses, emergency vehicles and everyone traveling to and from these communities will have access to paved roads instead of dangerous potholes that transform into lakes during rainy weather.
To protect our low-income Texans from unscrupulous developers, the Legislature funded my proposal to provide the Attorney General of Texas nearly a half million dollars for four "Colonia Investigators" to enforce the state's Colonia Prevention Laws. The enforcement of these laws is critical toward ensuring that low-income Texans are not victimized by those who would prey on their innocence. We can't raise the quality of life if we continue to see "shanty towns" develop in our great state.
Along the same lines, I authored Senate Bill 781, which for the first time in history provides to victims of unscrupulous developers the legal right to seek help from a court so that developers who violate state law can be held accountable for their actions. As has been reported, some individuals have continued to defy the state's Colonia Prevention Laws by selling illegally platted lots of land. Until the passage of SB 781, those who fell prey to illegal plat developers could not seek a court injunction to hold them accountable. With passage of this legislation, which was recently signed into law, victims of these sub-dividers are provided new legal remedies against those who fail to comply with state water and sewer services laws. Not only can these homeowners request intervention from a court via a court injunction, they can also request from the court compensation of actual expenses incurred as a result of the failure of the developer to provide water and sewer services.
I also worked with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to follow through on my committee's recommendation to significantly increase the amount of the Housing Trust Fund. Historically, the vast majority of this Fund has been used to fund the popular Bootstrap Self-Help Program, which I helped establish back in 1997 to allow families to provide part or all of the labor to build or improve their homes. We were successful in doubling the amount of the Housing Trust Fund by appropriating an additional $5 million. This money will go a long way towards improving living conditions for many more low-income Texans by providing greater affordable housing opportunities to them.
These were some of the many accomplishments that I am proud of. These new laws will be of great benefit to the people of my District and the entire state. I thank our Lieutenant Governor, as well as fellow legislators and supporters, for their efforts that helped us craft and pass this meaningful legislation. However, I continue to seek support for a number of additional initiatives that can raise the standard of living and housing in our communities.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.