FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 14, 2010
AUSTIN — Yesterday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced the legislative interim charges for the International Relations and Trade (IRT) Committee based on Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.'s earlier recommendations and work submitted by him as IRT’s Chairman.
In addition to the IRT Committee charges, Sen. Lucio was pleased that two of Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's top job creation priority issues for the interim were based on recommendations submitted by his IRT Committee. One directs the Economic Development Committee to review the effectiveness of state programs aimed at assisting small business growth and development, while the other directs Chairman Lucio’s Committee to review the state’s efforts aimed at helping distressed areas, coastal regions and rural communities to compete in the international marketplace.
"I am thankful for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's leadership in providing my Committee a series of broad-based charges that will allow IRT to work on key legislative reforms to address the capacity and resource needs of Texas’ communities, as well as provide necessary guided growth and development in our state," said Sen. Lucio.
Sen. Lucio explained that the lack of capacity, resources and access to critical development funds are major impediments for some communities in Texas to participate in commerce. This is true not only for distressed regions, but also for coastal and rural communities.
"Overall, these charges provide IRT the forum to work with key county and local officials to craft the needed legislative reforms to address our state’s trade-related needs. We will strive to engender regional development and foster increased trade by addressing the lack of capacity and resources needed to more easily facilitate economic and regional development, as well as tourism, in distressed, coastal and smaller communities. Our reforms will increase Texas’ competitive edge by allowing every community in our state to participate in the international marketplace. Through improved commerce our state will be the main beneficiary with a more vibrant and energetic economy,” added Sen. Lucio.
"As it is commonly known, trade and commerce are dependent on the timely transport, as well as arrival of goods," explained Sen. Lucio. "That is why I welcome the charge to develop proper efficiencies to reduce the crossing time for commerce shipments and expedite trade with Mexico, while not compromising security. This is a great opportunity to look at trade in coastal communities and more fully utilize our Texas ports to reduce shipment delays."
Addressing employment needs, Sen. Lucio noted, "Unfortunately, in different parts of the state, trade-displaced workers have confronted many obstacles in terms of the resources available to them so that they can become true participants in the economy. This is especially true for predominantly Spanish-speaking individuals along the border. We will work with key officials and stakeholders to develop initiatives that assist these hard-to-reach citizens with more job opportunities and placement help. This will not only reduce some unemployment in Texas, but will help our local economies."
Over the last two decades, the Committee has also developed legislative expertise in homeownership and substandard housing matters, particularly on border colonias and substandard housing conditions in other parts of the state.
Addressing the quality of life of low-income residents has been one of Sen. Lucio's main priorities since he was elected a public official. He feels that although we have come a long way to address the plight of those living in substandard housing along the border, much more needs to be done.
"Our charges enable IRT to work with key community, state and local officials to examine the effectiveness of our colonia prevention and remediation efforts, as well as homeownership initiatives geared to distressed areas. The need to provide greater affordable housing opportunities in regions with limited resources will be addressed head-on when IRT works with housing advocates, industry individuals and state officials to develop recommendations for better use and leveraging of our housing funds, including initiatives for new housing funding sources," he said.
“Through the legislative directives IRT has received, my committee has been given the opportunity to comprehensively address regional, economic and trade capacity, as well as development needs of the state. From Brownsville to Beaumont, Laredo to Lubbock, El Paso to Wichita Falls, the needs of distressed, coastal and smaller communities will be addressed through the interim hearings of the IRT Committee,” concluded Lucio.
Besides Chairman Lucio, the IRT Committee members include Senators Kel Seliger, Vice Chair, Wendy Davis, Craig Estes, Troy Fraser, Mario Gallegos Jr. and Tommy Williams.
Note: Committee Director is Mr. Dan Esparza, J.D., Committee Clerk/Policy Analyst is Ms. Natalie Fontenot and Communications Director is Ms. Doris Sanchez.
- Review the effectiveness of the Coordination of Colonia Initiatives and related measures addressed by the Committee and develop recommendations to better address substandard communities across the state where no potable water or sewage services are provided. Review state and local laws and policies relating to development and growth in unincorporated regions of the state and develop recommendations aimed at providing local units of government the necessary local control tools to curtail the spread of colonia-like developments in their jurisdictions.
- Examine effectiveness of state homeownership programs serving colonia residents. Study the need for contract for deed conversions in the colonias within 150 miles of the Texas/Mexico border. Examine existing statute regarding statewide distribution of the Texas Bootstrap Loan Program and recommend changes to increase the state’s ability to expedite allocation of funds. Develop recommendations to address abusive lending practices in distressed areas and fair housing violations in the colonias.
- Study and make recommendations for state actions to increase efficiencies and reduce wait times in crossing the Texas-Mexico border, while ensuring proper security. Review initiatives to maximize bridge-crossing revenue.
- Assess Texas’ trade-related programs and work with the appropriate state and federal agencies to develop initiatives that will increase NAFTA-related commerce in Texas. Make recommendations to encourage communities currently unable to participate in international trade, due to their lack of resources and capacity, to engage in such trade.
- Review the state’s efforts aimed at helping distressed areas, coastal regions and rural communities to compete in the international marketplace. Work with the appropriate state and federal agencies to develop recommendations to create initiatives that will build regional development and capacity with the goal of better facilitating trade and commerce, as well as tourism, in these communities.
- Review the state’s efforts and policies aimed at addressing the workforce training needs of trade-displaced citizens. Report on the effectiveness of these programs and develop recommendations to better assist hard to reach populations in distressed areas, including Spanish-predominant speaking displaced citizens along the Texas-Mexico border region.
- Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, 81st Legislature, Regular and Called Sessions, and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation.
- Review the housing initiatives addressed by the Committee and work with the appropriate housing officials to develop recommendations to better address the housing needs of smaller and distressed communities in Texas. Develop recommendations for the cost-effective use of existing housing monies, leveraging of funds and initiatives for new funding sources.