The Senate Higher Education Committee approved a slightly amended version of SB 24, the bill merging UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American, after hearing testimony from UT System and Valley city officials Wednesday morning.
The original bill is identical to Rep. René Oliveira’s (D-Brownsville) House bill creating single mega-university for South Texas.
Hinojosa introduced his bill to a less emotional and more light-hearted room than the crowd for Oliveira’s bill a few weeks ago. Hinojosa said his amended bill simply cleaned up some of the language from the original bill.
Hinojosa said the merger of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville, and the creation of a new medical school, would benefit the Valley and let the school access more funding from the state, the same sales pitch supporters in the House have made.
“The [UT] System estimates that the new university and school of medicine could account for between 7, 000 and 10,000 new jobs in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas,” he said. “This may be the start of emerging industry related to the university.” Migrant healthcare and port industries were two examples he offered.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D- San Antonio), a co-author on the bill, said Starr County would also get a new academic higher education center.
UTPA President Robert Nelsen said the bill is about educating the fast-growing population in South Texas and supplying the Valley with much-needed doctors. “It’s called the ‘Magic Valley.’ The magic in the Valley is the people, and we have a chance to be able to a make a difference in their lives,” he said. “This bill is about doing the right thing. If we don’t get it right in South Texas, as I’ve said for the last four years, if we don’t get it right in South Texas, we don’t get it right in this nation and we especially don’t get it right in this sate.”
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell said that his city, and most others in the Valley, have passed resolutions supporting the merger of UT-Pan Am and UT-Brownsville. “[SB 24] truly brings an opportunity to unify a region and to bring collaboration to an entire region to improve the quality of life and healthcare availability and educational access to all of our citizens,” he said.
With nobody opposed to the bill, the committee members unanimously voted it out to the Senate floor, then took a moment to applaud.