UT merger, med school bill clears legislative hurdle; awaits Senate’s OK - Valley Morning Star : Local News

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UT merger, med school bill clears legislative hurdle; awaits Senate’s OK

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Posted: Monday, May 20, 2013 11:16 pm

AUSTIN — Legislation to merge the Rio Grande Valley’s two universities and create a medical school here received a final stamp of approval Monday in the Texas House of Representatives.

The state House unanimously passed Senate Bill 24 on a third and final reading, sending it back to its original authors who have already said they will support the compromise plan announced last week.

All that remains before the legislation is sent to Gov. Rick Perry is for state senators Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, to concur with the House’s changes.

Hinojosa’s spokeswoman said his office received the paperwork from the House late Monday and was preparing it to formally submit it to the governor, a process that could take place as early as tonight.

Valley lawmakers have lauded the plan as transformational for the region. State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said the bill opens access to funding streams previously unavailable to the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville.

 “This will impact generations to come because once we start being able to access research dollars and we start being able to access companies that would never think about locating in the Valley before,” Oliveira said, “a super university like this with the potential to become a Tier One university like UT-Austin or Texas A&M-College Station brings in so many other things.”

The proposal’s passage has been largely assured since Thursday, when Valley lawmakers reached a compromise over the largest issue that threatened to derail it. Hidalgo and Cameron county leaders had sparred over the location of the medical school since Hinojosa moved to place the medical school’s primary presence in Hidalgo County.

SB 24 was amended Friday to reflect the compromise plan stating that the medical school would take advantage of all facilities in the two counties under the direction of the University of Texas System as it develops the medical school.

The amendment tasks the system with ensuring that the educational programs for first- and second-year students be placed in Hidalgo County and programs for third- and fourth-year students in Cameron County. The amendment says offices overseeing undergraduate medical education should be located in Hidalgo County, and offices overseeing the graduates’ residency programs should be located in Cameron County.

It also says that educational programs for all medical students should take advantage of the existing Regional Academic Health Centers in Harlingen and Edinburg.

The new university, based on current enrollment figures, would have a combined student population of more than 27,000 students, making it the nation’s second-largest Hispanic-serving institution.

It would also be eligible for the Permanent University Fund, a $13.9 billion endowment built through oil and gas revenues that is used by the UT System for programs ranging from construction to faculty retention.

The two Valley schools are the only UT universities without access to the funds because they were incorporated into the system after their formation.

The Valley’s new university would also qualify for “emerging research university” status, making it eligible for incentives designed to encourage Texas schools to strive to become top-tier research universities.

Cost savings from consolidating administrative operations at UTPA and UTB will be reinvested into the new university and its medical school.

“The goal is to create as many efficiencies as possible using existing resources and technology,” state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen, said in a statement. “Through the enrollment created by the new university structure, we will have access to increase funding, which means quality of life and new opportunities for our students.”

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