HARLINGEN — A delegation of local government and business leaders is heading to Austin today to oppose changing the state Senate version of the bill that would establish a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
The delegation is trying to block an amendment by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa that would remove key provisions in the original bills that created the Valley’s medical school, former Harlingen mayor Randy Whittington said.
Chamber of Commerce President Pam Priour said at least a dozen representatives from Harlingen have mobilized to meet with the region’s legislative delegation and to attend a meeting of the Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday.
Priour said they will present a letter with about 500 signatures to state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., and state representatives Eddie Lucio III, Oscar Longoria, and Rene Oliveira, as well as to state Sen. Kel Seliger, chairman of the Senate Highed Education Committee and Rep. Dan Branch, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee.
The original bills had unanimous support from the entire Valley legislative delegation and was neutral about how the new medical school would be structured, Whittington said. Decisions on the medical school curriculum, organization and locations should be left to the University of Texas Board of Regents, which will be advised on these matters by a committee
Now, Hinojosa’s amendment eliminates the advisory committee and provides that first and second year students would attend classes in Hidalgo County, and the third and fourth year students would have classes in Cameron County, Whittington said, calling the change “bad public policy,” and adding, “It’s not the agreement that everyone reached at the outset.”
Mayor Chris Boswell said politicians should not be micromanaging how the medical school should be organized.
“We think it should be left up to UT, rather than legislature to make these decisions,” he said.
The letter is “telling the legislature that we oppose the amendment and to leave the matter in the hands of UT. They’ve been building medical schools for 100 years.”
Priour said the two bills—House Bill 1000 and Senate Bill 24—that created the new university to make it eligible for funding from the Permanent University Fund are now sitting in engrossment, the point where the bills are combined into one document for the governor’s signature.
On Friday, when local officials, business and community members learned about Hinojosa’s proposed amendment, the trip to Austin was organized to deliver a letter to legislators.
“You can’t believe how this community has responded,” she said. “There’s been a steady flow of people all day, coming into this office to sign this letter.”
Whittington said he and others plan to meet with Sen. Lucio and others from the Valley’s legislative delegation to be sure they understand the opposition to the amendment.
“We think there’s an impression that there isn’t any opposition to this,” Whittington said of Hinojosa’s amendment. “They need to know that this amendment would be damaging to the overall quality of the medical school.”
He does not know who will testify at the Higher Education Committee’s hearing, Whittington said, but he expects Boswell will do so, as well as others.
Two campuses for medical students is “basically cutting the medical school in half,” Whittington said. There is a trend among medical schools to have third- and fourth-year medical students participate in teaching the first- and second-year students, which could not be done if the medical school is divided.
One of the first steps for the medical school is its accreditation, he said. When the accrediting authorities see that politicians have made decisions about it, and they are likely to be concerned about the quality of the program.
“My concern is that we have an opportunity to build (the medical school) in the absolute best way we can for a 21st century medical education,” he said. Intervention by politicians could undermine the opportunity.