After weeks of bickering about the medical school’s location, the legislation that creates a new university in South Texas passed its final vote Wednesday night in the Texas Senate. It is now headed to the governor’s desk for a signature.
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, the bill’s author, concurred with the amendments added in the House during a vote late last week that would split the undergraduate and graduate medical school between Hidalgo and Cameron counties, respectively.
“I would like to thank the Valley delegation for working together as a unit,” Hinojosa said on the Senate chamber floor. “I will tell you that for us there were some very contentious issues, but as we worked through the process we took the approach that would benefit the whole Valley.”
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, called the milestone a “bold new vision for the Valley.”
The bill for the new school, which also merges the University of Texas at Brownsville and UT-Pan American, has been making its way through the Legislature since February. The plans for the new university were first announced during a UT System Board of Regents meeting in December.
“We started this session with the goal of creating this new university,” Lucio said. “We had some contentious issues but we resolved them.”
In a statement, state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, a House sponsor of the bill, said, “While this may be the end of a short legislative journey, it is the beginning of a bright and prosperous future for the young people of South Texas. The new university, the Permanent University money, and the medical school will prove to be the most significant developments in the history of the region."
Once Gov. Rick Perry signs it into law, the bill establishes access to a share of the $13.9 billion Permanent University Fund for the merged universities.
“The creation of this new university in South Texas is a historic moment for the future students who will fill the classrooms, proudly call this university their alma mater, and create a brighter future for themselves and their families. And through the creation of the new medical school, we continue our uncompromising commitment to improving access to care and keeping our growing population healthy,” Perry said in a statement.
It is unknown when the governor will sign the bill into law.
UTB President Juliet V. Garcia said she was “thrilled.”
“I’m almost speechless, if that’s possible for me,” Garcia said.
Discussions about what will happen next for UTB and UTPA have been muted, Garcia said.
“We’ve all been afraid to jinx it by talking about what’s next” Garcia said, “but now we will discuss it.”
The Board of Regents, Garcia said, is the sole distributor of the Permanent University Fund — a large endowment paid by oil and gas revenues to state universities within the UT and Texas A&M systems.
“It’s not a formulaic decision,” Garcia said. “They decide what the projects are with the most need.”