University merger bill leaves House, awaits Senate - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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University merger bill leaves House, awaits Senate

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 10:15 am

House Bill 1000 passed its third reading in the chamber Wednesday in Austin.

The bill, which creates a new university in the Rio Grande Valley by combining both the University of Texas at Brownsville and UT-Pan American in Edinburg, swept through the Texas House of Representatives unopposed once again, with 149 votes in the 150-member House. Speaker Joe Straus abstained.

This was the second unanimous vote in as many days, after it received initial approval in a hearing Wednesday. The legislation also gives the new institution access to the Permanent University Fund — a reserve of state oil and gas revenue devoted to higher education.

The House bill now has to be approved in the Senate, said Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville.

“We still have some procedural hurdles to clear, but we have been moving quickly and positively through the process. House and Senate members in both parties have stepped up to the plate to do the right thing,” Oliveira said in a statement issued Tuesday.

An amendment that carries over fees from UTB and UTPA to the new institution, yet unnamed, was added to the House bill, and needs Senate approval.

The bills need to be reconciled into a single bill that can be signed by Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his support of the legislation during his State of the State address in January.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said he expects the bill to reach the Senate Committee on Higher Education in the next two weeks.

“The two bills should be received in their respective committees within the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Senate Bill 24, which Lucio co-authored, was passed last week in that chamber with only one opposing vote.

Attorneys for the UT System insisted the House amendment be added, Lucio and Oliveira said.

Lucio said the amendment makes sure that fees — like parking fees — will still be collected by the university.

“The UT System will continue to be able to collect the same fees by law,” Lucio said. “This will make sure any revenue is dedicated to paying off bonds at the existing campuses.”

Lucio said he is pleased with the proceedings.

“We waited for this moment for a long time,” he said.

mmontoya@brownsvilleherald.com

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