Less than a week after the first committee hearing on legislation creating a new South Texas university and medical school, at least 100 state House members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
That support, should it hold up for the legislative session, would push the bill above the two-thirds threshold required to open the Permanent University Fund endowment to the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American.
Twenty state senators have joined as co-authors or co-sponsors in that chamber, meaning only one more commitment is needed to reach the two-thirds threshold.
While the numbers could be different in a floor vote, members of the Rio Grande Valley delegation say they are encouraged by the commitments they have received so far.
“The Valley delegation has worked very hard in the House to acquire the 100 signatures,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
Several lawmakers said the bill could be voted out of committee in the House within days. The House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on the legislation last week, fulfilling a promise made by Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, that it would be the first testimony heard by his committee this session.
UTB President Juliet V. Garcia said it’s “extraordinary” that 100 representatives in the House are behind making UTB and UTPA eligible for PUF funding. She credited Valley lawmakers for gaining the their colleagues’ support.
“Each one has taken it on so deliberately and they’ve been out trying to get those co-authors to sign on, and I’m thrilled that we moved so quickly,” Garcia said.
State Rep. Rene Oliveira, the Brownsville Democrat shepherding the bill through the House, said significant Republican support was needed to reach 100 members and he planned to find additional votes for a larger majority.
The Republican committee chairs in both chambers have expressed support for the legislation, as has Gov. Rick Perry, who called on lawmakers to open the PUF to the South Texas universities in his State of the State address.
The bill is based on a proposal from the UT System to merge UTB and UTPA into one regional university with a medical school. The project is the top priority of the delegation and local governments during the session.
Representatives from the Rio Grande Valley were to visit Austin today for RGV Day at the Capitol.
The Senate Higher Education Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill, but Hinojosa said one would likely occur after the chamber approves an appropriations bill.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said the legislation won’t see a vote in either chamber until its backers are
sure they have enough support.
“I think we’re in very good shape in both chambers,” Lucio said. “We’re very excited about the possibility of us in a short period of time having a university that expands throughout the Valley.”