Valley legislators likely to file med school bill next week - The Monitor: News

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Valley legislators likely to file med school bill next week

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Posted: Saturday, January 26, 2013 9:00 am

Legislation in progress for a new Rio Grande Valley medical school would sidestep a controversy over the location of facilities by calling for an analysis of the infrastructure and resources of local communities.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Friday he hopes to see legislation introduced some time next week in both the Senate and House. He and his Brownsville counterpart, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, are seeking final agreement from members of the Valley delegation before filing a bill.

“We have done a lot of work and we feel confident that we have a consensus to get a bill filed that at least will be a start,” Hinojosa said.

He said he could not offer a date the legislation would be filed until local legislators had seen and agreed to the details of that bill. The legislation will direct the University of Texas System to set up a panel of experts on the organization and administration of medical schools to offer several options for the board of regents to pursue.

“We don’t want them to make decisions based on politics,” Hinojosa said.

Approval from the Legislature is required for a planned merger of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville. State lawmakers already authorized a Valley medical school but the 2009 bill designated Cameron County as the site for a main campus and administrative offices.

The local delegation will craft a more open-ended a bill for the ongoing legislative session.

“If we accomplish this, we will forever change the education and economic landscape of South Texas and the entire state of Texas,”

Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said at a Dec. 6 board meeting where UT regents approved the merger and $100 million in funding for the medical school.

Nearly two months later, UTPA President Robert Nelsen said he is confident a bill will be filed this week before administrators, faculty and students from Pan American and UT-Brownsville visit the capitol Wednesday to meet with lawmakers about the medical school and the proposed merger.

“It’s the perfect time to make an announcement,” he said. “We’re building to a consensus throughout the state... that this is real.”

The UT System plans to establish four separate medical school facilities related to administration, research, and medical education. UT will also partner with local hospitals to find residency slots for medical students.

Nelsen and officials from the system have said quibbling over where facilities are planned is an outdated way of understanding a medical institution that will serve the entire Rio Grande Valley.

But with local officials considering the possibility of a taxing district have been reluctant to declare the issue entirely irrelevant. Instead, study of “objective” factors such as costs, local resources, assets and infrastructure should dictate the school’s development, Hinojosa said.

“We are the elected legislators accountable to our voters,” Hinojosa said. “We are not going to give the UT board of regents a blank check.”

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Andrew Kreighbaum covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at andrew@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4472.

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