SENATOR HINOJOSA’S STATEMENT ON AGUA SUD

Yesterday, the Agua Special Utility District (SUD) announced that the board was hiring an attorney at taxpayer expense to conduct an internal audit. It is like the fox guarding the henhouse. It is more waste of taxpayer money.

Since October of 2016 Agua SUD has received more than 30 open records requests from news outlets such as the Progress Times, The Monitor, Valley Central Channel 4, and other individuals requesting copies of all professional services agreements between Agua SUD and all the consultants they have hired. They refuse to release this public information and instead have appealed to the Attorney General’s office.

These are taxpayer funds they are dealing with. What are they afraid of? What is it they are hiding? Why do they not want to disclose public documents when the public has the right to know.

Agua SUD is willing to spend thousands of dollars to hire not an auditor, but yet another highly paid consultant that can help them find ways to justify the questionable actions and practices of the District. This attorney has been hired by the Agua board and has already made up his mind and does not want to be confused by the facts, which is proven by the statements he made at the press conference that SB 814 is based “off of rumors and not proof of actual misconduct.”

The Agua board has a long history of mismanagement and was placed in receivership when it used to be the La Joya Water Supply Company. Last year, the Agua board tried to fire the previous Executive Director and replace him with a La Joya School Board member with no experience whatsoever related to water or waste water infrastructure or experience with state or federal contracting.

Another example is when the Agua board delegated to their own engineering company S&B, a nationwide and very reputable engineering company, to make a recommendation on a contractor for Phase II of the wastewater project. After their own engineering company made a thorough review and verified the qualifications of the bids, they recommended the lowest bidder who had been working on Phase I. The board instead rejected their own engineer’s recommendation and awarded the contract to a construction company who bid $1 million higher than the recommended company. This is an additional $1 million cost to taxpayers.

When questioned and investigated by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for this contract decision, the Agua justification was found not sufficient. This week the TWDB made a decision to not release funding for this project, pending further investigation.

I filed SB 814 to increase transparency and accountability and to curb conflicts of interests within the Agua SUD board. Public servants must avoid creating even the appearance of impropriety. The bill has been amended to focus on the conflict with Agua and the La Joya Independent School District, since the majority of the Agua SUD board members are employees of the La Joya School District. Thus, the La Joya School Board controls Agua SUD.

SB 814 would stop Agua from employing La Joya School Board members to work for the utility district. The conflicts of interest must end and my legislation gives the two La Joya School Board members affected four years to decide if they want to run for re-election or continue their employment at Agua SUD (grandfather provision).

I am amazed at the amount of time, energy, and taxpayer money that Agua SUD is willing to waste to protect the employment of their bosses. They are politicizing a taxpayer utility district for their own political agenda.

Agua SUD is an important utility district in one of the fastest growing areas in Hidalgo County. There must be transparency, accountability and protections of taxpayer money.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

 

SALES TAX HOLIDAY ON EMERGENCY PREPARATION SUPPLIES THIS WEEKEND APRIL 22 – 24

AUSTIN, TX –  This coming weekend is the Texas Sales Tax Holiday on Emergency Preparation Supplies. Beginning Saturday, April 22 through midnight on Monday, April 24, Texans can purchase emergency supplies and hurricane-proofing materials without paying a sales tax.

Last legislative session, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa authored and passed SB 904 to create this tax free weekend for consumers all over the state to be better prepared for weather events or disasters, including hail storms, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and more.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“As Texas has experienced dangerous flooding this past year, it is appropriate timing and an important reminder that all of us need to be prepared for a potential weather-related emergency.  Last session I passed legislation to help our families statewide get a tax break as they prepare for severe weather, floods, hail storms, or other emergencies.

The tax free weekend is an incentive for Texans to better protect their lives and property during and after a potential weather emergency. By raising public awareness about the importance of mitigation and being prepared for weather-related events, we can prevent potential tragedies.”  

Tax free items include certain portable generators and hurricane shutters, as well as smaller emergency and storm preparedness items such as weather radios, rope ladders, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits. There is no limit on the number of qualifying items you can purchase. A full list of emergency preparation supplies can be found on the Comptroller’s website:

https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/publications/98-1017.php

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

 

Cyndie Park 2 Water Supply Corporation Awarded $900,000 for Water Distribution Improvements

AUSTIN –  Today, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved $900,000 in financial assistance for the Cyndie Park 2 Water Supply Corporation in Nueces County to finance the planning, design, and construction of water distribution improvements. After several years of Cyndie Park 2 residents drinking unsafe water, these monies will be used to reduce arsenic levels and provide the infrastructure for clean drinking water.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Water is vital to life and the development of our society and economies. For too long, the residents of this area have been dealing with the challenges of not having access to safe drinkable water. For years, the well water that was being used, had arsenic levels higher that what was allowed by the EPA.

I applaud Nueces County Commissioner Joe A. Gonzalez for working with our Nueces County legislative delegation over the past five years to secure the funding needed for this project.  We appreciate the coordination and cooperation between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Water Development Board, to ensure that our families in this area will have safe water to drink.”

Nueces County Commissioner Joe A. Gonzalez remarked, “This would not have been possible without the cooperation and support of the Nueces County Commissioners Court. This is a dream come true for our community. We have waited many years to be able to give our residents safe and clean drinking water. The $900,000 will allow us to finally construct these critical water distribution improvements and improve the quality of life for so many families.”

The Cyndie Park 2 Water Supply Corporation  is located in Nueces County, about eleven miles northeast of the City of Robstown. The Cyndie Park 2 Water Supply Corporation currently obtains its drinking water from a well with arsenic levels that are above the maximum contaminant level allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Nueces County, on behalf of the Corporation, received a grant from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to install a membrane filter to reduce the arsenic levels. An arsenic removal system was installed in 2014 to help control arsenic levels; however, the removal media must be replaced every 12 to 18 months and is not a viable long-term option for the residents.

Once the project is completed, the system will be turned over to the Nueces Water Supply Corporation (NWSC) and the residents will become customers of the NWSC. About 281 people will be served once the approximately 94 residences in the Cyndie Park 1 and 2 and the Ranch subdivisions are connected.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Lt. Governor Patrick Releases Conference Committee Names for State Budget Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa Named A Senate Conferee

AUSTIN, TX –  Today, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa as one of only five Senate appointees to the Conference Committee on Senate Bill 1, the state’s appropriations bill for the 2018-19 biennium.

The Conference Committee will be responsible for balancing the state budget and funding the state’s priorities by reconciling the differences between the Senate and House versions. Senator Hinojosa released the following statement:

“I am honored to have been selected by Lt. Governor Patrick to serve on the Senate Conference Committee and thank him for entrusting me with such an important responsibility.

It is critical we work together to sort out the significant differences between the House and Senate versions to invest efficiently in our state programs so that we provide the services needed by our most vulnerable populations and that we wisely invest in infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, border security, and our students.”

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SB 712 Expanding Long-Term Protective Orders Passes out of the Senate

AUSTIN, TX – Yesterday, Senate Bill 712 authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa was voted out of the Senate and will advance to the House for consideration. SB 712 allows additional circumstances under which a judge may choose to enter a protective order in excess of 2 years if an offender commits an act(s) constituting felony-level family violence.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“SB 712 is an important protection for victims of domestic violence. Currently, a “permanent” protective order in Texas lasts up to two years. Courts may allow long-term protective orders, if there have been either two prior protective orders involving the same parties or if the offender has caused serious bodily injury to the victim.

However, these two options do not include lethal family violence felony offenses such as strangulation, continuous violence against the family, continuous violation of a protective order, or enhanced assault family violence, among other felonies. SB 712 will now include these offenses to better protect victims.”

In Texas, 158 women were killed by their intimate partner and 1 in 3 adult women are victims of family violence. The most dangerous time for victims are the weeks leading up to their escape and the weeks following.

In addition to SB 712, Senator Hinojosa is working alongside fellow Nueces County lawmakers, Rep. Todd Hunter and Rep. Abel Herrero, to move a number of bills forward to end family violence. The lawmakers have also worked closely with the Texas Council on Family Violence and the Women’s Shelter of South Texas in finding the best ways to end domestic abuse.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SENATOR HINOJOSA ANNOUNCES $150 MILLION IN FUNDING FROM TXDOT FOR US 83/US 281 INTERCHANGE PROJECT

AUSTIN, TX — Today, the Texas Transportation Commission (TxDOT) approved $218.2 million for Hidalgo County transportation projects, including $150 million for the US 83/US 281 Interchange project. The monies will come from TxDOT under the 2017 Unified Transportation Program which authorizes projects for construction, development and planning activities and includes projects involving highways, aviation, public transportation, and state and coastal waterways.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“It’s great news that the Pharr Interchange project was approved by TxDOT to receive $150 million in funding. As one of the fastest growing areas of the state, infrastructure is key to continue our economic growth. The US 83/US 281 is critical to the flow of traffic of the economies of Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, Mission, and Weslaco.

Since last year I have made the Pharr Interchange project a top legislative priority. This funding is critical to improve our transportation system and infrastructure needs to address the congestion and bottlenecks that presently exists.

We have had many meetings with our local elected officials, the Governor’s office, TxDOT staff and leadership, including Chairman Tryon Lewis and James Bass who made a visit to the Rio Grande Valley.

Thank you to the leadership of Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, the Valley legislative delegation and the Hidalgo County MPO for working together to achieve such great success for our region. The strong local support and investment from our local communities played a key role in successfully obtaining these funds.”

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SENATOR HINOJOSA ANNOUNCES $510 MILLION IN FUNDING FROM TXDOT FOR SENATE DISTRICT 20 PROJECTS

AUSTIN, TX — Today, the Texas Transportation Commission (TxDOT) approved $510 million in funding for Senate District 20, including Brooks, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, and Nueces counties. The monies will come from TxDOT under the 2017 Unified Transportation Program which authorizes projects for construction, development and planning activities and includes projects involving highways, aviation, public transportation, and state and coastal waterways.

The following funding was approved for each county in Senate District 20:

Brooks County            $58.2 million

Hidalgo County        $218.2 million

Jim Wells County        $70.0 million

Nueces County         $163.5 million

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“It’s exciting news for Senate District 20 that several transportation projects have been approved by the Texas Transportation Commission to receive a total of $510 million in funding. As one of the fastest growing areas of the state, infrastructure is key to continue the economic growth of South Texas.

Transportation funding for our district projects has been a top legislative priority. This funding is critical to improve our transportation system and infrastructure needs that will greatly benefit South Texas.

Thank you for our local elected officials and leaders for working together to achieve such great success for our region. The strong local support and investment into these projects from our South Texas communities played a key role in successfully obtaining these funds.”

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SB 539 Requiring Domestic Violence Training For Child Custody Mediators Passes out of the Senate

AUSTIN, TX –  Today, Senate Bill 539 authored by Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa was voted out of the Senate and will advance to the House for consideration.  SB 539 requires mediators that handle child custody cases to complete 4 hours of domestic violence training.

Currently, mediators that handle child custody cases have no domestic violence training requirement. To qualify as an impartial third party, a person must complete a minimum of 40 hours of training in dispute resolution techniques and an additional 24 hours of training in the fields of family dynamics, child development, and family law. Other professionals involved in child custody cases such as parenting time coordinators and child custody evaluators must have training on domestic violence.

Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

In 2015, five Texas women were murdered during custody exchanges. Overall, eleven children witnessed their mothers murdered, highlighting the need for improved and safer custody solutions. Child custody mediators need the tools to identify abusive behavior in the mediation process. SB 539 will increase safety for survivors and their children by requiring domestic violence training for mediators.”

An alternative to custody litigation, mediation increasingly serves as a less expensive and more timely option. Most family law attorneys and advocates recently surveyed indicated mediation is a practice utilized with survivor parents in child custody cases. Mediators with a base level of domestic violence knowledge can help accomplish safety in the mediation process.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Senator Hinojosa Announces the Groundbreaking of the Edinburg Driver License Mega Center

AUSTIN, TX — Today, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, joined the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the community of Edinburg for a groundbreaking ceremony of the new Driver License Mega Center. The new driver license center will feature advanced technology that provides driver license customers with the option of reserving a spot in line before arriving at the driver license office using their smart phone, landline, or computer. Reserving a spot in line before arriving significantly reduces the time customers have to spend in the office to receive services.

As Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Hinojosa was instrumental in securing the funds for the construction of the driver license mega center. Senator Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Last session, we worked with the Legislature and DPS to ensure funding for a driver license mega center in Edinburg. For years, the Driver License Division lacked sufficient office capacity in Hidalgo County to meet today’s demand for driver license services.

With the groundbreaking today, the new facility will significantly increase our capacity in the Rio Grande Valley by 60,000 transactions per year and will decrease wait times at all our locations in the Valley. I thank our community leaders, local public officials, and DPS, who all had a strong commitment on working together to shorten waiting periods for driver license applicants. I was pleased to have been a part of these efforts to improve services to the public.”

The new facility also will include space for class C driver license skills testing as well as two testing lanes for commercial driver license skills testing – a true asset for commercial motor vehicle drivers across the entire Rio Grande Valley. Commercial driver license applicants will be able to submit their application, take the written test and the road test all at this one new location.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.

SENATOR HINOJOSA ANNOUNCES A $51.3 MILLION LOAN FROM TWDB FOR THE CITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI

AUSTIN, TX — Today, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved a request from the City of Corpus Christi for a $51.3 million loan from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to refinance construction of the Mary Rhodes Phase II transmission line.

Corpus Christi originally financed the construction of this project through the issuance of several bonds in the open market. The City requested to refinance these variable rate bonds with funding from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) and strictly followed all the requirements of the DWSRF program. TWDB commented today that the City met all required guidelines and that while this type of refinancing rarely happens, this strategy makes good sense for Corpus Christi. Because of this loan and refinancing, the City will save approximately $8.2 million.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“I am pleased that the TWDB has approved the City of Corpus Christi to receive a $51.3 million loan to refinance this critical construction project and save our taxpayers about $8.2 million. Water security is one of the most pressing social and economic challenges of our time and is vital to the development of our society and economies.

With these funds, we can safeguard against public health concerns and continue to provide critical water services to meet the demand of our growing local communities. I applaud Corpus Christi for working together towards a unique refinancing strategy and water project.”

The City of Corpus Christi’s regional water system serves communities in seven Coastal Bend counties, including Aransas, Bee, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Live Oak, Nueces, and San Patricio. With the population growth of the service area, the City did not have the water resources to meet the increase water demand in the next ten years.

In December 2009, Corpus Christi received a commitment from the TWDB for an $8.0 million deferred loan from the Water Infrastructure Fund for the planning and design of the Mary Rhodes II project. The project consisted of the construction of a new water intake structure, booster pump station, sedimentation basin, and 42 miles of pipeline to transport water from the Colorado River near Bay City in Matagorda County to the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority’s existing Lake Texana intake pump station in Jackson County (also known as the West Water Delivery System). The City completed the design of the Mary Rhodes II project in October 2013, began construction of the project in April 2014, and substantially completed the construction in December 2016.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.