McALLEN – Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on Saturday SB 797 – by Sen. Eddie Lucio and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and sponsored by Rep. Bobby Guerra – creating a grant program to reduce wait times for agricultural inspections at ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border.
The legislation was a major part of the City of McAllen’s 2015 legislative priorities for the 84th Texas Legislature. The bill’s passage is vital to the produce industry, a major player in McAllen’s economy. The bill secures $725,000 over the next biennium to pay for overtime and extra staffing of federal inspectors during peak import periods at Texas ports of entry.
The legislation, which Rep. Sergio Muñoz also played a major part in, goes into effect on September 1, 2015. The grant program will be administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture and is a matching program – meaning whatever funding is awarded to a local border entity – that entity must come with matching funds in order to claim the state monies.
“This bill is important to the City of McAllen, to Pharr and Mission and the entire region because it means we will be able to pay for and keep federal produce inspectors on the line during peak import periods and produce from Mexico doesn’t get ruined while sitting in long, hot lines,” said McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.
“I want to thank all the legislators for the hard work that made this possible like Sen. Lucio, Rep. Guerra, Sen. Hinojosa and Rep. Munoz. I also want thank the rest of the Valley delegation for supporting and voting for the bill. We appreciate them. Finally, I want to thank Governor Abbott for signing it,” Darling said.
Mayor Darling, City Commissioners and city leaders traveled to Austin and met with several legislators during the session to support the bill’s passage including Rep. Tracy King, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock and Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.
Guerra and Munoz originally filed a bill to expedite produce inspections at the border in 2013, but the legislature reduced that to a study only. After holding stakeholder meetings, a legislative hearing in McAllen in 2014 and the completion of a study by Texas A&M University, the bill was re-introduced for 2015, and it garnered the support needed in Austin. To see the bill’s entire history and legislative step by step click here: www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=84R&Bill=SB797
In 2014, more than 170,000 truckloads of produce crossed into Texas from Mexico carrying everything from cantaloupes, to tomatoes, to jalapeños. Bridge operators expect the crossings to increase once Mexico opens a superhighway that connects the primary produce region on its west coast to the Rio Grande Valley. Often the produce imported into Texas, which is distributed to grocery stores, restaurants and cafeterias throughout the country, is brought from American-owned farms in Mexico.