Texas bills could help establish new medical, law school

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Editor’s note: We will feature higher education bills filed for Texas’ 83rd legislative session, which begins Jan. 8, every day until the end of the semester.

A series of bills for the upcoming legislative session would facilitate the establishment of new schools and educational programs, including a proposed UT law school in the Rio Grande Valley.

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, filed a bill that would grant the UT System Board of Regents the authority to establish and operate a law school in Cameron or Hidalgo counties, two border counties near the Gulf of Mexico.

Lucio’s legislative director Houston Tower said the region’s distance from law schools in Austin, San Antonio and Houston discourages residents from attending those schools.

“Most [residents who pursue a legal career] have to uproot themselves, which at their income level is not feasible,” Tower said.

He said the proposed school would combat a perceived shortage of lawyers in the region compared to other areas of the state.

Cameron County has one lawyer for every 768 residents and a population of 414,123, according to a study of attorney population density for 2011-2012 gathered by the State Bar of Texas. With a population of 797,810, Hidalgo County has one lawyer for every 832 residents.

In contrast, Travis County has one lawyer for every 115 residents and a population of more than 1 million, Bexar County has one lawyer for every 320 residents and a population of close to 2 million and Harris County has one lawyer for every 193 residents with a population of more than 4 million.

Lucio has introduced the bill during the past three legislative sessions, but it did not gain approval from the House Higher Education Committee.

Tower said the committee was concerned about the proposed school’s budgetary impact. He said the school would cost the state more than $80 million over a five-year period for construction costs, hiring faculty and operations.

“That tends to be the barrier that we face [in passing the bill],” Tower said.

The bill would direct the board to ask the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct a feasibility study to determine what the System must do to seek accreditation for the law school before its establishment.

Another bill introduced by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, would allow the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso to become an independent institution with the Texas Tech System rather than a branch of the Health Sciences Center based in Lubbock.

If the bill passes, the center would hire its own president and administration, have the authority to issue degrees and allow the Texas Tech Board of Regents to establish teaching hospitals affiliated with the campus.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, filed a bill that would allow the University of Houston’s College of Optometry to operate a summer optometry program.

Printed on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 as: Bills endorse new Texas schools