Texas Border Business
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
A major milestone for higher education in deep South Texas took place on Monday, May 1, 2019, when the House of Representatives approved House Bill 103, whose author is Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, that calls for the establishment of a public law school in the Rio Grande Valley.
HB 103 still must be approved by the Texas Senate and by Gov. Greg Abbott
“The Rio Grande Valley has been neglected for decades when it comes to educational opportunities,”
According to the Legislative Budget Board’s fiscal note on HB 103:
The University of Texas System estimates that the new law school building would cost $52,500,000. Bonds for the law school building are assumed to be issued on September 1, 2025, at a 6 percent interest rate with a 20-year level debt service amortization. Based on calculations prepared by The University of Texas System, the amount of debt service payments would be $4.6 million per year beginning in fiscal year 2026.
According to the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, HB 103 would allow the governing board of a university system to establish and operate a school of law in Cameron County or Hidalgo County.
There are a number of reasons to justify the creation of a law school in the Rio Grande Valley, including a need for attorneys along the border, a lack of professional degree opportunities in the area, and the long distances to the nearest law schools, Martínez said.
“There is a disturbingly low attorney to population ratio along the border. According to the State Bar of Texas Department of Research & Analysis, the state ratio is 1 attorney for every 311 residents (1:311). In the Brownsville-Harlingen Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), that ratio is 1:736. For the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission MSA it is 1:805,” he noted.
In addition to the attorney-population ratios, there is a glaring lack of professional degree opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, he continued.
UTRGV offers four active doctoral programs and two cooperative doctoral programs. By comparison, UT-Austin offers 78 doctoral programs and Texas A&M offers 97 doctoral programs. Furthermore, the Rio Grande Valley is geographically isolated from other law schools. For a student from the Valley to attend law school, they would have to move 236 miles away to San Antonio, 305 miles away to Austin, or 341 miles away to Houston.
“HB 103 is a measured approach which will provide educational equity and address the need for professional degree opportunities in a region which has long been neglected,” Martínez said.
Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, is a joint author.