With South Texas posting major achievements, Rep. Martínez says more victories on the way

Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, who this year has played key roles in many of the Valley’s legislative successes — from authorizing the creation of a University of Texas medical school for the region to improving the chances to land a Veterans Administration Hospital for deep South Texas – says more major legislative victories are on the way for constituents in his House District 39.

"In 2004, when I first ran for state representative, I promised to ensure that education budgets would not be reduced, that the Valley’s medical needs would be improved, that our state roadway systems would be developed, that public safety, public health, and economic development be top priorities," said Martínez. "These, and other goals, have been reached, and there is much more to come."

His reflections on legislative victories for House District 39 and his predictions for continuing successes for his constituents highlighted his standing-room only campaign reelection kick-off, held on Wednesday, October 21, at the Best Western Palm Aire Motor Inn & Suites in Weslaco.

Martínez is seeking his fourth two-year term as state representative for House District 39, which includes San Juan, Alamo, Donna, Weslaco, Mercedes, Progreso, and Progreso Lakes.

"I have kept my promises," Martínez said. "Teachers have received pay raises. Our schools have received additional funding. Retired teachers received a ‘13th’ monthly check, and their health insurance premiums have remained stable."

He said he made good on one his first campaign pledges in 2004 to help restore crucial funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, which is a health insurance for the children of families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford to buy private health insurance.

"Before I was elected state representative, CHIP benefits were severely cut back by the Legislature," Martínez said. "But I continually fought to restore those benefits, and I filed legislation to expand CHIP. As a result, more than 133,00 children – including thousands in South Texas – are eligible to qualify for CHIP benefits."

In addition, Martinez said he successfully worked on legislation to make it easier for Texas families to keep their children protected by CHIPs by reducing bureaucratic paperwork and income requirements that had discouraged many families from securing those crucial health benefits.

Martínez: "Think big for South Texas"

Martínez, a legislative veteran who first began serving in January 2005, has attained numerous leadership positions in the House, including being appointed in the first days of his first term to the powerful House Appropriations Committee – a honor for new House members.

His first term also saw him selected as "Freshman of the Year" by the entire House of Representatives.

Improvements in health care, economic development, job creation, public safety, veterans issues, education, and infrastructure advancements have been the focus on his legislative agenda during his current three terms.

This year, among the numerous major bills and amendments he carried, Martínez was a sponsor of legislation that authorizes the University of Texas System to begin plans to build a major health science center — including a four-year UT medical school – in and for the Rio Grande Valley.

In addition, Martínez was an author of another groundbreaking measure this year that has placed Proposition 8 on the November 3 statewide ballot.

Proposition 8, one of 11 statewide constitutional amendments, would authorize the state to contribute money, property, and other resources to establish, maintain, and operate VA Hospitals in Texas, including building one in the Valley.

He says his legislative track record, his growing legislative seniority, and his ability to "think big for South Texas" provides his House District 39 constituents a powerful voice in the affairs of Texas government.

"In my own line of work back home, I often have to face pressure-packed situations, from dangerous rescue missions to life-threatening medical emergencies," said Martínez, whose professional credentials include his service as a firefighter, licensed paramedic, critical care flight paramedic, and Texas Department of Health instructor and coordinator.

"So when it comes to working with the top leadership of Texas, either at the State Capitol or at the huge state agencies, I am always prepared, armed with the truth and empowered by my legislative knowledge, to work on behalf – and need be, successfully fight for – the best interests of the people here at home," he added.

High marks for effectiveness

Even before the Texas Legislature had finished its work on June 2, Martínez’ influence on behalf of South Texas had already drawn praise from one of the major independent newspapers which specializes in state politics.

Capitol Inside, an Internet-based, widely-read political news daily, says Martínez, who is already preparing legislation for the 2011 regular session, earned high marks for effectiveness and legislative influence.

"There are other ways to generate power beyond official leadership positions," wrote Mike Hailey, editor and publisher of Capitol Inside. He named Martínez among Democrats "who are wielding more clout this year than they have in the past even though they didn’t technically qualify for the power chart because they don’t chair committees."

Martínez says that his expert knowledge of the complicated state legislative process has continued to allow him to champion crucial, but tough, issues to benefit his constituents in House District 39.

In all, about 150 bills were filed during the five-month regular legislative session that included Martínez’ name, with many of them eventually becoming state law.

Other gains for deep South Texas that Martínez has helped shape during his time in office include:

• More than $614 million has been awarded by the Texas Department of Transportation for state highways and roadways in the Valley;

• $108 million for border security operations;

• More than $46 million in grants for water and wastewater systems that impact House District 39 have been awarded by the Texas Water Development Board, including a $6 million TWDB grant to Mercedes to improve its wastewater system;

• $45 million for a Regional Department of Public Safety facility, set to begin construction in early 2010, that will be built in Weslaco;

• $9.5 million for the planned construction of a 25,000-square-foot Citrus Center, a state-of-the-art Texas A&M System research facility designed to promote and protect the Valley’s $159 million citrus industry; and

• $4.5 million for local parks and nature centers, including $400,000 for the Rio Grande Nature Center in Weslaco.

Medical school, law school progress

Just this past legislative session, Martínez scored numerous other successes, including the following legislative achievements:

• Senate Bill 98 (Lucio, III, primary sponsor, Martínez, sponsor), a directive authorizing the University of Texas System to begin developing plans for a health science center/medical school for the four-county South Texas border region;

• House Bill 2217/House Joint Resolution 7 (Flores, primary author, Martínez, author), which will require, upon passage by Texas voters in November of a constitutional amendment, that the state government begin negotiations with the U.S. Veterans Administration to bring a VA Hospital to deep South Texas and other regions of the state;

• Senate Bill 956 (Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, author, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, sponsor) was amended by Martínez and Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, that requires lawmakers to begin an in-depth study of how to best bring a public law school to the Rio Grande Valley;

• HB 4577 (Martínez, author), which will create a state program to detect and try to prevent agricultural diseases from destroying the Valley’s $159 million citrus industry;

• SB 526 (Martínez, sponsor), which will continue a state grant program that will help non-profit health clinics in the Valley apply for federal money, which will be used to provide medical care for thousands of uninsured and low-income families;

• HB 635 (Guillen, primary author, Martínez, author), which authorizes the commissioner of education to determine whether a Head Start program operated outside of a public school facility is eligible for certain federal grants. This bill also gives the Texas Education Agency the authority to seek, accept, and distribute public education grants awarded by the federal government or any other public or private institution;

• HB 2571 (Gonzáles, primary author, Martínez, author), which will stop towing companies from charging outrageous fees before releasing a vehicle back to its owner;

• HB 3 (Eissler, primary author, Martínez, coauthor), which will amend the public school mission to include striving for student performance— disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status— to rank in the top 10 nationally in terms of college readiness by 2019-20;

• SB 187 (Lucio, III, main sponsor, Martínez, sponsor), which will help families

who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid benefits to be able to buy, at an affordable rate, Medicaid insurance to provide crucial health care for a disabled child;

• HB 51 (Branch, primary author/Martínez, coauthor), which will create additional nationally-ranked universities and help existing universities to provide dramatic gains in the education of all Texans;

• HB 1579 (Gonzáles, primary author, Martínez, author), which authorizes Hidalgo County to provide assistance for the removal from private property, including a road, of flood water resulting from a natural disaster in a colonia if the removal of the water is necessary to protect the health and safety of the colonia;

• HB 2275 (Raymond primary author/Martínez, author), which will create a task force to develop uniform standards for subdivisions in the unincorporated areas of counties near the international border and in colonias;

• HB 2372 (Guillen primary author/Martínez joint author), which will authorize the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to help local governments pay certain costs related to water and wastewater connections and plumbing improvements in colonias;

• SB 1685 (Gonzáles, primary sponsor, Martínez, sponsor), which will create a district court records technology fund to help protect the integrity and permanent collection of vital court records;

• HB 1789 (Maldonado, primary author, Martínez, author), which allows cities with populations of between 13,000 and 39,000 residents, including numerous communities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, to use revenue from a municipal hotel occupancy tax for the promotion of tourism by the enhancement and upgrading of existing sports facilities or fields if the municipality owns the facilities or fields; and

• SB 915 (Martínez Fisher, sponsor, Martínez, cosponsor), already signed into law, which provides journalists the ability to protect their confidential sources.