Senate International Relations and Trade Committee Unanimously Approves SB 99 by Zaffirini to Support Colonia Residents
(AUSTIN) -- The Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade on Monday (March 19) unanimously recommended passage of Senate Bill 99 by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would support persons living in Texas' most impoverished communities by increasing the number of state agencies required to submit data about projects that serve colonias. The bill also would increase accountability of the logistical and financial reports regarding colonia improvements made by agencies and by state and local governments.
"Legislators need a comprehensive road map of how all state monies are spent on colonias projects, including the dollar amount spent on each colonia to best serve residents and improve upon their quality of life," Senator Zaffirini said. "As the state senator of one of the largest districts in Texas that also runs along the U.S./Mexico border, I have seen repeatedly the daily struggles of families who live in colonias. This bill will assist them by improving the organization of and access to state services ranging from basic utilities to providing health care."
A number of specific problems affect not only colonia residents, but also the legislators and state agency staff who are charged with developing projects to assist colonias. Current laws intended to prevent the proliferation of colonias take a variety of forms and apply in a variety of circumstances. While the legislature has refined these laws during the last 15 years, several laws apply only in the border area or in "economically distressed" counties with high unemployment and low per capita income. Application and proper execution of these laws relies on complete and accurate demographic information collected about colonias and colonia residents. What's more, state agencies often lack comprehensive demographic data about colonias that is necessary to develop programs to address the needs of residents.
SB 99 builds on Senator Zaffirini's legislation that improves and increases access to state services for colonia residents. In 2005 she authored and passed SB 827, which required the establishment and maintenance of a statewide system to identify and classify colonias with the highest health risk to residents. SB 827 also directed a state agency work group to develop a report regarding the progress of state-funded projects in providing water or wastewater services, paved roads and other assistance to colonias.
This report was published on December 1, 2006, and provides a comprehensive overview of the colonias in Texas as well as a complete summary of colonias projects. SB 99 would further improve the colonias reporting process and would implement several of the state agency workgroup recommendations.