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Senate Interim Committee on International Relations, Trade, and Technology

COLONIAS
Charges

Monitor the enforcement of H.B. 1001, 74th Legislature, the colonias bill, and identify any provisions that need to be clarified or strengthened.

Assess the progress of the Texas Water Development Board's "economically distressed areas program" with regard to the number of applications received and the number of water and wastewater projects actually implemented in the colonias.

Monitor implementation of, and make recommendations for, any needed changes in legislation passed by the 74th Legislature to address the problems of the colonias.

Background

The colonias originated as makeshift housing along the Texas-Mexico border for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers and evolved into permanent residences for migrant families. The existence of third-world environmental and health conditions within Texas created by the lack of safe drinking water and sewer treatment prompted the legislature to pass comprehensive colonias legislation in 1989 that attempted to: (1) provide water and wastewater service in the colonias; (2) stop the further development of substandard housing; and (3) improve affordable housing opportunities in areas where water and wastewater services already exist. In response to the continued growth of substandard housing in the border region, the 74th Legislature enacted legislation with tougher measures aimed at the developers of substandard colonias housing.

Recommendations

Although the committee found that the legislature's approach toward the colonias was fundamentally sound, it made several recommendations for addressing loopholes and problems that have arisen with previous colonias legislation. The committee recommends that the legislature:

  • Consider methods to permit utility connections which will not at the same time create a loophole for unscrupulous developers.

  • Direct the Texas Water Development Board, in cooperation with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), to investigate the cost-effectiveness of voluntary relocation of colonias residents.

  • Direct TDHCA to make a targeted, concerted effort aimed specifically at increasing the stock of affordable housing in the border region.

  • Fund the colonia self-help centers through the next biennium.

    NAFTA AND TEXAS TRADE
    Charges

    Assess the effect of NAFTA on Texas' infrastructure, including transportation and the environment, with special attention to its impact along the Texas-Mexico border.

    Study and make recommendations regarding methods and programs to expand international trade, with particular focus on the use of technology.

    Background

    The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is having a direct impact on the Texas economy. While NAFTA will undoubtedly have a beneficial impact on commerce, areas of concern include its effects on the state's transportation system and the environment. NAFTA will result in an increase in truck traffic on Texas highways as Mexican and American carriers transport goods to and from Mexico. The increase in commerce brought about by NAFTA is also creating economic dislocations and adjustments that are putting pressure on the border area's resources and environment. NAFTA-related environmental concerns include border area water management, air pollution, and the disposal of hazardous waste. As the committee report makes clear, "borders do not stop pollution. Mexican environmental practices directly affect Texas communities and citizens."

    Recommendations

    The committee observes that only two years after the implementation of NAFTA, Texas has already begun to reap the economic benefits from increased trade flowing from Mexico. Nevertheless, the report makes several recommendations aimed at both mitigating some of the concerns brought about by NAFTA and ways to further promote trade. The committee recommends that the legislature:

  • Direct the Texas Department of Transportation to monitor national level discussions regarding weight and length standards for international trucking pursuant to NAFTA, and resist efforts to relax Texas' current standards.

  • Consider co-funding wastewater treatment facilities in the major Mexican cities on the Rio Grande with the federal government.

  • Consider creating and pursuing a more productive environment for public/private partnerships in technology fields that will improve Texas' competitiveness at home and with international trading partners.