Texas Legislature pushes to improve port of entry wait times
May 23, 2019
One bill nearing passage at the Texas statehouse covers wait times for loads at ports of entry.
House and Senate lawmakers have each voted in favor of a bill that addresses the increase in trade traffic along the Texas-Mexico border. The bill is touted to aid perishable loads crossing into South Texas.
The bill, HB2155, now heads to a conference committee to work out differences in the legislation as approved by each chamber. The bill could then move to the governor’s desk.
If signed into law, the bill would reauthorize a grant program for nonprofits to reduce wait times for agricultural inspections at ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border. A 2015 grant approved by the Texas Legislature provided $625,000 to help eliminate backups.
Specifically, this year’s legislation calls for allowing local governments to help pay for overtime and/or increased agricultural inspectors at international bridges during peak times in hopes of shortening wait times. The total amount of grants awarded could not exceed $725,000 for the next two years.
The Texas Department of Agriculture would be responsible for monitoring and contracting the grant recipients to ensure compliance with state laws.
During a recent 12-month period more than 170,000 truckloads of produce crossed into Texas from Mexico. Advocates say the number will continue to grow as the Mazatlan-Matamoros superhighway transports more fresh produce from the western Mexico coast along the Texas border.
Due to staffing shortages at the state’s ports of entry, Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, said trucks transporting fresh produce experience long wait times or do not make it through the inspection process. As a result, the shelf life is lowered, which hurts the bottom line for Texas importers.
Guerra also said that investing in the produce import industry is imperative for Texas.
“I hope the Legislature acts soon to approve necessary grant funds, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in recent remarks.
If they get the (Texas Department of Agriculture) the money, we’ll get it where it needs to go, like border cities like McAllen and El Paso to get this backlog cleared.”
The Senate approved a version of the bill that specifies the Legislature must appropriate money specifically for the grants. Otherwise, the Department of Agriculture would not be responsible for moving forward with the grant program.
If approved, the program would be implemented Sept. 1.
Oversize and overweight vehicles
The Legislature has moved to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk a bill that is intended to improve safety on roadways.
The bill from Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, would require the state to include information about oversize and overweight vehicles in the curriculum of driver education and driving safety courses.
Advocates say concerns have been raised that drivers are not adequately trained to safely operate vehicles around oversize and overweight loads. They point out the lack of training contributes to the number of incidents involving large trucks.
Specifically, HB105 calls for including methods of safely operating a vehicle near an oversize and overweight vehicle. Information would also be included about safe following distances and safe passing methods.