Senators Tack Controversial Gun, Immigration Measures to Fiscal Bill

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It’s getting to be that time in the session—late nights, fights, and a mad dash to get important measures through, regardless of the avenue.

In Monday’s case, a technical fiscal matters bill carried by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, in the Senate became a vehicle for contentious measures on guns and immigration. In particular, the ever-persistent Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, found a way to get his stalled concealed carry measure off the floor. 

The fiscal matters bill offered some cost-saving measures that would add $30 million to the budget. But soon, the bill became a carrier for other measures that weren’t so cut and dry. First Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s successfully added her higher education reform bill onto Ogden’s legislation.

Wentworth saw his chance. He popped up and added his concealed carry on campus bill as an amendment as well. He’s tried multiple times this session to bring up the bill, which would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry weapons on college and university campuses.

For at least the fifth time this session, Wentworth opposed a Democratic amendment that would give universities the power to establish their own rules and regulations when it comes to concealed carry on campus.

“We need a uniform state law so that everybody knows what the law is on every campus, without a patchwork crazy quilt,” he said, before his amendment passed.

It wasn’t the only attempt at using the fiscal matters bill for other means. Earlier, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, tried proposing an amendment that would have required out-of-state college tuition rates for Dream Act students—undocumented children who came to the state with their parents years ago. Most have been Texas public school students for years, and currently about 16,000 of these students are in college on in-state tuition.

Birdwell said he was operating under “fairness for the Texas taxpayer,” who he said are “subsidizing” the education of “unlawful residents.”

“The question is associated with the nature of citizenship,” he said. “Folks are concerned about having their tax dollars taken to providing back-up and support to non-residents of the state of Texas.”

While he had four co-authors to the amendment, Birdwell was met with immediate and extreme opposition, and it was one of those rare moments where lawmakers from both parties opposed such a contentious issue. Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, eloquently spoke against the measure, defending the undocumented children going to school under the Dream Act.

“These kids go to school, they’re not here by their own choice,” he said. “If you look at the demographics in this state, we’re changing. To me I think this is the wrong message to send to these young people who are currently in high school and working hard to better themselves… This amendment doesn’t solve any problems, it’s symbolic, and I think the symbol is not one that we’d be proud of.”

Several more senators told Birdwell they were personally offended by his amendment.

“I’m very offended and disappointed,” Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, told Birdwell. “Those kids have done everything that we’ve asked of them. What are you trying to accomplish?”

While Birdwell ultimately pulled down his amendment after what looked like pressure from some of his Republican colleagues. (They swarmed his desk after the debate wound down.)

This week brings lots of legislative deadlines under the pink dome—both House and Senate committees had until today to pass out any pending bills, and the House has until Thursday to pass any of its own bills and send them off to the Senate. As things start to pick up, tactics like Birdwell’s and Wentworth’s today will most likely get more popular as lawmakers rush to get their bills passed, any way they can.

More Senate action today:

  • Sen. Dan Patrick’s Senate Bill 905, which exempts elected lawmakers from concealed carry laws, passed today

  • The full Senate adopted the conference committee’s report on the Voter ID bill (Senate Bill 14), which adds a new DPS-issued election ID card to the list of acceptable forms of ID to vote. The free card would expire at the same rate as a state driver’s license except for seniors who are 70 years old or older.

  • Sens. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, were all appointed to the budget conference committee to negotiate with House members on the final budget