After four hours of debate on almost 50 amendments, the House passed, on an initial vote, a comprehensive border security bill by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton).
House Bill 11 passed on a 131-12 vote.
The far-reaching bill would expedite hiring of additional Department of Public Safety troopers to serve in the border region, create a Texas Transnational Crime Intelligence Center in the Rio Grande Valley, enact more serious penalties for human smugglers and commission a study on the creation of checkpoints on southbound roads.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, the price-tag for the bill totals $4.1 billion over the next two years.
Bonnen said that creating a permanent DPS presence on the border would eliminate the need for so-called border surges. Texas’ latest deployment of law enforcement started last summer in response to a wave of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the border. An internal DPS report found that the surge had taken away from crime-fighting elsewhere in the state.
“For the first time in the history of our nation,” Bonnen said, “we’re having a consistent plan to fill the void of the federal government’s constitutional responsibility to secure the border, which for some reason they choose not to do.”
Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) started today’s debate off on a combative note when he objected to the possible creation of southbound checkpoints.
Simpson said he spent a week at the border and never heard any calls for checkpoints going south into Mexico.
Bonnen argued that the checkpoints could be an important tool to catch transnational gangs smuggling money, guns or other weapons.
Democrats put up little resistance.
Most of the several dozen amendments were withdrawn before being voted on.
Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) offered seven amendments to the bill, including one that would have required DPS to put contracts over $5,000 out for a competitive bid—a remedy for the no-bid contracting scandals that have rocked DPS and other agencies. All Walle’s amendments failed.
Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) said that he supported the bill because of increased criminal threats from drug cartels on the border.
“They are very bad people, with very bad intentions,” he said.
Other border lawmakers say crime in border communities has been overstated and have questioned the need for an increased state law enforcement presence.
Walle and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) voiced concerns over spending more than $4 billion on a border security bill without having a clear definition of what constitutes a secure border. Gonzalez pointed out that El Paso is the safest large city in the country. Both representatives voted against the bill.
More than 70 members of the House co-authored HB 11. An almost identical Senate bill by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) had a committee hearing today.