Senate Guts Sanctuary City Bill

There’s now an official game of chicken going on between the House and Senate over Governor Rick Perry’s “legislative emergency item,” HB 12, which would abolish so called “sanctuary cities.”

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa gutted HB 12, the sanctuary city bill, today in a committee, replacing it with SB 9, the Senate’s omnibus homeland security bill, which has been languishing without a sponsor in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee for weeks.

Civil rights and immigrant advocates that had lined up to testify at the hearing today against HB 12 were stunned by the turn of events. “Is it dead? Is it really dead?” advocates questioned one another in the hallway outside the hearing room. It’s not like they liked SB 9 much better with its provisions to expand the federal Secure Committees program and allow DPS clerks to check for immigration status before granting a drivers license. But for many immigrant advocates and especially Texans of color, HB 12 is like Dracula – they want to see a stake driven through its heart and know that it’s dead once and for all.

Senator Rodney Ellis, a member of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee who voted for the new HB 12 – now SB 9 — sought assurances from committee chair Republican Senator Tommy Williams, who is also the author of SB 9. “So at a later date in the session we’re not going to see the sanctuary city language back in this bill?” Ellis asked. “The language is going to stay in the sanctuary so to speak.”

“This is not a trick play,” Williams said.

And with that, the Senators on the committee voted the bill out unanimously. “Maybe I should send this to Local & Consent,” Williams quipped.

To make matters more confusing, Williams is also the author of SB 11 the Senate companion to HB 12. But his version never left his committee. Democrats in the Senate say they will block sanctuary city legislation from coming up — and they have the votes to do it, unlike the House, unless the Senate does away with its two-thirds rule.

Williams said he has “wanted to keep the two issues separated” meaning homeland security and sanctuary cities. This policy has served him well so far, since he was able to gain broad support in the Senate for passage of his omninbus homeland security bill.

But now he’s hit a road block in the House. And Williams is not pleased that his bill, SB 9, has gone nowhere. “It’s getting very late in the session,” he said. Williams said he’d also passed separate pieces of legislation that were part of SB 9 and they’d also gone nowhere. “They haven’t even been referred to a committee,” he said.

So what’s the next move? The House committee has until Saturday to pass William’s SB 9 or it’s a goner, and HB 12 is now looking DOA in the Senate. But this is the Texas Legislature after all, which is famous for its last minute resurrections. Even Dracula can be summoned from the crypt with a quick amendment in the last 12 days of session.

“It’s a setback for HB 12,” said Ellis after the hearing. “But I wouldn’t say it’s dead yet.”

**UPDATE

After the hearing I spoke with Senator Hinojosa, whose committee substitute to HB 12 stripped the sanctuary city language from the bill. Hinojosa said he had negotiated the swap with Williams. “Sanctuary cities is dead in the Senate,” Hinojosa said.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

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Published at 11:12 pm CST
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