Today’s Floor Play is a guest post by Melissa del Bosque
Republicans are finding out that creating immigration policy is harder than they thought. It’s like playing whack-a-mole. You’ve got one problem taken care of then another issue pops up. Here we are two-and-half-months into the legislative session and Republican Rep. Burt Solomons of Carrolton, author of the sanctuary city bill finally got his legislation out of House committee today.
Every other bill that Governor Perry deemed a “legislative emergency” has already flown through the Senate and is well on its way to passing the House (or already passed). Perry’s already chose which pen he’ll use to sign Voter ID, and the bill requiring women to get an invasive ultrasound before they have an abortion. Ugh. It’s not been so easy for Solomons’ HB 12, which allows police officers to ask for citizenship status and prohibits any law enforcement agency from stopping them. It also takes away state funding from any state agency that doesn’t enforce federal immigration law.
The bill was primed to pass the House State Affairs committee last week, when state Rep. Rene Oliveira, a Democrat from Brownsville, pointed out that Solomons’ bill is so broadly written that it not only affects law enforcement but also every school district in Texas. Apparently, Solomons wasn’t aware that there’s a federal law Plyler v. Doe that prohibits school officials from asking students’ citizenship status. Whether legislators agree with the federal law or not, Oliveira pointed out, “It’s the law of the land.”
Oliveira also made the cogent argument that HB 12 violates the Texas Constitution, which guarantees every Texas child an education. Passing the bill would put school districts in an untenable position: start playing immigration officer or lose your state funding. And just to make it even sweeter, get sued for violating federal law.
By yanking state funding, HB 12 would decimate communities, Oliveira said. “It would mean that my school district in Brownsville would lose $400 million of its $500 million budget. Not only is the bill unconstitutional – it doesn’t make any sense to make teachers into immigration agents.”
This gave Solomons’ some pause, while he thought it over. Republican Rep. Byron Cook, chair of the House State Affairs committee, had the good sense to hold off on taking a vote. Of course, good sense in the Legislature is as fleeting as Rick Perry’s love for coyotes.
Today HB 12 got another airing — this time with a few minor legislative tweaks from Solomons. Now teachers and other school officials are exempted from the bill, a prudent move. But the bill still includes law enforcement officers or security guards who work for the school districts, which means cash-strapped school districts are still going to get sued. Nevertheless, it seemed to be enough to please the Republican majority on the committee who promptly passed the bill. Solomons assured the doubting Democrats on the committee that he wasn’t trying to tell school districts what to do. “I’m trying to insure some clarity,” he said. But what Solomons is trying to fix is about as clear as mud. Making meaningful immigration laws is tedious, hard work. The Texas Legislature in its infinitiesimal wisdom should slow ball HB 12 until Sine Die if they’ve got any sense at all. Ultimately, it’s up to the federal government to fix this mess. They got us into it. It’s their duty to get us out.