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More Debate, Same Result: House Passes Sanctuary Cities

In a last-ditch effort to tweak one of their most despised bills of the session, House Democrats tried — and failed — to adopt several amendments today to the “sanctuary cities” bill first passed by the House late Monday.

Democractic members huddle in the rear of the Texas House chamber while HB12 immigration bill is being negotiated on May 9, 2011.

In a last-ditch effort to tweak one of their most despised bills of the session, House Democrats tried — and failed — to adopt several amendments today to the “sanctuary cities” bill initially passed by the House late Monday.

During third and final reading — usually a simple procedure for most major bills — Democrats filed more than 15 amendments to House Bill 12. In its current form, the bill, by state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit cities, counties and other governmental entities or special districts from adopting a policy that prevents law enforcement from asking persons lawfully detained or arrested if they are in the country legally. Entities not in compliance could risk losing state funds.

Though they failed to change the bill, they managed to draw the ire of GOP lawmakers who were forced to practice a tactic used by their counterparts during the previous three days of debate over the bill: calling points of order to bring amendments down. Democrats this session have successfully stalled a handful of controversial bills with the tactic, only to see them resurrected by Republicans.

At one point, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, asked to be recognized to make a motion to suspend further debate on the bill after he said lawmakers had 12 pages of bills to consider on the calendar. The deadline to consider House bills on the floor is Thursday. Despite the deadline, House Speaker Joe Straus denied Phillips’ request.

In an effort to highlight what he said was the inherent hypocrisy in the state’s businesses hiring practices, state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, filed an amendment that would punish employers who hire illegal immigrants.

“[Immigrants] are not here just hanging out, they are here working. But we have a state and a nation that can’t be honest with itself,” Castro told lawmakers. The amendment was deemed “not germane,” however, and was pulled. It didn’t stop the minority party from keeping at it and testing the mood in the lower chamber. The amendments filed would have excluded the word “detained” from the bill, would have required the state to reimburse cities for costs incurred in implementing the bill, and would have required the state to pay court fees if it lost an HB 12 related case. Another would have excluded witnesses or victims of crimes from being asked about their immigration status. They all failed on party-line votes.

Through a procedure known as “calling the previous question,” Republicans on Saturday successfully halted debate on a contentious bill that would require losers in certain lawsuits to pay all legal fees incurred by both parties. Late Monday they used the same tactic to cease additional dialogue and debate on HB 12. It looked as if they would consider the same move after more than two hours of debate today. Though obviously frustrated, however, Republicans did not invoke the rule. Instead they listened as Hispanic Democrats, in a last salvo, fought back tears and anger in their final attempts to sway their colleagues from across the aisle. In her challenge to lawmakers to vote their conscience instead of along party lines, state Rep. Veronica Gonzales, R-McAllen, repeated the famous words spoken by Mexican Revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata: "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, taking issue with Republicans who accused opponents of the measure of grandstanding, had one last shot for Gov. Rick Perry, who declared HB 12 an emergency item.

"I will tell you what grandstanding is. A governor who declares 'sanctuary cities' an emergency item," he said. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, took a moment to take a swipe at Straus and criticize his leadership for not allowing debate on the issue. He read to Straus the speaker's own words from his 2009 speech on unity. Then, facing Straus, he said. "This is a man I can no longer recognize."

But Republicans had their own thoughts at the end of the day. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who said he has never spoken during closing remarks on a bill, told members about Rick Salter, a Houston police officer confined to a wheelchair after being shot in the face by an illegal immigrant.

"I respect everyone on this issue," he said. "But it is vital that we understand there are two sides to this discussion."

In the end the bill passed 100 to 47. It now moves to the Texas Senate.

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