In a surprise move that could effectively kill HB 12, the sanctuary cities bill that Gov. Rick Perry declared an emergency item, a Senate committee today replaced the immigration language with a homeland security bill by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
The move could be deadly for the sanctuary cities legislation because the Williams bill, which was offered as a substitute to HB 12 by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, does not contain any language about local law enforcement checking immigration status.
The homeland security bill, SB 9, which is also a controversial measure, was passed out of the Senate last month. It doesn’t have a House sponsor, though, and the House committee didn’t vote on it Tuesday. The bill would require all law enforcement agencies to adopt the federal Secure Communities program. It also would institute stronger penalties for a laundry list of felonies and codify proof-of-citizenship requirements for driver's licenses and state-issued IDs. It would establish an automatic license-plate reader pilot program for vehicles used by Department of Public Safety officers. It does not, however, prohibit local governments from preventing police from asking people about their citizenship. That means it wouldn’t put an end to sanctuary cities. The committee approved the new bill unanimously.
Williams has said since January that he does not want to mesh sanctuary cities with his homeland security priorities and reiterated his commitment today.
“It’s not a trick play. I wanted to keep these issues completely separate,” Williams said. “I think it’s very important, and unfortunately [SB 9] hasn’t received any serious consideration on the House side.”
Asked if there was a chance that some form of a sanctuary cities bill would pass, Williams shrugged and said, “It’s getting late.”
On Tuesday in the House committee, SB 9 was loaded up with controversial immigration-related measures. The additions included a statute requiring employers to use the federal electronic verification system known as E-Verify, a provision requiring the state’s agriculture department to assess the impact of border violence on rural communities, and a bill that would establish a DPS southbound inspection point near the border.
But Williams those changes to his bill weren’t the reason he gutted the sanctuary cities bill. The switch, he said, was the only way to get his homeland security bill moving again. He said he didn’t consult with HB 12 author Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton.
"I am a little surprised," Solomons said, adding that he planned to talk with Williams about it. Asked if he was upset, Solomons said, "I'm in the Zen mode right now. I am thinking."
Despite the brief celebration the move offered special interest groups that opposed HB 12, there is still cause for concern, they said.
Luis Figueroa, a legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the group’s opposition to SB 9 is just as fierce.
The group alleges the bill would force Texas DPS officers to act as immigration officers and sift through numerous immigration documents before granting legal residents and citizens a driver’s license. The ACLU says the bill, with its increased penalties for offenses, will actually increase recidivism among former inmates.
“This is especially true for individuals with longer sentences who have been removed from society and the essential support structures,” the group stated in a news release.