He may have pulled the plug on “sanctuary cities” legislation yesterday, but Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said today he still supports it — even if he considers his own homeland security legislation a higher priority.
House Bill 12 was, until Wednesday, the only sanctuary cities bill with a shot at making it to the governor’s desk this session. But during a committee hearing, Williams accepted a substitute to the bill, CSHB 12, offered by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. CSHB 12 is essentially Williams’ SB 9, an omnibus homeland security bill that was passed by the Senate last month. It does not contain any language relating to local enforcement of immigration laws, however, even though Gov. Rick Perry has declared the issue a so-called emergency item.
“I am also committed to passing a ‘Sanctuary City Prohibition Act,’ but only if our state has the proper border and homeland Security tools in place. This is why I support CSHB 12,” Williams said in a statement.
SB 9 would require all law enforcement agencies to adopt Secure Communities, a program administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in which local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of an individual arrested to a DHS database to determine if the individual can be deported. The bill also would institute stronger penalties for several felonies and would codify proof-of-citizenship or residency requirements for driver's licenses and state-issued IDs. It would establish an automatic license-plate reader pilot program for vehicles used by DPS officers, and it allows the agency to commission special units of Texas Rangers to conduct background checks, monitor sex offenders and assist during disasters.
The bill is stuck in a House committee with time running out on the session, however. Williams said Wednesday the maneuver that gutted the sanctuary cities legislation was necessary to get what he thought was an important bill to the governor’s desk.
“I firmly believe Texas law enforcement must have the proper tools and foundation in place, such as mandatory IN-JAIL citizenship checks and the proper mechanism to prevent those illegally in our country from obtaining either a Texas Drivers’ license or other form of State identification before a 'Sanctuary City Prohibition Act' can be successfully implemented,” Williams explained.
Lawmakers for and against “sanctuary cities” bills say nothing officially off the radar until sine die, but keeping it alive would require some quick action. As it is, Williams has stated all session that he wanted to keep homeland security and sanctuary cities as separate issues. When pressed Wednesday by several lawmakers on whether or not that was still his intent, he repeatedly said it was.
Speaking to reporters this morning at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Gov. Perry continued to push for a sanctuary cities bill to be passed. "It's an important piece of legislation," he said. "I think Texans have very clearly said that they want our cities to be safe."