The state’s contentious sanctuary cities bill failed to move out of the Senate late Tuesday — a move some senators said effectively killed one of the most controversial measures the Texas Legislature has considered this session.
As late as 11 p.m., an aide to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate leader was still intent on bringing up the matter for a vote. (The Senate debates bills on the floor in the order they come in. Going out of order requires a two-thirds vote.)
But Republicans' efforts were unsuccessful on Tuesday. Democratic senators stayed true to their word to block the bill — an item designated by Gov. Rick Perry as an emergency piece of legislation — by voting along party lines to keep the bill from making it to the floor.
“You know, it was a party-line vote,” said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who sponsored the bill in the upper chamber. The bill, HB 12 by state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit cities, counties and other governmental entities or special districts from adopting policies that prevent law enforcement from asking persons lawfully detained or arrested if they are in the country legally.
Nineteen Republicans voted to suspend the Senate’s regular order of business and bring the bill up. It was a somewhat anti-climactic development for a bill that drew months of emotional debate from religious groups, immigrants' rights advocates and law enforcement agencies that opposed the measure. Their passion was matched by proponents of the measure, who say it is a necessary move to keep Texas communities secure from dangerous illegal immigrants.
Several Democrats said they believed the move means the bill is finally dead. But they didn’t rule out the possibility of a parliamentary maneuver or other legislative loophole to revive the legislation as Wednesday’s deadline to pass bills out of the Senate looms.
“I don’t know of any [options to revive the bill]. But we will stay on alert,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.
Others were more optimistic.
“The bill doesn’t have the support in the Senate,” said state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “It’s been on life support for a while now. We pulled the plug on it tonight. It’s dead.”
Dewhurst left the door slightly more open to the possibility the bill could still make a rebound.
“The Sanctuary Cities ban would standardize law enforcement protocols in Texas and give our local police departments the support they need to protect and serve our communities,” he said in a statement. “I'm disappointed that Senate Democrats chose to block the Sanctuary Cities ban, but I remain dedicated to passing this important legislation."
With the way the legislation has come, gone, and come back again several times this session, opponents of the bill would be well advised to hold off on celebrating until the session officially expires Monday. As recently as last Wednesday the measure was believed dead after Williams replaced the text of the bill with a committee substitute that instead addressed homeland and border security issues. It was revived two days later when Williams made a motion in a Senate committee to reverse the switch and revert back to the immigration-related language. If the legislation is truly incapable of surviving the remaining days of the session, Perry could possibly bring lawmakers back to Austin for a special session in July to tackle the measure.