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Senate Panel Advances Sanctuary Cities Bill

A bill banning so-called sanctuary cities in Texas – the common term for local entities that do not enforce immigration laws — advanced out of a Senate subcommittee on Monday.

Sen. Charles Perry R-Lubbock answers questions regarding his bill SB #185 which relates to to the enforcement of state and federal laws governing immigration during Senate Subcommittee on border security on March 16th, 2015

A bill banning so-called sanctuary cities in Texas – the common term for local entities that do not enforce immigration laws — advanced out of a Senate subcommittee on Monday.

Senate Bill 185 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would cut off state funding for local governments or governmental entities that adopt policies that forbid peace officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a person detained or arrested.

Some Texas cities have taken the position that such enforcement is the federal government's job, not theirs — which Perry patently disagrees with. “Rule of law is important and we must ensure that local governments do not pick and choose the laws that they choose to enforce,” Perry told the subcommittee.

The bill now goes to the full Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Military Installations, where it’ll likely be passed and sent to the full chamber. The debate in the full Senate promises to be a repeat of the emotion-fueled scene of 2011, the last time the controversial legislation was considered. That year Democrats argued the bill would lead to racial profiling, costly litigation and make witnesses to crimes reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.

That sentiment was echoed Monday by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “I think it puts Texas on the wrong track,” she said. “It will lead to racial profiling and it will give people cover.”

The bill was voted on Monday on a party-line split, with state Sens. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, voting for it. State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, voted against. Monday's adopted version was tweaked from the original bill; it now does not apply to commissioned peace officers hired by school districts or open enrollment charter schools, and exempts victims or witnesses to crimes. 

It gives entities found out of compliance 90 days to change policies after they are informed they are in violation.

During the debate, Lucio asked Perry why a handful of amendments that would have made the bill more palatable to him weren’t adopted, including one that would have exempted faith-based volunteers who do humanitarian work within the immigrant community from being questioned if they were detained.  

“I walked out of here pretty happy,” Lucio said, referring to last month’s hearing when the original bill was heard and he was told his amendments would be considered. “I would have co-authorized your legislation.”

Perry said that after discussions with legal experts, including staffers in the office of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, he decided to go another way. Republicans argue the bill is a simple measure that allows local police to ferret out undocumented immigrants who are in the country to do others harm.

According to analysis of the bill, there will not be a cost to the state of passing the measure. But it is less clear what the fiscal impact could be to local governments. The analysis states, “There could be a fiscal impact to local governmental entities depending on if the entity has such rules, ordinances or policies relating to provisions in the bill, the number of complaints filed by individuals and the number of complaints investigated and pursued by the attorney general.” 

If the proposal makes it to the Texas House, it is unclear what its fate will be, given that there are less than two months left in the regular legislative session. Even if the bill leaves the Senate, it must be referred to a House committee, then make it to the full House for a vote.

Like they did last month, members of the business and law enforcement communities are likely to descend on the Capitol to speak against the measure. The business community has argued that no matter how minor the bill is purported to be, it could lead to boycotts of businesses and events in Texas over allegations of racial profiling. 

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