Texas House, Senate Make Progress on Border Security Legislation

The House and Senate are close to coming together on another thorny subject that Gov. Greg Abbott declared a priority this session. But this issue doesn't involve tax cuts.

Sen. Brian Birdwell R-Granbury listens during debate of his campus carry bill SB #11 on March 18th, 2015

The Texas House and Senate appear to be making headway on border security legislation, a thorny subject that Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a priority this legislative session.

Nearly two months after being sent to the upper chamber, House Bill 11 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, was scheduled Thursday for a May 18 hearing before the Senate’s Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations subcommittee on Border Security.

The measure would increase over two years the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border, establish an intelligence center in Hidalgo County to analyze border crime data and create a voluntary corps of retired DPS officers to bolster the agency’s ranks. It is part of a three-package set of proposals that affect border security and Department of Public Safety staffing.

The bill has been tied up amid gridlock between the two chambers, which prompted Bonnen last month to allege that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was “playing games” with border security. Bonnen’s bill was passed out of the lower chamber on March 19, but stood idle until Thursday’s scheduling.

Bonnen, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said his bill gaining traction was a sign that the two chambers could come together on one of the governor’s emergency items.

“I appreciate the very respectful and collaborative way that the House and Senate are beginning to move the important issues before us to conclusion,” Bonnen said Thursday.

Bonnen is also in the middle of a grudge match with the upper chamber over tax cuts. But he said Wednesday that although no deal has been reached on that issue, negotiations had begun on that front. He said Thursday that his border security bill finally getting scheduled for a hearing had nothing to do with the two chambers finally moving on the other issue. (The Senate has favored an increase in homestead exemptions. The House has pushed for a decrease in sales tax.)

“At this point I think it’s a coincidence” he said. “And I think that the Senate is wanting to show, and the House is wanting to show, that we can work together and bring these issues to conclusion.”

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, the chairman of the subcommittee and the author of the Senate companion, Senate Bill 3, said in a statement that the House bill would probably move quickly in the upper chamber.

"Securing our southern border and preventing crimes associated with illegal border-crossings are issues of great importance to the citizens of this state,” he said. “This has been a top priority for the Senate, and I'm eager to finalize the Legislature's hard work on our border security initiatives here in the coming days."

It’s unclear whether senators will try to attach more controversial measures, such as the “sanctuary cities” bill that expands the immigration-enforcement powers of local law enforcement. But during debate on Birdwell’s SB 3, the lawmaker did not accept any amendments that included other broad-based measures, including the “sanctuary cities” legislation or a measure to repeal in-state tuition rates for noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants.

Attaching those measures to Bonnen’s bill would probably stall or possibly derail the proposal, something lawmakers might not have the appetite for in the waning days of the 84th Legislature.