After outspoken opposition from the state's law enforcement officials, the Texas House on Wednesday took a step toward removing a controversial provision from legislation allowing licensed Texans to openly carry handguns.
At the center of debate was language added to House Bill 910 in the Senate that limits the power of law enforcement to ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits. Opponents say that provision amounts to a backdoor effort to repeal licensing requirements for handgun-toting Texans altogether, endangering the lives of police officers and the public.
The issue will now be hashed out by Senate and House appointees behind closed doors in a conference committee.
The move to negotiate in conference committee passed against the wishes of the bill's author, state Rep. Larry Phillips. The Sherman Republican said the language was needed to clarify current law.
He found support from some unlikely allies, including state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who said the provision was needed to prevent racial profiling.
"I’m not willing to give up my liberty in order for the police to go catch some criminal," said Dutton, who unsuccessfully proposed the amendment when the bill first came up in the House. He gave a fiery speech on Wednesday in favor of keeping the language, which had been added in the Senate by Republican Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.
But several Democrats and Republicans in the chamber opposed the provision, citing concerns that it would hinder police officers' ability to do their jobs.
"This is not a good bill," said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, after noting that during his decades in the Legislature he had rarely disagreed with fellow Houston Democrat Dutton. "I've lived long enough to know that life is often unfair, but that does not mean you put anything out on the books even when you know it is not in the public’s good."
King urged lawmakers to give law enforcement officials the courtesy of at least allowing a committee to explore a compromise on the issue.
"I honestly believe that the unintentional result of the amendment … is to make it very difficult to do their job," said King.
Some lawmakers, including Dutton, suggested that the delay caused by allowing the bill to go to conference committee might open the door for a filibuster by opponents in the Senate.