State lawmakers hope to send a clear message to the federal government this year: Don’t mess with Texas.
Already, more than a dozen bills have been filed to push back against what their sponsors say is a continued federal overreach.
Touching on issues from guns to the 10th Amendment, state lawmakers are calling on the federal government to do everything from repaying the costs Texas incurred for dealing with people illegally in the country to abolishing the income tax system.
“This is a recurring theme in Texas history, going all the way back to the early years of statehood,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “The Southern perspective is that the federal government is responsible for interstate commerce and foreign relations and states are in charge of everything inside the state’s borders.”
So several lawmakers have filed measures to limit the federal government’s ability to dictate what happens in Texas.
But they know that even if they are successful, this is just the beginning.
“People are fed up with the inefficiency, the ineptitude of the federal government,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. “Part of what I tell people is that as much as we say we’d like to get away from the federal government, the more money, aid, we take from them, the harder that will be.
“We have to figure out a way as Texans ... to live as autonomously as possible.”
State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, has filed proposals including House Concurrent Resolution 26, which asks Congress to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, passed after the crisis of 2008.
“There’s not a bank in Fort Worth, Texas, or Van, Texas, that had anything to do with the global financial crisis, but the restrictions on these community banks are the same as on bigger banks,” Flynn said. “These are small community banks. ...
“They take care of local needs, and they are having to spend hours and hours making sure they abide by rules and regulations. Small banks just can’t do it,” he said. “It’s typical of the federal government. They do these knee- jerk things.”
That’s why Flynn has filed other measures as well, including House Bill 135 to make sure that Texas public high school students take a course on the U.S. Constitution, so they know how responsibilities are divided between the states and the federal government.
To stress that division, state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, filed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 to claim sovereignty for Texas under the 10th Amendment, which says that powers belong to the states unless the Constitution specifically grants them to the federal government.
“It has always been very important to me, not only to make a statement to Congress, but to keep the issue of affirming our state rights before the Legislature and the public,” said Creighton, who has unsuccessfully proposed this measure in other sessions. “It’s difficult when the feds act outside their constitutional authority.”
And state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, filed HCR29, declaring that presidential executive orders can’t interfere with states’ rights.
“We need to remind the federal government that it was the states that created them, not them the states,” Flynn said. “The authority needs to be from the states.”
Money and guns
State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, proposes HCR32, which urges Congress to submit a balanced-budget measure to the states for ratification as a constitutional amendment.
State Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton, filed HCR27, asking Congress to abolish the federal income tax system and switch to a national retail sales tax.
And Krause proposes HB422 to let Texas law officers enforce only the firearms regulations that are in effect in the state.
Beyond that, Krause said, federal officers are more than welcome to enforce any firearms law in Texas that they see fit.
“We thought we could say the federal government can do anything it wants to, but we aren’t going to use any of Texas’ time or personnel to help enforce that,” he said. “There’s a lot of cooperation between the federal government and the state government at a lot of levels, but the state chooses when to enforce it.”
Krause’s proposal, known as “Come and Take It,” passed the House last session but died in the Senate.
Some political observers don’t predict success for many of the anti-Washington proposals.
“This is for posturing … and political advantage,” Jillson said. “They are for constituents back home.”
But lawmakers could take these proposals and do more with them, said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“State legislators have more clout than most of us so they should utilize their political strength behind these proposals by contacting U.S. senators and representatives,” Saxe said. “Otherwise, not much will come of them except good window dressing.”
One of the biggest issues before the Legislature this year may be how lawmakers deal with securing the Texas-Mexico border.
In mid-2014, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus signed off on a plan to spend $1.3 million a week to combat the growing number of immigrants flooding into South Texas.
“Texas can’t afford to wait for Washington to act on this crisis and we will not sit idly by while the safety and security of our citizens are threatened,” Perry said in a statement. “Until the federal government recognizes the danger it’s putting our citizens in by its inaction to secure the border, Texas law enforcement must do everything they can to keep our citizens and communities safe.”
Now Texans want their money back.
State Sen.-elect Don Huffines, R-Dallas, filed SB62, to let the state recover from the federal government all costs of dealing with people not lawfully in the United States.
Jillson, of SMU, isn’t sure how successful Texas will be with that.
“Texas sought to recover state expenditures for Indian fighting in the frontiers in the 1850s,” he said. “Texas said [the federal government] was responsible for Indian policy and control in the same way we talk about illegal immigration today.
“One hundred and sixty years of Texas saying, ‘We want our money back,’” Jillson said. “But Texas has done these things on its own, for its own reasons and at its own expense.”
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610
Key dates for the 84th Texas Legislature
Jan. 13: First day of the session. Lawmakers convene at noon.
Jan. 20: Inauguration of governor and lieutenant governor
March 13: 60th day of the session, the deadline for filing bills and joint resolutions other than local bills, emergency appropriations and bills that the governor has declared an emergency.
June 1: Last day of the session
June 21: Last day the governor can sign or veto bills passed during the regular session.
Source: Texas Legislature Online