Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the leader of the Texas Senate, would use fast-track procedures to crack down on “sanctuary” policies for undocumented immigrants if a special session were to be called, his office said this week.
Patrick aides said he would not use filibuster rules requiring a supermajority of votes during a 30-day special session, easing the chances for the immigration-related reforms.
“A simple 16-vote majority is all that is needed to pass legislation” during a special session, said Patrick spokesman Keith Elkins, when asked if the “sanctuary cities” bill would need a filibuster-proof majority in a special session.
The debate over sanctuary policies moved to the front and center of Texas politics this week when Gov. Greg Abbott wrote a scathing letter to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, saying her lenient policies toward immigrants in her jail jeopardized public safety. The move came just days after the U.S. Senate gridlocked over legislation targeting such policies nationwide.
Despite saying Texans were endangered by such policies, Abbott has since signaled that any state reforms should wait until 2017, when the Legislature reconvenes in regular session. Conservative activists have said they want quicker action, and the statement by Patrick’s office suggests that they’d likely be able to get it done in a special session — though only Abbott has the power to call lawmakers back to the Capitol.
Asked about the comments from Patrick’s office, an Abbott spokesman sent a link to a radio show that aired Wednesday. In the interview, with Lubbock KFYO talk show host Chad Hasty, Abbott all but ruled out immediate action on the issue, saying “it is not a special session item.” Instead the governor said he would urge voters to elect legislators who will commit to approving the legislation.
A Texas Tribune tally shows the votes are already there in the Senate, and the House passed a version of the legislation as far back as 2011.
‘The support is there’
In an interview Friday, state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, signaled the lower chamber would also pass the legislation should lawmakers be asked to do so.
“I do think the support is there in the House chamber to take action,” he said. But he added that he isn’t going to second-guess Abbott’s decision. Asked if he thought Abbott was making a mistake, Parker said he “defers to the wisdom of the governor” and supports whatever path Abbott chooses to follow.
Jason Embry, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus, said that over the next year, the House would examine “the relationship between local policies and federal immigration laws.” But he added that the speaker “respects the governor's right to call a special session on whatever topic he deems necessary.”
A few months ago in the Senate, two Republicans joined Democrats in blocking consideration of the bill outlawing policies providing sanctuary for certain undocumented immigrants. Now, though, one of those Republicans has joined the crackdown movement. And there now appear to be at least 18 votes in favor in the Senate — enough to pass it.
Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who had signaled opposition to bringing up the legislation last session, signed on to a letter, under the banner of the Texas Conservative Coalition, embracing the crackdown this week. There were 13 names on that list. The Tribune has since confirmed that five more Republican senators — Konni Burton of Colleyville, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Kel Seliger of Amarillo, Charles Schwertner of Georgetown and Joan Huffman of Houston — would continue to support legislation prohibiting sanctuary city policies, though opinions vary among senators on the timing of a vote.