Texas

‘Sanctuary cities’ bill inches toward Abbott’s desk

People wait in line to attend the “sanctuary cities” meeting in one of the hearing rooms at the Texas Capitol last week.
People wait in line to attend the “sanctuary cities” meeting in one of the hearing rooms at the Texas Capitol last week. Austin American-Statesman via AP

A bill that Republicans say would crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas is inching toward Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, and time is running out for opponents hoping to weaken the impact.

The sweeping proposal would give Republican lawmakers a long-sought cudgel against local governments that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration agents — threatening police chiefs and elected sheriffs with jail time, and fining defiant cities and counties up to $25,000 a day.

But critics are more concerned by what they see as an invitation for discrimination and intimidation. Hundreds of opponents have twice packed the Texas Capitol in as many months to protest, including young children of undocumented immigrants who pleaded with lawmakers to reconsider.

The House last week began defanging some parts of the Senate bill, including a section that would cut off all state grant funding. Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth has also signaled he wants police to have the freedom to only inquire about the immigration status of people who are under arrest and not merely detained, such as during traffic stops.

Immigration attorneys called that a significant change in the right direction but getting others will be hard-fought.

“They’re getting the same things they want, just in different ways. It hasn’t changed the spirit or intent,” said Faye Kolly, who is working against the bill on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

A committee could send the bill to the full House as early as this week.

Here’s what else to watch for:

Voter ID

More flexibility to Texas’ strict voter ID law could be approved by the full Senate this week. A federal appeals court last year ruled that the Texas law discriminated against poor and minority voters, and ordered changes that were put in place ahead of the November elections.

The Senate bill would give options to voters who declare they are unable to reasonably obtain one of seven acceptable forms of ID. But it also creates a criminal penalty of two to 10 years in prison for people found guilty of trying to get around the rules while casting a ballot.

Budget

Budget writers in both the House and Senate put the final touches last week on cost-cutting spending bills that could clear a first vote this week. Higher education in Texas is one area taking a hit as lawmakers scramble to close a shortfall of billions of dollars in wake of the oil slowdown.

The House is proposing less cuts by tapping into the rainy day fund — a state savings account where more than $10 billion is currently socked away — while the Senate has called for greater austerity.

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