After a marathon debate in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, legislation to ban sanctuary cities and compel local law enforcement to cooperate with federal authorities to enforce immigration law is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
On Wednesday, the Texas Senate moved to concur with amendments made in the Texas House to Senate Bill 4 by State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock). The legislation will now proceed to Abbott’s desk, where he is expected to quickly sign the bill into law.
Perry touted the bill’s passage as a major victory for Texans:
“Banning sanctuary cities is about stopping officials who have sworn to enforce the law from helping people who commit terrible crimes evade immigration detainers. Senate Bill 4 protects all Texans though uniform application of the law without prejudice,” said Perry in a statement.
Once signed, SB 4 would not only bar local entities from prohibiting inquiries about individuals’ immigration status by law enforcement officials, but also compel them to honor detainment requests from federal authorities. Should they refuse to comply, elected law enforcement officers would be subject to criminal charges and removed from office. Additionally, their jurisdictions could be fined by the state.
A major priority for Texas Republicans, legislation to ban sanctuary cities was named an “emergency item” by Abbott during his State of the State address, and the Texas Senate quickly reacted. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick fast-tracked the legislation and it passed by a party-line vote in February.
From there the legislation was subject to considerable delay and dilution in the Texas House at the hands of State Reps. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) and Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth). Together, they worked with Democrats to strip many of the teeth out of the bill before bringing it to the floor for a vote last week.
However, their efforts were thwarted by State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler), who offered an amendment to restore the stronger provisions of the bill.
Despite House Speaker Joe Straus and his lieutenants opposing the conservative amendment, Schaefer succeeded in gaining the support of his Republican colleagues. In a rare display of defiance, the vast majority of Republicans rebelled against House leadership and sided with Schaefer instead—forcing the stronger language back into bill.
House Republicans then passed the legislation with a few minor tweaks, including an amendment by State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving) to allow the Attorney General to remove non-compliant local officials from office. After House passage, the legislation was then sent back to the Texas Senate, where lawmakers could either concur with the House’s amendments or appoint a conference committee to resolve the differences between the versions of the legislation.
Fearing that the conference committee process could allow liberal lawmakers like Byron Cook to dilute measures of the bill and potentially kill the legislation, many conservative activists called on Perry to simply accept the House’s version.
“Should they choose the conference committee route, SB 4 would need to receive another vote in each chamber before being passed,” warned JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America We the People. “This gives the House leadership a chance to appoint Cook and Geren to the conference committee to remove the Rinaldi and Schaefer amendments or run out the clock on the bill!”
Activists’ efforts were successful. By a party-line vote of 20-11, the Texas Senate rejected Democrats’ attempts to take the legislation to conference and concurred with the House’s amendments, meaning that the legislation is now headed to Abbott’s desk.
Conservatives should view this as a major victory that will uphold the rule of law and make their communities safer. However, they should also ask themselves, “Why did such a commonsense measure like this take so many years to pass?” and look to begin retiring those lawmakers responsible for the delay.