Just over 48 hours into the fourth special session in Austin, the Texas Senate has once again made quick work of Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, passing legislation relating to every item on the call.
On Tuesday evening, Abbott called lawmakers back for another special session dealing with border security and school choice.
While the House has begun committee hearings on those items, the Senate has already passed them.
On Wednesday night, the Senate passed Senate Bills 1-4.
Senate Bill 1 by State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R–Montgomery), dealing with school choice, is the exact same Education Savings Account legislation the chamber passed during the third special session. Students enrolled in the program would receive an $8,000 education savings account, which they could use to pay for tuition at a private school in the state.
Families could also use the funds to pay for materials their school requires, academic assessments, a private tutor, transportation to school, or fees for educational therapies.
The bill was approved in a party-line vote of 18-10.
Senate Bill 2, also by Creighton, includes teacher pay raises as well as additional funding for school safety. The chamber approved the proposal 27-1.
Senate Bill 3 by State Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) appropriates $1.54 billion to border barrier infrastructure and increase law enforcement overtime pay, including extra staffing at the Colony Ridge development in Liberty County. It was approved in a party-line vote of 18-10.
Senate Bill 4 by State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock) brought perhaps the most controversy. The legislation creates a new state crime for entering Texas illegally and authorizes Texas law enforcement to arrest and prosecute all people who cross the border illegally anywhere in Texas.
Punishment starts with up to 6 months in jail for a first-time offender and two years in state jail for a second-time offenders.
Illegal border crossers can be returned to the port of entry and ordered to leave the country, or face stiffer penalties.
During the the third special session, similar legislation was carried by State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury). His version, however, would have illegal aliens returned to federal authorities at ports of entry after conviction by a judge.
On Thursday night, Birdwell was the only Republican to vote against the proposal, saying it would violate the constitution and infringe on federal immigration enforcement authority.
The legislation was approved 17-10.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick commended the Senate on passing each piece of Abbott’s special session agenda. Because Patrick is still recovering from pneumonia, the Senate was overseen by State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R–Georgetown).
The Senate is recessed until Monday at 2 p.m.