Over the past two sessions, State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) has pushed a legislative proposal so bad that it has not just harmed his political future, but the future of any representative voters perceive to have supported it.
In 2013 and again in 2015, Cook pushed the House to give driver’s permits to illegal aliens. At a time when Republican voters are calling for an end to sanctuary cities and enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws in record numbers, Cook and his allies have been running in the opposite direction from his constituents.
In 2013, Cook joined with Dallas Democrat Rep. Roberto Alonzo to promote HB 3206 which would have created the “Texas resident driver’s permit,” a license provided specially for illegal aliens. Despite (or possibly due to) the bill being coauthored by the entire Democratic caucus, Cook voted the measure out of his powerful State Affairs Committee while measures aimed at combatting illegal immigration languished.
In addition to Cook’s vote, Republican representatives Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth) and Patricia Harless (R–Spring) voted to send Alonzo’s drivers’ permits for illegal aliens bill to the floor. Republican former speaker Tom Craddick (Midland) voted against the bill while Republican representatives John Frullo (Lubbock), Harvey Hilderbran, Dan Huberty (Houston) and John Smithee (Amarillo) were conveniently absent for the vote. Frullo, notably, was present to vote on three other bills just moments earlier.
When Alonzo’s bill failed to reach the House floor, Cook first attempted to amend it on to a broad package related to driver’s licenses. After that attempt was defeated on a point of order, Cook and Alonzo offered two related amendments as test votes on the issue.
First, Cook offered a third-reading amendment to SB 1729 that would have caused that bill’s provisions to apply to a “Texas resident driver’s permit” if one were separately created by law. While the amendment would not have actually implemented Cook’s policy of giving driver’s permits to illegal aliens, it was widely understood to be a “test vote” on the issue.
Along with Cook and the Democrats, the amendment was supported by Republicans Sarah Davis (Houston), Gary Elkins (Houston), James Frank (Wichita Falls), Kyle Kacal (College Station), Jim Keffer (Eastland), Doug Miller (New Braunfels), John Otto (Dayton), Jim Pitts, JD Sheffield (Gatesville), David Simpson (Longview), Wayne Smith (Baytown), and Jason Villalba (Dallas).
(Before the vote, Geren excused himself so he could attend to House Administration matters.)
The next day, in a nearly identical maneuver, Alonzo again sought a test vote on the issue, offering an amendment to SB 1705. This time the amendment was again supported by the Democrats as well as Republicans Cook, Davis, Frank, Harless, Sheffield, and Simpson.
After Alonzo’s proposal failed during the 83rd legislative session, Cook picked up the bill and directly authored it during the 84th. With the support of Republican representatives Patricia Harless (Spring) and John Kuempel (Seguin), in addition to the Democrats, Cook voted HB 4063 out of his State Affairs Committee but he could not get the bill to the floor for a vote. In committee, Craddick, Smithee, and Marsha Farney (R–Georgetown) voted against the bill. Geren and Huberty were absent, however Geren arrived moments later to vote on other less-controversial bills.
While the floor amendments were merely “test votes” that would not have directly adopted the policy, support for them raises important questions. However, in the case of HB 3206 in 2013 and HB 4063, there is a clear record of several Republican members directly voting to advance the policy of giving driver’s permits to illegal aliens.