Perry concedes 'sanctuary cities' bill likely dead

Posted: May 27, 2015 - 10:02pm | Updated: May 28, 2015 - 12:28am

Ralph Barrera
Speaker of the House Joe Straus oversees the lower chamber, Wednesday, May 27, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP) AUSTIN CHRONICLE OUT, COMMUNITY IMPACT OUT, INTERNET AND TV MUST CREDIT PHOTOGRAPHER AND STATESMAN.COM, MAGS OUT RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Enrique Rangel

AUSTIN — Despite an overwhelming Republican majority in the Texas Legislature, two controversial bills dealing with illegal immigration, including the so-called “sanctuary cities” measure Sen. Charles Perry filed, won’t become law this year — unless Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special session and puts one or both on the agenda.

Perry’s Senate Bill 185, which would have required cities to comply with federal immigration laws, and another Senate bill that would have repealed a 14-year law that allows some undocumented students get in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, are dead this session.

Two Republican senators joined their 11 Democratic colleagues in opposing the measures.

That’s the minimum number of senators needed to block legislation under the new three-fifths rule in the 31-member Texas Senate. The rule requires at least 19 senators be present to agree bringing a bill to the Senate floor.

“I am a ‘no” on sanctuary cities on repealing the in-state tuition law,” said Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.

“Sanctuary cities is a local control issue and I trust that in my city they do a fabulous job on this issue,” said Eltife, who served as mayor of Tyler before being elected to the Texas Senate a decade ago.

“With regard to in-state tuition, we are targeting the wrong people,” Eltife said in reference to undocumented students who were brought here when they were children and many have not even been back to the country where they were born.

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, gave stronger reasons for opposing SB 185 and Senate Bill 1819, the in-state tuition bill filed by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels.

“Let me just say that there are three problems with (SB) 185, that’s the one I’d like to concentrate on,” Estes, said.

“First of all, it is absolutely important to realize that it’s the federal government’s job to enforce our immigration laws and I worry about the burden that it puts on our local police,” he said.

“Point number two is this: I feel that the bill lacks the protections for American citizens being stopped at random,” he said. “American citizens, no matter what their ethnic origin, have the right to go about their daily business and not be stopped and being questioned.

“Let me say this: the phrase ‘show me your papers,’ is more like Nazi Germany than it is about the U.S.A.

“The third reason is a political reason,” Estes stressed. “For the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party to be viable in the future, we have to compete for the American Hispanic vote.

And nothing could alienate Hispanic Americans more than being stopped at random, arbitrarily and asked their status because of the color of their skin.”

Perry, R-Lubbock, acknowledged his sanctuary cities bill is dead and there are no hard feelings for both of his Republican colleagues.

“It is what it is,” Perry said about most bills in every session — including high profile proposal like his — getting killed.

“It is part of the process,” he said. But “it is a shame” SB 185 was killed because the Legislature just appropriated $800 million for border security for the next fiscal biennium.

The killing of SB 185 and 1819 is also a blow to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the Senate.

Those were key issues Patrick, a former senator, campaigned on last year, especially in the Republican primary when he ousted 12-year incumbent David Dewhurst and defeated two former state senators.

For their part, Democratic legislators and other critics of SB 185 and SB 1819 said they are relieved the bills are dead.

“I am very pleased that we had bipartisan effort to prevent that bill from coming to the floor,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, a member of the committee that sent the two measures to the full Senate, said he is also glad neither proposal passed.

“We don’t need to tell communities or municipalities that they can’t pass their own ordinances not requiring to ask people what their immigration status is,” Lucio, D-Brownsville, said.

Rep. Byron Cook, chairman of the influential House State Affairs Committee, the panel that would have screened the sanctuary cities bill — as it did in 2011 when a similar proposal was filed — said it would have been difficult to pass Perry’s bill if had gone to the House.

“I am not surprised that the bill died,” Cook, R-Corsicana, said. “Historically, we haven’t found any cities that are sanctuary cities.”

Moreover, “it is a divisive issue and it’s a tremendous unfunded mandate for local cities.”

On the flip side of the issue, Cook filed a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to get driving permits. His measure didn’t pass either.

Nonetheless, the day will come when the Legislature passes legislation like his House Bill 4063 because in Texas’ best interest, Cook predicted.

“Driving permits are conditioned and designed to protect public safety,” Cook said. “I thought it was important to continue advancing that issue, one day it will pass.

“Many other states, including states like Utah, which are even more conservative than us have done that because what they have found is that it makes the roads safer” he stressed. “It makes the folks to go through a background check, be fingerprinted, get photographed, pass driving tests, get insurance, all those things.”

(512) 673-7553