WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES EMERGENCY ITEMS
(AUSTIN) — The Senate this week passed two bills dealing with issues designated as emergencies by Governor Greg Abbott. Bills strengthening ethics rules for elected officials and outlawing sanctuary cities are now on the way to the House for consideration. Both were highlighted by the Governor in his State of the State address last Tuesday.
The first bill, SB 4 by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, would require cities to comply with federal immigration laws. It would ban what are called sanctuary city policies, where police officers are either forbidden or discouraged from inquiring into immigration status of lawfully arrested persons or from handing over suspects at the request of federal immigration officials. Perry believes that officials picking and choosing what to enforce undermines the rule of law. "My majority of citizens, immigrants or non, illegal or undocumented, all want a system of law that is applied blindly and without prejudice for all involved," he said before the final vote Wednesday.
The bill would create both civil and criminal penalties for jurisdictions that have such policies. If it becomes law, it gives cities 60 days to comply, but after that the Attorney General could order the withholding of certain state funds. Additionally, the head of a jurisdiction or municipality that has a sanctuary policy, like a mayor, sheriff or police chief, could be charged with a class A misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.
This is a controversial issue that drew 16 hours of testimony at a committee hearing last week, and opposition from several senators on the floor. "It signals to many in our immigrant community that they are not welcome in Texas," said San Antonio Senator Carlos Uresti in opposition to the bill. "That they should fear that any slip up or mistake will result in their deportation and that law enforcement exists not to protect them, but to get rid of them." The bill does include protections for witnesses and victims of crime, but some Senators raised concerns that it won't be enough to prevent the erosion of trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. The bill passed by a vote of 20-10.
Less controversial was a bill to beef up ethics rules for legislators. Like last session, the ethics omnibus bill cleared the Senate with no opposition Tuesday, and bill author Senator Van Taylor of Plano says that it's critical to maintaining faith in democracy in Texas. "That's why this bill is needed," he said. "It is an affirmation to the people that our efforts to represent them rise above even the appearance of impropriety or self-service."
The bill would remove any elected official convicted of a felony from office, and if the crime related to abuse of office, cancel any taxpayer-funded pension. It would also strengthen reporting requirements for "wining and dining" by lobbyists, cutting the dollar threshold in half and including an official's spouse and children in disclosure rules. The bill strives to clarify the line between lawmaker and lobbyist by requiring a one-full-session moratorium before a former legislator can register as a lobbyist and prohibits registered lobbyists from serving in elective office. It would also require officials and their immediate families to publicly disclose any ties they have to contracts between private businesses and government agencies.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 13 at 2 p.m.