FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 16, 2011
In the days before air conditioning, legislators worked to wrap up session before the heat of summer. With Austin temperatures above 100 degrees this week, I can appreciate their desire to get out of town. Despite the climate control currently in the Texas Capitol, things heated up as the Legislature seeks to pass bills and finish the special session.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Senate approves Sanctuary Cities prohibition
After a long debate on Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 9. This bill prohibits cities and municipalities from creating policies requiring law enforcement to ignore federal immigration law. It allows officers to inquire about the immigration status of any person arrested or legally detained and prevents cities from creating regulations against such questioning.
As a member of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, I voted for this legislation twice during the special session, first in committee and then on the Senate floor. The bill now goes to the House where similar legislation passed during the regular session.
2. Senate Conferees named on budget bills
The Senate and House both passed the two major bills needed for a balanced state budget. Because there are differences between the House and the Senate versions of each bill, a conference committee is needed to work out the differences. This week conference committees were selected.
A conference committee consists of five members of each chamber. Once a majority of conference committee members sign off on a version of the bill, that version goes back to both chambers for final approval. Sometimes a bill can pass both the House and the Senate but fail to become law because time runs out, or the needed votes are not available to approve the compromise version.
As a member of the Senate not on the conference committee for either of these bills, I will not have the opportunity to vote individually on the House amendments. I can either vote for or against the conferences' versions of these two bills. The conferees are busy working out the differences in the budget bills, and I anticipate the conference committee reports will be brought before the Senate next week.
3. Congressional Maps approved by the House
The House passed Senate Bill 4 which draws lines for Texas Congressional seats, including the four new seats Texas received following the 2010 Census. While it looks like the Legislature will be able to pass a Congressional map during special session, the process will not be completely finished. Many anticipate the map will be challenged in court by a variety of special interest groups.
4. House approves healthcare compact
The House passed House Bill 5, which would allow states to take financial control of health programs like Medicaid and Medicare from the federal government by entering into agreements known as health care compacts with other states. Other states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, have passed similar laws. While it may be an uphill battle to get the necessary waivers from the federal government for a compact, states must take steps to address the unsustainable cost increases of these programs.
5. Flag Day celebrated at the Capitol
On June 14 at the Capitol we joined other Americans in celebrating Flag Day, the day to commemorate the official adoption of the flag of the United States of America. While many Americans show their patriotism by flying an American flag on Flag Day and throughout the year, some homeowners associations have prevented such a display. During the regular session, the Legislature passed a bill to protect homeowners' free expression in flying a flag. House Bill 2779 guarantees Texans the right to display their American, Texas and U.S. Military flags on their property. It is literally a way to let freedom fly in the Lone Star State.