AUSTIN — During his “State of the State” address on Jan. 31, Governor Greg Abbott declared legislation banning so-called “sanctuary cities” to be one of his top priorities and an emergency item, saying: “Elected officials don’t get to pick and choose which laws they obey.” 

In 2011, when Rick Perry was governor, he made the original call for such a ban. Last week, after more than a dozen hours of spirited floor debate and parliamentary maneuvers, the Texas House approved legislation banning so-called sanctuary cities. 

Senate Bill 4 passed the House on a party-line vote, with Republican members casting 93 votes in favor and Democratic members casting 54 votes in opposition. Democrats collectively made numerous and largely unsuccessful attempts to amend the bill in ways to protect Texas’ immigrant communities. 

On Feb. 8, the Senate passed its own version of a ban on sanctuary cities, also on a party-line vote. Next, the Senate must decide whether to concur with the House’s version of SB 4. If not, a conference committee of House and Senate members would meet and try to agree on a final version to be returned to their respective bodies for consideration. If both houses of the Legislature approve an identical bill, it will go to the governor’s desk.

Under SB 4, a sheriff, police chief, constable or jailer who has custody of a person subject to a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer request and who knowingly fails to comply with the detainer request could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction for noncompliance would result in immediate removal from office.

Also, the bill would prevent governmental entities from adopting or enforcing an ordinance, order, rule, policy or other measure to prohibit the enforcement of immigration laws, or prohibiting enforcement of immigration laws as demonstrated by pattern or practice. 

Another requirement of the bill would be for the state to establish a competitive grant program enabling the Criminal Justice Division of the governor’s office to provide financial assistance to cities to offset costs associated with immigration enforcement and fulfillment of immigration detainer requests. 

Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, welcomed the passage of SB 4, saying, “After voting for this type of legislation numerous times since 2011 when I served on the House Committee on State Affairs, I’m glad we finally got this bill through the House and the Senate.”

However, Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, called SB 4 “a solution in search of a problem” and said that the legislation not only requires the detention of criminals, it would “target children, victims of crimes and even immigrants who served in our armed forces.” 

“The Texas Legislature has now passed an Arizona-style, ‘Show-me-your-papers’ law that will disproportionately affect” communities like his own, Wu said, which he described as “hardworking communities made up of native and non-native Texans, refugees and immigrants both documented and undocumented.”

Following the passage of SB 4 on April 27, the Mexican American Legislative Conference, a group of 42 members of the Texas House, released a statement by its chair, Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “It’s a shameful day in Texas,” wrote Anchia. “Legislators debated for over 14 hours to pass, with little hesitation from the majority, a bill that was broadly opposed by law enforcement and faith leaders, including the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops. If it was the goal of Governor Abbott and GOP legislative leaders to terrorize the Latino community, they have succeeded.” 

Budget negotiations begin

A conference committee of House and Senate members met April 24 to begin hashing out differences in the House and Senate versions of the proposed $218 billion state budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, expressed confidence that the panel would be able to agree. “Both chambers have prioritized child protective services, mental health; both chambers have prioritized our long-term commitment to transportation funding,” she said. “Both want to ensure our borders are secure and our children are properly educated. I have no doubt that we are going to pass a budget that meets our needs and keeps Texas strong and successful.”

House Appropriations Committee Chair John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said, “It’s not going to be the House, it’s not going to be the Senate, it’s going to be the citizens of Texas that ultimately win as a consequence of this conference committee.”

The crafting of a state budget is the only constitutionally required act of the Texas Legislature when it meets in regular session every two years.

Ex-governor’s father dies

Joseph “Ray” Perry, 92, of Haskell, died at an Abilene hospital on April 27, following a brief illness.

Perry was a lifelong farmer near Paint Rock in Concho County, where he was born, and he was the father of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor.

Perry served as a tail gunner on a bomber in World War II, flying some 35 missions over Nazi Germany.