Conservatives Override House Leadership, Pass Strong Ban on Sanctuary Cities

After more than 16 hours of debate, the Texas House voted in the early hours of the morning to approve legislation to ban sanctuary cities and remove officials that refuse to cooperate in the enforcement of immigration laws. The legislation passed by a vote of 93-54 after conservatives strengthened it significantly through amendments.

Ending sanctuary cities has been a major goal of conservatives for more than a decade, but reform efforts have fallen short in the Lone Star State as liberal Republicans repeatedly joined with Democrats to oppose the measure. This session, however, the Republican grassroots and Gov. Greg Abbott elevated the issue such that lawmakers would be forced to pass a ban on sanctuary cities with efforts quickly coalescing around State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock), whose Senate Bill 4 was a robust piece of legislation to do just that.

Perry’s bill not only barred local entities from prohibiting inquiries about individuals’ immigration status by law enforcement officials, but also compelled them to honor detainment requests from federal authorities. Should they refuse to comply, elected law enforcement officers would be subject to criminal charges and their jurisdictions could be fined by the state.

The legislation passed the Texas Senate in the beginning of February but was delayed in the House for months before being handed to State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth), a top lieutenant of House Speaker Joe Straus, and referred to the State Affairs Committee.

There, Geren worked with the committee’s chairman, Byron Cook (R–Corsicana), and Democrats to dilute and weaken the legislation before sending it on to the floor. The damage was so significant that conservatives argued they would need to make significant repairs before passing the bill could be called a victory.

Shortly into the debate on the legislation they moved to do so.

Led by State Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving) and Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler), conservatives moved to shore up SB 4 by offering an amendment to ensure all local peace officers in the state can ask about the immigration status of anyone who has been detained, a distinction that includes routine traffic stops.

Geren actively opposed Schaefer’s amendment. Saying it went against a deal he’d struck with Democrats behind closed doors, Geren stoically walked the plank to pay them a favor they would never return. Cook did as well, begging Republican lawmakers to vote against the stronger enforcement mechanisms contained in Schaefer’s amendment.

“Vote against the Schaefer amendment. It will not benefit this state,” Cook pleaded with his colleagues.

A few of them listened, but an overwhelming majority of them did not. Instead, 81 House Republicans bucked Straus’ top two lieutenants and voted with conservatives to strengthen SB 4.

The Republican lawmakers who joined Cook, Geren, and the Democrats?

Gary Elkins (Houston), Dan Huberty (Kingwood), Linda Koop (Dallas), Lyle Larson (San Antonio), Four Price (Amarillo), JD Sheffield (Stephenville), and Jason Villalba (Dallas).

But even worse than Republican lawmakers who voted with Democrats were those who lacked the courage to do so and ducked the vote: Trent Ashby (Lufkin), Sarah Davis (Houston), Larry Gonzales (Round Rock), and John Zerwas (Simonton).

Each of these four lawmakers were in a committee meeting, skipping the potentially perilous vote on SB 4. Yet the one Democrat on the committee, State Rep. Oscar Longoria (Mission), managed to record opposition to the legislation and amendments.

SB 4 will now go back to the Texas Senate where lawmakers can either send the legislation to Abbott’s desk by concurring with the amendments made by the Texas House or form a conference committee to hash out the differences between both versions. Should they follow the latter route, SB 4 would need to receive another vote in each chamber before being passed.

Conservatives should view the passage of legislation to ban sanctuary cities as a major political win, but should also remember that victories such as these shouldn’t be so few and far between. If the Texas House weren’t governed by a rogue’s gallery of sell-out Republicans who side with Democrats over their own voters, conservatives would be able to celebrate victories such as this significantly more often.

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Cary Cheshire

Cary Cheshire serves as Vice President of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, the premier project of Empower Texans. A 6th Generation Texan, Cary attended Texas A&M University was active in a number of conservative causes including Ted Cruz's Senate campaign. He has also worked on campaigns to elect conservatives to Congress and the Texas Legislature. Cary enjoys college football, genealogy research, and the occasional craft beer.

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