Funny things can happen in the final days of the legislative session. Case in point: the effort of Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) to grant illegal immigrants the right to drive on Texas roads. Though Cook and Democrats teamed up to push the issue, the measure failed to receive the same support from Republicans. Curiously, Cook could neither convince nor cajole his own comrades in House leadership to put the measure on the calendar for a floor debate.
This should come as no particular surprise since the Republican Party platform opposes granting illegal immigrants Texas drivers’ licenses.
However, Cook and his allies have claimed otherwise. Citing a poll question, they claimed Texas Republicans support their plan of offering permits to illegal immigrants. However, the full poll question they cite asks voters:
“Would you support or oppose legislation that requires all undocumented immigrants to apply for a driving permit, pay a $150 fee, provide finger print and photo identification, pass a criminal background check and buy liability insurance?” [Emphasis added]
So the question is really more about registering than permitting.
Such misdirection seems to have been the general approach. In laying out the bill in committee, Cook claimed that the change would benefit Texans by allowing illegal immigrants to obtain liability insurance.
“Right now in this state we have hundreds of thousands of people that are on our roads and highways driving without a license and without insurance,” said Cook. “I think it would be much better for the public if we actually had a conditional permit for these folks where they pass a criminal background check, run through a database, be fingerprinted, pass a driving test and most importantly — have insurance.”
The implication of course is that they couldn’t purchase insurance currently. However, a committee report Cook himself authored and an “interview” with Texas Insider reveals the opposite: illegal immigrants can already obtain car insurance in Texas, without a permit.
“Interestingly enough, Jim, they can get insurance without a driving license,” Cook told the interviewer, Jim Cardle. “So, you can be insured—no driving license, and this is something that came out in our interim study.”
With his legislation dying, Cook enlisted establishment surrogates in an effort to point fingers and assign blame for his bill’s death to conservatives.
However, Cook fired at the wrong target—neither conservative activists nor newspapers defeated Cook’s legislation. Credit for that belongs to Speaker Joe Straus and his appointments to the Calendars Committee. As covered previously, and as explained by State Rep. Tony Dale (R–Cedar Park), Calendars views themselves as the gatekeepers for the Texas House.
“That’s the whole point is to get in there, take a look at the bill and make sure that it’s something that is not going to embarrass the House, not going to embarrass the members and vet legislation a second time in addition to what they saw in the original committee,” Dale explained.
A lot of bills both good and bad die at this point in session. This one though was noteworthy for the strange twists: Straus lieutenant Cook was seemingly left out to dry by his fellow lieutenants. Cook and other establishment allies then tried to place the blame on conservatives while the Straus leadership, often at odds with Republican voters, sided with them.
Strange but true.