SENATE COMPLETES FOURTH CALLED SESSION AGENDA
(AUSTIN) — The Senate passed four bills on Thursday that answered the call for legislation set out by Governor Greg Abbott this week. When the third special session ended without passage of a bill on school choice Tuesday, Abbott immediately called a fourth, once again putting education savings accounts on the agenda. He also asked for legislation relating to border security after the House and Senate couldn’t come to an agreement on a bill dealing with state peace officers’ authority to arrest migrants entering the state illegally from Mexico. The bills passed on Thursday, save one, are identical to legislation passed by the Senate in the previous special session.
The Senate’s school choice plan, SB 1 by Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton, would call for the creation of education savings accounts worth $8,000 each. Parents could apply to access these accounts, but priority would be given to students from low income backgrounds, and funds could be used to pay for a number of private education expenses including tuition, transportation, and tutoring. The Senate also approved putting more funding into public education spending with SB 2, joint authored by Creighton and Senate Finance chair and Houston Senator Joan Huffman, which would pay for teacher pay raises, school safety improvements, and increase the basic allotment. Should this legislation become law, Creighton said, the $5.2 billion it contains would bring the total amount of new money directed into state public education since last biennium to nearly $9 billion.
The border security measures passed on Thursday have a much clearer path to become law after both House and Senate authors announced the filing of identical bills in each chamber. The first, SB 3, also by Huffman, mirrors last sessions’ legislation that would commit another $1.5 billion to construction of the permanent border wall along the Rio Grande. If passed into law, total state funding for the wall would top $2 billion for the biennium.
SB 4 represents the compromise between the House and Senate on a plan to give state law enforcement officials authority to arrest migrants they see crossing the border illegally. The disagreement stemmed from what to do with these individuals after arrest, with the Senate proposal calling for migrants to be imprisoned in a state facility and then turned over to federal immigration authorities. The House legislation last session would have empowered state peace officers, in lieu of arrest, to take an apprehended migrant to a legal port of entry and order them back across the border. The Senate balked at the provision, with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick saying that such a policy could mean that dangerous criminals or terrorists could be caught and released to try and cross another day.
The deal worked out between the chambers would balance the proposals, by requiring that any migrant arrested under the proposed law first be processed by law enforcement officials, and must take a fingerprint record and conduct a criminal background check. If they are determined to be a first time offender and represent no public safety risk, then a judge could issue an order requiring that person to return across the border. Refusal at that point would result in re-arrest with the offender looking at a second-degree state felony. A complicated and contentious subject, bill author Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock said this bill represents his best effort at finding a reasonable compromise. “We are in a horrible position, our constitution provided a way to engage, “ he told members. “I believe we have tried to meet civil liberties and processes in order to get us to a point where we can protect the citizens of this nation better.”
After sending all four bills to the House for consideration late Thursday, the Senate will now await action in that chamber.