The Associated Press
A Senate committee on Wednesday derailed a key immigration bill blessed by the governor, mounting the toughest challenge yet to one of Gov. Rick Perry's emergency priorities.
The bill would have allowed local police to question anyone they detain about their citizenship status and has triggered emotional and racially-charged debate more than once this legislative session.
The House had already passed the bill over emotional protests from mostly Hispanic Democrats, but the Senate committee rejected the police enforcement measure that citizens had packed a committee room to testify against. The new language the committee approved involves changes to state laws to increase border security and expanding the use of a federal citizenship verification program.
The so-called "sanctuary cities" bill had been declared an emergency by Perry and sparked months of heated criticism from police chiefs across the state and Democrats in the Legislature who fear the measure would encourage racial profiling and make it harder for police to do their jobs.
Negotiations on the next two-year state budget stalled Wednesday as Texas House leaders again postponed a revenue measure that they say will determine whether they can balance the budget before the session ends in less than two weeks.
House and Senate negotiators grew frustrated after lawmakers pre-filed a slew of contentious amendments to the revenue measure, throwing into question how it would fare in a House vote. After hours of closed-door meetings, Rep. Jim Pitts postponed consideration of Senate Bill 1811 until Thursday.
"We've got to pass 1811 or none of it works," said the Senate's chief budget writer, Sen. Steve Ogden, emerging from a meeting with House Republicans. "Everything else I think can be negotiated. ... Right now the House is going to postpone (the revenue bill) which I think guarantees a special session. ... Yeah, I'm kinda frustrated."
But Pitts said he wanted an agreement on the budget "before we pass SB 1811."
"We hope to have an agreement by (Thursday) morning," he said.
Negotiators have agreed on most of the budget, but have reached a stalemate over education spending. The primary sticking point is over how much to spend on basic school operations and how that money should be distributed to school districts.
A fight to keep state money from abortion providers and affiliates like Planned Parenthood has potentially terminated a key health care program serving hundreds of thousands of low-income women.
The Women's Health Program is set to expire this December unless renewed by law, and the senator sponsoring the legislation says he doesn't have the votes to bring the bill up for consideration on the Senate floor.
While Sen. Bob Deuell has the chamber's 19 Republicans on board, he said none of the Democrats are comfortable voting for the bill, which would renew the program for five years but bars Planned Parenthood and abortion affiliates from continuing as members. Twenty-one senators normally must vote to allow floor debate on a bill, so two Democrats would have to join the Republicans.
The most controversial provision of the bill — and the one that's causing Democrats to balk — completely dissolves the Women's Health Program if abortion affiliates sue to regain entrance to the program. Planned Parenthood never backed down, issuing a letter to Deuell at the beginning of May resolving to sue Texas for re-entrance into the program if the legislation passed.
"This is raw politics, and it's women's health that's on the line," said Sarah Wheat, interim co-CEO of Planned Parenthood Texas Capital Region.
Deuell, a physician, has repeatedly said he had to include that provision to appease pro-life groups and to get the bill through the Republican, anti-abortion dominated House. He said without it there was no chance of the legislation passing through the lower chamber.
"I thought it would save the program--that's what I wanted to do," Deuell said.
The Texas House has approved a state's rights resolution that serves "notice to the federal government to cease and desist from certain mandates," and calls for repealing certain federal laws.
Approved 102-44 Wednesday, the measure is based on the 10th Amendment.
Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey attached language saying it doesn't endorse segregation — as some have used the banner of state's rights to do historically.
Opponents also charged the measure is an attack on the Obama administration. But its chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Brandon Creighton, said it wasn't political.
Gov. Rick Perry has cheered the measure. But Perry's shied away from going as far as he did in 2009, when he suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union.
Law enforcement agencies would be required to standardize eyewitness identification procedures under legislation passed Wednesday by Texas senators in hopes of reducing wrongful convictions in the state.
The bill would require written policies relating to how agencies conduct procedures for photographs and lineups. Agencies would be encouraged to develop blind procedures, where the person administering a lineup doesn't know who the suspect is.
In the state that leads the nation in exonerations based on DNA evidence, lawmakers have been working for years to fine-tune procedures so fewer Texans are put behind bars for crimes they didn't commit.
Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, with 80 percent of wrongful convictions involving eyewitness identification error, according to The Innocence Project, a nonprofit working to free wrongfully incarcerated people.
Eyewitness identification reform is the result of recommendations from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, named after the first Texan to be posthumously exonerated of a crime by DNA testing. Cole was convicted of a rape he did not commit in 1986 and died in 1999 while serving his 25-year sentence.
FREE SPEECH LAWSUITS
The Texas Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to protect free speech by limiting frivolous lawsuits that are often filed in response to public criticism of companies or associations.
The measure is designed to discourage what are called strategic lawsuits against public participation. Some corporations have brought lawsuits against news organizations or activists to prevent them from commenting on public affairs.
The bill allows defendants to request a quick dismissal of the lawsuit and judges to order the suing parties to pay court costs if the case is deemed frivolous.
Media, civil rights and business groups, including the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Association of Business, have come out in support of the legislation.
"The right to free speech is perhaps our most hallowed right," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. "Deep-pocketed bad actors and bullies should not be able to use the courts to silence citizens."
Texas lawmakers gave final approval to a crackdown on unethical sports agents that could lead to long prison terms.
Wednesday's vote by the House sends the bill to Gov. Rick Perry.
Texas already has a law to fine and strip licenses from agents who lure a college athlete into contracts with improper gifts or benefits that violate NCAA rules.
The new measure would make it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
More than 40 states have laws regulating sports agents. Supporters of the Texas bill say it will be the toughest in the nation.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"When things go wrong, it's not the Senate that's going to have to answer to the million people living in Austin, it's the police." Police Chief Art Acevedo, speaking against an immigration measure that would have local police enforce federal immigration law.Tags: