The swirling force of Texas politics

Republicans Blame Each Other For Immigration Bill Failure

By JIM VERTUNO
|  Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011  |  Updated 4:06 PM CDT
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Republicans Blame Each Other for Bill Failure

flickr/Silly Jilly

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When the Texas Legislature's special session began, Republican majorities in the House and Senate warned Democrats they wouldn't be able to stop an immigration enforcement bill that had sparked one of the toughest partisan fights of the year.

The bill would have given police more power to ask anyone they detain about their citizenship status, a measure Hispanic Democrats derided as racist and a tool to harass Latinos.

But when the bill died again this week without a vote in the House, Democrats smirked while Gov. Rick Perry and GOP lawmakers angrily blamed each other for its demise.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and the Senate blamed the House. The House blamed the Senate.

Perry chimed in, picking on Sen. Robert Duncan and prompting colleagues of the lawmaker from Lubbock to rally around him.

Ultimately, the Republican majorities in both chambers left one of Perry's priority issues for dead and ended the session Wednesday taking aim at each other in a circular firing squad.

The Senate "failed," House Speaker Joe Straus said.

Dewhurst tweaked the House by noting that twice in the previous week the House failed to get 100 members needed to show up to do work.

House Republican leader Larry Phillips of Friendswood had gone to the Bahamas on vacation with his family. Dewhurst noted he cancelled a trip to France for D-Day invasion anniversary celebrations to stay in Austin.

"I didn't go on a 14-day trip to visit Normandy with my wife and little daughter and my two brothers and their families and I expect others to be here," Dewhurst said.

Perry, who is considering a run for president, made the so-called "sanctuary cities" bill one of his top priorities during the regular session and put it on the agenda of the special session.

Perry and supporters say the bill would have helped police fight crime committed by illegal immigrants. But opponents, including many police chiefs and sheriffs, said it would allow rogue officers to target Latinos.

Republicans in both chambers had the muscle to pass any bill they wanted during the regular session if they used it.

The Senate, where Democrats were able to block the bill during the regular session, passed the immigration bill on June 15 after several hours of tense, emotional debate.

That sent the bill to the House, where the Republicans hold a 101-49 supermajority big enough to pass bills whether Democrats even bothered to show up to vote.

The House had passed the bill by a wide margin during the regular session and was expected to do so again. But this time, the House let the bill languish and die in committee this time.

Perry and House Republicans tried to negotiate a version of the immigration bill into a must-pass budget bill that included $4 billion in public education cuts.

The theory was that because the immigration bill potentially withholds state grant money from law enforcement agencies if they did not comply, the budget bill was an appropriate place to put it.

That's where Duncan comes in. As the lead negotiator on the budget bill, Perry blamed him for standing in the way and the Senate refused to put in the immigration provision.

"Because of this action, the special session will not provide our peace officers with the discretion they need to adequately keep Texans safe from those that would do them harm," Perry said.

The Senate Republican Caucus told Perry to back off.

Caucus Chairman Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville said the group considered the change but told Duncan they wanted to keep it out of the bill for fear it would jeopardize the budget bill.

The House had its chance to pass the Senate version on its own, Nichols said.

Democrats, meanwhile, watched the bill die without having to do anything to kill it.

"Latino citizens who faced racial profiling and discrimination under this bill can breathe a sigh of relief," said Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus. "(The bill) would have forced a sizeable portion of the Texas population to prove their citizenship, perhaps time and again, just because of the color of their skin."

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