San Antonio Current
Originally Posted: June 10, 2015
AUSTIN — The 2015 session of the Texas Legislature, which ended last week rather unceremoniously, was widely panned as a bust.
Immigrant advocates couldn’t be any happier. They’re claiming victory.
“We were very excited, but it kept us on our toes,” Chloe Sikes, a member of the Coalition to Save In-State Tuition, told the San Antonio Current.
A slew of proposals cracking down on undocumented immigrants — from repealing in-state tuition to targeting disadvantaged children in medical care programs — died on the vine as time expired on their proponents.
Post-battle, those in the political trenches described behind-the-scenes machinations that dealt the fatal blows to the anti-immigrant bills. Scenes of high drama — suffused with broken loyalties, clash of wills, moral indignation — that would’ve made Shakespeare raise an eyebrow.
Sikes’ group primarily focused on SB 1819. The proposed legislation by State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would have repealed a 2001 measure (signed by fellow Republican Rick Perry, former Texas governor now on his second presidential quest) allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.
After spurts surfaced threatening to advance Campbell’s bill, it finally died on May 20 after the deadline for discussion passed.
“It was extra concerning the repeal effort was put forth in this session,” Sikes said. “Texas was the first to pass that type of legislation,” she noted with palpable pride. Indeed, many other states followed in the Lone Star State’s footsteps.
Other anti-immigration measures died a slow death on the rotunda floor, most notably SB 1252, directing the governor to negotiate an interstate border security compact toward federal immigration law enforcement; SB 185 aimed at outlawing so-called sanctuary cities; HB 2835, which would’ve given lower priority to taking undocumented children off medical waiting lists.
The mainstream media attributed the mass death of bills to the GOP focus on gays and guns. But battle-worn lawmakers who fought the latest anti-immigration bills described a wholesale change in dynamics from past sessions, prompted by the upending of the two-thirds rule in the Senate. In January, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ended the 70-year practice of requiring the support of two-thirds of senators to bring up a measure in favor of a three-fifths majority. The old rule was in place to protect minority interests, a less-than-opaque measure by Patrick to push his party’s priorities.
“While it was definitely a loss for the Senate, it has empowered the House,” said State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat.
“The truth of the matter is there was no appetite for that kind of conversation in the state House, which is a more mature body,” Martinez-Fischer added. “Most of those bills originated in the Senate, but died a slow and painful death on the House floor.”
Indeed, SB 1819 and SB 185 never made it out of the Senate, while SB 1252 withered away in committee.
State Sen. José Menéndez, another SA Democrat, described a similar sense of empowerment in killing off bad bills — a rallying cry that even lured some Republicans to discreetly stray from party lines. The same three-fifths rule implanted this year now requires 12 senators to block a bill, prompting recruitment of dissenters across party lines.
“The Republicans who joined us think it’s not in the best interest of the state to be anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant and don’t agree with those politics,” Menéndez told the Current.
The turncoats’ identities are being jealously guarded to shield them from potential backlash from their base in the next election cycle, Menéndez noted.
“We tried to provide them anonymity so they don’t get beat up in the next primary election,” he said.
The rise of the Tea Party and the intractable stance on social issues among its rank and file also increasingly complicates the way business gets done at the Legislature — prompting some Republicans dissenting from party ideology to quietly support Democrats with votes. “It’s caused so many moderate Republicans to be kicked out by these far-right Tea Party members,” Menéndez noted.
Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said that anti-immigration bills largely failed — for the second consecutive legislative session — because they ran counter to the powerful businesses lobby.
Jillson invoked the trope of “campaigning in poetry and governing in prose” to further his argument.
“Texas has seen the value of a substantial supply of cheap labor. The anti-immigrant rhetoric and border security rhetoric is standard fare of elections, and that rhetoric is very effective,” he explained. “But when you get into governing, you have the lobbies pushing in a different direction.” READ MORE