The Texas House reconvenes this morning, and the House Committee is set to vote on Sanctuary Cities legislation, SB 9 and HB 9. If the House Committee votes the bills onto the floor, they will still have to go to Calendars Committee and be put on the scheduled before being heard on the House floor. The Senate passed SB 9 almost two weeks ago, so despite analysists’ predictions that the bill would sail easily through the House and be passed into law, the bill has moved much slower than expected.
Republicans in the House have a supermajority, meaning that they can pass a bill without the help of the Democrats, but many say that the slow movement of the contentious bill may be due to wavering support from Republicans. Some big business owners and many police chiefs of major cities are among the important groups of people who have publicly come out in disapproval of the bill. Perhaps this public and influential disapproval of the bill has caused some Republicans to rethink their vote in support of the Sanctuary Cities bill (HB 12) that passed easily in the House during the regular session.
The slow movement also may be caused by the House’s priorities. Before adjourning from special session on Wednesday, the House must allocate the 4 billion dollars worth of cuts to the public school budget, and because Governor Perry threatened to call a second special session if the Windstorm Insurance bill does not pass, the House must hear and vote on this bill that would provide last resort insurance for coastal residents who have been affected by hurricanes. The House may consider these two bills a higher priority than the contentious Sanctuary Cities legislation, and therefore Texas Legislators may spend their time on these bills instead of on SB 9.
No matter the reason, there is more and more talk about how the House will not have time to pass SB 9 by the close of the special session. If the House floor does not have time to hear, debate, and vote on the bill, the bill will die. Alternatively, if the House makes any amendments to the version of SB 9 that the Senate previously passed, a joint committee, composed of Senators and Representatives, would have to meet and compromise on what version of the bill they should send to Governor Perry to be signed into law. This process would take even more time, so if the House votes on an amended version of SB 9, there will almost definitely not be time to pass the bill into law. Because the Senate has not even received HB 9 yet from the House, it will have no chance of being voted into law before the end of this special session.
UPDATE: Democratic and Republican Representatives alike have been quoted as believing that Sanctuary Cities legislation is dead. Though there was a proposal to add the Sanctuary Cities language as an amendment on SB 1, a school finance bill, the Senate Committee refused to do so. The House State Affairs Committee did not meet to vote on SB 9 like it planned to, so the bill almost definitely will not reach the full chamber for debate at all, despite many analysts predictions of easy passage in the House of Representatives. The special session may go no later than midnight tomorrow (June 29) because special session are limited to 30 days in length, and before spending any time on Sanctuary Cities, the Legislature has two higher priorities: the Legislature must pass the reform bill for the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (also known as TWIA and as HB 3) because Governor Perry threatened to call another special session if this was not passed, and it must pass the school financial bill (SB 1) in order to balance the budget, which is required of the Legislature this year. Governor Perry has only threatened a second special session as a result of the Legislature not addressing these two items. Most likely, the Legislature will pass SB 1 and HB 3 with its remaining time in this special session and Sanctuary Cities will not be heard at all by the House floor.
SECOND UPDATE: Today marks the last day of the special session. The House State Affairs Committee never met to hear SB 9, the Sanctuary Cities, and therefore the bill is as close to dead as it could be. There is not enough time between now and midnight to pass a bill through the House committee and House floor and sign it into law. The only way it could possibly be resurrected would be through a second special session of the Legislature. Though Governor Perry has the power to call as many special sessions as he would like, it is likely that this issue will not cause him to do so, despite his ongoing support of the bill.
The Senate has already adjourned for the session, but the House is meeting today. Despite a moment in which the final budget bill failed when put up to a vote last night, which would require the Legislature to reconvene to finish balancing the budget in a second special session, the final budget bill (SB 1) passed in the House after a second vote late last night. Additionally, the House passed the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association reform bill. Governor Perry previously threatened to call another special session if this bill was not addressed. These two bills were the only reasons for which Governor Perry explicitly threatened to call a second special session, so it is unlikely that he will call for a another special session of the Legislature this year. Therefore, Sanctuary Cities legislation is dead.
By Betsy Stukes, HRI Summer Legal Intern & J.D. Candidate, The University of Texas School of Law