Since the Legislature has been in session, the topic of “sanctuary cities” has dominated conversation under the pink dome, mainly due to the actions of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez.
Hernandez campaigned saying she would evaluate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests on a case-by-case basis and not necessarily honor every one to boost trust in minority communities. With that promise, Hernandez is not violating any law. A detainer request is just that—a request—that law-enforcement officials can choose to comply with.
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, is looking to change the discretionary nature of these requests by making them legally binding. In Senate Bill 4, jurisdictions that do not honor detainers will face repercussions in the form of civil penalties, withdrawal of state funding and criminal charges for those in leadership roles.
In the first day of enacting her policy, Hernandez released 37 immigrants from jail. At the same time, 191 immigrants in the county were held under ICE detainer requests. Many sheriffs are claiming Travis County is the only one of Texas’ more than 200 counties to be enforcing these so-called sanctuary city policies.
In suburban areas around the state, many police departments are saying they do not question their ability to deny a detainer request.
According to law-enforcement agencies, once a person is arrested, he or she will undergo an interview. If during that interview a correctional officer has a reason to believe the arrested person is an undocumented immigrant, the officer contacts ICE.
Senior Public Information Officer with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office Kristen Dark said the passage of Senate Bill 4 as it was passed out of the Senate, with penalties for jurisdictions not complying with all detainers, would change the way the sheriff’s office currently operates.
However, Dark said the sheriff’s office is not doing anything to lobby against the passage of the bill. Instead, the sheriff’s office is focusing on building trust with minority communities through town hall meetings, social events and community safety initiatives like National Night Out.
Travis County did not start denying detainer requests until February 1. All detainer requests issued up until that time were honored, Dark said.
A March 20 Department of Homeland Security report revealed Travis County denied 142 requests in the span of one week. This was the most of any counties included in the national report. Judge Sarah Eckhardt acknowledged the report by pointing to Travis County having the lowest crime rate of any urbanized Texas area.
News and notes from the capitol
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- Budget update
The Texas Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee are expected to soon pass their respective state budget plans. Those proposals will then be considered by the full chambers. Among the developments in the plans: The Senate Finance Committee gave initial approval to budget items that would cut $180 million from state-funded pre-K in favor of a $40 million public-private partnership. (The House base budget didn’t include money for Abbott’s pre-K program.) The Senate Finance Committee is also proposing significant cuts to each state university.
- Public education
House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor filed bills to help make the A-F accountability system more palatable to educators, who say grading their schools won’t help them serve students better.
- The “bathroom bill”
On March 15, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 6, known as the “bathroom bill.” SB 6 would require transgender people to use the bathroom in public schools, government buildings and public universities that matches their “biological sex.” The legislation would also reverse local nondiscrimination ordinances that let transgender people use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
- Property tax reform
The Senate Finance Committee has advanced Senate Bill 2, which would limit the growth rate of property taxes across the state, to the full Senate for consideration. Similar property tax reform legislation has been proposed in the Texas House.
- “Sanctuary” cities legislation
State Rep. Byron Cook, the chair of the House committee that controls future of the “sanctuary” cities bill, said he’d like to see some significant changes to the legislation passed by the Senate. The measure, addressing an issue deemed a priority by Gov. Greg Abbott, takes aim at government entities and college campuses that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.
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