Lawmakers Discuss ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Bill in Animated Hearing

Hundreds of protesters filled the Senate gallery during the hearings and more than 450 people signed up to testify.

By Rhonda Fanning & Michael MarksFebruary 1, 2017 11:15 pm| ,

Senators held a hearing on a bill that would ban sanctuary cities across Texas on Thursday. Hundreds of people lined up in the morning and throughout the afternoon to testify for or against Senate Bill 4, among them hundreds of protesters holding signs and chanting.

KUT’s Audrey McGlinchy spoke to Ivy Lee, who was there to protest the bill.

“I’m a traditional, moderate Conservative,” Lee said. “I’m born and raised here in Texas. I love it here. I came back after college to start my family here because I love the live-and-let-live way of doing things that we’ve got. And I feel that if people just change their principles and go willy-nilly. … If you don’t hold on to your principles through a storm, what have you got when it’s over?”

The Texas Tribune’s Julián Aguilar was also at the hearing. He describes the scene as an animated one.

Senate State Affairs Committee Chair Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) let Democrat legislators ask questions about the bill, even though they weren’t on the committee.

“They’ve asked everything from whether this bill is constitutional, whether what constitutes racial profiling,” Aguilar says.

Aguilar says Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), the author of the bill, held his ground during questioning, maintaining that that the bill was about the rule of law.

By mid-morning, Aguilar says the hearings had yet to receive testimony from the public. More than 450 people had registered to speak by the early afternoon. Four groups were escorted out of the gallery for unfurling signs or chanting things like “Greg Abbott is a fascist” or bible verses.

“It’s destructive,” Aguilar says, “Folks are clapping and they have to pause the proceedings. … It’s gonna get tense as nerves fray and time wears on.”

Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott canceled $1.5 million in state criminal justice grants for Travis County, in response to a policy set by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez. Hernandez is refusing to honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to detain jailed immigrants who may be in the country illegally.

Aguilar says that pull in funding helped to set the tone for Wednesday’s proceedings.

But Perry said not to blame the state for gutting the funds, instead, blame the jurisdictions that decided not to uphold the law.

Perry amended the bill Wednesday to include college campuses, not just local governments in the ban.

Aguilar says this will add another layer to the bill proceedings.

“Hearing [House Speaker Joe] Straus be sympathetic to in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and how sensitive things get when you throw college kids into the mix,” Aguilar says, “this might set up a potential for a little bit of a showdown between the House and Senate chambers.”

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.