Published 10:40 am Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Senate voted Wednesday to concur in House amendments to SB 4, the bill to ban so-called “sanctuary city” policies, sending the measure to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.   The House passed the measure after hours of debate and an amendment that moved that body’s version closer to the one that passed out of the Senate in February.   “This bill changed several ways, I believe, for the better,” said author Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock.

One major difference between the Senate bill and the version that came out of a House committee relates to the difference between “arrest” and “detention”. The Senate version prohibits cities or other governmental entities from prohibiting a peace officer from inquiring into the immigration status of any lawfully detained person. This is a lesser standard than arrest and can include things like traffic stops. The version presented on the House floor would have only applied to immigration inquiries when a person was under arrest.   The bill was amended, however, to move closer to language in the Senate version, putting the lawful detention standard back in the bill.   Provisions in bill would ban city and law enforcement agency from adopting policies that prohibit cooperation with federal immigration officials. It would also permit the attorney general to charge mayors, sheriffs or police chiefs who implement such policies with a crime and levy financial penalties on non-compliant governmental entities.

A ban on sanctuary cities was one of four emergency issues identified by Governor Abbott during his State of the State address in January. It is likely he will quickly sign the bill, making it into state law. It would go into effect on September 1.

Also Wednesday, the Senate approved “David’s Law”, aimed at curbing what its author calls an epidemic of cyberbullying in Texas.   The bill is named in honor of David Molak, a 16-year-old sophomore at Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio who committed suicide in January 2016 after a campaign of harassment on social media. Bill author Senator José Menéndez of San Antonio told members that the state must attack this problem head-on. “I believe that we have a responsibility to act before we have any more children take their lives,” he said.

The bill, SB 179, is intended to give school administrators and law enforcement tools to go after cyberbullies.   First, it would bring parents into the loop by requiring that school officials notify them if the officials learn that their child is the victim of bullying. It would allow parents to go to court to seek an temporary restraining order against their child’s bully. If the bully is a minor, the court can order his or her parents to step in and stop the harassment.   In order to head off what Menéndez called the most heinous instances of cyberbullying, the bill creates new penalties for harassment against a child with the intent of inciting them to seriously harm themselves or commit suicide. Those convicted of such cyberbullying could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

The bill was amended on the floor to remove a few provisions some members worried might lead to unintended consequences. Amendments by Senator Perry removed mandates for creating anti-suicide and mental health policies and strict reporting requirements, changing it to permissive language instead that allows but doesn’t require such policies and reporting. Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes added amendments that removed provisions allowing parents to sue their child’s bully.   Senator Menéndez accepted all amendments and the bill ultimately passed the Senate 31 to zero. It will now head to the House for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Thursday, May 4 at 11 a.m.