Published 6:52 pm Saturday, May 6, 2017

One of Governor Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the session, a ban on sanctuary cities, now lies on his desk awaiting his signature after the Senate voted Wednesday to concur in House amendments to Senate Bill 4. There is no official definition of a sanctuary city, but the term is generally applied to municipalities or police departments that have a formal or informal policy of not enforcing federal immigration laws or complying with requests from immigration officials to hold suspected undocumented criminals. Those policies would be illegal under the new law, and violating entities could face financial penalties and even jail time for the top officers in the jurisdictions. The bill, by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, would also prohibit bans on inquiries into immigration status of lawfully detained persons. Once signed by the Governor, the bill would become law on the first day of September.

With only a month left in session, time is running out for Senate bills, which must still go through the committee and floor process over in the House.   The Senate passed a number of key pieces of legislation this week before the chamber’s attention turns to House bills coming in from the opposite side of the Capitol.   One is a measure intended to fix the Houston pension system that currently has nearly $8 billion in unfunded liabilities. “The current situation is straining the city’s finances and putting the city at risk of not reaching its pension obligations in the future,” said Houston Senator Joan Huffman on Monday. Her bill, SB 2190, would cut benefits for retirees in exchange for $1 billion in bonds to shore up the current system.   These bonds wouldn’t create new debt, but would instead pay back the city employee and police pension funds for years of underfunding. The bonds would be subject to voter approval, and if the bond election fails, the proposed benefit reductions would be put on hold while city and union officials go back to the negotiation table.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved a new bill that would give police and school administrators tools to go after cyberbullies. Named “David’s Law” in honor of David Molak, a San Antonio high school sophomore who took his own life after a campaign of harassment on social media, the bill would permit charging a person who tries to incite a minor to commit suicide or harm themselves with a class A misdemeanor. That offense carries a maximum penalty of a $4000 fine and a year in jail. Bill author Senator José Menéndez of San Antonio says the legislature must take action in the face of an epidemic of online bullying. “I believe that we have a responsibility to act before we have any more children take their lives,” he said.   The bill also requires notification of parents if school officials discover their child is the victim of online bullying and would permit them to seek a temporary restraining order against the bully.

Thursday, the Senate voted to end the requirement for annual safety inspections for cars in Texas.   Bill author and Dallas Senator Don Huffines pointed to research that shows that the requirement doesn’t actually reduce auto accidents or improve road safety. “Let me be abundantly clear, vehicle inspections do not make our roads safer,” he said. “The chore is a waste of time for Texas drivers, and it’s a waste of their money.”   Though the 22-point safety inspection wouldn’t be required, drivers would still have to head to the mechanic once a year for emissions testing.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 8 at 11 a.m.