- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A tough Texas anti-“sanctuary cities” bill that threatens to throw county sheriffs and small-town constables in jail if they refuse to help enforce federal immigration law looks to be on the fast-track toward passage in the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature.

The proposal cleared a House committee 7-5 without debate Wednesday, setting up a floor vote soon. Opponents had hoped the House would soften a strict bill approved in February by Texas’ Senate, but those tweaks made in committee shouldn’t mitigate much.

Untouched was a hotly debated provision allowing for criminal charges against city or county officials who intentionally refuse to comply with federal authorities’ attempt to deport people in the country illegally who already have been jailed on crimes unrelated to immigration. Elected officials could face up to a year in jail and lose their posts if convicted of official misconduct.

“By implementing this, we’ll be able to remove these individuals from office,” said Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who led the House effort to makeover what the state Senate approved previously. He said doing so “puts teeth in” the bill.

There also would be fines on local agencies, starting at $1,000 for a first offense and reaching $25,000 for recurring violations.

The Senate rushed to pass the bill despite the pleas of hundreds of opponents who waited hours to decry it as promoting discrimination and ultimately hurting law and order since it will make immigrants fearful of contacting police to report crimes. The House moved more slowly, but now appears poised to approve the proposal, too. Differences between each chamber’s version will be reconciled in conference committee.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a sanctuary cities crackdown a top priority, and President Donald Trump has made stricter federal immigration policy - and vows to wall off the entire, nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border - a centerpiece of his administration.

There are some differences between the Senate and House bills.

The Texas House proposal only allows police officers to inquire about immigration status if someone is arrested, rather than simply being detained, like what the Senate approved. Local governments are also no longer threatened with losing their entire state grant funding for non-compliance.

“I believe the changes are mostly cosmetic,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat from Dallas. “They don’t really solve the problem with the bill. The immigrant community will still be afraid.”

The term “sanctuary cities” has no legal definition, but Republicans want local police to help enforce federal immigration law as part of a larger effort to get tough on criminal suspects who are in the United States illegally.

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TEXAS GETS JUNIOR TITLE GAMES AMID ‘BATHROOM BILL’ FLAP

The National Junior College Athletic Association has picked Texas to host six championships through 2021 despite a proposed “bathroom bill” similar to what led the governing body to punish North Carolina.

NJCAA Assistant Executive Director Mark Krug said Wednesday they’re aware of the Texas bill that would require transgender people to use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. Last year, the NJCAA moved a baseball championship after North Carolina adopted a “bathroom bill” limiting LGBT rights.

The Texas proposal is currently stalled by House Republicans who oppose the measure. Krug says the NJCAA will determine future action on a “case by case” basis.

North Carolina lawmakers last month rolled back its law following yearlong backlash that cost the state in business projects, conventions and sporting events.

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NEW PAXTON TRIAL DATE SET

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s new trial date on criminal securities fraud charges is set for September.

The rescheduled date announced Wednesday comes after state District Judge George Gallagher this week moved the trial out of the conservative Dallas suburbs where Paxton lives. Jury selection is now scheduled to begin Sept. 11 in Houston.

Paxton was indicted in 2015 on felony securities fraud charges over allegations he duped investors in a tech startup. He has pleaded not guilty.

His defense team is now seeking a new judge over the case after Gallagher moved the trial. The judge had sided with special prosecutors who claimed that Paxton allies had spent the past two years tainting the jury pool in Collin County.

If convicted, Paxton faces 5 to 99 years in prison.

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ON DECK

The House meets Thursday but has a light calendar. Starting Monday, though, the chamber will officially begin holding floor sessions five days a week. The Senate, though, is off until Tuesday to mark Easter.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I like hogs, sir,” Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, who endured hazing from other lawmakers because a proposal on feral hogs was poised to be the first bill he has sponsored to pass the chamber. But Stucky ended up delay the vote on bill until Thursday - when he may face more hazing.

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