- Associated Press - Sunday, April 30, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Was the Texas House “sanctuary cities” debate a defeat for Speaker Joe Straus?

The passage of the bill requiring local police to help enforce federal immigration policy was a slam dunk for Republicans like Straus. But, in committee, the House had moved to soften a stricter measure approved previously by the state Senate that mandated that police only inquire about someone’s immigration status after an arrest rather than after being just detained, which can include routine interactions like traffic stops.

During 16 tense, sometimes tearful hours of floor debate last week, though, a key modification was approved moving the House version closer to what came out of the Senate. Authored by Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler, a leading conservative voice, the change was approved despite the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charlie Geren, and another top Straus lieutenant, Rep. Byron Cook, urging fellow Republicans to reject it.

“Speaker Straus has always believed it is up to each member to decide how to vote in the best interest of his or her district,” said Straus spokesman Jason Embry.

Backing what opponents call the “show your papers” provision may say more about GOP lawmaker fears of appearing soft on immigration and facing 2018 Republican primary challenges than rebuking Straus. But it was his second setback of sorts in as many weeks.

The other came when tea party House Republicans attached language to a bill on statewide regulation of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft that could supersede local ordinances in Austin and elsewhere.

The change in the ride-hailing bill now defines “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” That’s an indirect reference to the Legislature’s hotly debated transgender “bathroom bill” - a separate piece of legislation which Straus has repeatedly opposed.

Straus is far from facing a House mutiny like the one that felled his predecessor, Speaker Tom Craddick in 2007. He’s crushed past, conservative activist-backed primary opponents in his San Antonio district and was re-elected unanimously to a record-tying fifth term as speaker to start the session. The House, meanwhile, has yet to pass the “bathroom bill,” meaning Straus still has leverage over one of Texas’ most closely watched issues.

Still, it’s a hint that Straus’ traditional role as a moderate hand keeping the Legislature from drifting harder right may be facing more dissention than usual.

Here are some other issues to watch this week in the Texas Legislature:

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GUNS IN SCHOOL PARKING LOTS

A bill allowing concealed carry permit holders to have guns in their locked cars parked outside schools could be approved for a House floor vote soon.

The bipartisan proposal is aimed at teachers who want to keep guns in their cars. State law bans guns on school grounds, at least for now.

The House Public Education Committee has heard the bill and a vote sending it to the full chamber could come this week.

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IMMIGRANT DETENTION CHILD CARE

A Senate bill that would classify immigration detention centers as child care facilities may have new life.

The proposal had stalled in committee but was approved last week after a change that makes it expire after two years. It’s now eligible for a floor vote, though the timing is uncertain.

The bill would allow immigration lockups to hold parents and their children together for longer periods, something the Trump administration has committed to doing. Its most vocal proponent is GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company, which operates a major family immigration detention center in Texas.

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OPEN RECORDS BILLS

Two bills approved by the Senate and designed to rollback Texas Supreme Court rulings that advocates say weakened open record laws have yet to hit the House floor - and the clock is ticking.

One proposal mandates that governmental entities disclose contracts and other bidding process agreements. That would effectively undo the “Boeing decision” in 2016, when the court ruled that such records didn’t have to be made public.

A second softens a 2015 ruling which allowed fully or partially publicly funded entities to keep secret how they spend public money.

Both remain stuck in the House Government Transparency and Operation Committee. Supporters worry they may not pass the committee, and the full House, with the May 29 end of the legislative session now looming.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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