- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Mexican government, San Antonio’s police chief and others slammed Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” law on Monday, saying that requiring local law enforcement to help enforce U.S. immigration law could lead to racial profiling and will fan distrust of the police by the state’s many Hispanics.

The law, which takes effect in September and which critics say is the most anti-immigrant since a 2010 Arizona law, will allow police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain, including during routine traffic stops. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law Sunday evening on Facebook Live with no advanced warning. A few dozen people protested outside his mansion in Austin on Monday.

San Antonio police chief William McManus ripped into the Republicans who pushed the law through despite the objections of every big-city police chief in the state. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that Texas is home to more than 1.4 million people who are in the country illegally, including 71,000 living in the San Antonio area.

McManus and the other police chiefs, including those in Dallas and Houston, say it will create a chilling effect that will cause immigrant families to not report crimes or come forward as witnesses over fears that talking to local police could lead to deportation. Critics also fear it will lead to the racial profiling of Hispanics and put officers in an untenable position.

“It’s either skin color or language. What else does someone have to base it on?” McManus said, referring to an officer’s reason for inquiring about a person’s immigration status. “That leads to profiling. Profiling leads to lawsuits. In my opinion, there is nothing positive this bill does in the community or law enforcement.”

Nevertheless, McManus said his department will abandon a policy that prohibits officers from asking about a person’s immigration status.

“We’re going to have to take it off the books,” said McManus, adding that it will probably have to spend a year now training his roughly 2,400 officers on immigration law.

The law also drew rebuke from Mexico, which is Texas’ largest trading partner and shares close ties to the state. The country’s foreign ministry said in a news release that the law could trample on the rights of Mexican citizens who choose to live just across the border and promised to “closely follow” the situation after the law takes effect.

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ABBOTT WANTS CHURCHES TO BOLSTER ‘BATHROOM BILL’

A pastor at a Dallas-area megachurch says Texas Gov. Greg Abbott contacted him and leaders at nine other churches, urging them to drum up support for a hotly debated “bathroom bill” currently bottled up in the Legislature.

Robert Morris, of Gateway Church in Southlake, instructed his congregation over the weekend to pressure state lawmakers to advance a bill prohibiting schools and local communities from creating ordinances designed to protect transgender Texans using public bathrooms.

Morris said the measure is “being held up right now” by Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, who opposes it.

Senators passed a bill requiring transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to their birth-certificate sex. A separate House version hasn’t reached a floor vote.

Morris was part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign’s evangelical advisory board.

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HOUSTON PENSION FIX FLUMMOXED

The Texas House has approved a bill potentially cutting billions in future costs from Houston’s cash-strapped police and firefighter pension plans - but only after adding a contentious change that may ultimately kill the proposal.

Plagued by investments that didn’t meet high return expectations, Houston is facing about $8.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Approved Monday 112-28, the bill decreases plan benefits and lowers future investment yield targets. But the House also allowed fire fighter groups more time to calculate their pension costs.

Dozens of fire fighters watching from the gallery cheered, but that’s different from a proposal that already cleared the Senate and now must be reconciled before the legislative session ends May 29.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Flynn, said the move “could very well derail the bill.”

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SENATE VOTS TO ALLOW GUNS IN CARS PARKED AT SCHOOLS

The Texas Senate has approved allowing concealed carry permit holders to have guns in their locked cars parked outside schools.

Sen. Bryan Hughes’ bill was approved Monday 25-6. A similar, bipartisan measure has cleared a committee in the state House but not yet reached a floor vote in that chamber.

It is aimed at teachers who have licenses to carry concealed handguns and want to keep guns in their cars while at work. State law bans guns on school grounds.

Hughes, a Republican from Mineola, said the measure had “grassroots” support because he heard from two teachers who supported the idea. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat opposed to the proposal, objected, asking if two people in support really constituted a grassroots groundswell.

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KNIFE BILL ADVANCES AFTER UT STABBINGS

A week after one University of Texas student was killed and three others injured in a knife attack on campus, the state House has voted to allow carrying large knives in many areas of the state.

Bill sponsor John Frullo, a Lubbock Republican, says knives with blades longer than five-and-a-half inches would still be banned from college campuses and public schools, and prohibited in most bars, sporting events, courthouses and voting areas.

But Frullo says carrying such a knife on the street would be legal. Texas legalized switchblades in 2013.

The House had delayed the knife vote for several days after the campus stabbings. A final vote would send it to the Senate for consideration.

Texas allows open carry of licensed hand guns but still restricts carrying most large knives.

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HOUSE OKS GANG INTIMIDATION BILL

Texas lawmakers are trying to get tougher on street gangs.

A gang member who makes a threat could be charged with a felony and imprisoned for 10 years, under legislation that advanced Monday in the Texas House.

The proposal creates a new crime, intimidation by a gang member, which could include threats to inflict injuries, property damage, or physical restraint.

The bill is designed to address concerns that gang members try to coerce people through implied threats of violence.

It comes as Gov. Greg Abbott has warned of heightened gang violence in Houston.

But opponents say a threat does not warrant such harsh punishment.

The measure was approved by simple voice vote and now requires one last, largely symbolic House vote before moving to the state Senate.

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ON DECK

The House was working late Monday, in part to finish long calendars from Friday and Saturday that it never completed. The chamber is expected to gavel in for another busy day starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The Senate, which had a far easier day Monday, is adjourned until 11 a.m. Tuesday.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“It’s like painting a house. You’re right in the middle of painting it and someone wants to change the color. It’s too late” - Dan Flynn, R-Van, urging his colleagues to defeat changes to the carefully crafted Houston pension overhaul bill already approved by the Senate. He was unable to block major changes, though.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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