House Democrats tried — and mostly failed — to divert funds allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s marathon budget debate.
But the rancor over immigration enforcement that many expected didn’t materialize after lawmakers agreed to pull down amendments that, if debated, would have aired ideological differences over the contentious issue.
After predicting a “bloody day” on the House floor, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, pulled an amendment that would have reduced the appropriations for a public college or university by the same amount that it awarded in grants or financial aid to undocumented students.
Last month, Stickland expressed frustration over the lack of traction for a bill he filed to eliminate a 2001 provision that allows undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.
But on Tuesday, Stickland, with little attention or fanfare, withdrew the amendment after discussions with lawmakers.
“We did some negotiations,” he said.
An amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would have defunded the state’s Border Faculty Loan Repayment Program, which was created to help keep doctoral students on the border to teach, was also withdrawn with little attention.
On the funding, Democrats made good on their promises to try and take money from border security operations, which was at about $565 million when the day began, to local entities or other state departments.
One border lawmaker had tentative success in transferring money from DPS to his district for local law enforcement grants. An amendment by state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, would take $10 million from the agency for that effort. But it’s contingent upon another measure — Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s House Bill 11, an omnibus border security bill — making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and getting signed.
Republicans had a bit more success in shifting money.
State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was able to direct money into the state’s military forces for paid training for Texas’ 2,300 members of the reserve unit.
“Most of them reside in most of our districts, and we have zeroed out money for training,” he said.
But the success came after a lengthy back and forth between Huberty and members upset at where the funds would be taken from. Huberty offered one amendment that would have taken $2.2 million from the Texas Agriculture Department. That didn’t sit well with Democrat Tracy King, D-Batesville, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Huberty eventually pulled that amendment and instead took $2.2 million from the Texas Facilities Commission.
Huberty specified on Monday that the money is not intended to extend the Texas National Guard’s deployment on the Texas-Mexico border.
The Senate wants to spend even more money on the ridiculous border surge, so this fight is far from over. The fact that this is a complete boondoggle that makes the rest of the state less safe, it’s one of the few things that certain legislators actually want to spend money on.
The voucher fight was similarly deferred.
A potentially contentious vote on a measure that would have banned spending public money on school vouchers was avoided after its author withdrew the amendment.
Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said he pulled the amendment because it wasn’t necessary.
“Given the commitment of the House to supporting public education, I felt this amendment was duplicative,” Herrero said. It also would have forced some lawmakers to take a difficult vote, caught between turning their backs on their district’s public schools and potentially earning the ire of conservative interest groups.
A coalition of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers has coalesced during the past two decades to defeat voucher legislation. Herrero said the anti-voucher coalition is still strong.
“The coalition is solid,” Herrero said, “Vouchers for all intents and purposes are dead in the House.”
The coalition may be strong, but Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler is working to weaken it. Mechler sent a letter to GOP legislators Tuesday pushing them to vote against Herrero’s amendment.
If you followed the budget action on Twitter, this was the first major amendment to get pulled, and it was a sign of things to come. Attention will shift to Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock when that loser of a bill passes the Senate.
Finally, you knew there had to be a moment that would be worthy of the Daily Show and the kind of viral mockery that makes us all heave deep sighs. Sure enough:
Seven hours into Tuesday’s debate on the House’s $210 billion two-year budget, things got first heated and then uncomfortable as state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, successfully pushed an amendment to move $3 million from HIV and STD prevention programs to pay for abstinence education.
A line of opponents gathered behind the podium as Spitzer laid out his amendment and proceeded to grill, quiz and challenge the lawmaker on his motives.
“Is it not significant that Texas has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the country?” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, asked. “Does it bother you to know there are people walking around with HIV, undiagnosed?”
Turner and Spitzer also had an exchange over how Spitzer had arrived at his price tag. “If we gave you a billion dollars for abstinence, would that be enough?” Turner asked. “Or would you need two?”
Texas allows school districts to decide whether and how to approach sex education, as long as they teach more about abstinence than any other preventive method, like condoms and birth control. But a number of representatives questioned the effectiveness of this program.
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, pointed out that the state currently has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country, and the single-highest rate of repeat teen pregnancy.
“It may not be working well,” said Spitzer, in reference to the current abstinence education program. “But abstinence education is HIV prevention. They are essentially the same thing.”
State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, took to the podium and asked Spitzer, “Were you taught abstinence education? Did it work?”
Spitzer replied that he was a virgin when he married at age 29. “I’ve only had sex with one woman in my life, and that’s my wife,” Spitzer said.
Dutton continued. “And since you brought it up, is that the first woman you asked?”
“I’m not sure that’s an appropriate question,” Spitzer responded.
The House was called to order, and Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, took the microphone. “Earlier you stated that you could not get STDs without having sex,” she said.
“It depends on what your definition of sex is,” said Spitzer. “I can go through of all of this if you want to.”
“If you still think you can’t get an STD without having sex, then maybe we need to educate you,” Collier added.
Spitzer’s amendment ultimately passed 97 to 47.
Spitzer is a medical doctor, because having one Donna Campbell in the Lege just wasn’t enough. He must have been absent the day they went over how intravenous drug use is a frequent means of transmission for HIV. This is another lesson the state of Indiana could teach us if we cared to pay attention. The Observer, Nonsequiteuse, RG Ratcliffe, Trail Blazers, and Newsdesk have more.