Legislators continue debates outside Capitol

Claire Allbright and Mikaela Cannizzo

Two Democratic and two Republican Texas lawmakers butted heads Thursday night over issues including sanctuary cities, school finance, the Rainy Day Fund and Child Protective Services. 

In a panel discussion organized by the LBJ Future Forum, three house representatives and a senator advocated for their positions on these divisive topics in front of a crowd at the LBJ Presidential Library. 

Moderator Ben Philpott, a KUT senior editor, began the conversation by asking legislators to provide a definition of a sanctuary city because it isn’t clearly outlined in the bill. 

Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said a sanctuary city is any entity that does not uphold Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. These detainers, provided by the federal government, request cities to turn over custody of illegal immigrants to ICE for potential deportation.

Senate Bill 4, a bill which would ban sanctuary cities statewide, was passed in a full Senate vote last week. Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, said he believes it is premature to speculate the outcome of the bill in the House.

Philpott said the school finance system is regarded as a legislative priority every couple of sessions. This year, the proposed House budget would put $1.5 billion toward education reform, and the Senate budget addresses the issue as well. 

While all legislators agreed the school finance system is broken, each highlighted their own priorities.

“Education is the one issue that if we don’t get it right, I don’t know what else matters,” Ashby said. 

The debate also turned to tapping into the state’s economic stabilization fund, commonly called the Rainy Day Fund. Ashby and Buckingham said they were hesitant to use the funds on recurring expenditures, but Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, and Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said they see the fund as a chance to address problems they believe need additional funding. 

“You have a very large pot of money that continues to grow that we’re not earning interest on,” Wu said. “You spend when times are bad, you save when times are good.” 

Hinojosa said rainy day funds could go toward initiatives such as fixing Child Protective Services, which was named as an emergency priority by Gov. Greg Abbott. 

The Senate budget provides an additional $260 million toward CPS funding, and Buckingham said she expects Senate Bill 11, which aims to reform child welfare, to pass out of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services in the upcoming weeks. 

Ashby said issues concerning the budget were going to be some of the hardest to address this session. 

“Ultimately, the budget reflects the values of the state of Texas,” Ashby said.