By APRIL CASTRO Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — Cracking down on illegal immigrants in Texas — on the roads, at schools and in the work force — was the focus of many bills Texas lawmakers filed Monday, the first day for proposing legislation to be considered in the upcoming session.
With a bigger majority in the House, Republican lawmakers and lawmakers-elect also want to make it legal for concealed handgun license holders to carry handguns on college campuses, prohibit state money from going to facilities that perform abortions and keep Texas from enforcing new federal health care laws.
Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, spent Saturday and Sunday nights in front of the chief clerk's office in the Texas House to be the first in line to file her bills.
The first one she filed when the office opened Monday morning was a proposal to require voters to provide proof of eligibility with either one form of photo identification or two forms of non-photo ID.
"A visitor that walked by told me that I reminded them of the kids that camp out for Duke basketball tickets in Durham, North Carolina," Riddle said. "It was eye-opening to realize that people think it's normal to be passionate about something like college basketball, but odd to be passionate about your state's politics."
She also filed measures that would make it a violation of state law for illegal immigrants to be in Texas, allowing state and local police officers to arrest them, and requiring school districts to report the number of illegal immigrants enrolled.
Riddle's were among dozens of hardline bills on immigration filed on the first day.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, filed a similar bill that would allow suspicious law enforcement officers to inquire about a person's immigration status and make an arrest based on the answer. His measure also makes an officer, his agency and state and local officials immune from any resulting litigation.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed a measure that would require all state and local governments and their contractors to use E-Verify — a joint program of the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration used to verify workers' immigration status.
By midday, 338 bills had been filed in both the House and Senate. Last session, almost 7,500 bills were filed, but less than 20 percent of them became law.
Lawmakers have until March 11 to file bills.
The Legislature is set to convene for the biennial session on Jan. 11 and will adjourn May 30.
Monitoring immigration legislation will be a priority for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas during the session.
"On the first day of prefiling, it's pretty tough to know what's going to happen during a legislative session," ACLU lobbyist Matthew Simpson said. But, he called the focus on immigration a "solution in search of a problem."
"It's almost a red herring, at least a diversion or a move away from what I think are the critical issues facing the state," he said.
Some of the proposed legislation also reflects the dire situation lawmakers will face when writing the next two-year state budget. Texas has an expected shortfall of more than $20 billion. One bill would require all school districts to consolidate into countywide districts. Another proposal would eliminate the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and consolidate its duties with the Texas Education Agency.
Nelson filed a handful of bills that would require state agencies to streamline operations.