The Texas Senate declined to discuss House Bill (HB) 4 on Sunday, instead adjourning until Tuesday, the last day of the legislative body’s special session. The Senate’s failure to act on the pending legislation suggests that the bill will not be passed and will instead have to be revisited during the next session.
Since HB 4 passed the Texas House on October 26 and made its way to the Senate, it has drawn considerable scrutiny. As passed by the House, HB 4 provides strict penalties for migrants who enter Texas from another country without authorization. Specifically, the bill would classify such an offense as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 180 days in jail. If a migrant has a criminal history of unlawful entry, however, their sentence could be higher. The version passed by the House further provided that if a migrant refused to comply with an officer’s order to return to the country from which they entered, they would be subject to a second-degree felony, which carries a sentence as high as 20 years. It also provided that an officer could return a migrant to the border without first taking all of the steps to lawfully arrest and detain an offender.
On November 1, the Texas Senate Committee on Border Security met to discuss substitutions laid out by Senator Brian Birdwell. Under the Senate’s amended version of HB 4, an officer is required to have probable cause before making an arrest. It also removed the language that allowed an officer to return a migrant to the border without first subjecting them to important steps like fingerprinting, a background check, and having their photo taken. According to a post from Senator Birdwell, the amended version of HB 4 was supposed to be heard on the Senate floor on Sunday.
“The Texas Senate will not allow terrorists and dangerous criminals to get away, only to come back a few days later somewhere else on the border because we let them go without identifying them,” said Lieutenant Governor of Texas Dan Patrick, championing the substitutions. In response to the Senate’s criticism of the bill, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan has said that “[t]he House has no interest in backpedaling on its strong stance.”
The nearly-over special session is the third special session Governor Greg Abbott has called since the 88th Regular Legislative Session ended earlier this year. Border security was one of the major agenda items outlined when he announced this special session about a month ago.