Earlier this week, the Texas House of Representatives passed border security legislation prioritized by Speaker Dade Phelan. House Bill 7, by State Representative Ryan Guillen, recognizes that the “legislature, acting with the governor, has the solemn duty to protect and defend the citizens of this state and maintain sovereignty over this state’s borders.”
Significant provisions of House Bill 7 include the creation of a border region court grant program to provide funds for the processing and adjudicating of border-related offenses, a fund to provide grants to state agencies and local governments to build and maintain border security infrastructure, including barriers and fences, a fund to compensate landowners who incur damage due to border-related crime, and a grant program to encourage the recruitment, training, and retention of professionals in fields related to border safety.
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The final version of House Bill 7, as passed by the Texas House, also included an amendment to add language similar to that in House Bill 20 to create a border protection unit. House Bill 20, by State Representative Matt Schaefer, was another priority border security bill that had been derailed due to a point of order raised by Democratic State Representative Rafael Anchia.
Democratic State Representative Victoria Neave Criado called a point of order on the amendment to House Bill 7, which included the provisions from House Bill 20, but the point of order was withdrawn after it was determined that Speaker Phelan would have overruled the point of order.
House Bill 7 passed on a final vote of 88-56, with several border-area Democrats joining with Republicans in support of the bill.
The Texas House also passed HB 800 by Guillen to establish a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years for those convicted of crimes involving human smuggling. Earlier in the legislative session, the Texas House passed a proposed state budget that appropriated $4,639,300,000 for border security. A final budget is expected to be passed in the coming weeks.
“As I have said since the start of the 88th legislative session, addressing our state’s ongoing — and worsening — border crisis in a meaningful way is a priority for the Texas House, and over the past few weeks, our chamber has delivered on solutions. House Bill 7, which passed our chamber earlier this week, will funnel desperately needed resources to border communities that are on the frontlines of addressing the influx of migrants entering our nation at a record rate and establish a professional border security operation to keep Texans safe. Members have also passed House Bill 6 to increase penalties for the trafficking of fentanyl, which is flooding our border, and House Bill 800, which will crack down on human smuggling. Our chamber looks forward to working with the Texas Senate this month to get these measures over the finish line and to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk this session. Thank you to Representatives Guillen, Schaefer and Goldman, along with Representatives Harless and Spiller, for their important work on border security measures this legislative session,” said Speaker Phelan.
Despite the demonstrated success of Speaker Phelan and the Texas House in prioritizing major border security initiatives, the Republican Party of Texas has attempted to portray Phelan as weak on the issue.
Even though key provisions of House Bill 20 were added as an amendment to House Bill 7, which passed despite strong Democratic opposition, the Republican Party of Texas sent mass text messages with the claim that “Last night, Speaker Phelan sided with the Democrats and killed the strongest border security measure of the legislative session,” followed by an emoji of a skull. The Party’s text message also included a link to a page on WinRed, an online fundraising platform used by the Party. On the landing page, users are prompted to provide personal contact information and answer what is described as a “poll.” After clicking the submit button, users are asked to make a financial contribution to the Party.
The Republican Party of Texas’ fundraising solicitation did not reference the passage of House Bill 7 or the fact that Speaker Phelan would have overruled Neave Cridao’s point of order on the amendment that added the House Bill 20 provisions to House Bill 7.
Points of order are frequently called on bills and amendments, especially in the later stages of the legislative session. As presiding officer of the House, it is the Speaker’s duty to enforce the House’s rules fairly, and Speaker Phelan routinely sustained legitimate points of order called on bills brought by both Republican and Democratic members.
Historically, legislators have expected the Speaker to preside fairly and sustain legitimate points of order even when it is not politically expedient. During the 2007 legislative session, growing criticism from legislators over what was perceived as heavy-handedness and abuses of power by then-Speaker Tom Craddick led to numerous chaotic moments on the House floor. Those criticisms eventually led to Craddick’s downfall as Speaker and the election of Joe Straus as his successor.