On the first day of a legislative session that will feature a record state budget deficit, the governor declared just two emergency items, both of which could affect cities: (1) protecting private property rights/addressing eminent domain issues; and (2) abolishing “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants in Texas.  (An “emergency item” is a legislative initiative designated by the governor for immediate consideration by the legislature.)

Over the past several legislative sessions, the legislature has passed various limitations on the use of eminent domain for economic development.  Those include an amendment to the Texas Constitution in 2009.  Further reforms to the condemnation process have yet to pass. 

Several bills (including, among others, H.B. 138, S.B. 180, and S.B 18, all summarized in this or previous editions of the TML Legislative Update) have been filed this session that relate to that process.  Many reforms may seem reasonable to many city officials.  But they could make the process somewhat more complicated, and perhaps more expensive.  The bottom line is that almost every Texan believes strongly in private property rights.  The League’s role is to ensure that the process does not become so complicated or expensive as to make the power useless.

The TML Legislative Update reported on the governor’s position relating to sanctuary cities in November 2009. He told the Houston Police Officers Union that “…[t]here’s some Texas cities who’ve enacted sanctuary city rules; they’ve basically been handcuffing you from the job you’re sworn to uphold.”

The governor did not say whether his proposed ban on sanctuaries would extend to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).  Later, the governor was interviewed by the Texas Tribune. The interviewer pointed out that DPS has a policy that the department “will not engage in enforcement of federal immigration statutes.” The governor was then asked if the DPS policy makes DPS a “sanctuary agency.” He did not answer the question directly.

Whether Texas has a problem with undocumented immigrants is not the issue.  The issue is that it appears that the governor has decided that cities should be on the front lines and not the state.  But will the state provide the financial assistance necessary for the cities to do what the state won’t?  Only time will tell.

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