A massive spending proposal to more than double the state’s current investment in border security initiatives is heading to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, amid an ongoing influx of migrants at the Texas-Mexico border.
The $1.8 billion proposal would be used to construct a physical barrier along portions of Texas-Mexico border, deploy more state law enforcement officers to the border region and increase prosecutions of migrants arrested for misdemeanor offenses in violation of state law.
The money is in addition to the $1 billion for border security initiatives approved by lawmakers during this year’s regular legislative session and $250 million in state funding Abbott used to kick-start construction of his border barrier.
House Bill 9 sailed through both chambers over objections from some Democrats who say that the bill lacks oversight, gives too much leeway to Abbott’s office for distributing funds and directs too many state dollars to an issue largely under federal jurisdiction.
The Senate voted 23-8 to give final approval of the bill, two days after the House signed off on the proposal.
“We must do what we can to assist those on the front lines,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “They are begging for our help. Everything in this bill is designed to do that by providing additional manpower, equipment, jail space, local grants and barriers. We are taking a multifaceted approach to help manage this unsustainable crisis.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican who presides over the Senate, celebrated the bill’s passage on Wednesday and said it was a necessary investment in the absence of federal action to curb the border crisis.
“Texas taxpayers should not have to pick up the tab for what the administration should be doing, but we have no choice,” he said in a statement. “These funds will allow Texas to increase manpower, including the Texas National Guard and local law enforcement, build miles of fencing to reinforce the border, and provide added flexibility to strengthen our response.”
The bill was filed late in this summer’s second special legislative session and came at the request of Abbott, who has directed significant state resources towards the state’s southern border in recent months.
Abbott issued a disaster declaration in May and announced that he planned to construct a physical barrier along the border, using state dollars, private donations and land volunteered by private property owners where the barrier would be constructed.
As of Tuesday, Abbott had raised $54 million from donors to fund construction of a border wall, and Sarah Hicks, budget director for his office, said Monday that more than 100 landowners had agreed to allow construction of the barrier on their private property.
HB 9 directs $250 million to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as a refund for money Abbott transferred from the agency for an initial “down payment” for the barrier.
The bill also would spend as much as $750 million on the border barrier, part of $1 billion going to Abbott’s office under the proposal.
“The notion that walls or fences will solve our border crisis is outdated and false,” Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said Wednesday.
The Senate debated the bill for hours Tuesday and Wednesday, with Democrats in the chamber arguing that money should be spent elsewhere.
“Not one of the folks that are going to vote no today disagree that we have a border security problem,” said Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, but he said HB 9 directs too much money toward the border wall, when more advanced technologies are available to secure the border.
But Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, who voted in favor of the bill, said the state should do “everything within our power” to provide necessary resources to communities on the border that need support.
More National Guard troops
The bill directs $800 million to several state entities working along the border:
** $301 million to the Texas Military Department to deploy more than 4,000 National Guard troops.
** $273.7 million to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to convert three state detention centers in the border region to house jail offenders and to repay the agency after Abbott redirected $250 million from the agency to his office to kick-start his border barrier.
** $154.8 million to provide 52 weeks of overtime pay for Department of Public Safety troopers working on border operations.
** $32.5 million to the Office of Court Administration to provide indigent defense services and courtroom interpreters for border security-related criminal cases.
** $16.4 million to the Texas Department of State Health Services for four additional ambulance service contracts in border regions.
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