Two North Texas lawmakers took a break from the legislative session to share a stage in Dallas Friday. Republican Senator Don Huffines and Democratic Representative Rafael Anchia debated a range of hot button issues being considered in Austin. Neither Huffines nor Anchia shied away from the controversial topics swirling under the Capitol dome.
The Bathroom Bill
Take the so-called bathroom bill: Huffines is a sponsor of the effort to bar governments and public schools from letting transgender people use the restrooms that match their gender identity. He told the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith that people in Texas support the idea.
“We don’t want men in women’s bathrooms and we don’t want boys in girls’ locker rooms and showers. It’s as simple as that. Look at your birth certificate. That’s what it said, that’s what you are,” he said.
Anchia fired back. Just because it’s popular, he said, doesn’t make it right.
“Ninety percent of white people wanted to keep Jim Crow in place, and if you put African-American civil rights on the ballot, they would’ve voted at the time to do it. This is nothing but discrimination and I will tell you this: We will be the laughing stock of the nation and it will hurt our economy,” he said.
Over the hour-long event, the lawmakers talked school choice and school funding, and weighed in on plans to repeal Obamacare in Washington and the stubbornly high uninsured rate in Texas.
On immigration, they focused on a bill banning so-called sanctuary cities that Gov. Greg Abbott promoted as a top priority. That proposal would allow the governor to pull state funding from cities or counties that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws. Abbott has threatened to remove local officials who won’t hold undocumented immigrants in their jails when Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials ask them to. He said that’s breaking the law.
“This is an outright lie by the governor,” Anchia said. “The governor said that local law enforcement needs to comply with the law. But you know what the law is? The law is that ICE detainers are simply requests, without the force of law, without the force of a warrant, upon local law enforcement.”
Even so, the Democrat added that Texas agencies comply with the vast majority of detainer requests anyway. He said more than 99 percent of them. Republican Huffines said he supports the bill on the chance that the one request that’s not observed is the person who commits a violent crime.
“If that person goes out and commits a murder, I’m not going to be the one to make that phone call. I don’t want to have to make the phone call to that person’s parents. I don’t want to have to see them pull that sheet up off that corpse. These people are here illegally,” he said.
The lawmakers found common ground on the state’s troubled Child Protective Services agency – both said they are committed to fixing the system. Still, current budget proposals fall short of funding CPS to the level the agency said it needs to hire and retain enough caseworkers. Sen. Huffines said the state should look at market-based solutions – including hiring an ad firm to help promote adoption.
“I turn on the TV at night and I see it, all the dogs who need adopting all the cats. We pay more attention to animals that we do the thousands of kids who need adopting right now in the state of Texas,” he said.
But Anchia said Republican fixes fall short. He said without adequate CPS funding, lawmakers are choosing to shortchange the state’s most vulnerable children.