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State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, leads a coalition of Hispanic and African-American groups in a gathering on the South Steps March 21, 2017. Anchia was voicing opposition to school voucher bills winding their way through the legislature with committee hearings scheduled Tuesday. Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Railroad Commission Bill Could Revive Debate on Bathrooms, Immigration

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations in the Senate’s “bathroom bill.” And a Democratic lawmaker has an amendment aimed at forcing the business community to take sides in the sanctuary cities debate.

A Tuesday debate over the future of the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry could instead become a showdown over immigration and where transgender Texans use the bathroom.

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations proposed in the Senate’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which House Speaker Joe Straus has decried as “manufactured and unnecessary.” Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer has filed two amendments that would essentially require the Railroad Commission to enact some of the bathroom-related regulations proposed in Senate Bill 6 — a measure that would require people to use the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings that align with their “biological sex.”

A separate amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, appears to target transgender people by requiring the commission to define women business owners — who can qualify for certain benefits in contracting — on the basis of the “physical condition of being female, as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

Schaefer and Tinderholt are members of the socially conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, which is expected to repeatedly offer up portions of the “bathroom bill” as amendments to other measures. On just the second day of the legislative session, Schaefer, who leads the caucus, unsuccessfully attempted to amend a routine resolution with language requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex.

On the immigration front, an amendment by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would require that a company regulated by or contracting with the Texas Railroad Commission certify that it doesn’t hire undocumented workers and charged with perjury if found to have lied. The amendment would also require the commission to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local district attorney if a company CEO or supervisor is in violation of the provision.

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he has no desire to expand state-based immigration enforcement, and doesn’t expect his fellow Democrats to vote for the amendment. It’s symbolic: He wants businesses to be more vocal against what he called extreme immigration proposals the Legislature is considering this session, specifically Senate Bill 4. That measure, passed by the Senate last month and now pending in a House committee, would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and vastly expand the immigration enforcement powers of local police.

“For Republicans to only demonize immigrants but not talk about the insatiable appetite on the part of businesses for immigrant workers is hypocrisy at its best,” he said.

The state already has a law that requires state agencies and contractors to use E-Verify, the federal electronic verification system that determines whether a worker is eligible for employment. But Anchia’s amendment goes beyond that by including companies that “indirectly” hire unauthorized labor — meaning they use contractors and subcontractors who hire independent laborers that aren’t classified as regular employees.

This won’t be the first time an immigration debate has raged on a seemingly unrelated bill. Anchia took part in a bruising debate earlier this month on a bill to reform the state’s child welfare system. State Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, offered an amendment to withhold monthly payments to undocumented caretakers. It sparked a firestorm of opposition from Democrats and some moderate Republicans.

Anchia said at the time that business leaders have “ceded the field” — and it’s up to Democrats to take extreme measures, like his proposed amendment, to get them back in play.

“The current debate regarding immigrant workers has only focused on the enforcement of immigrants themselves,” he said.

Anchia said just hours after he pre-filed his amendment on Monday, he was approached by an “industry participant” who urged him to keep the bill “clean” – a common term used by stakeholders who don’t want the legislation altered significantly. He said if his amendment passes, it would be up to the oil and gas industry to convince lawmakers to remove the proposal during conference committee discussions, referring to the group of House and Senate members chosen by their respective leaders to iron out the differences in each chambers’ final bill.

Anchia said there will be more opportunities to make his point in the remaining months of the session, citing an upcoming bill on the Texas Department of Transportation as just one example.

Read related coverage:

  • Outnumbered and with time running out, Texas Democrats hoping to kill anti-“sanctuary” legislation are open to shining a spotlight on so-called “sanctuary industries” that often turn a blind eye toward hiring unauthorized labor.
  • The Texas “bathroom bill” has made it to the House but chamber leaders are hinting that the controversial legislation may never reach the chamber’s floor for a vote.

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Authors:  JULIÁN AGUILAR AND ALEXA URA – The Texas Tribune

About The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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