November 17, 2016

Straus Foe Puts Trump Signature Issue to Test
with Resurrected Push to Kill Texas Dream Act

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

A conservative state lawmaker set the stage Thursday for a bitter battle that could put the GOP majority in an backward position when he filed a measure that would end college tuition breaks for students from families in the country illegally.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland - a Bedford who's been the Texas House leadership's number one nemesis - submitted a bill for consideration in the upcoming regular session that's identical to legislation that stalled in the state Senate last year amid bipartisan opposition.

The proposal that Stickland packaged in House Bill 393 would repeal the so-called Dream Act that cleared the Legislature in 2001 with overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle before Republican Rick Perry signed it into law at the end of his first session as the governor here.

While the push to kill in-state tuition rates for undocumented citizens has died without votes on the floors of either chamber in the last three regular sessions, Republican Donald Trump's election last week as president could trigger and fuel a grassroots groundswell that makes it harder for GOP leaders to consign the proposal to the legislative graveyard. Trump got his campaign for the White House off the ground last year with fiery rhetoric about immigration and a signature promise to build a wall on the border to stem the flow of people coming into Texas and other states illegally from the south.

"It is one of many free handouts to illegals that has helped get us into this mess," Stickland declared of the law that allows Texas high school graduates to attend public colleges and universities here at the same costs regardless of whether they're official United States citizens. "It is my firm belief that in order to stop illegal immigration, we must also turn off all the magnets that are attracting them here.

"Taking tax dollars from law abiding citizens and handing them out to people who do not respect the rule of law is wrong. It is time to put Texas kids first," Stickland added.

Stickland noted that Perry had approved the law in question without elaborating on the fact that none of the measures that have been aimed at rescinding it have failed to get any significant traction in recent sessions despite an ever-increasing number of conservatives on both sides of the rotunda.

GOP House Speaker Joe Straus has been under fire from the right for assigning proposals like HB 393 to the State Affairs Committee where none have ever received a hearing. The panel's chairman - Republican State Rep. Byron Cook of Corsicana - has been accused repeatedly by conservatives of killing legislation that conservatives favor on immigration and other hot-button issues by allowing it to die without action in his committee.

Stickland and three other House Republicans who'd opposed Straus in the speaker's election in early 2015 filed bills that sought to put an end to the Dream Act before fizzling without hearings or votes in the State Affairs Committee. Cook barely survived a challenge from the right earlier this year when he defeated a GOP primary foe with less than 50.4 percent of the vote.

But Cook may have immunized himself to some degree from attacks that stem from the immigration debate as a result of the role that he had this fall as one of the original members of Trump's Texas Advisory Board that conservative Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had been leading.

The move to kill the Dream Act appeared to have a chance of success in the Senate last year when the Veteran Affairs & Military Installations Committee voted 403 in favor of a measure that GOP State Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels had authored. But Patrick pulled the Campbell down from the Senate floor calendar in May after the sponsor failed to muster the 19 votes that she needed to bring the proposal to the floor the previous day.

The Texas Dream Act's proponents may have felt some sense of relief to see Stickland taking the lead in the perennial move to torpedo the tuition breaks law. Republican House leaders who are loyal to Straus have proven to be an insurmountable roadblock for bills that Stickland has authored. Stickland, who's had strong tea party support, hasn't passed any legislation that has had his name in the lead sponsor's line.

But Stickland will be in position to claim his fair share of credit if the move to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants turned out to be successful during the session that gets under way in January. And Stickland will have Trump's long shadow as a prod at a time when many Republicans who'd opposed the incoming president before the election are lining up to kiss the ring now that he's the president-elect.

Perry is a prime example of a Republican who'd been a ferocious Trump critic when he was still a candidate for the White House himself last year. But Perry had been one of Trump's most enthusiastic supporters since the New York billionaire claimed the presidential nomination this past spring. Perry, who's said that he no longer supports the in-state tuition law, has appeared to be under consideration for a potential appointment to the new Trump cabinet.


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