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AUSTIN — With days left in the special session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan are trading blows again. This time, they are blaming each other for not passing a controversial immigration enforcement bill requested by Gov. Greg Abbott.
On Thursday, Patrick blasted Phelan in a thread on X, formerly Twitter, for not just the all-but-certain death of a bill establishing education savings accounts for Texas families – but also for what Patrick called a “Texas-sized catch-and-release” bill.
Hours later, Phelan rebutted Patrick’s argument, saying the lieutenant governor was deflecting from the Senate’s “impotent response” to the “growing crisis at our border — a crisis demanding decisive action, not the ineffective strategies being peddled by the Senate.”
The Senate has yet to debate and pass House Bill 4, a controversial proposal that would allow for state and local police to start arresting undocumented migrants — which critics argue is a direct challenge to the federal government’s powers.
The latest disagreement means the third special session of 2023 will likely end with only one of three border security proposals reaching Abbott’s desk — likely guaranteeing a fourth special session.
The bill, authored by GOP Rep. David Spiller of Jacksboro, passed the House last week after a heated marathon floor session. It passed a Senate panel on Wednesday, but the Senate version did not include a portion of the legislation allowing state and local police to order unauthorized migrants to return to the country from which they entered.
Spiller disagrees with the removal of that provision. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, he did not attack Patrick for how he characterized his bill. He said Abbott amended the special session call to include his proposal.
“This landmark border security legislation has been carefully crafted and designed with the Office of the Governor and, when passed, it will be the strongest in our nation,” Spiller said.
Democrats and immigration attorneys argue the proposal is unconstitutional as the federal government enforces immigration laws. They say the bill would lead to discrimination against Hispanic Texans.
Patrick vs. Phelan again
The back-and-forth between Phelan and Patrick started during the regular session when the House and Senate clashed over how to provide property tax cuts to homeowners and businesses. That dispute stretched into two special sessions and even saw Patrick attack Abbott publicly — a rarity.
The chambers reached an agreement in July and tempers seemed to cool. But then came the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton. After the Senate acquitted Paxton of numerous impeachment articles that accused him of bribery and obstruction of justice, among other things, Patrick blasted Phelan and the House for impeaching Paxton in May.
Phelan hit back, saying the outcome in Paxton’s trial seemed to be predetermined. Hard-right activists, however, have sided with Patrick and have called on Phelan to resign. Same with Paxton and a few House members.
Thursday’s exchange only adds to the strained relationship.
“The Speaker is desperate to improve his border credentials with conservatives…,” Patrick posted on X.
Phelan blasted Patrick later for changing Spiller’s bill. The speaker said his chamber would stand by its proposal.
“We will not be lectured on border security by a Senate that has weakened our bill substantially and wants to further empower the federal government to turn migrants loose,” Phelan said in a statement Thursday.
Abbott has not commented on the animosity between Phelan and Patrick. The governor is in Israel to show solidarity with the Israelis. Abbott’s spokespeople did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
The 30-day special session is set to end Nov. 7. Abbott asked lawmakers to pass several border security measures: one to increase the penalty on human smuggling, one for more border wall funding, Spiller’s bill, and any bills regarding Colony Ridge.
Of the border security bills Abbott asked the Legislature to pass, only one will reach his desk this session: a bill by Sen. Pete Flores of Lakeway that establishes a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for individuals who engage in human smuggling.