AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A bipartisan bill to address border security in Texas cleared its first step for further consideration this week.
“I figured, instead of fighting over a wall, let’s find out what the border Democrats and border officials — what do they want for border security?” said State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg.
Biedermann, the main author of House Bill 4306, said while many areas related to border security, such as immigration policies, remain a federal issue, he wanted a way for Democrats and Republicans to work together to address some areas on a state level.
“We all care about border security,” he said.
State Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, who chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, is working with Biedermann on this bill.
“I don’t think there’s a feeling of not feeling safe on the border,” he said. “Let’s start with that. But do we need to evolve in terms of how we secure our borders? Of course we do. Do we need to evolve how we talk about immigration? Of course we do. Those things are evolutionary, not just for the safety of the people living in the United States, but it’s also important keep up a robust immigration program because that’s what feeds us.”
House Bill 4306 would create a new Border Security Enhancement Fund in the state treasury outside of the General Revenue Fund. It would be administered by the Governor’s office. The funds would consist of appropriations made by the legislature, gifts, grants or donations. Interest and other earnings made on the balance of the fund would get credited to the Foundation School Fund.
The bill says the fund may only be used to plan, design, construct or maintain along the state’s international border physical barriers, secondary barriers in locations where fences or other barriers are already in place, technology, clearing of non-indigenous plants, commercial vehicle inspection infrastructure at the ports of entry to prevent illegal entry into the United States without official approval from the federal government, terrorism, contraband and human trafficking.
One of the main goals is to address infrastructure needs, Nevarez and Biedermann said.
“We need flood control and we need actual barriers for flood control,” said Biedermann. “But we also want technology. We want to beef up the ports of entry and of course, brush clearing.”
Nevarez has previously said he wanted lawmakers to invest in infrastructure improvements when pushing border policies.
“Eagle Pass has the largest rail port in the U.S.,” he said. “Laredo is the largest inland port in the world.”
Laredo’s five border crossings accounted for $204 billion — or 32 percent — of all international trade in Texas in 2015, according to statistics posted on the Texas Comptroller’s website. In its analysis, the Texas Comptroller’s office also found that Laredo’s inland port created around 363,000 Texas jobs and contributed $52 billion to the state’s gross domestic product.
Mayor of Laredo Pete Saenz, spoke at the House State Affairs Committee when the bill was considered by legislators earlier in April. Saenz says the city works closely with Border Patrol and has a plan for flood control and erosion mitigation.
Gerald Schwebel of IBC Bank also praised the bill during that hearing, calling it a “common-sense solution.” He cited this legislation as a possible example Texas can use to show other states how private and public sectors can work on border issues.
“Our Texas roads and highways connecting to our 26 ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border must continue to be safe routes for travel and trade,” he said. “Our trade corridors, such as the Ports-to-Plains corridor and major interstate highways must continue to adequately accommodate the increasing movement of people and freight.”
The bill would require the Governor’s office to administer a pilot program starting January 2020, for certain border counties, using the fund. The pilot program would only apply to counties on the border with a population of more than 240,000 and less than 252,000 and between 54-55,000 people.
Biedermann hopes this legislation can bridge the divides over what’s been a controversial topic.
“We just needed to be able to talk about it and get all the heated rhetoric out of the way and talk about what’s needed,” he said. “Let’s work on the projects first that we all agree on and start building trust. I think that was the biggest part — it was building trust.”