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The Senate passed on Wednesday a bill that would allocate almost $2 billion to build barriers, increase personnel and provide grants to law enforcement agencies that operate along the international border with Mexico. According to DPS figures, the state is on track to apprehend one million individuals crossing the border illegally - an all time high. Also flowing across the border, said Senate Finance Committee chair and Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, are record amounts of dangerous drugs, like fentanyl, and cartel-affiliated criminals. Saying that the federal government has failed in its responsibility to secure the southern border, Nelson lamented that now the state must step in.

"There are numerous other ways that I would much rather spend these resources, but until the federal government does its job and gets a handle on this heartbreaking and frightening situation, it unfortunately falls on Texas to protect Texans," she said.

About half of the money allocated in Nelson's bill, $750 million, would go towards the construction of fences, walls, and other barriers intended to block or redirect migrants as they cross the border. According to testimony offered during the committee hearing on this bill, the state is looking at building 733 miles of barriers along the state's 1,200 mile border with Mexico. Nelson told members that where natural barriers don't exist, the state will look to build first fences, and then permanent barriers, in high-traffic, strategic areas used by migrants.

The rest of the money in the bill would go to pay for more personnel and technology for state guard troops and DPS officers along the border. More than $300 million will cover a surge in the number of guardsmen in south Texas by 1,800. Another $155 million will go to cover additional staff, overtime, and equipment costs for DPS troopers stationed on the border. The bill also would restore $250 million in funds to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to replace funds used for previous border security efforts and to pay for 3,000 additional beds in state prisons to hold apprehended migrants before they are handed over to federal immigration officials.

Senators opposed to the bill said the state should not be spending billions on what they called outdated or ineffective methods for border security while the state is faced with billions in other unmet needs.

"At a time when we have not adequately addressed our electric grid, properly funded our response to COVID-19, expanded Medicaid or resolved problems at all levels of education - there are so many better ways to spend this level of funding at the border," said Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini. Ultimately, the measure passed the Senate on a vote of 23-8 and will now head to the governor for his signature.

There's very little left on the special session agenda, though some key measures remain pending. A House committee moved the Senate's anti-critical race theory bill on Tuesday but did not take a vote on a bill to require boys and girls to compete in public school sports divisions commensurate with the biological sex listed on their original birth certificate. The Senate has yet to pass bills restoring Article X legislative funding vetoed by Governor Greg Abbott at the end of the regular session, or another bill that would pay for property tax cuts, a bonus annuity check for retired educators and other costs associated with bills passed in the special session. Lawmakers have until Sunday to resolve these issues, or they could find themselves called back by Abbott either for another session, or perhaps to face the same issues again in the redistricting special session expected to come later this fall.

The Senate will reconvene at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2.

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