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Texas Legislative Session Ends In A Scuffle

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A polite way to describe yesterday in the Texas Legislature is that people had strong feelings. A less polite way is to say that lawmakers had a shoving match, an argument about immigration. Texas Public Radio's Ryan Poppe was there. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN POPPE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. So we're going to get to the quasi violence here, but there's an underlying issue. What were they arguing about in the Texas Legislature yesterday?

POPPE: Well, that's the Texas sanctuary cities ban, which would allow local police to ask a person about their immigration status, even during something as simple as a routine traffic stop. And it has stirred up quite a bit of tension amongst state lawmakers.

INSKEEP: OK. So President Trump, on the national level, wants to target sanctuary cities, and here's a state government acting in support of that, in effect, by passing this legislation. And then it came up for discussion yesterday. And you were there. What did you see?

POPPE: Well, it actually was a protest that had kind of overtaken the House gallery in the Texas House of Representatives. And the noise level had gotten to be to such a point where lawmakers couldn't hear themselves talk, even on the House floor.

So state troopers were called in to clear the gallery and remove all of the protesters. Some Hispanic lawmakers began recording the protesters on Facebook Live, and that angered one state Republican, Republican State Representative Matt Rinaldi, a member of Texas' Freedom Caucus.

INSKEEP: Oh, Freedom Caucus, just like they have in the House of Representatives in Washington. So what did he do?

POPPE: Well, he started shouting at the Hispanic lawmakers that some of the protesters had signs saying that they were illegal and that they were here to stay. And by that he was calling immigration agents to come to the state capitol and deport some of these protesters that were holding these signs.

INSKEEP: And how violent, if that's the word, did things get?

POPPE: That resulted in more shouting, a shoving match, like you mentioned, between some of these Hispanic lawmakers and Rinaldi. And it culminated to the point where Rinaldi threatened to shoot one of those Hispanic lawmakers in the head over a threat that he had made about taking the fight outside the Capitol building.

INSKEEP: Rinaldi acknowledges saying that, something to the effect of, I'm going to shoot you in the head?

POPPE: He not only acknowledges it; he tweeted about it several hours after the session had finished.

INSKEEP: Did anybody actually take the fight outside, as some of the Democrats allegedly wanted?

POPPE: No. Things calmed down after, you know, the fight had broken up. And they went about their business, you know, eventually adjourning the session, since it was the final day. But now Rinaldi says that he is under a protective order by state troopers. And, you know, lawmakers are adjourned, so we'll have to see what happens next.

INSKEEP: Ryan, I want to ask you as someone who covers the state Legislature in Texas. I know that some legislatures are boisterous, if that's the word. Is this normal for the Texas Legislature?

POPPE: I wouldn't say that it's not the first time that something like this has probably happened in the state's history, but it certainly is the first time that I've seen things get to this type of boiling point between state lawmakers.

INSKEEP: OK. Ryan Poppe of Texas Public Radio. Thanks.

POPPE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.