3 p.m. update: Following his confrontation with Democrats on the Texas House floor, Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, issued a statement confirming that he reported protesters at the Capitol to federal immigration authorities and saying that he is under police protection after being “physically assaulted” and threatened by other legislators.
Rinaldi said that Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, said he would “get me on the way to my car, prompting Rinaldi to respond that he “would shoot him in self defense.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said that he heard Rinaldi make a threat, directed at Nevárez, that he would “put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads.”
Rinaldi also said that Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, assaulted him on the floor but gave no details. Earlier, Rinaldi told reporters that Democrats had pushed and shoved him during the showdown on the floor, which occurred as officers were removing protesters from the galleries.
The protesters were there to oppose the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 4, which bans so-called sanctuary cities that decline to assist federal immigration enforcement.
1 p.m. update: On the final day of the legislative session, a moment usually reserved for congratulatory speeches, a shoving match broke out on the Texas House floor as Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, tussled with several Democrats.
The incident occurred as protesters opposed to the new law banning so-called sanctuary cities were being ushered out of the House galleries after disrupting the proceedings on the floor by chanting, “Here to stay!”
Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, said Rinaldi then told several lawmakers that he had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report the protesters, prompting the confrontation between Rinaldi and the Democrats.
Asked repeatedly whether he called ICE, Rinaldi declined to say. Rinaldi said he confronted the Democrats because they were encouraging the protesters.
“We were just hawing back and forth they were bragging about inciting the protesters and calling us all racists,” he said.
During the heated exchange, Rinaldi said, the Democrats pushed and shoved him and threatened his life.
Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio, however, said he heard Rinaldi threaten to put a bullet in the head of another Democrat, Rep. Poncho Nevarez of Eagle Pass.
The clash put an exclamation point on the rancorous 85th Legislature, which was marked by intense battles between the parties over the sanctuary cities measure and by battles between GOP factions over controversial proposals like the so-called bathroom bill.
Noon update: As demonstrators protesting a new law banning so-called sanctuary cities were being removed from the gallery, a scuffle broke out on the House floor between Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, and several Democrats.
Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., a Fort Worth Democrat, said Rinaldi told lawmakers that he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the protesters, who were opposing a bill to ban so-called sanctuary cities that decline to assist federal immigration enforcement.
Rinaldi and Democrats then got in each other’s faces and had to be separated.
“This is an exercise of your first amendment rights, your freedom of speech,” Romero said of the protesters. Rinaldi “feels the way to deal with that, instead of letting troopers do what they did, which is exactly what they’re supposed to do, he felt like he needed to call ICE,” Romero said, referring to Texas Department of Public Safety officers that removed the protesters from the galleries.
“I hope that he’s embarrassed,” Romero said. “The price to pay for him right now was the loss of respect. I’ve served with him on committees. He fully lost my respect.”
Asked for comment, Rinaldi said that the Democrats had incited a riot by encouraging the protesters and that they threatened his life during the scuffle on the House floor.
He did not comment on whether he called federal immigration authorities.
Earlier: Chanting, “Here to stay!” protesters opposed to the new law banning so-called sanctuary cities briefly shut down proceedings in the Texas House on Monday, the final day of a legislative session that will be remembered for intense partisan battles.
The protesters wore red shirts and filled the House galleries as the largely ceremonial last day of the Legislature got underway.
House rules forbid spectators from cheering or jeering, and they were soon escorted out by officers from the Department of Public Safety.
Legislators from both parties looked up and took cell phone videos of the demonstrators as they were removed from the galleries.
The Senate, hoping to avoid a similar outburst, locked its gallery doors shortly before the session was to begin at 11 a.m.
Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, imposes stiff financial penalties on sanctuary cities, which are local governments that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement, and creates a criminal offense for local officials who implement sanctuary-style policies.
When the bill came up in the House, Democrats fought against it for 16 hours in an emotional floor debate before the Republican majority approved it.