Abortion leads second session for lawmakers

Published on Saturday, 29 June 2013 22:58 - Written by By Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

The second special session begins Monday at the Capitol as legislators consider three legislative items, including a controversial abortion bill that derailed the first overtime session.

All the pieces that might have prevented legislators from completing business during the first special session called by Gov. Rick Perry are being prepared to ensure Republican leadership.

James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin, said Republican leadership, especially Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is game-planning for scenarios to face from Democrats who are riding high after a final-day filibuster ended the session.

Perry placed legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities at the top of his call. Legislation to let voters decide whether to dedicate revenue to pay for roads and a bill to create a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old offender also are on the call.

Henson said Dewhurst and other GOP leaders will look to reassert their positions and prevent Democrats from pulling “another trick out of their hat.”

“Leadership is plotting strategy to use every institutional advantage to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes again,” he said.

Local GOP legislators Sen. Kevin Eltife and Rep. Matt Schaefer expressed frustration with how Democrats were able to stymie the first special session. Eltife said it was unfortunate controversial legislation was added to the call late, giving Democrats the chance to stall, and in the end, kill legislation with bipartisan support.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and other legislators are requesting abortion legislation to end late-term abortions and to require higher operating standards for clinics that perform abortions be passed before transportation and juvenile justice are considered.

Hughes said he was present on the Senate floor during much of Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster. He called the bill, which would have prevented abortions past five months and required higher standards of care within abortion-performing clinics, “reasonable.”

“Is there anyone who can argue that a baby is a baby at five months? That is late,” he asked. “And for the early abortions, we want to make sure these clinics are prepared to handle emergencies in case of complications. I don’t understand why people are so opposed to either.”

Karen Wilkerson, a State Democratic Executive Committee woman representing District 1, said abortion legislation is not a top priority for most Texans and that Perry is pandering politically. She said Perry “exposed himself as a shameless politician rather than a statesman.”

“Transportation, water, jobs, education — these are the things on the minds of most Texans,” she said. “We’ve had abortion laws on the books for years. It’s a purely a political move.”

Ms. Wilkerson said Perry and other GOP leaders’ political aspirations stood in the way of good legislation from Democrats and Republicans working to solve statewide problems, including transportation.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, filed a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment to dedicate 50 percent of all oil and gas severance taxes transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day fund) to the state’s highway fund.

If voters approved dedicating the revenues, the comptroller’s office estimates $900 million a year would go toward transportation funding. The resolution stipulates the funds will only be used for constructing, maintaining and acquiring rights-of-way for non-tolled, public roads.

Nichols said there is a transportation crisis in Texas and that expected population increases would stress aging infrastructure and increase congestion.

“Our state’s economy depends upon having a safe and reliable road system,” he said in a statement. “SJR 1 will go a long way in helping to resolve these problems.”

Henson said Republicans in the House and Senate have the votes to push the called items through — though transportation and the juvenile justice bills will be much less controversial.

Last week’s drama might extend into the first week of the second special session, but Henson expects GOP leaders’ motivation to right their respective public images will rule the session.

“The clock will not be on Democrats side this time,” he said.