As much as the omnibus anti-abortion bill seems to be all the rage these days, there is other stuff going on at the Legislature. Specifically, in addition to abortion, Gov. Perry added two more issues to the call: Transportation and Juvenile Criminal Justice. The same other two issues that were dealt with in the last special session.
The houses came very close to passing comprehensive legislation on Transportation funding and Capital Murder penalties for juveniles last special session. However, these bills were caught as collateral damage in the ultimate day’s filibuster. Like the abortion bill, these issues’ bills have been given new names to reflect the new session. SJR1 is the new Transportation Bill and SB2 is the new Criminal Justice bill. The Texas Tribune reports that both passed unanimously through committee today.
I have talked at length about the bills debated by the Legislature to create suitable (constitutional) penalties for juveniles convicted of capital murder. I have colloquially styled these the bills about “Miller compliance.” Last session, the Senate passed a bill which replaced the mandatory life-without-parole penalty (that was deemed unconstitutional) with a life-with-parole penalty. The House amended the bill to include the option of life-without-parole for the more heinous offenses. The bill that the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed today, SB2, does not include that amendment. The vote was unanimous.
The Transportation measure, SJR1, which must pass with a 2/3 majority and then be approved by referendum this November, passed the Senate Finance Committee unanimously as well. That bill, which diverts over $1B from the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund, is identical to the measure nearly passed last Special Session.
Both of these bills are somewhat non-controversial, and should be passed by the Legislature ASAP. Contrary to public belief, these bills were not taken hostage by the Democrats. In fact, the Republicans made the strategic choice to kill them. Any honest follower of last week’s proceedings will remember that Kirk Watson stood up and said that the Democrats did not object to taking a final vote on the two bills before the SB5 filibuster occurred. Oh well.
Then, of course, this happened. Starting at 3:30 today, the House State Affairs Committee held their obligatory public hearing on HB2, one of the successors to SB5. As I stated yesterday, Committee Chairman Byron Cook made clear that public comment would only run from 3:30PM to Midnight.
With 3,543 people signed up to testify, after getting started a little behind schedule (what a surprise), the Committee barely made it through 100 people before Cook took the unilateral, though not unexpected, step of cutting off public comment. Shortly after Midnight, without much warning, Cook abruptly ended the debate and took a vote. 8-3, along party lines in favor. However, the vote was taken so quickly that two Democrats could not return to the desk. Accordingly, the real vote should have been 8-5.
Shortly thereafter, the Capitol got cleared and locked down. The result, in the above photograph, was roughly 1000-1700 angry protesters banging on the doors to their place of government while 7 White Men and 1 White Woman, in the dead of night, passed punitively burdensome restrictions on the right to abortion.
The Texas Observer has the full story. This isn’t pretty, not in the slightest. I’ll sign off this evening by reprinting the words of the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Jessica Farrar, shortly after the panel approved the measure:
“Once again, far-right House members in the State Affairs Committee blocked Texans from speaking against a bill that will harm woman across the state. At midnight, the committee chairman cut off testimony, denying more than a thousand Texans the opportunity to speak out against dangerous legislation that would virtually ban safe and legal abortion statewide.”
“This isn’t the fair democratic process that we value in Texas. This is politics at its worst”
“The Texas constitution says that the Governor may call a special session “on extraordinary occasions. If this is such an ‘extraordinary occasion,’ Texans from across the state deserve the opportunity to voice their opinion.”
“On behalf of the women and men in the communities I serve — and those that were silenced tonight — I call on leadership to hold public hearings across the state so Texans can have their voice heard.”