Lege Update 7/11

The Legislature had quite a busy day today, in both chambers. The House has adjourned until Monday, and the Senate gavels back into play at 2PM tomorrow. Obviously, the most controversial and newsworthy item is still HB2/SB1, the omnibus anti-abortion bill. However, a number of actions were taken today dealing with the other two topics on the call, as well as a third not on the call. Let us digest the matter.

For starters, both the House and Senate concurred in a final Miller compliance bill for sentencing 17 year olds convicted of Capital Murder. The Texas Tribune reports that SB2 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) was passed 30-1 in the Senate and then 113-23 in the House. As the Austin American-Statesman noted, this is the Senate’s original bill, which places a mandatory life with parole sentence, typically meaning parole after 40 years. The House’s bill originally allowed the jury to consider aggravating circumstances and evidence that would lead them to specifically sentence the minors to life-without-parole.

Some Democrats, led by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Hidalgo County), objected to the bill because it prevented juries from considering any mitigating circumstances and evidence that would lead them to impose a lighter sentence, such as 25 years. The only Senate objector was Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County). Rodriguez objected because of his belief the bill is unconstitutional. For what it’s worth, I wrote an entire Law Review article on this exact topic last semester, so I beg to disagree. But that’s a discussion for a different day. Anyways, both Houses passed the identical SB2, which now heads to Governor Perry’s desk.

The Senate also passed SJR1, the Transportation funding bill, which you may recall is having some trouble in the House. All eyes go there at this point. The SJR1 approved in the Senate is identical to the Committee’s bill, which simply diverts a portion of the rainy day fund into highway maintenance funding.

In other news, the Tribune also reports that the House Appropriations Committee has passed HB5, known as the “Campus Construction Bill.” The bill would issue, according to the Tribune article, “bonds for 62 campus construction projects.” The bill passed unanimously, 18-0, and now heads to Calendar. All looks good. The only problem is that the Governor has not added the issue to the call of the Special Session, though this is a bipartisan inkling to Perry that he should do so immediately. Most locally, the bonds would include $95 Million in bonds for UT-Austin.

Finally, there was significant action on the omnibus anti-abortion bill. Most pressing, the Tribune reports that the Senate Health & Human Services Committee has passed HB2 along party lines, 6-3. Further, the Tribune article states that Dewhurst has promised to bring the bill up on Friday at 2PM. This is it, folks. Please see my inspirational charge “Remember the Alamo,” about where to go from here. The twitters and facebooks of Democratic Senators are lighting up about the final protest being held tomorrow. It will be interesting, to be sure.

In other news, Rick “frothy mixture” Santorum made an appearance at the Capitol today, further proving the bill is not about women’s health. Speaking of women’s health, the Statesman proves that abortions in Texas are notoriously safe. Last but not least, Greg Abbott will be giving his own “new and exciting plans” speech in San Antonio on Monday. He will be announcing his gubernatorial intentions, obviously.

Lege update 7/9

First and foremost, I want to discuss the events that took place today resulting in the possibility of productive, meaningful legislation. And by that, I mean, the stuff that will not almost certainly be struck by a Federal Court.

As the astute followers may recall, exactly one week ago the Senate unanimously approved SJR1, a Transportation funding  bill, and SB2, a “Miller compliance” bill. Both bills passed the committee somewhat under the radar.

Today,  both of those bills came up for consideration in the equivalent Senate committees. HB4, the Miller compliance bill, passed 4-1, with Rep. Terry Canales being the sole dissenter. The Houston Chronicle reported its passage, and insinuated it was somewhat different from SB2, the Senate equivalent. For the life of me, I read HB4, and cannot find any meaningful difference between it and the Senate’s bill. Both bills provide a mandatory sentence of life with parole, or forty years, for 17 year olds convicted of capital murder.

Then, the House Appropriations Committee took up the Transportation bill, and was less successful. A companion piece of legislation to SJR1,which would have diverted a significant amount of cash from the rainy day fund into highway maintenance, HJR1, was set for a vote. However, the Texas Tribune reports that Sylvester Turner, who is the Vice-Chairman of the Committee, raised a variety of concerns with the measure. These included the fact that SJR1/HJR1 sets a maximum amount to be withdrawn from the rainy day fund. Turner was concerned that this would raise too little money for transportation. A competing bill was also considered by the committee. That bill, HJR2, was the brainchild of Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso). That bill would have eliminated the diversion of fuel tax money into education. Instead, all of the money would go to transportation. The educational setbacks would presumably be offset by rainy day fund withdrawals.

Personally, I find SJR1/HJR1 to be the favorable bill. All Pickett’s bill does is pass the hot potato to students and teachers. That isn’t fair, they’ve been the ones messed with recently. I would rather see a problem down the road for highways than high schools, but that’s just me.

Now the big news. The Texas Tribune reports that HB2, the House’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, has passed on second reading 98-49. The day was a long one for the House, coming into session at 10AM and immediately bringing up the bill.

The Democrats –and one Republican, Rep. Sarah Davis of Harris County– brought up 22 amendments. One after another, every single one of them was tabled. They would have provided exemptions for rape and the health of the mother. Not important, in the GOP’s mind. They would have struck everything but the 20 week ban, since that seems to be all the Republicans keep bringing up. Lots of good amendments, including ones for sex ed, but to no avail. The Republicans are not interested in compromise, they are only interested in appeasing their primary voters.

Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County), Abel Herrero (D-Nueces County), Armando Martinez (D-Hidalgo County), Sergio Munoz (D-Hidalgo County) and Joe Pickett (D-El Paso County) were the five Democrats to brake ranks and vote yes on this obscenely unconstitutional legislation. None of them have been or ever will be pregnant. Funny how those things work. I will do everything in power, financially and politically, to make sure none of these men ever win another Democratic primary in my Texas. These men ought to be ashamed of themselves, for it is their constituents, the poor population in El Paso, Corpus Christi and the Valley, who will be hundreds of miles away from the nearest sage, legal abortion.

Kudos to Sarah Davis, however, for doing what is right. Also, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, whose father is the one Democratic Senator supporting the asinine bill, voted against it. Good for him.

The House adjourned slightly after the vote and will reconvene at about 10AM tomorrow for third reading. Once again, Senfronia Thompson stood at the front mike with a wire coathanger. The eyes of the world are still upon us, and I will have more on what to do from here tomorrow when I fly back to Houston.