Archive for June, 2013

Smitherman announces possible run for Attorney General

Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman announced today he intends to run for attorney general. In a video posted on his website, Smitherman asked voters to “join my conservative crusade to keep Texans safe and to vigorously defend the laws and the Constitution of the great State of Texas.”

Smitherman is a former district attorney and served on the Public Utility Commission from 2004 until 2011, when Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the Railroad Commission.

It has been widely speculated that current Attorney General Greg Abbott is planning to run for governor. Smitherman said Monday he would only run if Abbott does not seek reelection.


Texas House formally approves controversial abortion bill

A controversial abortion bill is now on its way back to the Senate. The Texas House formally passed the stricter regulations Monday morning, despite Democrats’ efforts to block them.

Debate lasted well into the early morning hours, as hundreds of abortion-rights supporters looked on from the gallery. Democrats had been hoping to stall the legislation long enough that the Senate would be able to kill it via filibuster ahead of Tuesday’s midnight deadline. Lawmakers spent 15 hours offering up amendments and using parliamentary tactics to delay the process until Republicans finally voted to suspend debate.

SB 5 is the omnibus abortion bill already passed by the Senate. It requires abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and requires that the abortion drug RU 486 be administered in person by a doctor. The House version includes a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which the Senate version does not.

Opponents have said the new rules would force all but five abortion clinics in the state to shut their doors. The bill’s supporters argued it will lead to improved women’s health care.

The Senate will now have to wait 24 hours before considering the changes made to its version. That means a Democrat in the Senate would have to speak on the floor for more than 24 hours to kill the legislation.


SCOTUS sends UT affirmative action case back to lower court

The Supreme Court is declining to make a final ruling on race-based college admissions. In an opinion released today, the justices sent the case back to a lower court for another look, sidestepping the larger constitutional question.

At issue is whether the University of Texas can use race as one of the factors used in the admission process. Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. She claimed she was passed over in favor of less qualified students because she is white.

The 7-1 decision overturns a previous ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Fisher’s case. Justice Anthony Kennedy said Monday that a federal appeals court needs to further review the case.


Democrats working to block abortion bills

Texas Republican lawmakers are working against the clock to push stiffer abortion regulations through the state legislature.  But Democrats are doing what they can to block it from happening.

Hundreds of abortion activists on both sides of the issue greeted House members Sunday afternoon. A sea of people in burnt orange shirts filled the Capitol rotunda speaking out against the bills.

“We’re paying attention as well,” said Shelby Alexander, an abortion rights activist. “I think that it shows that even in a Special Session, when our state leadership think they could sneak these bills by us, we know better.”

Others wore tape over their mouths in silent protest in support of the legislation.

“We have the tape over our mouths to show an example of all the silent voices that would cry out for their own lives if they were given a chance,” Cynthia Umstattd, an anti-abortion activist, said.

Debate on the issue continued into the late night Sunday as Democrats offered up amendments and used stall tactics to keep the bills from passing.

So what exactly will passing stricter abortion measures mean for Texans?

If the House versions are approved, the bills would ban abortions after 20 weeks, require abortions take place in surgical centers and restrict where and when women can take abortion-inducing pills. Part of the new law would also require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

If passed, it could mean 90 percent of the abortion clinics in Texas would close.

The Special Session ends Tuesday at midnight.


House committee quietly passes abortion restrictions

After cutting off testimony that lasted into the wee hours of the morning Friday, state lawmakers came back Friday afternoon and quietly and quickly passed stricter abortion measures onto the full House for debate.

The votes fell along party lines.

If approved the new law would include banning abortions after 20 weeks, requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and only allow abortions in surgical facilities.

Hundreds of public citizens signed up to testify against the legislation at a committee hearing Thursday evening. They dubbed it a ‘people’s filibuster. But the committee chair cut off testimony early Friday morning, leaving those who had waited it out to become outraged. No vote was taken at that time on the bills.

Committee members came back together Friday afternoon in a room that held about 30 people and quickly approved the measures.

A full House debate on the bills is expected to take place Sunday afternoon.

Capital Tonight: Controversial committee hearings overshadow redistricting vote

Busy Thursday

Minutes after capping off a nearly six-hour debate on redistricting, many House lawmakers marched off to tackle even more contentious issues.

The House State Affairs Committee saw more than 400 people line up to testify on a list of abortion bills, including one that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. At the same time, the House Appropriations Committee considered Rep. Sylvester Turner’s plan to override the governor’s veto of Public Integrity Unit funding.

Regent Impeachment?

A high-ranking House member is making a move to impeach one of the UT regents, and it appears to have some support. Our Capital Commentators weighed in on that and more.

New Poll Numbers

Plus, James Henson of the Texas Politics Project joined us to talk about the latest poll numbers on abortion laws in Texas. Click the image below to hear more.

House moves forward with state, congressional redistricting maps

Once maps for their own districts were approved, House lawmakers moved quickly to certify maps for state Senate and congressional districts Thursday afternoon.

Unlike their Senate counterparts, House lawmakers added minor tweaks to the interim maps drawn by a district court in San Antonio.

Gov. Rick Perry instructed lawmakers to rubber stamp those maps, which were used in the 2012 primary elections, presumably to strengthen the state’s case before the Supreme Court. However, Rep. Drew Darby allowed minor tweaks to existing districts, sparking extended debate on the House floor.

The changes in House districts will still have to be reconciled with the Senate version, which was passed without alteration.


New UT / TT poll sheds light on voters’ abortion opinions

On the same day heated testimony is expected at a House committee meeting on abortion, a new University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll is shedding some light on Texans’ opinions on the issue. According to the Tribune, “voters remain split on the permissibility of abortion, but favor banning the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” The so-called fetal pain bill is among restrictions lawmakers are considering.

The poll shows 16 percent of voters said abortion should never be allowed and another 30 percent said it should only be allowed in “cases of rape, incest or danger to women’s life.” On the other side, 36 percent said abortion is a matter of personal choice.




The poll also asked if voters thought abortion laws should be stricter. Thirty-eight percent said yes, they should. That’s compared to 26 percent who said they should be less strict and 21 percent who said no change is needed.

On the question of the so called ‘fetal pain’ bill lawmakers will discuss today, the poll showed an overwhelming number of people support banning abortion after 20 weeks. The outcome of that poll was essentially the same whether the words ‘fetal pain’ were used, or not.

Capital Tonight: Adding up changes to education law

Back to School

The state’s school finance problems were back before a court Wednesday, this time over changes both sides agree need to be included as evidence.

That evidence includes the $3.4 billion in funding restored this session, on top of numerous changes to testing and graduation requirements. District Judge John Dietz has set a new date to take state lawmakers’ changes into account. In Wednesday’s episode, we looked at what to expect from the trial.

Abortion Bills

Abortion law in Texas could be changed drastically if a new Senate bill makes it to the governor’s desk. We spoke to Whole Woman’s Health, a licensed abortion clinic in Austin, to find out what the changes mean.

Immigration Backtrack

Plus, a key player on immigration reform in Washington says he’s thinking of backing out.

Click the image below to see why Congressman John Carter says he has serious concerns with an immigration reform bill he helped draft.

Carter says health care could kill House immigration reform efforts

Rep. John Carter says language in a draft version of a House immigration reform bill would set up a “slush fund” to provide undocumented immigrants with health insurance.

Carter says he’s so upset by the language that it might kill bipartisan efforts he’s been involved with for the last several years to overhaul the immigration system.

“It’s a fund that would be paid into to provide them with health care or maybe put them in the Obamacare system,” said Carter.

Earlier this month, disagreements over how to handle health insurance for undocumented immigrants led Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) to quit the House’s so-called gang of eight.

According to a House Democratic staffer familiar with discussions, the bill does not give undocumented immigrants access to subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. It does, however, set up a fund that would take the money generated by the collection of fees and fines from undocumented immigrants and dole it out to help states cover costs associated with health care and education.