83rd Legislative Session

County commissioners cast symbolic vote to restore PIU funding

Members of the Travis County Commissioners Court voted in favor today of a House resolution to restore funding to the state’s Public Integrity Unit. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed that portion of the state budget after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to step down. Perry took aim at Lehmberg’s personal integrity after she was arrested and served time for drunk driving in April. The veto cost the unit $7.5 million dollars over the next two years and could leave 31 employees without a job.

Today’s vote was mostly symbolic and carries little weight with the Legislature. The House resolution, filed by Rep. Sylvester Turner, stands little to no chance of passing. It died in committee last special session and has failed to come up in the current special session.

The Public Integrity Unit is currently handling more than 400 cases concerning everything from tax fraud to public corruption. Commissioners are trying to find a way to maintain the unit’s funding when the money runs out in September. Some members say they would prefer if the lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto. “They funded it for over thirty years,” said Deece Eckstein, who handles intergovernmental relations for Travis County. “There was no controversy about the bill at all as it passed this year. It was Governor Perry’s veto that triggered this crisis.”

Much of the debate surrounding the unit’s funding comes down to political motivations. Democrats have maintained that Republicans have repeatedly tried to weaken the Public Integrity Unit because it is investigating several cases involving Gov. Perry and his allies. Should Lehmberg step down or be forced to resign, Perry would appoint her replacement.

Critics have criticized Perry’s veto, saying the governor is using his power to shut down investigations into his office

Senate abortion bill dead after filibuster, confusion

Democrats were successful in blocking a controversial omnibus abortion bill early Wednesday morning. Just before 3 a.m., Democrats confirmed to a still-packed State Capitol that their efforts to block the passage of what would have been some of the strictest abortion rules in the country were successful.

Shorty afterward, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gaveled the Senate out, saying time expired on the bill. “It’s been fun, see you soon,” he said, indicating that the Texas Legislature might be looking at a second special session.

The scene in the Texas Senate Tuesday was unlike any other in recent Texas legislative history. The day began when Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) took to the microphone at 11:18 a.m. Davis successfully filibustered the bill until just after 10 p.m., when Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) filed a point of order claiming Davis’ mentions of the sonogram bill passed last legislative session were not germane (or relevant) to the current abortion bill she was attempting to block.

The violation of filibuster rules would have been the Davis’ third and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst declared the filibuster over. From there, chaos and confusion ensued. Davis’ fellow Democrats, including Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, took to the microphone to challenge Dewhurst’s ruling and attempted to use parliamentary tactics to hold the floor past the midnight deadline.

As the clock ticked toward the close of the special session, the hundreds of people looking on from the gallery began chanting and cheering, causing confusion on the floor. Amid the chaos a vote was cast, and Republicans declared that SB 5 passed ahead of the midnight deadline, even as Democrats insisted the clock had run out.

Around 1:30 a.m., Sen. John Whitmire announced the Senate would caucus behind closed doors, and photos began surfacing showing that the official vote record may have been altered in favor of the Republicans. About two hours later, Rep. Jessica Farrar emerged to formally announce that the legislation was indeed dead, for now. Shortly after, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst formally declared the bill dead. We’ll wait, now, for official word from Gov. Rick Perry on another special session.

Planned Parenthood declares victory in Senate abortion filibuster

As the Texas Senate remains caucusing behind closed doors, Planned Parenthood is declaring victory in the fight to block an omnibus abortion bill on the floor, Tuesday.

Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered the proposed legislation for more than 10 hours, before Republican lawmakers used Senate rules in an attempt to stop the delay and move the bill forward. A vote took place sometime around midnight, amid loud protests and chants from hundreds of pro-choice supporters in Senate gallery. Confusion ensued over whether or not the vote actually took place before the 12:00 deadline.

While the official fate remains unknown, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards issued this statement, declaring SB5 dead, for now:

“What has happened here in Texas over the course of the last week is nothing short of remarkable.  Facing near-impossible odds, thousands of Texans descended on Austin to make their voices heard – telling their legislators that they would not stand for legislation that would hurt thousands of women and essentially end access to safe, legal abortion.  Tonight, Texans won.

“Governor Perry knew all along he couldn’t pass this bill by the books.  He and his allies resorted to shutting down the debate, blocking testimony from the very women whose lives would be affected, voting in the middle of the night, and employing cheap tricks to try shut down a heroic filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis.

“This fight showed once again that we are all better off when women and their doctors – not politicians – are the ones making medical decisions. We made history tonight, but we know this isn’t the end of the fight to protect women’s access to health care in Texas. We thank State Senator Wendy Davis and every other legislator who stood up for women, and we urge Governor Perry and his allies to focus on the issues that Texans want them to address, and leave the medical decision-making to women and their doctors.

“Tonight, we sent a message to Governor Perry and every politician who wants to interfere in women’s medical decisions: Enough is enough. With every attack, Governor Perry and his friends are creating a new generation of activists, and changing this state forever.”

Abortion bill filibuster ends in uncertainty, accusations of foul play

The clock appears to have run out on the special session, but the final vote on a piece of controversial abortion legislation is still in dispute.

Amid deafening shouts from the gallery, the Texas Senate attempted to vote on Senate Bill 5, which would would give Texas some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country if passed.

The vote came after an hours-long filibuster by Democrats. Sen. Wendy Davis talked for more than 10 hours Tuesday to block the bill. Senate rules required her to stay standing without any food, water or assistance from others. She also had to stay on topics related to the bill.

Republicans eventually ended the filibuster by pointing out technicalities in the procedure, but Democrats spent the next two hours challenging the rulings. Shortly before midnight, spectators in the Senate gallery started yelling so loudly that Senators couldn’t hear to conduct business.

While DPS officers cleared the gallery, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called for a vote on the bill. Democrats say the vote came too late — after midnight — and therefore after the session had ended, but Republicans claim the bill passed.

The legislature’s online record-keeping system currently shows that the vote happened at some point before midnight. However, shortly before 1:30 a.m., Democratic Rep. Joe Deshotel Tweeted this photo, which appears to show that the vote happened after the midnight deadline and was later changed.


Senate filibuster enters 10th hour, Davis not yielding for questions

Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster has now entered its 10th hour. Davis took to the microphone at 11:18 a.m. to speak against Senate Bill 5. She is attempting to hold the floor until midnight — the official end of the special session — in an effort to kill the legislation for good.

Under Senate rules, Davis is prohibited from eating, drinking or taking a bathroom break. Davis is also required to stand at her desk without sitting or leaning and cannot have assistance from other senators. Other members have been allowed to ask questions and Democrats have been using parliamentary procedure to give Davis a few short breaks.

If Davis violates those rules three times, the Senate can vote to end the filibuster. So far, Davis is on strike two. The first point of order came when Republicans claimed Davis’ remarks about Planned Parenthood funding strayed too far off topic. The second was upheld when Sen. Tommy Williams raised a point of order after Sen. Rodney Ellis helped Davis put on a back brace to help ease her discomfort. Lawmakers voted that Davis had broken the rules by accepting help from a colleague. Davis has since ceased yielding for questions.

Davis’ filibuster has gained national media attention, even garnering a tweet from President Barack Obama’s Twitter account, saying “Something special is happening in Austin #StandWithWendy.”



Livestream: Senate abortion bill filibuster

Senate abortion bill filibuster underway

Senate Democrats are making a final stand in an attempt to kill abortion legislation. Sen. Wendy Davis began a floor filibuster around 11:17 a.m. and will attempt to talk until the special session ends at midnight.

Thus far, Davis has recapped all of the abortion bills filed during the regular session, explaining why each failed to pass. She spent time reading testimony from committee meetings during the regular session and said earlier she intends to read the testimony that was not heard during a committee hearing last week. Currently, Davis is reading medical research backing up her claim that the stricter rules do not improve women’s health care.

Under Senate rules, Davis is prohibited from eating, drinking or taking a bathroom break. Davis will also have to stand at her desk without sitting or leaning. Other members are allowed to interrupt to ask questions.

Davis’ attempt to kill the abortion bill may also effectively kill two other pieces of legislation on the special session call. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst placed SB 5 first on the floor calendar, meaning if Davis does speak until midnight, lawmakers will not have an opportunity to vote on transportation funding or new juvenile justice legislation. Before beginning her speech, Davis indicated the Democrats supported both pieces of legislation and were disappointed they would not be put up for a vote.


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.


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.