Abortion

Daily Digest | May 27

The final gavel of the 84th Legislature drops in just five days. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today:

Law enforcement agencies from across the state are meeting at the Capitol to protest gun control laws being pushed through the Legislature. House leaders passed a watered-down version of the “campus carry” bill (Senate Bill 11) just minutes before last night’s midnight deadline. The bill looked destined to fail with more than a hundred amendments still left to debate with just minutes left on the clock, but a last-minute deal led to lawmakers approving the legislation. But that included a key amendment pushed for by university leaders that would allow some campuses to determine where on school grounds that they would allow concealed guns. The controversial piece of legislation has seen staunch opposition from police as well as university leaders; UT System Chancellor William McRaven has spoken out on several occasions against the legislation, saying it will hurt recruiting and will make campuses less safe. Supporters say a person’s Second Amendment rights shouldn’t be infringed when they step onto a college campus.

Two other controversial bills did fall victim to the clock. Senate Bill 575 would have blocked women from using health insurance plans to get an abortion.  And Senate Bill 206, a Sunset review bill to streamline the Department of Family and Protective Services also died. That included the amendment that would have protected child welfare agencies from being sued if they don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children.

That led to an unusual scene in the House this morning. A Tea Party coalition led by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R – TX House District 92) killed off several bills with wide support, but were mainly sponsored by Democrats. It happened during a session on the Local & Consent calendar, which is usually reserved for noncontroversial bills with only local impact that had near unanimous support in committees. There were about six bills knocked down, included a bill to monitor special needs classrooms in an effort to stop cases of abuse. Several lawmakers accused Rep. Stickland of retaliation, after he voiced criticism of the House’s failure to pass the aforementioned bills. Wednesday was the last day for the House to consider local and consent bills.

Finally, we now know when Governor Greg Abbott will put pen to paper on his priority pre-K bill. Today, he announced a signing ceremony for House Bill 4 tomorrow at an early childhood center in Austin. The plan offers about 130 million extra dollars, that can be divided among school districts that follow certain guidelines in their pre-K programs. Pre-K education was Governor Abbott’s first emergency item in his “State of the State” speech, but it found opposition later in the session from Tea Party groups, who called the program unnecessary. The plan was also criticized from Democrats and teachers groups who were pushing for a full-day pre-K program. In the end, schools could get up to $1,500 in state funding per eligible student under the plan.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined by Rep. Jason Isaac (R – TX House District 45), who represents much of the area hit by the massive flooding in Central Texas this week. We’ll hear his assessment of what’s needed from both the state and federal government. All that, plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joins the show with his analysis. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 26

We’re now just six days from the end of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today:

All eyes are on the House as it faces a major legislative deadline: Tuesday is the last day it can take up contested Senate bills. Democrats are expected to use stall tactics and parliamentary procedures in an attempt to block several controversial bills from coming to the floor. One of those is the so-called “campus carry” bill (Senate Bill 11), which would allow the concealed carry of handguns for licensed gun owners on public university campuses. Lawmakers had considered attaching that bill to the open carry bill to try to push it through the chamber, but they announced last week they would take up the bill on its own. The controversial piece of legislation has seen staunch opposition from police as well as university leaders; UT System Chancellor William McRaven has spoken out on several occasions against the legislation, saying it will hurt recruiting and will make campuses less safe. Supporters say a person’s second amendment rights shouldn’t be infringed when they step onto a college campus. A proposal to let campuses opt out of the legislation has failed to gain traction in the legislature.

Several other controversial pieces of legislation could come up for a vote. One bill (Senate Bill 575) would block women from using health insurance plans to get an abortion. They would be forced to get a supplemental abortion insurance plan in order to have the procedure covered. The bill’s author says using insurance forces people who don’t agree with abortion to help subsidize the cost through insurance payments. Reproductive rights advocates say it just puts more obstacles in the way for women in a state that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. And finally, Senate Bill 206, a Sunset review bill to streamline the Department of Family and Protective Services could come up for a vote. Critics of the bill are trying to block an amendment that would protect child welfare agencies from being sued if they don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children. It would also allow welfare agencies to sue the state if a social worker tries to force them to do something against their religious beliefs. It’s another move in Texas aimed at life after a possible ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage. Supporters say they want to protect religious freedom, while opponents argue Texas’ overburdened foster care system doesn’t need more obstacles to overcome, and argue the bill is so broad it would affect more than just same-sex couples.

Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear a case challenging how Texas sets up its political districts. The case is centered around whether Texas should use total population or just the voting age population when drawing its districts. It’s a case with big implications in Texas, a state with a relatively high number of people under 18, and where many of those districts include a high number of non-voting undocumented immigrants. The state’s redistricting plan was signed into law just two years ago, but has seen several legal challenges from civil rights groups who claim they discriminate against minorities.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Jim Henson with the Texas Politics Project, who will discuss recent polling about the importance of tax cuts to Texas voters. All session, lawmakers have said they are fighting for the will of the voters as tax cut negotiations dominated the session, but how many Texans actually name tax cuts as a priority? All that, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their perspectives. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 22

We’re now just ten days from the end of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today.

The Senate is debating the so-called “open carry” bill, House Bill 910, today. It would allow people with a concealed handgun license, or CHLs, to openly display handguns in public. Police departments had voiced concern over an amendment that would block police from stopping someone just to check if they are licensed, but that provision was stripped away in a Senate committee. That means if passed in the Senate, the House will still have to approve that change. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said Thursday he expects the bill to clear the Legislature, while Governor Greg Abbott has also said he would sign an open carry bill into law. Questions still remain about another gun law, the so-called “campus carry” bill or Senate Bill 11, which would allow for the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses. Senators said Friday it will not be added as an amendment to open carry, and voiced confidence that it will pass as its own legislation, which is now in the House. The big sticking point in that bill: allowing campuses the opportunity to opt out of the campus carry program, which has been proposed by university leaders. That has not picked up traction so far in the Legislature.

Another controversial piece of legislation is scheduled to come to a Senate vote today, this one regarding abortion. House Bill 3994 would limit the use of judicial bypass, which lets teenagers get a court-ordered abortion if they can’t get parental permission in extreme cases like parental abuse. It would limit where minors could apply for those orders and would require more tangible evidence that they face possible abuse. The bill would also require doctors to assume all pregnant women are minors unless they can prove otherwise with an ID. Critics say that, in effect, creates a voter ID requirement, which would affect poor women, minorities and undocumented immigrants, much like the voter ID law. If approved without changes, it will go straight to the Governor.

A bill that would reduce higher education benefits for Texas veterans could come up for a vote in the House today. Senate Bill 1735 is an attempt to reign in the rising cost of the so-called Hazlewood Exemption, which lawmakers say has become unsustainable. Current law allows veterans with at least six months of active duty to get up to 150 credit hours of free tuition at a public university, and any time they don’t use can be passed on to their children. That cost Texas universities about $170 million last year, and could double in the next five years. This bill would tighten eligibility requirements, requiring recipients to live in Texas for eight years. It would also cut the amount of free tuition to 120 credit hours — the equivalent of a four-year degree — and would cap the number of free credit hours that could be transferred to the child at 60. Critics call the bill a betrayal of the state’s veterans. Supporters point out the need to get the rising costs under control.

And the dust is still settling after two major, albeit unexpected, announcements from the Capitol last night. First, the conference committee on the state budget gave approval to their compromise plan on House Bill 1 last night. Now the plan just has to clear votes in the two chambers before their plan to fund the state government for the next two years can go to Governor Abbott’s desk. Then, Governor Abbott formally announced the $3.8 billion tax cut plan. There weren’t any surprises in the announcement; it’s a combination of property tax cuts and business tax cuts, including a permanent 25 percent cut in the margins tax for businesses. It also creates a $10,000 homestead exemption for homeowners, but that would have to be approved by voters. Homeowners would get an average annual break in school property taxes of $126, starting with taxes owed this year. In all, the entire package amounts to about $3.8 billion, about a billion dollars less than initially proposed. The plan still hast to clear a few more votes before going to the governor for final approval.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined tonight by three members of the capitol press corps to discuss the week’s legislative headlines: Terry Stutz with the Dallas Morning News, Ross Ramsey with the Texas Tribune and Scott Braddock with the Quorum Report. Then Gardner Selby from Politifact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman will join us for his weekly fact-checking segment. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 12

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

The bills are coming fast out of both chambers as major deadlines loom for the 84th Legislature. Lawmakers are trying to push through their proposals before Friday, which is the deadline for bills to be voted out of their originating chamber. It comes on the heels of a relatively slow first four and a half months of the session. Tonight, we look into how this session’s legislative pace compares to past sessions, and what lawmakers are doing to get bills to the governor’s desk.

One of those bills slated for a vote is House Bill 3130, which would ban women from using insurance to cover abortions, even in the case of rape or terminal fetal abnormalities. If approved, women would have to buy a supplemental “abortion insurance” plan to get covered for the procedure. Supporters of the bill say this ensures people who don’t support abortion aren’t subsidizing abortions for others through insurance payments, while opponents say this restricts abortion access even more in a state that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on the upper chamber’s tax cut plan, Senate Bill 1. Committee Chair Dennis Bonnen (R – TX House District 25), who authored the House tax cut bill, slammed the Senate’s plan, which would increase the homestead exemption to lower local school property taxes. He likened it to previous property tax cut plans, which he says didn’t end up decreasing property tax bills because of increases in property appraisals and local taxes. Rep. Bonnen went so far as to say he’d rather scrap the Senate bill and the House bill — which focuses on sales tax cuts — altogether in favor of increasing business tax cuts. Both chambers’ tax cut plans include business tax cuts, but do it to different degrees.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.”  Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick is our guest. She is part of the agency that oversees the oil and gas industry in the state.  A magnitude 4 earthquake recently shook a part of North Texas, just weeks after a recent independent study that says gas well activity is the likely cause of recent nearby tremors. We’ll ask her what the Railroad Commission is doing in light of the quakes and study, and get her thoughts on the state of the oil and gas industry when it comes to the global market.  Plus, political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their observations of activity at the Capitol. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 6

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

Karina Kling is exploring the increasing momentum for abortion bills in this legislative session. After months without much action on this issue, several bills are moving forward. Rep. Debbie Riddle’s (R – TX House District 150) House Bill 416 is expected to go up for a vote today. That would require abortion clinic workers to undergo human trafficking training. That comes after Tuesday’s vote in the Senate on the first major abortion bill of the session. Senate Bill 575 would prevent insurance plans from covering abortions unless it’s a medical emergency. Republicans say it prevents other insured Texans from paying for a procedure they believe is morally wrong, while critics call it more unnecessary restrictions for a state with some of the strictest abortion laws in the country already. That measure now heads to the House, which has already passed a similar bill out of committee. This was a major issue during last session, culminating in then-State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster that launched her into the national spotlight.

A Texas political icon, whose career ended in controversy, has died. Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright served as a Democrat in Congress for 34 years. Wright became the first House speaker ever to step down because of an ethics scandal back in 1989. Wright was charged with violations of House rules on reporting of gifts, accepting gifts from people with an interest in legislation, and limits on outside income. He never admitted wrongdoing and accused his critics of forcing him out due to partisan politics. Wright also spent nearly a decade in the Texas Legislature. He moved back to Fort Worth after he left Congress, and stayed there until his death Wednesday. He was 92 years old.

Earlier this week, House Bill 507 was voted out of committee. The bill, by Rep. Joe Moody (D – TX House District 78), would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession. It’s the farthest this type of legislation has advanced in the Texas Legislature. That bill, combined with a renewed push for legalized medicinal marijuana, has turned this session into a possible turning point for marijuana reform in Texas. Our LeAnn Wallace is exploring the future of the bills.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’ll be joined by Rep. Moody, the author of that marijuana decriminalization bill. He will tell us about the vote’s significance, and the bill’s future. Plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will be with us. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Supreme Court Blocks Texas from Enforcing Parts of Abortion Law

Late today, the Supreme Court blocked Texas from enforcing key parts of a 2013 abortion law that would close all but eight of the state’s abortion facilities.

With three dissenting votes, the court suspended a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed Texas to enforce a rule making abortion clinics statewide spend millions of dollars on hospital-level upgrades known as ambulatory surgical centers.

The appeals court’s ruling suspended an August decision by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who found that such upgrades were less about safety than making access to abortion difficult.

Yeakel’s ruling stopped the requirements, so the state appealed. The 5th Circuit is still considering the overall constitutionality of the measure but allowed it to go into effect.

 

Austin Abortion Clinic Closes Doors

An Austin abortion clinic and women’s health center is closing its doors, citing a controversial abortion law passed last session as the reason.

That’s according to a spokeswoman for Whole Woman’s Health in North Austin. The clinic provides surgical and medical abortions, along with annual exams, birth control and family counseling. The clinic is one of more than 20 that have closed since a package of abortion restrictions passed last session.

Known as House Bill 2, the law requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals and restricts the way abortion-inducing drugs can be administered. But it’s another requirement set to go into effect in September that could cause all but six of the state’s clinics to close. That provision requires all clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, and it’s the reason Whole Women’s Health in Austin says they’re shutting down.

This all happens just days before Whole Women’s Health and other abortion providers are going to trial over the surgical center requirement.

Opponents of the law say it places an undue burden on women by making abortion services harder to find. Supporters say it’s meant to increase the safety of the procedure.

 

Capital Tonight: Revisiting the Abortion Law Filibuster and Its Aftermath

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of last summer’s filibuster, where Sen. Wendy Davis stood and spoke for nearly 11 hours against a controversial abortion bill. The national attention helped propel her into the current Texas gubernatorial race.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we revisited that night to discuss the outcome of the anti-abortion legislation and what it means for Texas. Plus, we spoke to Cari Christman of Red State Women, a group formed after the filibuster that believes Republicans have the right answers to women’s health issues.

SULLIVAN SITUATION

All eyes are on Dallas as Texas Democrats prepare to convene for their statewide convention Friday. Harvey Kronberg joined us to talk about how Davis’ filibuster anniversary plays into the platform and what issues are getting women interested. Davis isn’t the only one making waves, though. In the ongoing Texas Ethics Commission hearing of Michael Quinn Sullivan, questions arose over Empower Texans and the role it plays in supporting candidates.

TECH TALK FROM THE SUPREME COURT

In two separate cases Wednesday, the Supreme Court made decisions related to technology. In a tight, 6-3 ruling the Court told Aereo their use of broadcast signals was theft. Aereo is a streaming service that uses antenna to skim broadcast TV signals. In a more decisive ruling, the Court required law enforcement to have a warrant before searching cell phones, citing the vast amount of personal information kept on the modern phone. Geoff Bennett joined us from Washington to give us the details.

Capital Tonight: New groups seek to mobilize women voters

While Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis duke it out on the front lines in the race for governor, two new groups are working behind the scenes to influence the conversation.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at how Red State Women and Planned Parenthood Texas Votes will to make their case to voters.

CAPITAL COMMENTATORS

Gov. Rick Perry is making waves in New York once again, challenging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on his home turf while on a job-poaching trip. Political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi joined us to talk about that story and more.

FISCAL HISTORY

Former Houston Mayor Bill White is calling for a change in how we look at government debt and spending. He joined us to discuss his new book, “America’s Fiscal Constitution: Its Triumph and Collapse.”

WASHINGTON UPDATE

Plus, the Supreme Court heard arguments on a landmark media case and handed down an affirmative action ruling with implications here in Texas.