State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — Legislation to revise redistricting maps, regulate abortion and
change punishment guidelines regarding youths convicted of a capital
felony occupied state lawmakers in special session last week.

by Gov. Rick Perry on May 27, the 30-day session ends on June 25.
Drawing the House floor spotlight through Sunday night and early Monday
morning was Senate Bill 5, relating to the regulation of abortion
procedures and providers. Citizens for and against crowded Capitol
corridors and the House gallery. SB 5, tentatively approved on a 97-33
vote at 3:24 a.m., faces a final vote before moving back to the Senate.

legislation proposes to amend the Health and Safety Code and the
Occupations Code regarding regulation of abortion procedures, providers
and facilities, prohibiting abortions at or after 20 weeks
post-fertilization and adding a violation related to abortions performed
after the same time window to the list of prohibited practices by
physicians or license applicants.

Included is an exception that
allows an abortion in the physician’s reasonable medical judgment that
so complicates the medical condition of the woman, to avert the woman’s
death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major
bodily function, other than a psychological condition.

legislation also directs the Texas Medical Board to assess penalties on
physicians for improperly distributing or prescribing abortion-inducing

And, the legislation would create a new minimum
standard for abortion facilities licensed by the Department of State
Health Services. Such a facility would be required to meet the new
standards by Sept. 1, 2014.

Republican members, leveraging a
40-seat majority of over Democrats, moved bills forward to comply with
the wishes of Gov. Perry, but Democrats brought their arguments to the
fore through proposed amendments, although all failed on votes to table

Two among many arguments were the adverse and
disproportionate effects of the great distances women from rural and
remote areas would have to travel to get to one of five facilities that
currently could be qualified to perform abortions under the bill and
that 26 percent of Texas women do not have health insurance.

House on June 24 preliminarily passed SB 23, relating to the punishment
for a capital felony committed by an individual younger than 18 years
of age. The bill proposes to allow a 17-year-old offender serving a life
sentence the eligibility to apply for parole after serving 40 years.

House also tentatively approved SJR 2, a proposed constitutional
amendment to change how dollars are moved from the state’s general
revenue fund to the so-called rainy day fund on transfers based on oil
and natural gas production taxes.

Votes on the preponderance of
special session legislation have been along party lines, with Democrats
voting in opposition. Some lawmakers who challenged bills said that
ultimately the abortion-regulating legislation would not stand up to
scrutiny by the courts, nor would bills revising certain redistricting
maps and limiting a jury’s ability to mitigate parole in capital murder
convictions of certain juveniles.

One bill already on its way to the governor’s desk is SB 3, relating to the composition of Texas House districts.

approved by the Senate earlier in the week, the bill came back to the
Senate with several amendments passed to allow certain Democratic
members in abutting House districts to tweak boundary lines in small and
mutually beneficial ways. In a vote on final passage, the Senate
accepted the changes adopted by the House.

Jobs rate stays positive
seasonally adjusted total nonfarm employment expanded by 19,500 jobs in
May for a total of 324,700 jobs added since May 2012, the Texas
Workforce Commission reported on June 21.

Positive every month
since May 2010, the state’s annual job growth rate in May stood at 3.0
percent and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly in
May to 6.5 percent, from 6.4 percent in April.

“The addition of
324,700 jobs over the past year, with private sector employers adding
299,800 during this period, is good news for Texas,” Texas Workforce
Commission Chairman Andres Alcantar stated in an agency news release.


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