(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved Tuesday the final slate of legislation laid out in Governor Perry’s special session call. Early in the afternoon, legislators passed a bill that would create a new funding source for state highways. Bill author and Transportation Committee Chair Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville said the state is facing a transportation funding crisis, with a growing populations and dwindling reserves to pay for maintenance and operation. “These are challenges that need to be addressed, and I’m thankful that Governor Perry has asked us to address this now instead of two years from now, when it will be too late.”
Nichols’ bill, SJR 2, would ask voters to approve the use of oil and gas severance tax collections to pay for highway and road construction and maintenance. Currently, all of that money goes into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. If voters approve the constitutional amendment laid out in SJR 2, then up to half of that money would go into the state mobility fund. Nichols said the Comptroller estimates that this would put up to $900 million each year into the fund for the next biennium. If Rainy Day Fund balances dip below a floor of $6 billion, then the new transportation revenue stream would be suspended until fund balances go back above that floor.
After several hours of debate, the Senate approved a bill that would place new restrictions on abortion providers. SB 5, by Katy Senator Glenn Hegar, would require that all clinics that provide abortions meet ambulatory care standards and that all doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. It would also require that abortifacient drugs, like RU-486, would have to be administered in person by a doctor.
Both SJR 2 and SB 5 now head to the House for consideration. The special session is scheduled to end on Tuesday, June 25, so lawmakers have until then to send legislation to the Governor’s desk for signature.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, June 21 at 1:30 p.m.
The Texas Senate late Friday passed tough new abortion restrictions after weeks of protests, sending them to Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law.
The vote came after weeks of protests and rallies drew thousands to the Capitol and made Texas the focus of the national abortion debate.
Republicans used their majority to pass the bill nearly three weeks after a filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and an outburst by abortion-rights supporters in the Senate gallery disrupted a deadline vote.
Called back for a new special session by Perry, lawmakers took up the bill again as thousands of supporters and opponents held rallies and jammed the Capitol to testify at public hearings.
In a statement released just after the vote, Perry said, “Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life. This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women’s health.”
Democrats, though, promised a fight in the courts.
“There will be a lawsuit. I promise you,” Dallas Sen. Royce West said on the Senate floor, raising his right hand as if taking an oath.
The Texas Republican Party, meanwhile, celebrated what they considered a major victory that makes Texas “a nationwide leader in pro-life legislation.”
“As Democrats continue to talk about their dreams of turning Texas blue, passage of HB2 is proof that Texans are conservative and organized and we look forward to working with our amazing Republican leadership in the Texas Legislature as they finish the special session strong,” a party statement said.
The Senate’s debate took place between a packed gallery of demonstrators, with anti-abortion activists wearing blue and abortion-rights supporters wearing orange. Security was tight, and state troopers worked to prevent another attempt to stop the Republican majority from passing a proposal that has put Texas at the center of the nation’s abortion debate.
Four women who tried to chain themselves to a railing in the gallery were arrested. One woman was successful in chaining herself, prompting a 10-minute recess.
When debate resumed, protesters began loudly singing, “Give choice a chance.” The Senate’s leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, told officers to remove them.
Outside the chamber, the crowd grew so loud that troopers were being issued orange earplugs. Protesters were shouting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as senators gave their closing statements.
The circus-like atmosphere in the Texas Capitol marked the culmination of weeks of protests, the most dramatic of which came June 25 in the final minutes of the last special legislative session, when a Democratic filibuster and subsequent protest prevented the bill from becoming law.
State troopers reported confiscating “significant quantities” of tampons and feminine pads from protesters before they were allowed in, according to MyFoxDFW.com. Bottles of suspected urine, feces and paint were also confiscated.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement that they received a tip that protesters might use different items to disrupt the session, the station reported.
House Bill 2 would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, allow abortions only in surgical centers, limit where and when women may take abortion-inducing pills and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Only five out of 42 existing abortion clinics meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they can’t afford to upgrade or relocate.
Sen. Glen Hegar of Katy, the bill’s Republican author, argued that all abortions, including those induced with medications, should take place in an ambulatory surgical center in case of complications.
Democrats pointed out that childbirth is more dangerous than an abortion and there have been no serious problems with women taking abortion drugs at home. They introduced amendments to add exceptions for cases of rape and incest and to remove some of the more restrictive clauses, but Republicans dismissed all of the proposed changes.
Earlier, Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, asked why Hegar was pushing restrictions that federal courts in other states had suspended as possibly unconstitutional.
“There will be a lawsuit. I promise you,” West said, raising his right hand as if taking an oath.
The bill mirrors restrictions passed in Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kansas, Wisconsin and Arizona. In North Carolina, lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow state health officials to apply standards for ambulatory surgical centers to abortion clinics.
Hegar acknowledged working with anti-abortion groups to draft the legislation. A lawsuit originating in Texas would also likely win a sympathetic hearing at the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, said it was clear the bill was part of national conservative agenda attempting to ban abortion and infringe on women’s rights one state at a time. He pressed Hegar on why the Texas Medical Association, Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology opposed the bill.
He asked Hegar how he could ignore these experts.
“There are differences in the medical profession,” Hegar insisted, rejecting the criticism. “I don’t believe this legislation will majorly impede the doctor-patient relationship.”
Sen. Bob Deuell, a Greenville Republican and a doctor, defended the bill, saying abortion clinics “had not maintained the proper standard of care.”
Dewhurst was determined to keep the vote on track. The Texas Constitution gives him the authority to jail anyone who breaks the chamber’s rules of decorum, which stipulate that there can be no demonstrations or attempts to disrupt the Senate’s work.
In addition to the jars of suspected urine and feces, officers took, glitter and confetti from people seeking to ender the gallery, according to the Department of Public Safety.
The issue has been simmering for months in Texas.
Democrats successfully blocked the bill in the regular legislative session. Then, during the first special session, the Senate didn’t take up the bill until the final day. That allowed Davis to use a filibuster to delay a vote. When Republicans rushed to try to pass the bill in the session’s final 15 minutes, angry protesters began shouting and screaming from the gallery. Dewhurst could only watch with frustration as a half-dozen state troopers tried to remove more than 450 people.
Democrats see in the protests an opportunity that could help them break a 20-year statewide losing streak. They believe Republicans have overreached in trying to appease their base and alienated suburban women, a constituency that helped President Barack Obama win re-election.
“In the long run, all they have done is built a committed group of people across this state who are outraged about the treatment of women and the lengths to which this Legislature will go to take women’s health care away,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.