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UPDATE: Senate Filibuster in Progress

Close to vote on SB5; clock ticking
Michael King, 11:45pm, Tue. Jun. 25, 2013
Update 11:17am (6/26): As the story has developed, our coverage has splintered off into various threads; here's how to find the latest updates.
Sen. Wendy Davis on the floor
photo by Jana Birchum

For a look at what happened on the Senate floor after midnight, see “YEA OR NAY?” For a brief on Republicans’ reaction (and nonreaction), see “Post SB5 Debate, No Word From Perry.” And for a blow-by-blow detailing of the SB5 battle, see “A Victory by the People.”

UPDATE 11:45 About to vote on SB5 itself, unless Dems can manage a 15-minute delay. Van de Putte with another parliamentary inquiry, concerning precedence of motions. Highly technical yet packed with emotion, like entire day.

UPDATE 11:40 With time running out, Sen. Van de Putte is attempting a parliamentary maneuver via her previous, ignored motion to adjourn, which should have taken precedence over the motion to table. Duncan imposes vote on Campbell's original, appealed point-of-order. Vote proceeding along party lines. Carries 19-10.

UPDATE 11:10 Sen. Duncan has overruled Watson's new point-of-order. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, now D-Austin (barely), is attempting to appeal the ruling on the grounds that rules require three "germaneness" violations. Duncan is not allowing the discussion; wants to move to close on motion to table. GOP determined to close debate.

Watson closing now, calling this "the worst night he can remember in the Senate, perhaps the worst in public life." He can only close, time limited, and if it comes to a vote, it will end on partisan lines. Watson notes the vagueness of the "germaneness" standard -- it was stretched to the point of breaking. He recounts the Davis argument that led to the "non-germane" ruling -- and notes that every thing she addressed had to do with the background of the SB5 legislation. Issue was the "mandatory sonogram" prior to abortions of last session. Watson notes that these bills are not isolated, but have built over time, relentless pressure to undermine abortion rights. "That is germane, creating that context," says Watson.

Watson continues laying out Davis argument, as the clock passes 11:40. Not clear if he can maintain it under the rules long enough to defeat majority. Again, reiterating what the context of the anti-abortion bills in preceding sessions. Points out the absurdity of ruling out discussion of Roe v. Wade. Watson asks if "the regulation of abortion" is truly not germane to a discussion of "the regulation of abortion."

UPDATE 10:40 Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, attempts to raise a point-of-order that would allow him to appeal -- and debate -- the Dewhurst ruling on the Davis violation. Much of this appears to be buying time toward midnight, because if there's ever a vote of the body, Dems will lose. Now at dais, consulting with parliamentarian.

UPDATE 10:25 Republicans are attempting to shut down appeal and debate of point-of-order so they can clear the way to pass SB5. Dewhurst has yielded to Duncan as chair (because of appeal); but GOP senators appear to have the control they need to overwhelm debate and pass the bill. Even if they win this argument, it's a long shot to hold the floor until midnight.

UPDATE 10:15 Campbell point-of-order still pending; length of discussion at dais not reassuring. If they sustain this, it's not because of "germaneness" -- it's because majority has decided to shut down filibuster whatever the actual rules. I've seen filibusters before, and none was ever policed in this extreme fashion. Watson speaking against ruling.

UPDATE 9:40 Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, just called a point-of-order on "germaneness" again, contends Davis, by discussing mandatory sonograms without sufficient reference to SB5. Seems a stretch, but discussion at dais with parliamentarian over the POO.

UPDATE 8:50 Latest wrinkle -- point-of-order concerning whether Sen. Davis can "read from a paper" if the majority objects. Rule is vague enough that nobody quite knows what it precisely means; if it's sustained, Davis would likely have to speak extempore for the rest of the evening. Silent caucus at dais to address issue.

Sen. Davis has now filibustered SB5 for more than nine hours, 3.5 to go until midnight. After a flurry of debate over points-of-order, she has returned to a bill analysis, declining to entertain questions. GOP senators looking for a rule violation that would end the filibuster. She has two warnings; a third would likely mean cloture.

The occasion of her second warning was the provision of a back brace by Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis. A senator filibustering is not allowed any "assistance." Point-of-order was called by Woodlands GOP Sen. Tommy Williams. After impassioned discussion by Ellis and others, especially Houston Sen. John Whitmire (the "Dean of the Senate," longest serving) calling on the body to respect the traditions of the Senate, the point-of-order was put to the body and sustained on partisan lines, 17-11.

Davis not entertained questions since she resumed speaking, perhaps to maintain her momentum, more likely because she does not want to tricked into another violation, and is suspicious of Republican motives. Asked when she might be ready to entertain questions, she said, "I don't know. I want to finish the bill analysis."

UPDATE 7:35 After a vote sustaining a point-of-order and a second warning to Sen. Davis, and a colloquy about Senate traditions and potential violations, Davis has resumed speaking -- reading directly from the text of proposed SB5.

UPDATE 7:20 The Senate has just voted 17-11 to sustain a point-of-order against Davis for receiving "assistance" (a back brace) from Sen. Rodney Ellis. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst says this would be the second warning -- one more would mean the likely end of the filibuster.

UPDATE 5:45pm: Sen. Davis continues to speak, but GOP moves to interrupt. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst warned her of non-"germane" commentary on Planned Parenthood funding, and Sen. Robert Nichols called point-of-order on the same question. Dewhurst overruled the point-of-order, but reiterated his warning.

When Dewhurst issued his warning, Davis had just finished reading a 2011 story by the Chronicle's Jordan Smith, "The War on Women's Health." You can read the whole story at the link. When Davis continued to speak from that story and on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and its effects on health care, Dewhurst and later Nichols questioned whether the subject was "germane" to SB5. If the parliamentarian ruled that the exchange was not germane, in theory the filibuster could be shut down.

The specific subject is less important than Nichols' now repeated move to close discussion. Dewhurst issues a second warning, but to Watson this time. Another parliamentary inquiry from another senator -- Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, questioning Dewhurst's intent. It seems the Republicans are getting restless and looking for a way to end the filibuster.

UPDATE 4:15pm: Sen. Davis continues filibuster, currently in an exchange with Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, questioning her critique of the bill. Katha Pollit has tweeted, "The word 'mansplainer' was invented to describe Sen. Deuell." Talk continues of a GOP attempt to cut off debate, in the interest of "the unborn." Thus far, no move to end debate.

Exchange between Davis and Deull continues. Repeated question from Deuell: "Do you believe the traditions of the Texas Senate are more important than the health of Texas women?" Strong hint that Republicans are considering a move to cut-off debate, although Senate rules prohibit end of a filibuster absent a yield of the speaker. Davis responds that the "little-d" democracy of Texas has been violated by this forced legislative process. Deuell increasingly testy; Davis calmly responding that she believes she is speaking on behalf of people who otherwise have no voice.

UPDATE 2:45: Sen. Davis continues her filibuster at the Senate, still reading from testimony denied at last week's House committee hearing. Davis wept reading particularly emotional testimony; several observers noted Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst chatting cheerfully on phone while Davis spoke. Latest rumor is that there may be a move to cut off debate.

Worth noting is that the testimony from hundreds of Texas citizens, primarily women, is marked by thoughtful and knowledgable commentary on not only the abortion issue, but the personal experiences of women who have had to make the difficult choice of seeking an abortion, often doing so in conditions designed to make it even more difficult and dangerous.

UPDATE 1:12pm: After a brief interruption when a man shouted "Abortion is genocide … if you really cared about women you would ban all abortion" from the gallery (he was ejected), Sen. Davis continues to speak, now reading from the testimony of witnesses who were not allowed to speak in House committee hearing last Thursday, because chair Rep. Byron Cook ruled they had become "repetitive."

A little after 11am, when the Texas Senate was gaveled into order, SB 5 was "laid out" by its sponsor, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, and then Davis rose "to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans."

Davis will have to speak essentially nonstop, with no breaks of any kind, until midnight, if Senate Bill 5 – a bill that would greatly restrict access to abortion and basic women's health care – is to be blocked from passage in this special session. The Republican leadership chose not to call up pending transportation and capital punishment bills, which would have passed – suggesting that Gov. Rick Perry intends to call another special session immediately or shortly after this one ends, with additional legislative "reason" to do so.

Davis is emphasizing the dramatically negative effects SB 5 would have on health care for Texas women, especially the most vulnerable. Estimates are that the new regulations would close all but five of the 47 clinics in Texas that offer abortion services in addition basic reproductive health care. Many women will have no other access to such care.

At the moment (12:20pm) she is summarizing the scientific evidence on "fetal pain," one of the dubious underpinnings of the bill's ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

Check back to the Newsdesk blog throughout the day for updates on the Davis filibuster. If you can't attend the Capitol personally, you can follow the Senate action on public affairs TV, or online at various sites, including the Senate's own site, or below.


For more images, see "Senate Filibuster" on our Photo Galleries page.

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