Carona Moves "Life" to New Committee

Not enough votes to move the "Choose Life" vanity plate out of Senate Transportation Committee

Sen. John Carona chooses new
Sen. John Carona chooses new "life" for his bill

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, pulled his "Choose Life" license plate bill (Senate Bill 1098) from the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on April 8 out of "respect" for his colleagues, he said -- more to the point, he noted, he simply didn't have the votes there to move the bill. Instead, Carona has had the bill moved to the presumably more "Life"-plate friendly Health and Human Services Committee.

This is the sixth time lawmakers have sought to create a Choose Life vanity plate. Gov. Rick Perry announced in December that he would back the latest incarnation of the bill, which he said would give Texans a "means to tell the world in a subtle but meaningful way" that they "believe in the sanctity of life." While lawmakers -- including Perry and Carona -- say that the plate is supposed to support adoption as a preferable option for an unwanted or "crisis" pregnancy, the plate has been controversial, in part, because of the language chosen to get that supposed message across.

Indeed, reproductive choice advocates have long said they could conceivably get behind the plate effort provided the language chosen was more neutral -- such as, "Choose Adoption," for example -- and provided the revenue generated by the sale of the plate was earmarked specifically for adoption services and/or to fund actual health care services for pregnant women.

According to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, 17 states currently issue a Choose Life plate to motorists; of those, 13 use plate revenues to fund adoption assistance, education, and counseling services. Eight states prohibit the funds from going to any group that provides abortion counseling or referrals, and seven use the funds to support so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which, by design, provide no medical services to women and instead often merely encourage women not to abort and refer women to other services -- many, like food stamps, that are provided by the state.

Carona's bill would directly support adoption services, and would prohibit funds from being provided to organizations that provide abortions or abortion counseling and referrals. An early House version of the bill, HB 109, by Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, would have also devoted funds to pregnancy "counseling" services, which seemed to be yet another way to send money to the CPCs.

Carona said that "to me" Choose Life means simply "choose adoption," but noted that because the plate was controversial, and that after he'd "polled our members" on the committee, he knows "there are not sufficient votes to move" the bill. On that point, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, suggested that perhaps if the language were changed the controversy could be avoided and the bill could move. How about "Choose Choice," or "Adopt Kids," he asked. Carona, however, did not answer the question, or speak at all in committee about why some other phrase wouldn't work just as well.

Even though Carona made it clear that he would remove the bill from Transportation, the committee heard testimony on the issue from a host of usual suspects -- including the Austin-based Texas Alliance for Life, the Free Market Foundation, and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. Notably, when asked, Andrew Rivas, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Church, said his group would, indeed, support the bill even if the language were to change. "Of course we would," he said. None of the other witnesses were asked the same question.

The House version is still pending in subcommittee.

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Legislature, 81st Legislature, Reproductive Rights, SB 1098, John Carona

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