On the Lege

Bills, bad and otherwise

Banning birth control: In an apparent quest to build upon his successes during the last legislative session, Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, is angling to strangle and cut off a few more reproductive rights during the upcoming 79th Legislature. Corte was the mastermind of the informed consent law – which requires women seeking an abortion to wait an extra 24 hours before going through with the procedure, and to peruse a factually challenged yet colorful state-produced pamphlet on fetal growth and the dangers of abortion. On Nov. 8, he fired another bullet in his effort to demonstrate that women are too stupid to know what's best for them, but are nonetheless smart enough to raise a brood. This time, Corte aims to protect pharmacists from having to fill prescriptions for "emergency contraceptives" if they don't want to. Theoretically, Corte is talking about the so-called "morning-after" pill. But according to the text of his HB 16, emergency contraceptive is defined as "a prescription drug containing an elevated dose of hormones that is used to prevent pregnancy" – in other words, all birth-control pills. In a stunning show of his compassionate concern, Corte's bill has provided a remedy – read, avenue for legal action – for pharmacists whose "rights are violated" if they are forced to fill the offending prescription. The bill, however, does nothing to ensure that a woman can easily find another way to have her prescription filled.

Death penalty reform: On Nov. 15, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, filed his perennial bill seeking to ban the execution of the mentally retarded. Ellis filed similar legislation in 1999, 2001, and 2003, and although the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 banned the practice of executing the mentally retarded, Texas has yet to enact a statutory ban. Ellis' latest go-round, SB 85, would require a pretrial hearing to determine whether a defendant is mentally retarded. In 2003, Ellis' version of the bill stalled after clashing with a House bill by state Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, under which the determination would be made after the guilt/innocence phase of the trial, by the same convicting jury – a scheme the Supremes would likely find wanting. In 2001, Ellis' bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick "Compassionate" Perry in his Father's Day Massacre.

Ellis has also filed two bills aimed at helping Texas' wrongfully convicted. SB 86 would increase compensation to $50,000 for each year an innocent was incarcerated, up to a $1 million cap, and would scrap the current statutory requirement that a wrongfully convicted defendant choose between administrative compensation and pursuing a civil suit against the state. "You would think that after these individuals have been forced to suffer in prison for a crime they did not commit," Ellis said, "the state would be willing to spend at least as much on trying to help them put their lives back together as they spend on locking them up." And his SB 87 would remove the legal requirement that a wrongfully incarcerated defendant receive a letter from the prosecuting district attorney attesting to his or her innocence in order to get monetary compensation from the state. That twisted provision kept Josiah Sutton – freed after spending four years in prison for a rape he did not commit – from collecting compensation after Harris Co. District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal refused to write a letter in his behalf.

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

On the Lege, Frank Corte, HB 16, reproductive rights, birth control, Legislature, Rodney Ellis, Terry Keel, death penalty, SB 85, SB 86, SB 87, wrongful conviction, Chuck Rosenthal, Rick Perry, mental retardation

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