Lege Lines: Bills on the Move

The final frenzy before last day of session

• Good news on bad bills: SB 103, the plastic bag ban measure from Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, ending union payroll deductions, both seem to be dead as the clock runs out.

• Disregarding constitutional concerns and exceptions for survivors of sexual assault, the Texas House on May 20 gave final approval to a package anti-choice bill that would force health care providers to bury or cremate fetal tissue following an abortion and bar the safest type of second-trimester abortion. Senate Bill 8, carried in the House by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunny­vale, also bans the donation of fetal tissue from abortion to medical research and redundantly outlaws a procedure anti-choice politicians call "partial birth abortion," which refers to intact dilation and extraction (D&X), which is already barred by federal law. A harsh amendment by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Ft. Worth, added language that bans so-called "dismemberment abortions" – the non-medical term used by anti-choice advocates to describe dilation and evacuation (D&E), one of the most common and safest types of abortion a woman can undergo during the second trimester. (See "Texas House Advances Anti-Choice Package Bill," online.)

• The Texas House cemented the criminalization of animal-person sexual conduct. (Finally!) SB 1232, by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, makes bestiality a state jail felony and forces offenders on a statewide registry. It also bars the purchase, selling, or transfer of an animal for the lone purpose of subjecting it to sexual acts with a human. Let's just be glad the final House vote was 141-0, with no animal-loving dissenters.

• On May 20, the Texas House gave final approval to SB 969, which would provide amnesty for victims and witnesses of sexual assault on college campus if they violate school codes, and SB 968, which sets up electronic and anonymous sexual assault reporting for university students and employees. The bills are part of a package of sexual assault protection legislation by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

• A stalled anti-choice bill saw new life on Monday, May 22. Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, tacked on his SB 20 to HB 3124, a bill that deals with insurance information for doctors. Taylor's measure bans abortion care coverage from private insurance plans and the Afford­able Care Act. The legislation would force women to somehow predict pregnancy complications or unplanned pregnancy, and purchase supplemental abortion coverage in advance. Opponents say the bill will hurt low-income and minority women the hardest. If it gets final approval from the Senate, it then moves to the House for consideration.

• There's been a frenzy of bathroom bill amendments tacked on to unsuspecting legislation. Sen. Larry Taylor's innocent school emergency response plan bill, SB 2078, passed the House on Monday with an additional bathroom bill clause targeting trans and gender-nonconforming youth. Taylor said he won't accept the amendment – likely because Lt. Gov. Patrick was hoping for something with bigger teeth and wider reach than simply traumatizing youth. SB 2078 now heads to conference committee. On Wednesday morning at 1:30am, the Senate took another stab at pushing SB 6 into law by adding it as an amendment to HB 4180, a county "catchall" bill originally filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. Coleman has already said he will not accept it.

HB 3859, the religious liberty bill that would allow child welfare providers to deny adoption or fostering rights to LGBTQ parents – or anyone else who doesn't align with providers' religious beliefs – has passed both the House and Senate, and is currently awaiting Gov. Abbott's signature. A smattering of other religious freedom amendments have been thrown about for nurses, pharmacists, and lawyers, but those are currently awaiting passage and/or approval.

Crowdfunding is becoming a trend in Texas politics. On May 23, the Senate and House came to agreement and passed HB 1729. Filed with the best of intentions by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, the bill seeks to rid the state of its rape kit backlog by crowdsourcing additional funding from driver's license applicants who can choose to make a donation while applying for or renewing IDs. While everyone loves a good Samaritan, it would be dandy if the state paid for its public services.

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