Lege Lines: Dem Lawmakers Boycott Anti-Abortion Bill Hearing

Brass ovaries vs. HB 16, and other battle lines drawn at the Capitol

Photo by John Anderson

Jessica Farrar (above) and Yvonne Davis – shown here making themselves clear back in 2013 – have been in the Lege far too long to waste time with this year's spate of anti-choice foolishness. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

With some mighty brass ovaries, four Democratic legislators took a stand this Monday, March 25, against a bill that would further stigmatize abortion, boycotting a committee hearing and delaying the bill's vote. House Bill 16 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano – dubbed the "Texas Born-Alive Infant Protection Act" – joins in the national hysteria over nonexistent "infanticide" by requiring that an abortion doctor "exercises the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child" for any baby born alive after a failed abortion, despite the fact that federal law already protects such babies. Offending doctors could face a civil penalty of no less than $100,000.

HB 16's review by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee, which Leach chairs, was derailed when committee members Victoria Neave and Yvonne Davis of Dallas, Julie Johnson of Carrollton, and Jessica Farrar of Houston boycotted the hearing; this, along with the delayed arrival of Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, left the committee without a quorum. "While some members of the Texas Legislature insist on attacking as well as offending women directly and indirectly, we will not join this charade by participating in this political grandstanding on issues which are already codified in Texas and Federal law," read a statement issued by all four women. "We refuse to offend our fellow Texas women, their families, and licensed physicians by wasting time on unnecessary legislation designed to intimidate and restrict women's access to healthcare."

There were no instances in Texas of live births following an abortion procedure within the most recent three years of data, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. In opposition to Leach's bill, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said HB 16 is not based on "science or reality" and is "overwhelmingly" opposed by the medical community.

Upon Meyer's arrival, testimony resumed before HB 16 was left pending; with less than half of the session yet to come, time will tell if the Democratic women's bold strategy presages more procedural attempts to block anti-choice bills...

The Only Bill They Need to Pass: By the time you read this, the House should have concluded its wee-hours consideration of its proposed biennial budget, after entering a day's debate on 400 (or so) anticipated amendments. The Senate Committee on Finance considers its own version later this week – with the two proposals said to be about $4 billion apart – before they take up any of the property tax "reform" proposals that promise state funding to close local revenue gaps...

TOMA Revival Bill Shows Life: On Monday, March 25, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, briefly laid out his Senate Bill 1640 to the Senate's Committee on State Affairs. The bill responds to the Court of Criminal Appeals' recent ruling overturning the so-called "walking quorum" provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, which the court concluded is "unconstitutionally vague." In 2011, it was in part this provision of TOMA that entangled the Austin City Council in an investigation by Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, which resulted in deferred prosecution agreements as well as changed procedures – primarily a combination of public work sessions and Council's public message board. SB 1640 was temporarily left pending in committee, and Watson said he would soon submit an amended substitute to his bill. (A House companion bill awaits committee review.)...

Lewis Conway Jr., candidate for Austin City Council in 2018, was among those speaking in favor of a bill to restore voting rights to parolees. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Reclaiming the Vote: The House Elections Committee on Monday considered the voting futures of formerly incarcerated Texans. HB 1419, authored by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would allow parolees to register to vote. Since 1997, Texas has allowed ex-convicts who have "fully discharged" their sentences, "including any term of incarceration, parole, or supervision, or ... period of probation," to re-register for the right to vote. Committee member Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said the "current Texas election code prevents people who are working and paying taxes from voting." According to a 2016 study conducted by the Sentencing Project, about 2.5% of Texans eligible to vote are disqualified due to their criminal records, including nearly 112,000 on parole who could be re-enfranchised by Thompson's bill. Former Austin City Council candidate Lewis Conway Jr. praised the bill, saying it "strengthens the bonds of democracy." Conway served eight years in prison on a manslaughter conviction; he said that during that time, he wasn't informed about how he could restore his voting rights.

On the opposite side of the debate, Committee Chairwoman Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, laid out her HB 3578, which would help the state more efficiently remove convicts from the voting rolls. Citing reporting by Dallas' WFAA that "hundreds" of ineligible felons voted illegally in the November midterms, Klick said she hoped to "create a dialogue about the issue," because "every ineligible voter cancels out the vote of an eligible voter." Both bills were left pending...

Campus "Free Speech" Bill Clears Sen­ate: The Fox News Chamber delivered on another culture-war promise as SB 18 sailed unanimously through the Senate last week; the bill would require public universities in the state to establish a formal policy on speech that allows individuals "to engage in expressive activities" and allows student organizations to bring controversial (i.e., right-wing) speakers to campus. Colleges and universities would not be able to "take action" against a student organization on the basis of "political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic" viewpoints. The House companion bill awaits a hearing in the Higher Education Committee.

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abortion, 86th Texas Legislature, abortion rights, House Bill 16, Jeff Leach, HB 16, Victoria Neave, Yvonne Davis, Julie Johnson, Jessica Farrar, Morgan Meyer, Kirk Watson, Texas Open Meetings Act, David Escamilla, Senfronia Thompson, Celia Israel, Lewis Conway Jr., Stephanie Klick, HB 1419, House Bill 1419

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