Abortion eclipses redistricting in special session
Posted on June 20, 2013 at 6:21 PM
Updated Thursday, Jun 20 at 6:41 PM
AUSTIN -- The day began with pointed questions in the Texas House of Representatives, as the debate over voting maps took center stage.
As requested by Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) at the beginning of the special session, lawmakers appear close to ratifying maps drawn by federal judges after maps drawn by the 82nd Texas Legislature in 2011 were ruled discriminatory against minority voters. House members approved minor tweaks to their own districts, but passed interim electoral maps for the state Senate and U.S. Congress unchanged.
Democrats criticized the temporary maps used in the 2012 election for not adequately representing minority growth and splitting apart communities such as Austin, but Republicans argued the court-drawn maps adequately addressed the legal issues raised over maps drawn by the Legislature.
"Certainly we all have interests as Texans, but the whole point of redistricting is to bring together communities of interest, common interest," said state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin).
Approved without change by the state Senate last week, the amended state House map will now head to a conference committee. A member of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) predicted the process would go quickly.
"I think the Senate and the House will meet quickly to work through these final issues," Villalba told KVUE Thursday. "And then I think it gets to the governor by the end of the week."
Meanwhile, the debate over sweeping new abortion laws continues to overshadow redistricting in both interest and intensity. After the Senate approved SB 5, an omnibus bill adding new restrictions on abortion providers and abortion-inducing drugs earlier this week, the House Committee on State Affairs met Thursday to take up the issue.
"I hope a woman chooses life over an abortion, but if she does choose to have that abortion, I'm going to make sure it's done safely," said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), author of House companion HB 60. Laubenberg disagrees with testimony from abortion providers that a portion of the law requiring abortion clinics to adhere to the same facility standards as ambulatory surgical centers would close all but five clinics across the state.
"No it won't close them down," argued Laubenberg. "It's a very lucrative industry, and they have the money and the ability that they can raise their standards. Anything that raises health care standards to me is a good thing."
Laubenberg also hopes to revive restrictions on abortions performed after 20 weeks, a provision that was omitted from the legislation passed by the Senate after being unexpectedly withdrawn by state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy). The "fetal pain" law HB 16 is based on the controversial claim that a fetus can respond to pain at as early as 22 weeks, though medical science suggests a fetus isn't capable of experiencing pain until several weeks later.
"I've got a whole slew of studies that show that the pain receptors are formed," countered Laubenberg. "It's there, whether folks choose to accept it or not."
"Abortion is a deeply personal issue that should be left between a woman, her faith and her doctors, and we don't need politicians involved in women's decisions," said Katy Waters, one of dozens who arrived outside the hearing room hours early to sign up to testify against the legislation.
Democrats opposed to the legislation may have a plan to derail it. Republicans will likely needs Democrats' support to pass SJR 2, a measure that would ask Texas voters to approve allocating some of the money used to fill the Rainy Day Fund to fund transportation projects. Some Democrats are considering withholding votes on the measure unless Republicans drop abortion altogether, though it's not clear how much of the caucus would support such a move.
"Democrats are not interested in being run over. You can't ask me to help you and then work to my own demise," said state Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston). "Let's just say that for every response, there's an equal response. The session is not over yet. It may require another one."
"They can try lots of things," said Laubenberg. "I can't predict what the Democrats will do, but we're moving the legislation, and we still have time on the clock. So at the end of the day, I'm confident that it will pass."
No one will know until the final gavel of the first called special session of the 83rd Texas Legislature falls on Tuesday.