Party tensions reach boiling point over redistricting, women's issues
Posted on June 14, 2013 at 6:19 PM
Updated Friday, Jun 14 at 6:21 PM
AUSTIN -- Their expressions stern, the exchanges heated, the Texas Senate approved without changes temporary electoral maps drawn by federal judges after a narrow vote along party lines.
After a week of sparsely-attended public hearings in Austin and other major Texas cities, Senate Republicans overrode Democrats' objections that electoral maps for the state Senate, state House and U.S. Congress were being ratified without sufficient input from constituents.
The same day, a Senate committee approved a raft of bills increasing restrictions on abortions as well as regulations on abortion drugs and facilities, their passage nearly guaranteed under changes to parliamentary procedure during the special session made by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas). For abortion opponents, Friday's committee vote comes as good news.
"While we regret every abortion decision and feel like we've missed women who are going into abortion clinics, we do think that these women have the expectation of coming out alive and not being butchered in facilities that are held to a lower standard than other health care facilities," said Elizabeth Graham with Texas Right to Life.
Yet party tensions may have reached the boiling point. News Friday that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bipartisan Texas version of the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act" aimed to guarantee equal pay for women in the workplace, coupled with the decision to add abortion to the special session, sparked outrage from Senate Democrats.
"Once again the governor has made women's health and women's rights a target in an effort to bolster his own political standing," state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) told media gathered for an impromptu press conference once the Senate had adjourned.
"These are political decisions that are part of a political war, and women are, at best my friends, women are at best the collateral damage in that war," echoed state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). "It's shameful."
Abortion opponents argue the opposite.
"We actually think the war on women happens at abortion clinics, and we mourn the loss of all the lives at abortion clinics," said Graham.
To fulfill Perry's special session request for "legislation relating to establishing a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old offender," the Senate approved SB 23 by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston).
"The prosecutors across the state have all said that if we do not pass this piece of legislation, we'll have a two-year period of time in which we'll have some real conflicts in the law," Perry explained to media Friday. Dewhurst added, "We want to make sure that our state law is consistent with the rulings by the United States Supreme Court."
Finally, legislation enabling the state to tap a portion of the oil and gas revenue used to fill the rainy day fund for use in highway construction cleared a Senate committee Friday. The upper chamber will return Tuesday morning with the intent of passing bills on the remaining special session issues of transportation funding and abortion.
With two weeks remaining in the special session, much could still happen as the temperature continues to rise.