Posted on July 1, 2013 at 5:35 PM
Monday, Jul 1 at 6:00 PM
AUSTIN -- Supporters of the bill sporting blue dotted the gallery, surrounded on all sides by a massive crowd of opponents in orange.
Despite the excitement outside, all were quiet as the Texas Senate gaveled in Monday afternoon to take up for a third time controversial abortion legislation at the request of Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas). Opponents say sweeping new regulations governing abortion clinics, physicians and drugs would ultimately close down all but five abortion clinics in Texas.
"This is not a fight we even wanted," State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) told media Monday afternoon. "We think it's bad for the State of Texas to be waging this kind of fight against the women of this state. But we will fight it."
"It supports the safety, the health and safety of a woman who does choose to have an abortion," said State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels). Arriving at the Texas Capitol wearing her physician's coat, Campbell argued the legislation would lead to fewer and safer abortions.
"We're just asking that the facilities come up to the same standards as any other outpatient facility," said Campbell. "I mean how can you go wrong with that?"
Republicans hope to avoid another filibuster like one by State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) which ended in uproar, derailing a vote on the bill and aiming the national spotlight on the Texas Legislature as the first special session came to a close.
"I believe that a person has a right to filibuster a bill and speak up, but I don't believe that you take that filibuster and coordinate it with the mob," said State Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), who has criticized Republican leadership for the previous special session's conclusion. "We need to have a plan. We need to be methodical. We have the votes and we just need to do our work."
Responding to questions posed by Senate Democrats on Monday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas) announced the Senate tradition of requiring a two-thirds vote to take up legislation during the regular session would again give way to a simple majority during the second special session.
Democrats warn such changes, along with Republicans' controversial interpretation of Senate rules that brought Davis' filibuster to an end before the first special session's midnight deadline, will backfire.
"If they win this battle because of timing and votes and throwing out traditional rules, I believe we will win the war," said Watson. Meanwhile Davis says the issue has put a strain not just on lawmakers, but Texans as a whole.
"When Governor Perry chooses to throw these issues on the table, make no mistake about it. He has no care or concern for the fracture that is created in this body when he does it," said Davis. "He has no care or concern for the fracture that is created in our communities when he does it. What he cares about is partisan primary politics."
"I think it's going to take some time for to heal," Davis added. "We are all adults, and we have tremendous respect for each other here. We are all going to work very hard to make sure that we find our way back to what we know we need to do, and that is working together on behalf of the people who elected us to do good things for them."
Like in the previous special session, abortion isn't the only issue on the agenda for the second called session of the 83rd Texas Legislature. The governor's request includes measures to fund transportation infrastructure as well as conform sentencing for 17-year-old capital offenders with the U.S. Supreme Court.
After reading and referring bills to their respective committees, both chambers gaveled out until Tuesday, July 9. The omnibus abortion regulating bill HB 2 filed by state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) is scheduled for a public hearing before the House State Affairs Committee at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 2.
With another 30-day session ahead and many Republicans pushing for a swift resolution of the issue, Democrats aren't likely to be able to stall the bill long enough to put it in range of another filibuster. Even so, Democratic leaders in both chambers say there are still other options for blocking the legislation.
As for predicting the outcome of this special session?
"Time will tell," said Davis.