State: Confusion, not conspiracy, to blame for abortion vote controversy
Posted on June 28, 2013 at 6:04 PM
Updated Friday, Jun 28 at 6:21 PM
AUSTIN -- After a day-long filibuster by State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), hundreds of thousands of Americans watched as Texas Republicans scrambled amid a deafening roar Tuesday night to pass a controversial abortion bill before the clock struck midnight.
After a motion by State Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), the final voting on Senate Bill 5 continued even as Senate Democrats held up cell phones showing time had run out on the first called session of the 83rd Texas Legislature. What came next were conflicting accounts over when the vote happened and whether it would count.
"I went up to the parliamentarian and showed her that it was midnight when they began that vote," State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) told reporters. Patrick argued otherwise, "We started voting before midnight."
"That's his opinion," countered State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), the Senate Dean. "The documents are going to show it started after twelve."
And they did.
Computer records provided to the media by State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen) showed the vote was initially recorded on Wednesday but were later changed to show the vote as being recorded on time. Hours later, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas) still insisted the vote had been registered in time to pass the bill, but one final step had not been completed.
"Senate Bill 5 cannot be signed in the presence of the Senate at this time, and therefore cannot be enrolled," Dewhurst informed the chamber shortly after 3:00 a.m. Wednesday.
In an interview Wednesday with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Davis said a fellow senator had asked state records keepers what happened.
"He was told by them when he asked why the date was changed that they were instructed to do it," said Davis. "So we know it was purposeful, and I think there's going to be further investigation as to exactly what happened there."
The Legislative Reference Library of Texas is responsible for maintaining electronic records of votes in both chambers. Responding to the controversy, the library offered a written explanation:
"Actions taken by either house on a bill are entered and updated in the Texas Legislature Online system (TLO) manually by Legislative Reference Library (LRL) staff, and for that reason there is a delay between the time the action takes place and the time the action is entered into TLO. TLO is not the official record of those actions, and LRL enters actions on TLO as a public service independently of the officers of the house or senate.
The LRL strives to ensure the information in TLO is timely and accurate, and as part of our normal business process, the LRL ultimately verifies actions posted in TLO against the official journals of the senate and house. TLO actions should be considered preliminary until verified against official senate and house records. When the senate took its final actions on SB 5, the LRL floor staff was unable to hear the motions made or the result of votes taken. After midnight the LRL floor staff confirmed that a vote was taken on the motion to concur in house amendments and that the motion prevailed. The system used to enter actions for TLO defaults to the current date, so when the concurrence action was initially entered, the system automatically entered 06/26/13.
In reviewing the actions initially entered by LRL staff, and based on our best understanding at that time that a vote was taken on the motion to concur, we modified the date of the action to 06/25/13. During or after the senate's deliberations on SB5, LRL did not enter or alter any information on TLO at the direction of any senate officer or member.
After confirming the date of the final vote on SB5 to have been 06/25/2013, the LRL has now corrected the entry on TLO to reflect the official record."
Sources close to several Senate Democrats indicated Friday that after speaking in detail with Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw, they're satisfied with the library's explanation of how and why the date was changed.
Still many are pressing for an investigation into whether the date was changed due to political pressure. KVUE has filed an open records request with the Secretary of the Senate.
Mixup or something else, the bill failed to pass regardless. Now the fight will start all over in another special session called by Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), and this time the nation will be watching from the beginning.