Perry calls lawmakers back to work on abortion bill

Posted Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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After one of the most chaotic legislative finishes in modern Texas history, Gov. Rick Perry announced Wednesday that he is calling lawmakers back to work Monday to try to salvage a divisive abortion bill and two other measures that died the night before at the end of the special session.

“We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do,” Perry said as he ordered a second special session to deal with abortion, transportation and juvenile justice.

Perry’s decision came amid continued political finger-pointing after the bills died on the boisterous final day of the first special session following a nearly 11-hour filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

“’If leaders are serious about using this second called special session to improve the lives of Texans by repairing and expanding our transportation networks, they will find no greater ally than me,” said Davis. “If they intend to keep pushing their extreme personal political agenda ahead of the interests of Texas families, I will not back off of my duty to fight on their behalf.”

After Republican leaders halted Davis’ filibuster on three points of order, a packed gallery of abortion rights supporters disrupted the proceedings with cheers and catcalls. Republicans tried to push through the abortion bill with the approach of the midnight deadline, at first saying it passed but later conceding that it died in the chaos.

The two other bills, stacked behind the abortion measure, were collateral damage.

In an interview on CNN, Davis also indicated she’s hopeful there will be further investigation of actions by Republicans to make it appear they had passed the abortion bill before midnight Tuesday.

In announcing the next special session, Perry said, “I am calling the Legislature back into session because too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas.”

“Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state,” said Perry, who has said he plans to make a re-election decision by Monday. “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just.”

Davis’ talk-a-thon, which propelled the Fort Worth Democrat into national political stardom, targeted what has been described one of the strictest abortion regulation laws in the country. SB5 would tighten standards for abortion clinics and physicians who perform the procedure. It also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, a point at which fetuses feel pain, according to some studies.

The transportation measure, SJR2, proposed a constitutional amendment to allow the state to draw a portion of future oil and gas revenue for transportation construction. If approved by voters in the Nov. 5 election, the initiative would generate about $1 billion a year to help fund the state’s burgeoning transportation system.

Sixteen Texas district attorneys wrote Perry on Wednesday asking for another special session to rescue the criminal justice bill, which aims to resolve constitutional questions that they say have blocked prosecution of 17-year-olds accused of capital crimes.

Parker County District Attorney Don Schnebly was among those making the request to enable prosecutors to try Aledo teen Jake Evans, who has been in jail since October of 2012 after being charged with killing his mother and sister.

Republicans welcomed Perry’s call for the special session while Democrats said the legislative overtime could lead to another tumultuous confrontation over abortion.

“I think its the height of irresponsibility for the governor to call a second special session and put anti-women’s legislation on the agenda,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “I don’t know where he’s been the last few days but he ought to hear loud and clear that Texans don’t want this bill.”

‘Angry mob’

Dewhurst said the second special session would enable lawmakers to “address the issues derailed by the actions of an angry mob in the closing moments of the first.”

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he was “very pleased” with Perry’s decision and predicted that lawmakers would be able to avoid a replay of the late-hour stand-off that brought down the three measures in the first special session.

“All three of those bills … are ready to go,” King said. “We won’t even need any public testimony again. We can pass them out of the committees very quickly. We just need to start over where we won’t be up against a quick deadline.”

Davis said Democrats were prepared to support the transportation and criminal justice bill and blamed Dewhurst for not bringing them up for a vote in advance of her filibuster.

“We Democrats stood ready to vote favorably on those bills at the start of the day,” said Davis. “We had communicated that message to the lieutenant governor and expected that they would be the first two that would be called so that we could at least assure … the passage of those bills behind what we knew would be a filibuster day.

“And the lieutenant governor, for whatever reason, chose not to advance those bills first,” she said. “I think he wanted to maximize the amount of time I would have to be on my feet in hopes I would not succeed in a filibuster, and I’m sorry to see that that happen.”

The Fort Worth Democrat also sharply disputed Republicans’ descriptions of her supporters as disruptive mob.

“I think that’s a disservice to the people who were here,” said Davis. “The people who were here were justifiably upset about an attempt to infringe on a constitutional right that they hold dear.”

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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