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Texas abortion bill faces one more hearing Monday

Posted Saturday, Jul. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Despite Democrats’ requests for a series of hearings statewide, Sen. Jane Nelson has scheduled one hearing on the abortion restrictions bill.

The hearing, to begin at 10 a.m. Monday at the Texas Capitol, will be at least the third time this year that testimony will be taken in a Senate committee on the proposal.

“Due to the time constraints of the 30-day special session, and in keeping with normal Senate procedures, our hearing will take place in the Texas Capitol and will be open to the public,” Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said in a letter sent to other senators this week.

Although the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, led by Nelson, returns to work Monday, the full House and Senate chambers won’t reconvene until Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session to deal with the comprehensive abortion bill, as well as transportation funding and sentencing guidelines for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder.

Lawmakers were called back to work after noise by spectators in the Senate gallery drowned out senators, preventing them from knowing whether the abortion bill passed in the waning moments of the first special session. That followed a more than 11-hour filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

‘Ample opportunity’

The measure is expected to easily pass in the House and Senate because of the Republican majorities in each chamber.

This week, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, asked Nelson, whose district includes part of Tarrant County, to hold hearings outside of Austin.

Democrats have long said they hope to create more delays in the hope of blocking the bill again.

More than 3,000 people showed up for a hearing on the bill this week in a House committee, and more than 1,000 signed up to testify. The committee cut off testimony after eight hours and approved the bill.

“We took testimony in the regular session, in the first special,” House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said earlier in the week. “We’ve taken a lot of testimony.”

Nelson hasn’t mentioned whether she, too, will limit testimony.

She did note in her letter to fellow senators that the hearing will be in Senate Finance Committee Room E1.036, “a location determined in consultation with the Department of Public Safety in light of recent events to ensure that we can deliberate in a safe environment that allows us to conduct government business.”

She wrote that the hearing will be broadcast in overflow rooms throughout the Capitol and on the Internet.

“I want to provide the public ample opportunity to testify,” Nelson wrote. “I am reviewing our procedures to make sure we accommodate witnesses while also preserving our ability to make decisions.”

Continuing debate

The abortion bill would restrict any abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It would also put in place various rules — including that the procedure must be performed at ambulatory surgical centers and that the facilities must be within 30 miles of a hospital — that would likely cause most abortion clinics in Texas to close.

Texans on both sides of the debate say passage of the bill would likely leave clinics only in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

The debate has prompted Texans to swarm the Capitol for legislative hearings and general sessions to a degree not seen in more than a decade.

Senate committees have already approved a major transportation funding plan and new sentencing options for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder.

The special session, which can last as long as 30 days, began Monday.

Past estimates have shown that a 30-day special session could cost the state around $1 million. The 150 House members and 31 Senate members are each paid $150 a day, as well as a small travel allowance.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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