Politics & Government

Time’s up: Clock runs out on some bills in the House

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, talks with Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, in the House chamber this week. Morrison’s proposal passed to make it more difficult for girls younger than 18 who face extreme circumstances to have abortions without their parents' consent.
State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, talks with Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, in the House chamber this week. Morrison’s proposal passed to make it more difficult for girls younger than 18 who face extreme circumstances to have abortions without their parents' consent. Associated Press

Hundreds of bills were on the verge of dying late Thursday as a key deadline approached in the Texas House, where Democrats did all they could to stall in the hope of killing a bill that would block same-sex marriage licenses from being issued.

State representatives plowed through a backlog of measures on the last day for first-time consideration of House bills and joint resolutions, taking up dozens of proposals. But hours lost during lengthy debates spelled doom for many pieces of legislation.

Most bills not heard by midnight — including those lingering in committee — are dead for this session, which ends June 1, unless members find ways to revive them, such as attaching them to other bills as amendments.

“Tensions are high,” said Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. “People are seeing their bills die that they’ve worked so hard on for the past 120 days.

“But we always say, ‘The less bills passed, the better for Texas.’”

Bills on life support late Thursday included a measure to shine more light on campaign donations made by nonprofits — an attempt to reduce “dark money” in Texas elections.

“Hundreds of bills will die,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who personally had three bills on the chopping block, including one that would have required children to stay in rear-facing safety seats until age 2.

“On balance, it’s a good thing,” he said. “There are a lot more bad bills out there than good proposals.”

The only measure that lawmakers must pass during their 140-day session is the state’s budget for the next two years.

Marriage debate

Nearly every House Republican is listed as a sponsor of legislation to prohibit government employees from issuing wedding licenses to same-sex couples. But Texas business groups, pointing to backlash over recent laws in Indiana and Arkansas that gay-rights activists consider discriminatory, have urged legislators to set similar measures aside.

This week, computer maker Dell became the most visible company to oppose the legislation publicly, telling Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that it considers diversity a “business imperative.”

Outnumbered Democrats did all they could to bleed the clock to midnight.

They stalled with lengthy debates over issues that weren’t in dispute, and they tied up the floor with a no-hope bill to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, knowing that Republicans would have to sacrifice other legislation to move up the anti-gay-marriage measure.

“How many hostages are they willing to shoot?” said Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio.

Moving forward

A look at some of the proposals that lawmakers acted on before the deadline:

New abortion restrictions: House members moved to tighten restrictions on underage girls, who must already get parental consent to have an abortion. If they fear seeking consent, they have one other option — “judicial bypass,” which lets them ask a judge for consent. The option is intended for cases when asking the parents could lead to physical or emotional abuse at home.

Under this measure, the girl would have to present a valid ID and show more proof that asking for parental consent could lead to abuse and that they are mature enough to handle an abortion.

The proposal was given final approval 93-46, with Tarrant County Democratic state Reps. Nicole Collier and Ramon Romero Jr., both of Fort Worth, and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie in opposition. It now heads to the Senate.

End of life: House members weighed in on end-of-life decisions, limiting the withdrawal of food and water from hospitalized patients. The measure, approved on a voice vote, is “the right thing,” said Rep. Drew Springer Jr., R-Muenster. It still needs final House approval before going to the Senate.

Penalizing convicted state officials: Members unanimously supported a measure that would strip state-funded pensions from elected officials convicted of certain felony offenses, such as bribery, extortion, perjury, embezzlement or theft of public money.

Taking on the feds: House members spent about two hours talking about the federal government — and unsuccessfully proposing nearly a dozen amendments — before giving early approval on an 80-62 vote to asking Congress to call a convention so all the states can add amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The measure “seeks to address the overreach of the federal government by applying for a convention on certain issues relating to federal fiscal restraint, federal powers, and jurisdiction and term limits. Collier, Romero and Turner voted against it. It still requires final House approval before being sent to the Senate.

Minimum wage: The House rejected a plan to raise the minimum wage in Texas to $10.10 an hour from $7.25. Fischer said he proposed the constitutional amendment to “help working families in Texas.” The House voted 92-50 against raising the minimum wage. Collier, Romero and Turner voted for it.

Too late?

A look at some of the bills headed for the legislative graveyard if House members don’t get to them before the midnight deadline.

Hunting: Letting out-of-state residents buy lifetime hunting licenses in Texas, just as residents may now do.

Signage: Requiring Texas abortion clinics to post signs related to human trafficking and sex trafficking — and how to get help if you are a victim — in admission areas, waiting rooms, restrooms and consulting rooms.

Buying alcohol for minors: Raising the penalty for buying alcohol for, or giving alcohol to, a minor from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony.

Lottery winners: Letting anyone who wins a Texas lottery jackpot of $1 million or more choose not to have their name or identifying information released by the Lottery Commission.

Growing hemp: Letting the Agriculture Department, or a higher education institution, grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes.

American laws: An American Laws for American Courts measure would bar courts from enforcing a foreign law that goes against Texas public policy.

Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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