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Special session continues after abortion debate

The office of State Rep. Eric Johnson | 7/29/2013, 5:46 p.m.
Gov. Rick Perry The Dallas Examiner

The office of State Rep. Eric Johnson

One of the powers held by the governor of Texas is the ability to call the Legislature back to Austin after its regular legislative session is over. In these sessions, known as special sessions, lawmakers can only pass bills related to issues the governor has chosen to place on the agenda.

Hours after the conclusion of this year’s regular session, Gov. Rick Perry called a special session to address redistricting. Then, with only two weeks left in that special session, he added three items to the agenda: transportation funding, juvenile justice and abortion restrictions.

With so little time to get through the process, none of these added issues made it out of the Legislature.

The day after the close of the first special session, which drew national attention as Sen. Wendy Davis successfully filibustered an abortion restriction bill, Perry called the Legislature back for another special session. He directed lawmakers to address the three issues he had put on the agenda for the first session that didn’t make it to his desk.

Since then, the Legislature has been working on these three areas of policy. The abortion restriction legislation received the most media attention, and passed easily, almost entirely along party lines.

The final version that passed does three main things: bans abortions in most cases after 20 weeks, requires abortion clinics to meet the costly requirements of an ambulatory surgical center, and requires doctors administering abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

This version, signed into law by Perry last week, will almost certainly have the effect of significantly limiting access to abortions across the state. It will most likely be challenged in court.

The juvenile justice issue that we tackled was necessitated by a 2012 Supreme Court decision: Miller v. Alabama. In this case, the Court ruled that mandatory life without parole for 17-year-olds is unconstitutional. Since Texas was one of the states that had mandatory life without parole for 17-year-olds convicted of capital crimes, there was a gap in our sentencing laws that had to be fixed.

Because the law proposing a solution for this problem failed to pass during the regular session, the governor added it to the special session agenda.

The bill that we finally passed and sent to his desk addresses the gap by giving the option of either life without parole or life with parole after 40 years. This brings the possible punishments for 17-year-olds convicted of murder in line with those for 14 to 16 year olds.

Finally, the last ongoing issue that the Legislature has to tackle is transportation funding. Last week, the House passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would use money from the source of the economic stabilization fund, often called the rainy day fund, to pay for roads.

Because this differed from the version passed by the Senate, lawmakers will have to reconcile the two versions. The Legislature has until July 30 to work out a compromise and send something to the governor.