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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: The Report of the 82nd Texas Legislative Session

By June 4, 2011Texas
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Major Issues Addressed:

  • Sanctity of Life
  • Education
  • Human Trafficking
  • The Family
  • Religious Freedom
  • National Sovereignty

On the issue of Sanctity of Life:

Near to the heart of CWA of Texas was the signing of HB 15, the Sonogram Bill.  This bill requires a woman seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram and have the physician describe the status of the unborn child.  She is required to be given the opportunity to see it and hear the heart beat and must sign documents to that effect.  The governor said, “Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy we all must work together to prevent, and I commend Rep. Miller and Sen. Patrick for their hard work on this significant legislation.” Gov. Perry said. “This important bill will ensure that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying and understands the devastating impact of such a life-changing decision.”

SB 257 was passed after several sessions of trying.  This bill sets in motion measures to allow the production and sale of a special Texas license plate that says, “Choose Life.” Nearly all the proceeds from these sales (done at the registration of your vehicle) will go to aid in adoption costs.  This fund will be administered by a council from the State Attorney General’s office.

SB 1790, a bill to require medical practitioners to follow FDA guidelines in prescribing abortion-inducing drugs, was not passed.

And SB 228 which would have required reporting standards for institutions of higher education who were conducting human stem cell research was left pending in May.

We have celebrated the strong support our legislators have for defunding Planned Parenthood, and now in the special session we are hoping for the Prioritizing amendment which instructs the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to prioritize the awarding of family planning grants to public community health centers, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and other providers that offer comprehensive primary and preventative care as part of their family planning services. This will shift family planning grants from Planned Parenthood to providers who offer far better services to low-income women and families. Since Planned Parenthood is not a public entity, is not a Federally Qualified Health Center, and does not offer comprehensive primary care, they will be at the bottom of the priority list. Planned Parenthood will lose $12 million per year currently received for Title V, X, and XX family planning grants.

We fought for SB 1842 in the regular session but failed to get it through; however, now in the current special session, we hope to see the implementing language for the biennial budget which funds the Women’s Health Program, currently scheduled for sunset as of August, 2011.  It is considered a “perfecting amendment” that prohibits the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) from contracting with abortion providers and their affiliates under the Women’s Health Program. The program will continue, and funds will be available to other providers, typically that offer better, more comprehensive health services to low-income women and their families. Planned Parenthood will lose $17 million per year from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

We are hopeful that Regular Session HB 561, a bill to restrict a hospital districts funds for abortions, will be attached to the implementing bills as well.

On the issue of Education:

Education has taken a hit.  The redistricting maps diminish the districts of conservative State Board of Education (SBOE) members making their re-election harder.  HB 600 was allowed to become law without the governor’s signature.  Many speculate that these maps will ultimately be decided by a Federal court.

The Senate refused to consider the confirmation of Gail Lowe as the permanent chairman of the State Board of Education.  It takes a positive vote of 21 for her to be confirmed.  All 19 Republican Senators were willing; however, the 12 Democrats provided a negative block.  The governor will now appoint another member of the board as chairman.  His/her confirmation will be decided by the 83rd session of the Texas Senate.

Five bills have been filed and scheduled for hearings in this special session on various phases of allocation of money to state schools.  We are hoping to see two amendments added to HB 6. First, the restoration to our elected State Board of Education members of the authority to review and remove textbooks (i.e., instructional materials) from the commissioner’s list within 90 days after placement on the list.  The well-developed textbook adoption process that involves public hearings, public scrutiny, and SBOE members’ good judgment has served Texas well.  SBOE members have made sure the textbooks follow the adopted curriculum standards.

Secondly, the restoration of the power to our elected State Board of Education members of the authority to remove or approve open source materials and/or electronic textbooks from any list within 90 days of submission.  Open source materials can now be submitted by universities and could be written by liberal college professors.  We do not want our public school children to use instructional materials produced by liberal college professors without first giving our elected SBOE members the authority to scrutinize those materials and remove or approve them.

HB 2923 (a new number will be assigned to the Special Session if it is allowed to be heard) should be passed because it would ensure that Texas has the authority over what is taught in its public schools and not the Obama administration. It says that for Texas schools to be accredited, they must follow the state-adopted standards, curriculum requirements, and tests. It also states that Texas will not participate in the national database that is going to have student-identifiable, family-intrusive data sent to the federal government.

One unique bill may be considered in this special session.  It offers parents the opportunity to receive a grant of up to $5,200, to move their child to a private institution.  The remaining $3,400 stays with the public school. This decreases teacher load and school expense at the same time that it increases funding for the remaining students. It may be added to the Special Session, because it deals with public school funding.

We did escape having our SBOE put under periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission.  That bill failed.

HB 1942, a bullying bill has been sent to the governor.  It does not contain specific language that puts our children at risk; however, it is open to interpretation.

HB 1386 has also been sent to the governor.  This bill masquerades as youth suicide prevention; however, it allows school personnel to interpret children’s actions in mental health categories and determines parents’ responses as positive or negative and reportable.  It removes parental authority as the last resort.

HJR 109, a proposed constitutional amendment which will be on the November ballot will allow the General Land Office to distribute revenue from the Permanent School Fund.  This fund has always been entirely administered by the SBOE.

On the issue of Human Trafficking:

The Governor signed both SB 24 and HB 3000 into law.  These addressed the issues of Human Trafficking and placed more severe barriers on this activity than ever before mandated.  The governor’s office issued this statement, “HB 3000 creates a new first-degree felony in the Penal Code called Continuous Trafficking of Persons, which applies to individuals who commit two or more acts of human trafficking in a period of 30 days or more. Under HB 3000, the punishment range for a first time offender is 25-99 years or life imprisonment, and a fine up to $10,000. If convicted a second time, the offense carries a punishment of life without parole.” HB 3000 also adds Continuous Trafficking of Persons to the list of offenses that do not have a limitation period for filing charges, alters parole consideration and requires a vote of two-thirds of the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles before release, and further limits bail and bond considerations for a person charged with Continuous Trafficking of Persons.

SB 24 contains proposals from the Attorney General’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, including creating a new offense for compelling prostitution for adult and child victims, stronger parole requirements for trafficking offenses that require offenders to serve longer prison time, eliminating release on mandatory supervision, and stronger restrictions on bond release. The bill also designates two prosecutable forms of human trafficking – forced labor and forced sexual acts – and applies the first degree felony punishment of 5-99 years or life and a fine up to $10,000 if a child is the victim of either form of trafficking.

In like kind, HB 290 has been sent to the governor.  This bill stops the employment of children in sex-trade establishments.

On Family issues:

That SB 723 did not pass was discouraging.  This bill simply said that a person could not change their gender on their original birth certificate in order to circumvent Texas’ stand against same-sex marriage.  There is a current case in court where a trans-gendered person was “married” to a fire-fighter.  The fire-fighter was killed in the line of duty, and the trans-gendered “wife” stands to inherit if the court determines the modified birth certificate legal.

We hope that HB 41/SB29 will be allowed in the special session.  This bill provides for the prosecution and punishment for intrusive touching of persons seeking access to public buildings and transportation.

In an effort to protect the landowning families of Texas from greedy governmental bodies, the legislature approved SB 18 which amends the governmental code to add a “taking” that is not for a public use to the list of prohibited private property takings through the use of eminent domain by a governmental or private entity.  SB 18 requires local and state government entities interested in acquiring private property to first make an offer, in writing and based on an appraisal, to the landowner to purchase the property through a voluntary sale for a fair price. This prevents entities from making lowball offers knowing the land can be taken by eminent domain if the landowner doesn’t accept. The bill also requires condemnation petitions to specifically state the public use for which the land is needed, eliminating instances where land is taken without current plans for its use. Additionally, the bill makes it clear that eminent domain may only be used for public use. Further, SB 18 requires a government entity that takes land to first have a record vote stating the land to be taken and the project for which it is being taken. It also requires entities to provide all appraisals of the property they have during negotiations to ensure landowners understand the fair market value of their land. Finally, this legislation also allows landowners to repurchase land at the price they were paid for it if it becomes unnecessary for the project for which it was taken, or if no actual progress is made toward the project in 10 years, even if the project has not been cancelled.

To help maintain Texas’ competitive position for a business friendly atmosphere where employment is available for families, HB 274 was signed into law.  Dubbed “the loser pay bill” HB 274 implements several measures to streamline and lower the cost of litigation in Texas courts, allowing parties to resolve disputes more quickly, more fairly and less expensively. This includes:

  • Allowing a trial court to dismiss a frivolous lawsuit immediately if there is no basis in law or fact for the lawsuit;
  • Allowing a trial judge to send a question of law directly to the appellate court without requiring all parties to agree if a ruling by a court of appeals could decide the case;
  • Allowing plaintiffs seeking less than $100,000 to request an expedited civil action; and
  • Encouraging the timely settlement of disputes and helping prevent a party from extending litigation by seeking a “home run” if they have already been offered a fair settlement.

On Religious Freedom:

We worked many hours to try to pass the Religious Freedom Constitution Amendment (HJR 135) which would have established in our Texas Constitution those rights and freedoms for individuals or religious organizations to openly practice their faith in secular settings.

On the issue of National Sovereignty:

One representative slept on the floor of the Capitol the night before the official filing of bills for the 82nd session in an effort to get her bills a low number, making them closer to the top in the queue of bills to be heard.  Her bills addressed the issues of illegal immigration.  Unfortunately because of the political maneuvering by the House leadership none these bills passed.

However, a Voter ID bill (SB 14) was signed into law.  The governor’s office described the bill, “SB 14 requires a voter to show as a valid form of photo ID, either a driver’s license, Department of Public Safety issued photo personal identification card, U.S. military ID card, U.S. citizenship certificate that contains a photograph, U.S. passport or Texas concealed handgun license. The bill creates a free election identification certificate with a photograph issued by DPS for registered voters who need a photo ID. The bill also increases the penalty for voting illegally to a second degree felony, and increases attempted illegal voting to a state jail felony.”

Regular Session HB 12 would have required the enforcement of state and federal laws governing immigration.  It almost passed and may, perhaps, be considered in Special Session.

The governor designated the bill forbidding sanctuary cities in Texas as an emergency item for the regular session; however, it failed to pass.  HB 9/SB 9 are currently filed in the special session.  We hope one is passed.

A bill restricting state courts from considering foreign law (Sharia) in adjudicating cases (HB 911) did not make it through.

The major item for the special session will be the congressional redistricting lines: HB4/SB4.

The above information has been drawn from many sources including, Donna Garner, Jonathan Saenz of Liberty Institute, Dr. Joe Pojman of Texas Alliance for Life and the governor’s web-site, as well as Texas Legislature On-line. In addition, CWA of Texas has spoken with many legislators during this session about these bills.