State of Texas: Conflict at the Capitol and talking Texas transportation

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — House members debated Senate Bill 7 starting Thursday and into the early morning hours on Friday. When they reconvened Friday, the controversial election regulation bill passed with a 78-64 vote. 

Last week, SB7 was changed to make the language identical to House Bill 6. It would restrict counties’ ability to distribute vote-by-mail applications, relax restrictions on partisan poll watchers and tighten restrictions on people assisting voters.

“I filed this bill to, you know, ensure that we have a equal and uniform application of our election code and to protect people from being taken advantage of,” said the bill’s author, State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park.

Texas Democrats showed up on Thursday with masks saying “Good Trouble” ready to present over 100 amendments and hoped to derail the bill. House Elections Committee Vice Chair Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, was among those against the bill.

“Every single member on this floor believes that election fraud is a crime and should be prosecuted,” González said. “Where we disagree is that we do not believe that legal voters should be rejected and disenfranchised because of extraordinarily rare crime of election fraud.”

Now that the bill has passed the Texas Senate and House, it will go to a conference committee where they will iron out the differences in language before presenting it to the governor. Namely, the Senate bill restricts early voting hours and regulates how polling places are distributed where the House bill does not.

The vote came one day after lawmakers approved new measures to restrict access to abortions in Texas. Senate Bill 8, also known as the fetal heartbeat bill, passed the State House this week after passing the State Senate last month.

SB 8 would ban doctors from performing abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which may be as soon as six weeks into gestation, and allow anyone to sue the doctor who performs the abortion.

Rep. Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville, supports the legislation because she relates to it. Doctors told her mother she would not develop normally in the womb, but she was carried to full term and is now a healthy adult.

“That little baby girl is standing in this chamber,” Slawson said. “Her heart beating as strongly and as rapidly as it did all those years ago.”

However some faith leaders, like Dallas Rev. Erica Forbes, stand against this legislation. Forbes is standing up for the mothers of unborn babies, including herself. As a teenager, Forbes did not have the resources to care for and raise a child.

“I didn’t find out I was pregnant until eight weeks in, and had I not had the opportunity to get the abortion that I deserve, that is my legal right, my life would have been decimated,” Forbes said.

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, used her medical background to point out that the bill is not scientifically correct.

“The Doppler fetal monitor that has that sound that you gave us while ago, is not actually the sound of a heartbeat, but an amplified version of signals,” Howard said.

Regardless, the bill passed its initial House vote after several amendments were added, including banning anyone who impregnated a woman by rape or incest from suing. The bill is heading to the Texas Senate for final approval on these changes. 

A new poll from the Texas Politics Project and the Texas Tribune shows that voters are split on the idea of suing. While 44% support letting any individual sue an abortion provider, 37% of Texans polled oppose the idea. However, nearly one-in-five people polled were unsure.

Some local governments are taking a stand on abortion. Voters in Lubbock approved a measure to ban abortions in city limits last week. It will take affect on June 1 and allow family members to sue the abortion provider and anyone who helps someone get an abortion. However, it’s likely to face legal challenges as opponents call it an unconstitutional ban.

Permitless carry bill passes Senate

The Texas Senate passed a bill along party lines this week to allow people over 21 to carry handguns without a state-issued license or training. But, not without widespread objection from law enforcement. 

The authors of House Bill 1927 had to make some changes before several Republican senators got on board, but Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he will sign the bill.

Among the several amendments added to the bill was a provision to prevent anyone who was convicted of crimes such as terroristic threat, deadly conduct or assault with bodily injury within the past five years from legally carrying a handgun. Another amendment increased penalties for felons and people with family violence convictions caught with firearms. Texas senators confirmed people cannot carry a handgun while intoxicated in a public space. 

The bill will return to the Texas House for members to go over the amendments made in the Senate before it reaches the governor’s desk.

If it passes, Texas will be the fifth state to allow permitless carry, after Iowa, Tennessee, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. More than a dozen other states have introduced similar legislation this year.

Buttigieg touts Texas benefits from infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden said he’s willing to compromise with Republicans who say his new infrastructure plan costs too much.

“I’m willing to hear ideas from both sides. I’m meeting with my Republican friends up and up in the Congress to see number one, how much they’re willing to go for what they think of their priorities,” Biden said. “And what compromises mean — I’m ready to compromise. What I’m not ready to do —I’m not ready to do nothing.”

The plan includes funding for mass transit, high-speed internet and improvements to the electrical grid. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the plan is to create millions of jobs through investing in transportation and infrastructure.

“We think this is how we set up America to succeed for the long run. Its roads and bridges, its ports and airports, things like that,” Buttigieg said. “But also an expanded definition of infrastructure, because things like Internet access are as important as access to the interstate highway system, in today’s times to be able to win in the economy.”

Two grant programs are proposed, which Buttigieg says will protect Texans. Rebuilding American Infrastructure for Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, and INFRA are available to local communities to encourage sustainability and modernization.

Buttigieg said Congress is looking at ways to improve transportation across the nation, and in Texas that means overseeing the proposed high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas and highway improvement.

“We’ve been in touch with the Texas Department of Transportation, about concerns with I-35, for example, and making sure that that unfolds in a way that’s lawful but beneficial for everybody,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said he’s been in conversations with mayors from around Texas and representatives in Washington, D.C. about shaping the infrastructure in Texas and growing the job market. A big concern is growth, which has a big effect on transportation.

“So we’ve got to be smart about giving people alternatives so that cars can travel efficiently and safely, but also, so they have great transit resources and options that you might not need the car for certain kinds of trips. All of those things have to fit together. And what we want are solutions that are going to work for Texans in their day to day lives, getting to school, getting to work and getting around the community wherever you need to be,” Buttigieg said.

The only roadblock to getting this infrastructure plan to the president’s desk, according to Buttigieg, is Congress.

“We need Congress to act,” Buttigieg said. “That’s why I’m speaking to members of Congress, literally every day, we’re talking to members from both parties in both chambers.”

Buttigieg and Biden face the challenge of convincing skeptical Republicans, like Texas Senator John Cornyn, to back the infrastructure spending.

“But if you’re talking about roads and bridges, those are things that enjoy broad bipartisan support,” Cornyn said. “But the problem is, when you start asking, how do you intend to pay for it, it gets pretty quiet. And one of the ways the Biden administration wants to pay for their wish list is by raising taxes. And I don’t think there’s any support on my side of the aisle for raising taxes for this purpose.”

In order to pay for the plan, Biden said he would like to raise the corporate tax rate to between 25% and 28%. The current rate is 21%.

Bills advance before key deadlines

The Texas legislative session is coming to an end soon, and deadlines are approaching lawmakers fast. Monday is the last day for House Committees to report House Bills and joint resolutions. Thursday is the last day for the House to take initial votes on measures that originated in that chamber. Friday is the final day for third readings of House bills – except those on the local and consent calendar.

By the end of this week, many bills will die for this session. The following is an update on several bills we have been keeping up with on State of Texas.

The Texas House passed a plan to pay for the weatherization of power plants and equipment that failed in February in House Bill 2000. It asks voters to allocate $2 billion in loans and grants to power companies. The money would come from the state’s rainy day fund for one-time expenses.

State Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, was apprehensive about this plan.

“I had concerns about this particular bill, because it’s basically a revolving line of credit, with no end in sight,” Spiller said.

But HB 2000 sponsor State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, defended it.

“We are working through the system and trying to identify what should be done in the way of mandating those type of things,” Paddie said. “Understand there’s a cost associated with that. So HB 2000, is our answer to creating a resource, if you will, for the cost associated with weatherization.”

HB 2000 is going to the Texas Senate, and if it passes it will go to Texas voters in the November election.

Senate lawmakers heard emotional testimony from families advocating for “John and Joseph’s Law,” which requires the use of a national database to solve missing and unidentified persons cases. This was covered in KXAN’s “Missing in Texas” investigation, which discovered 10 other states have passed similar laws.

The law, named for two Houston men who were missing for years, passed out of committee unanimously. It would require law enforcement, medical examiners and justices of the peace to enter case details into NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The information required would include dental records, fingerprints and clothing descriptions.

Alice Almendarez said in her testimony that NamUs helped her track down her father’s body more than a decade after he went missing.

“My dad’s case was never taken seriously,” Almendarez said. “It was reopened by NamUs. Entered into the NamUs database. Our DNA was taken, and my father was linked to our DNA and he was eventually identified six months later.”

The bill is now headed to the Texas Senate floor.

Texas House members passed a bill that would reinstate a “health equity office” for Texans. The previous office was stripped of its funding.

Bill author State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the pandemic has unequal effects on various populations based on race and socioeconomic status, which only highlights why this office is needed.

The bill now goes to a Senate committee for a vote.

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