After about four hours of debate and a barrage of failed amendments by Democrats, the House passed House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria on a 98-47 vote. The measure would enact several restrictions on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows some minors to obtain abortions without their parents’ permission. The measure now awaits final approval by the House before it can go to the Senate.
Texas law requires minors to obtain consent for an abortion from at least one parent. But if obtaining an abortion could endanger the minor, she can look to the courts for judicial bypass to obtain the abortion without parental consent.
“The intent of this bill is to improve the protection of the minor girl and ensure that parental rights are protected,” Morrison said.
But the measure was met with fierce opposition from Democrats who called several points of order — a method used to delay or kills bills on a technicality — and offered several amendments to weaken the bill. Their efforts were unsuccessful.
Among the restrictions in HB 3994 is a requirement that doctors presume a pregnant woman is a minor unless she presents a “valid government record of identification” — a measure opponents of the bill have dubbed as “abortion ID.”
Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to tack on several amendments to the bill to strike the ID provision altogether and broaden the types of IDs that would be acceptable under the law.
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin who offered an ID-related amendment questioned whether HB 3994 is intended to create “a defacto ban on abortion for people who don’t have IDs.” Meanwhile, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, grilled Morrison on why a student ID from a high school or college would not be acceptable or whether she expected victims of human trafficking to be able to comply with the provision.
“What kind of ID do you think a human trafficking would have?” Anchia asked Morrison.
“If they’re actually a victim of human trafficking they should be going to a police department,” Morrison responded.
It was one of few questions Morrison answered during the hours-long debate, declining multiple requests from Democrats to answer questions about the bill.
The legislation would also increase the burden of proof for minors who say that asking for parental consent could lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Additionally, the measure would restrict where minors can seek judicial bypass. Minors can currently file applications for judicial bypass in any county in the state. But HB 3994 would require minors to file applications in their home county, unless that county has a population under 10,000, or the county where she will obtain the procedure.
An amendment by state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, to revise that population limit to 50,000 failed.
Another provision of Morrison’s bill would make public the names of judges who rule on judicial bypass cases. González also offered an amendment to strike this provision from the bill, arguing that it would “put a target on the backs of judges who rule on these cases.”
See here, here, and here for the background. Now read that last paragraph, and keep in mind this is happening at a time when unlimited “dark money” campaign contributions can be made in secret and the Lege is busy protecting the identities of those involved in making the lethal injection drugs, in each case because of fear or reprisal from some unknown foe. But the names of judges who grant judicial bypass requests? Sure, go ahead and publish them. What could they possibly have to fear? I mean, whoever heard of violence being committed against anyone associated with abortion?
There is one small glimmer of hope, as RG Ratcliffe notes.
Morrison’s bill has no Senate companion. Finding a Senate sponsor will not be difficult, but the bill comes up again today [Thursday] on third reading. That means even more time will be eaten up by debating it once more, further driving down the chances of [Rep. Cecil] Bell’s anti-same-sex marriage bill. Also, depending on how the House handles the paperwork, Morrison’s bill might not be delivered to the Senate until sometime next week. Then it would have to be read and referred to committee, where a public hearing would be required before it could be voted out. Senate rules also provide means of delaying the hearing on the bill. So the odds of the bill reaching the governor are not great.
By debating it in the House, however, the legislation gives the Republican allies of Speaker Joe Straus an anti-abortion vote they can carry into next year’s primaries.
Now, the lay of the land for Bell’s HB 4105. The legislation would bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses if the U.S. Supreme Court declares state bans on such marriages to be unconstitutional. The clerks could be caught between following a Supreme Court opinion and state law.
“It would be chaos,” Chuck Smith of Equality Texas told me.
Smith also believes the bill would be part of a larger strategy to keep fighting against implementing same-sex marriage in Texas. He speculated that Attorney General Ken Paxton would first argue that the Texas case, pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was not part of the national case and so the ruling does not apply. Failing that, Paxton could then litigate using Bell’s bill that the federal government cannot force the states to use state money to enforce a federal law or court ruling.
Failure tonight of Bell’s bill would make that litigation more difficult.
Ah, you say, Governor Greg Abbott could add Bell’s bill to the agenda of any special session. That is true, but the governor would be unlikely to call a session before his 20-day deadline to sign or veto bills has passed. That means the timing of a special session, particularly if the tax-cut negotiations break down, is most likely sometime in early July. By then, the Supreme Court will have ruled, and if it rules in favor of same-sex marriages, that will be the law of the land before the Legislature could resurrect Bell’s legislation.
It’s something, but remember Abbott could add the judicial bypass bill to a special session call, too. I drafted this last night so I didn’t know as I wrote if Bell’s bill would fall off the table or not. I’ll post something about it for tomorrow, but whatever does happen any opportunity to slow things down was welcome. In the meantime, as distasteful and damaging as those tax cut proposals are, it would be better if they pass now and not in the summer. Hair Balls, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.