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Frank Corte

RIP, statewide smoking ban

I thought it still had a chance after it finally passed out of committee in the Senate, but the statewide smoking ban is officially dead.

[State Sen. Rodney] Ellis held a press conference to announce the death of the statewide smoking ban in public facilities and indoor workplaces after it failed to get enough Senate support.

The announcement comes at the end of a dramatic last minute push over the last two days by Ellis and others, notably Rep. Carol Alvarado who got one bended knee and pleaded with Sen. Mario Gallegos to change his “no” vote. “If you watch the tape you’ll either think I’m a dancer or I was working votes,” said Ellis. “I can assure you, I had very little to dance about.”

Yesterday, Ellis said he was at 20 votes in the Senate, just one short of the 21 needed to bring a bill to the floor. But, things changed between the end of yesterday’s floor session and this morning. “Some of the amendments that I was inclined to take [yesterday] became even more Draconian overnight,” he said. Ellis opted to end the fight rather than “gut the bill to the point where it’s almost meaningless.”

Advocacy groups like Smoke Free Texas vows to continue their fight as they look forward to the 2011 session. “Two years from now, when the Legislature returns,” Smoke Free Texas member and government relations director for the Texas High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society James Gray said in a statement, “more states will be smoke-free, more Texas communities will have passed local moke-free ordinances – and thousands more Texans will be ill or dead from secondhand smoke exposure.”

I thought this was the year for the statewide smoking ban, but it wasn’t to be. It did get farther than last time, so you have to like its chances in 2011. Better luck then, y’all. A statement from Sen. Ellis about this is beneath the fold.

Meanwhile, in other legislative news and notes:

– The handguns-on-campus bill gets new life in the Senate after an identical House bill had been declared dead. I can’t say I’m crazy about this, but given that private schools can opt out, I’m not too worked up about it. I thought at the time of its passage that the original concealed-carry law would be a disaster, and that has not proven to be the case. I suspect in the end this will not be any different. This still has to pass the House, however, and as Floor Pass notes, it may run out of time before that happens.

– Congratulations! It’s a bouncing new state agency.

The Texas Senate, GOP-controlled and usually advocating smaller government, voted this afternoon to create a new state agency — the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles — to help streamline vehicle registrations in the state.

Earlier approved by the House, the measure includes only a transfer of registrations and three other functions from the Texas Department of Transportation.

It does not include vehicle inspection and driver licensing, which legislative leaders had earlier threatened to strip from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety.

“Maintaining these functions under the TxDOT umbrella does not allow that agency to focus on its core mission” of building and maintaining Texas’ transportation system,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the measure. “By separating these functions into a new agency, we can more rapidly automate the process.”

In addition to the Vehicle Title and Registration Division, the new agency will include the Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and and Motor Vehicle Division, Corona said. It will not include a transfer of overweight permits.

I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it. I still do.

– Sen. Patrick’s slightly-watered down sonogram bill got somewhat undiluted in the House State Affairs committee. If we’re lucky, that will make it too rich to pass the Senate again.

HCR50, the states-rights resolution that Governor Perry embraced for the teabagging demonstrations, got derailed, at least for now, on a point of order.

– That burning smell you might have detected earlier today was TxDOT getting grilled by the House over HB300.

– A lot of good environmental bills are still alive.

– When you make a mistake, and you admit you’ve made a mistake, you try to fix it, right? Well, then you’re not the Texas Railroad Commission, which needs for the Lege to clean up after itself.

– And finally, it’s probably a bad idea to imply that your primary opponent’s supporters are somehow akin to prostitutes. Eileen explains. No, that’s not legislative in nature, but I couldn’t pass it up.


Patrick forced to moderate his ultrasound bill

Somewhat surprisingly, there haven’t been too many egregious attempts to assault reproductive choice this session; that may be partly because there’s only so much farther the Lege can go short of an outright ban, and it may be partly because of the effort put into the “Choose Life” license plates, which was the big rallying point. One of the substantive efforts to meddle in women’s health issues was Sen. Dan Patrick’s ultrasound bill, which thanks to the larger Democratic caucus he was forced to amend.

Women seeking an abortion would be offered — but not required to have — an ultrasound under a scaled-back measure the Texas Senate tentatively approved Thursday.

The original bill by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would have mandated the ultrasound. Patrick presented an amendment Thursday to his own bill, changing the proposal to say that the woman has to be offered the ultrasound but could say no.

He said the change helped move the measure more quickly through the Senate.

“I didn’t see it weakening our bill. … I saw it as maybe bringing more people to support it, and I think it did,” Patrick said.


In many cases, women seeking abortions are already offered ultrasounds. For example, Dr. Scott Spear, medical director for Planned Parenthood in Austin, has said that all women who have an abortion there get an ultrasound and are offered the chance to see the image.

The bill is SB182, and Patrick did get enough support for his amended version to pass out of the Senate. Hopefully, the clock will run out before it can pass the House.

The original proposal — touted by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — would have required doctors to perform the ultrasound, make the fetal heartbeat audible and talk to the woman about the picture and the sound. The women would not have been required to look at the image.

“My goal has always been to be sure that a woman going in for an abortion has all the information that she needs to make the right decision, and I think this bill accomplishes that,” Patrick said of the new version.

But Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, told Patrick during the debate on the Senate floor, “I believe it’s about shaming a woman.”

That’s exactly what it’s about. If the Dan Patricks of the world really cared about reducing the number of abortions in Texas, they’d support greater access to contraception for those who most need it. But of course they don’t. Kudos to Sen. Davis, who I’ll say again is nice to have around, for calling it like it is. Patricia Kilday Hart and Stace have more.

UPDATE: A statement from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte about the contraception bill Sen. Patrick should have supported if he were remotely sincere about his “concern” for women is beneath the fold.


Sometimes the clock is your friend

I’ve said many times by now that the slow pace of this legislative session will threaten the prospects of many a bill. In some cases, that’s a good thing.

After months with little or no action, Texas lawmakers are stirring up the emotional cauldron that always brews with abortion-related bills.

A House committee was hearing testimony on a bill that would require women seeking abortions to first have an ultrasound and be shown the results. A Senate panel on Tuesday approved creating new “Choose Life” license plates.

With less than two months left in a session dominated by fights over voter identification bills, insurance and federal stimulus money, supporters of the major abortion-related bills are hoping they can whip their issue back to the forefront.

“There’s time,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. “It’s kind of like an aircraft: Either you have altitude or you have speed. We have less altitude but I think we’re getting speed before you crash … It’s going to be crunch time soon.”


So far, the ultrasound bill has stalled in the Senate.

The bill by Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican and conservative radio talk-show host, would require women seeking an abortion to have the ultrasound but gives them the option of whether to view the images. It passed the Senate Health and Human Services committee but is stuck waiting for a full Senate vote that may never come.


In the House, the ultrasound bill has 59 out of the 150 House members signed on in support. It was in the lineup in the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice of Texas, which opposes the ultrasound bill, predicts that’s as far as it will go. House members are still congratulating themselves over passing a unanimous budget and won’t want to peel back the lid on such an emotional issue, Rocap said.

Patrick’s bill is SB182; its House companion is HB36, which had its committee hearing on Tuesday as noted, though no vote yet. That’s probably the most pernicious anti-abortion legislation out there. If the clock runs out on it and the silly “Choose Life” license plates legislation, it’s all to the good. Naturally, all bets are off in the event of a special session, as Governor Perry will surely not miss the chance to do a little overtime pandering to his base. But for now, on these matters, the sands through the hourglass are working in our favor.


So now that we’ve finally disposed of the single most important issue facing Texas today in the Senate, perhaps we can move on to other matters thay may be of interest, like the budget and CHIP and windstorm insurance and unemployment and…Ha ha ha, just kidding. Who needs to debate those issues when we can talk about forcing women who want to get an abortion to get an ultrasound first? That’s the idea behind Sen. Dan Patrick’s SB 182, which will be heard by the State Affairs committee this Thursday at 1 PM. Floor Pass has the background on this little charmer, in which the modern day Republican Party finds another reason to ignore its self-professed philosophy of getting government out of people’s lives. I mean, who doesn’t want Dan Patrick and Frank Corte making medical decisions for other people? Who cares what the American Medical Association, American Medical Women’s Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and American Public Health Association – all of whom oppose procedure-specific requirements that get in the way of the doctor-patient relationship – think? Frankly, I’m surprised that Patrick and Corte didn’t include a provision that would require all these women to get a diagnosis over the phone from Bill Frist before proceeding. Anyway, if you think that maybe it isn’t such a good idea for Dan Patrick and Frank Corte to get involved a patient’s private business, now would be a good time to give your Senator a ring and let him or her know that. Thanks very much.