Just a few recent news stories, to give you an idea of what’s happening in the Legislative session, and why I have been avoiding it.
That reversal essentially expanded Senate Bill 14’s proposed ban on transition-related care to include all transgender children — as outlined in the legislation’s original version. The chamber voted 19-12 along party lines Tuesday to give final approval to the broader version of the bill, which is priority legislation for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. SB 14 will now advance to the House.
Monday’s vote to expand the restrictions and advance the legislation came days after the GOP-controlled Senate agreed to allow kids already on puberty blockers and hormone therapy by early June to keep their access to those treatments. Major medical groups approve of such care and say it lessens higher rates of depression and suicide for trans youth.
The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved two bills aimed at restricting drag performances that children attend or see. One of them, Senate Bill 1601, would defund public libraries where drag queens are allowed to read to children. The other, Senate Bill 12, bars kids from drag shows if the performances are overly lewd and lascivious.
SB 1601 was approved in a 19-10 vote. SB 12, which is a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this session, was approved in a 20-11 vote. Both bills now head to the House.
A bill intended to rein in district attorneys who decline to pursue certain cases passed the Senate on Wednesday. The bill, a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is part of a larger effort to limit the power of elected prosecutors, especially in Texas’ largest, left-leaning counties.
Some district and county attorneys in Texas have said they will not prosecute people accused of violating the state’s near-total abortion bans. There’s also conflict over whether prosecutors will pursue allegations of election fraud, as well as cases involving first-time drug offenders or low-level theft.
Prosecutors have wide latitude to decide what cases their office will pursue. But conservative lawmakers have filed more than 30 bills intending to limit this “prosecutorial discretion.”
“Unfortunately, certain Texas prosecutors have joined a trend of adopting internal policies refusing to prosecute particular laws,” Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican from Houston who authored the bill, said Tuesday. “These actions set a dangerous precedent and severely undermine the authority of the Legislature.”
Senate Bill 20, which passed the Senate in a 20-11 vote on Wednesday, is the first such bill to pass either chamber. Huffman and Sen. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, authored the legislation.
SB 20 would prohibit prosecutors from adopting or enforcing a policy “under which the prosecuting attorney refuses to prosecute a class or type of criminal offense.” Such a policy would qualify as “official misconduct”; if a jury finds a prosecutor guilty of misconduct, a district judge can order them removed from office.
Currently, only a county resident can bring an allegation of misconduct against an elected prosecutor. But both chambers are considering separate legislation that would allow residents and prosecutors in neighboring counties, and the attorney general, to file charges of official misconduct.
Other bills would enable the attorney general to take on any cases rejected by a county prosecutor — or sue for tens of thousands of dollars for every day a prosecutor has a policy against pursuing certain cases.
The Texas District and County Attorneys Association has raised concerns about these bills, noting on their website that there is already a system in place for residents of a county to raise issues with their prosecutor — either through bringing misconduct claims or by voting them out at the next election.
State lawmakers trying to override prosecutorial discretion is “another attempt to exert statewide control over a traditionally local function,” Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor of criminal law at the University of Houston Law Center, told The Texas Tribune. “We’re seeing a lot of that these days.”
Any or all of these bills could fail in the House, or get amended to be less awful. I wouldn’t count on it, but it could happen. Just note that these are among the top priorities of Dan Patrick.
And finally, speaking of Dan Patrick, Item 4:
During a Senate floor debate Tuesday supposedly about “protecting children,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rebuked Sen. Roland Gutierrez for repeatedly mentioning gun violence. Sen. Gutierrez thought gun violence might be relevant to “protecting children,” especially since his Uvalde district is still recovering from the trauma of the school massacre that took the lives of 19 children and two adults.
The reason for the public rebuke? This debate about “protecting children” wasn’t about guns or violent crime. It was about the dangers of – drag shows. Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, has proposed legislation that would bar minors from attending drag shows.
When Hughes argued that his law, Senate Bill 12, would help “protect children,” Gutierrez countered: “Man, I’ll tell you, I’ve been all about this session about protecting children, my friend, and we haven’t done a whole lot of protecting children when it comes to guns and ammunition,” said Gutierrez.
The Senate gallery, which is open to the public, could be heard cheering, according to KVUE
Sen. Hughes looked “rattled” during the exchange, according to the Quorum Report.
But Lt. Gov. Patrick was quick to offer protection from the volley of words and came to Hughes’ rescue. Patrick scolded Gutierrez and announced that he would not be recognized to speak on the floor going forward if he could not limit his queries to the topic of protecting children (from drag shows).
“I appreciate your interest in protecting kids,” Sen. Gutierrez responded. “I sure would, could, use your support in protecting kids that are killed by gun violence in this state.”
As the Senate gallery cheered again, Lt. Gov. Patrick banged his gavel and warned that he would order the gallery cleared if there were another outburst.
“Sen. Gutierrez, I’m going to give you one more warning. That’s the last time,” Lt. Gov. Patrick said. “Stick to the topic, to the issues you’re asking questions on, or you will not be recognized in the future.”
Yes, how dare the Senator that represents Uvalde talk about guns in the context of protecting children? What was he thinking?
That’s your dismal legislative update for today. I hope to not have to provide more of these on other days.