Texas Politics: Getting Ready for the Second Special

Did y’all think this was all going to die down after the first special?

Think again.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has now made the following threats:

  • He will arrest any members of the media he believes were “inciting the mob” or “inciting the riot” (shockingly, when everyone backlashed, he withdrew this threat and decided that the TX Press Corp hadn’t incited a riot)
  • He will close the gallery and/or completely clear it
  • He will arrest House Dems who were on the Senate floor Tuesday night

while at the same time:

If Lt. Gov Dewhurst is going to shut down the gallery, why do anti-abortioners (“pro lifers”) need to show up in full force? My guess is that he’ll allow the gallery to be filled and then claim that we’re violating the rules of decorum, having troopers escort all in orange out of the gallery, and allow those in blue to stay — claiming that they’re following the rules of decorum.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst would never be able to arrest his direct opponents in the Senate, so his second best option is (apparently) to start arresting House Dems for what he will probably claim is an illegal presence on the Senate floor during Senate proceedings.

If y’all want to keep up with this on Twitter, SB5 has become SB9 and HB2, meaning you should check out the following tags:

  • #SB9
  • #HB2
  • #KBV2
  • #standwithwendy
  • #txlege

and follow:

  • Jessica Luther (@scaTX) <– Seriously, Jessica for everything. Her blog is here.
  • Virginia Pickel (@tootwistedtv)
  • Dan Solomon (@dansolomon)
  • Scott Braddock (@scottbraddock)
  • Nancy Cardenas (@nancycardenas91) <– #txlege updates in Spanish// informacion sobre #txlege en Español!
  • Me! (@alexisjkostun)
  • Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes)
  • Lilith Fund (@lilithfund)
  • Planned Parenthood (@PPact)
  • Planned Parenthood Greater Texas (@PPGreaterTexas)
  • NARAL Pro Choice TX (@naraltx)

There is a lot of activity as we get ready for the second special but the most important thing to remember is that we’re not going anywhere and that means pacing ourselves through the next 30 days. Jessica Luther has posted a comprehensive schedule of what’s planned so far here.  Virginia and I are working on a list of all members of the House & Senate with their FB pages and Twitter handles so that it’s easy for you to contact your reps and let them know you don’t support these bills.

If you’re available, I’m re-posting the following call to action from Texas Dems:

Texas Democratic Party needs people to phonebank Democrats with a high pro-choice rating. We are trying to get as many people out to the Stand Up Monday – Rally at Texas Capitol at 12pm. If you are able to phonebank either at the TDP headquarters or from home, please contact our Vice-President, Pedro Villalobos (pedro.villalobos09@gmail.com).

Texas Politics: Women of Color & SB5

This is an incredibly written piece over at La Burquena that voices many of the concerns I had watching media coverage of SB5. Rep. Farrar, along with other women of color in the House, was largely responsible for stringing the debate out so long . And in the Senate, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t consider Senator Van de Putte a personal hero after watching her return from her father’s funeral to help put an end to SB5 — and then asking the magic question that ignited the Capitol. Please read this wonderful article!

That said, I’d like to recognize the women of color Representatives and Senators who were key in helping to block SB5. Wendy’s filibuster success (if only temporary given the 2nd special session) could not have happened without the bill first being stalled in the House, which was delayed primarily by women of color, including Representatives Jessica Farrar, Senfronia Thompson, Dawnna Dukes,Mary Gonzales and Alma Allen. Further, Senators Judith Zaffirini and Leticia Van De Putte were essential in relieving Senator Wendy Davis of speaking for periods of time as their wisdom allowed them to delay the vote with parliamentary inquiries and points of information. Although I am not sure of the exact amount of time the delays took up, my guess is a couple of hours, which is a couple of hours in which the bill may have passed had it not been for their efforts.

So why not start a #IStandWithVanDePutte or #IStandWithZaffirini hashtag?  Weren’t their GANAS just as powerful that night as Wendy’s? They called out sexism on the Texas Senate floor, one of the most conservative states in the nation. In an effort to show my respect for them, I believe their actions at least deserve a space in this blog.

Texas Politics: Women of Color & SB5

This is an incredibly written piece over at La Burquena that voices many of the concerns I had watching media coverage of SB5. Rep. Farrar, along with other women of color in the House, was largely responsible for stringing the debate out so long . And in the Senate, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t consider Senator Van de Putte a personal hero after watching her return from her father’s funeral to help put an end to SB5 — and then asking the magic question that ignited the Capitol. Please read this wonderful article!

That said, I’d like to recognize the women of color Representatives and Senators who were key in helping to block SB5. Wendy’s filibuster success (if only temporary given the 2nd special session) could not have happened without the bill first being stalled in the House, which was delayed primarily by women of color, including Representatives Jessica Farrar, Senfronia Thompson, Dawnna Dukes,Mary Gonzales and Alma Allen. Further, Senators Judith Zaffirini and Leticia Van De Putte were essential in relieving Senator Wendy Davis of speaking for periods of time as their wisdom allowed them to delay the vote with parliamentary inquiries and points of information. Although I am not sure of the exact amount of time the delays took up, my guess is a couple of hours, which is a couple of hours in which the bill may have passed had it not been for their efforts.

So why not start a #IStandWithVanDePutte or #IStandWithZaffirini hashtag?  Weren’t their GANAS just as powerful that night as Wendy’s? They called out sexism on the Texas Senate floor, one of the most conservative states in the nation. In an effort to show my respect for them, I believe their actions at least deserve a space in this blog.

Texas Politics: Special Session Logistics

History of Special Sessions

Historically, special sessions are only called in order to address emergency issues that hadn’t arisen during a regular session. If, for example, a natural disaster, hit Texas and legislators needed to allocate funds for local disaster relief efforts, a special session might be called. Unlike in other states, only the governor can call a special session. Gov. Perry’s insistence on calling repeated special sessions to address anti-abortion legislation clearly doesn’t reflect an emergent issue in Texas. Instead, it’s a way to circumvent the 2/3 vote rule* in a regular session of either the House or Senate. Normally, a bill has to receive votes from 2/3 of the body in order to pass. In a special session, legislators have the ability to suspend the rules, meaning that only a simple majority has to vote for the bill in order for it to pass. Legislators testified on the House and Senate floor this week that they had never seen such blatant disregard for House and Senate tradition — something that might seem insignificant to an observer, but really changes the entire game. Technically, there is no rule in either the House or Senate rules that mandates that a special session be called for emergency purposes only, but it has been the “Senate tradition” or “House tradition” that these sessions are called only in response to emergent situations, or to reconcile a bill that absolutely must pass before the start of the next regular session. For example, budgets are often hotly debated and sometimes no resolution is reached by the end of a regular session. In that case, there is a valid justification for calling a special session — the state can’t function without that piece of legislation. 

Ignoring the purpose of special sessions isn’t the only problem with Gov. Perry calling another special, however. I know that many have been wondering about the cost of special sessions as we head into 2013’s second special. Members of the Texas legislature get paid $150 per day for food and other living expenses. With 181 members of the House & Senate, that number adds up pretty quickly — $27,150 per day, or $814,500 total. Now I’m the first to admit that math isn’t my specialty, but when you add the cost of the second special session that is rapidly approaching, Perry’s claims that he wants to save protect the Texas economy and cut down on unnecessary spending (the GOP response when anyone proposes an SB5 amendment that would offer preventative women’s healthcare services that are so desperately needed) don’t seem to hold up.

Moving Forward

Luckily, the GOP can’t pick up where they left off on Tuesday night — they have to start the whole process over again. The legislature can only debate or pass bills that are specifically placed on the call by Gov. Perry. Historically, interpretations of the rules have allowed legislators to debate topics that may be considered tangentially related to the issue that the governor has chosen to place on the call. Because Gov. Perry placed abortion on the call for the second special session, any abortion-related bill can be taken up by the Texas state legislature. Two bills have already been filed — one, SB9, by Senator Patrick, and another, HB2, filed by Representative Laubenberg. It seems that Rep. Laubenberg is unafraid of the criticism she’ll face from her colleagues in the house — after an unprecedented night when Rep. Laubenberg refused to answer questions on her own bill and refused to take the mike in order to enter her motion to table, nobody can deny that she’s persistent. 

So far, the text of neither bill has been released — but we can make some educated guesses about what the bills are likely to contain. Rep. Laubenberg originally filed HB2364 in the regular legislative session (it failed to advance through the legislative process), a bill that would have banned all abortions after week #20 of a pregnancy, while Sen. Patrick’s original bill, SB18 (also failed during the regular session), would have put in place stringent regulations on abortion-inducing medications. 

SB9

Texas Legislature Online: You can check the status & read amendments on any bill.

Procedures are slightly different, depending on whether a bill originates in the House or Senate. Once a bill is filed in the Senate, it has to be debated at a Senate Committee meeting. If the bill is passed out of the Senate Committee, it is presented for general debate, amendments, and a vote on the Senate floor. The bill then advances to the House, and the process repeats — if the bill is passed out of a House Committee meeting, it advances to the House floor. Normally, a bill passed by the Texas legislature becomes enforceable law 90 days after it passes. The legislature can add amendments to a bill that require the bill to take effect sooner or later than that 90 day period. Those of you who were watching the SB5 debate in the House, will remember that several amendments would have pushed out the date on which the law went into effect. Rep. Mary González sponsored two amendments; one would have postponed enforcement of the bill until Texas’ repeat teen pregnancy rate dropped under 15%, and the other would have postponed enforcement until 2014, giving clinics more time to adopt newly required policies. 

It’s likely that we’ll see at least a few proposed amendments on the newly filed abortion bills. Should any of the amendments be successful, they would, at the very least, offer more time to women and clinics before the strict abortion restrictions went into place. Best case scenario, the extra year or two before the bill becomes enforceable may provide Democrats with enough time to regain control of the legislature — making it possible to repeal the bills. Anti-abortion bills aren’t the only thing on the agenda for this year’s second special, however. So far, transportation and sentencing requirements for 17 year olds convicted of felonies are on the agenda along with abortion. It’s pretty unlikely that the GOP will repeat their own mistake and allow abortion to wait until the end of the session, but no doubt Democrats have some tricks up their sleeves to drag out the debate on transportation and sentencing. It’s also worth noting that special sessions rarely span the full 30 day period they’re allowed, often wrapping up within one or two weeks.

Texas Legislature FAQ

How many people are there in the Texas Senate? There are 31 seats in the Senate, currently divided between 19 GOP Senators and 12 Democratic Senators.

How many people are there in Texas House?  There are 150 seats in the House, currently divided between 95 GOP Representatives and 55 Democratic Representatives.

How often does the legislature meet? Texas legislature is one of only a handful of states that meets biennally — five month sessions every other year. Because the legislature meets for such a short period of time, it does make special sessions more likely than they would normally be.

What’s a quorum? What do we need it for? A “quorum” means that a minimum number of members have to be present for business to proceed as usual. In the Senate, 2/3 of the members of the Senate have to be present. That means that if 11 members are gone, no Senate business can occur. Sometimes one party will refuse to show up to proceedings in one house (or both) in order to prevent unwanted legislation, but it’s a pretty extreme tactic that only happens in extremely rare instances. It’s possible that Democrats could prevent a quorum by refusing to show up to the second special session. In fact, Senators Zaffirini, Whitmire, West, Van de Putte, Lucio, Hinojosa, and Ellis, are all names that you probably remember from the Senate filibuster — they were all part of the “Texas Eleven,” when Texas Democrats refused to allow redistricting legislation by fleeing Senate proceedings and hiding in Albuqurque — so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

What is DPS? These troopers are from the Department of Public Safety. They’re basically state police officers.

Do we vote for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor on the same ticket? Okay, so nobody asked me this, but Virginia did suggest I share this info with y’all. We vote for them on separate tickets, meaning we could have a Gov. from one party and a Lt. Gov. from another (in fact, it’s happened several times before, once under Bush!)

What is the 2/3 rule in the Senate? 

*Y’all, there has been considerable confusion about the 2/3 rule in the Senate — I read the Senate rules 3 times and still couldn’t figure out why a 2/3 vote was required. Major shoutout to Ben Philpott at KUT News for finally providing the answer:

“In the Senate all bills are brought up in the order they get through committee and reach the senate floor. The first bill in line is called a blocker bill. If you want to get to something behind the blocker you have to suspend the Senate rules, which takes a two-thirds vote. And Democrats have enough votes to keep abortion skipping to the front of the line. In the first special session, the rule wasn’t in play because there wasn’t a blocker bill.

Before the first special session, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, questioned Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst about a hypothetical second session, and if a blocker bill would be allowed. Watson asked if it would be appropriate to place a blocker bill on the call, if redistricting is passed in the first session.

Dewhurst said Senators should follow tradition and keep the two-thirds rule out of the first session because the legislature needed to pass redistricting. He then said they didn’t have to follow tradition in keeping the rule out of any future special sessions.

So, with redistricting maps passed, lawmakers might just see a few stumbling blocks in the form of blocker bills in the second special session.”

Texas Politics: An Open Letter to the Media

Dear News Outlets,

I want to clear something up — something that friends and relatives have asked me — and something that I feel has been inaccurately represented by news organizations reporting on the SB5 filibuster. There was no previously organized Democratic “scheme” to run down the last 12 minutes of the special session with help from those in the gallery, rotunda, and outside the gallery and Senate chambers. There was no concerted effort to organize the hundreds or thousands of people left in the Capitol at 11:48, no carefully organized attempt to subvert democracy.

What there was, and in abundance, was the fierce spirit of Texas women (and the men who love them). Thousands of Texas men and women gathered in the Capitol on Tuesday to send a clear message to Gov. Perry, Lieutenant Gov. Dewhurst, and every member of the GOP caucus that we would not be bullied into silence. We decided, individually and as a group, that we would no longer permit men to congregate in secret, making decisions that should be solely between a woman, her doctor, and her family.

The GOP’s claim that the cheering in the last 12 minutes of the night was orchestrated by Democratic leadership is not only irresponsible, it’s false, and I’m disappointed to see you run with that message — rather than fact-checking with any of the thousands of Texans at the Capitol. Jessica Luther was an amazing presence throughout the week, tweeting accurate information and helping organize people in real time. She summed up our disappointment in certain national media coverage eloquently:

“If you had asked me on Tuesday morning if TWO THOUSAND people would show up that night, that 200,000 would watch the livestream, that Barack POTUS Obama would tweet about us, I would have said that wasn’t going to happen. No way. No how…It feels wrong to paint it as if some mastermind created the BEAUTIFUL moments that happened on Tuesday.”

Was it strategic? Certainly. Leticia Van de Putte lit a flame: one that could not be dampened by GOP leaders demanding that we follow the rules of decorum (the same rules that Texas Republican Senators can be seen ignoring in their efforts to push SB5 through), nor by the dutiful state troopers who began to arrest those in the gallery. I was camped on the second floor, outside of the Senate gallery, and when we realized that the GOP had and would break any and every rule to end the filibuster, we realized that we could stand for Wendy, ourselves, and every other Texan woman who has a fundamental and Constitutional right to make decisions about her own body. She stood to represent the voices of thousands of Texas women, and in the last 12 minutes of the night, it wouldn’t be possible for troopers to arrest every last one of us. We stood too many, and we stood too long, to go unheard. The last 12 minutes became ours for the taking, and in Senator Davis’ words, it truly became the People’s Filibuster.  But was it planned? No. And if you ask me, it was all the more powerful in the beautiful spontaneity of our actions.

It’s no surprise that the GOP is attempting to spread misinformation: but I believe, perhaps naively, that news outlets covering the events of the last week should be doing so responsibly.

Alexis

Texas Politics: Don’t Mess with Texas Women

In the chaos of the last few days, I have gotten a better crash course in House & Senate rules, proceedings, and norms, than I ever could have imagined. At 12:30am last night, I somehow ended up in charge of the hundreds of people on the second floor (outside the Senate chamber entrance), listening to the live feed with headphones and shouting updates to those around me. A few women at the front of the crowd with me (and one very, very loud man) would quiet the floor by shouting “THERE’S AN ALEXIS UPDATE,” waiting to hear the latest news from inside the Senate gallery.

Impacts of SB5

There are some important ramifications of each of the provisions listed above. The bill would effectively shut down 37 of Texas’ 42 clinics, leaving only five open to service a state where getting from one corner to the next is a 14 hour drive. There would no longer be clinics in rural or border areas, leaving women with limited and strained financial resources to drive from El Paso to San Antonio for an abortion. Because of the sonogram bill passed in 2011, they will have to take several days off of work (or leave and return) to fulfill the 24 hour waiting period between the sonogram and abortion. The cost of an abortion in Texas would skyrocket from about $400 to about $1,200. Add the cost of transportation and hotel for the waiting period plus the cost of lost income, many women would be nowhere close to affording an abortion. Women will not stop getting abortions. There was compelling, tear filled, and tragic testimony in both the House & Senate this weekend that told the stories of women who grew up when abortion was not affordable and accessible — those women turned to butcher shops for back alley, unsterile, illegal abortions — or they did it themselves, drinking bleach or attempting dangerous versions of the procedure with coat hangers and other household items.

The Filibuster

Wendy Davis, one of (everyone’s) my personal heroes, stood from 11am to 3am the next day in attempts to block SB5, a bill that would cut off abortions after 20 weeks, require abortion clinics to obtain “Ambulatory Surgical Center” status, and require abortion providers to obtain privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. SB5 included other restrictive provisions as well, and included no exceptions for rape or incest.

Wendy Davis stood on the Senate floor and actively filibustered this bill for 11 hours. Normal Senate rules operate on a variation of the “three strikes and you’re out” rule; three violations of Senate rules means that the body then votes to end the filibuster (which, in a GOP dominant house, was a certainty, should Davis have incurred her three “strikes.”)

Rule 4.03 of the Senate rules reads as follows:

Although there is no Senate rule by which a member
can be taken from the floor for pursuing “dilatory tactics” (40
S.J. Reg. 882 (1927)), a Senator who has been repeatedly called
to order for not confining his debate to the question before the
Senate may be required by the Senate to discontinue his
address.
A point of order against further debate of a question by
a Senator on the ground that his remarks are not germane to the
question before the Senate is often disposed of by the chair with
a warning to the Senator who has the floor to confine his
remarks to the pending question.
When speaking, a member must confine himself to the
subject under debate. In discussing an amendment, the debate
must be confined to the amendment and not include the general
merits of the bill or other proposition.
The point of order having been raised for the third time
that a Senator who had the floor was filibustering and not
confining his remarks to the bill before the Senate, the chair
requested the Senate to vote on the point of order. It was
sustained and the Senator speaking yielded the floor (44 S.J.
Reg. 1780 (1935)).

and clearly states that only violations of germaneness can be used to end a filibuster. The  notes on this rule go on to make the distinction between germaneness violations and violations of other types even more clear:

Raising of a third point of order against further debate
by a Senator on the floor who has digressed for a third time
from a discussion of the pending amendment, after having been
twice requested to confine his debate to the amendment,
justifies the presiding officer in calling for a vote by the Senate
on the question of whether or not he shall be permitted to
resume and continue his remarks (50 S.J. Reg. 418 (1947)).

Her first violation was for germaneness, and the GOP argued that her testimony had gone so far off the topic of the bill put before the body (SB5) that it violated Senate rules. I would love to hear a coherent explanation of how Roe v Wade isn’t a germane subject when debating about a bill that places such a hefty burden on women seeking abortions clearly violates our constitutional rights to obtain an abortion, but the GOP was living in the land of incoherence last night. In fact, one GOP member asked this of Davis:

Is it your understanding that Roe v Wade provides women the right to obtain an abortion?

Strike one for GOP literacy, and sadly, strike one for Davis.

In late hours of the evening, Davis received a second strike — for receiving help from Senator Ellis as she put on a back brace. There was some pretty stunning and emotional testimony from Senators who supported and opposed the bill about the Senate tradition of filibustering — it has always been the case that the Senate has provided support to the person filibustering, even when they disagreed, often providing ice chips, orange slices, etc, and even, in at least one case, by forming a circle around the filibustering member to allow him to pee into a bucket. NEVER before last night has a filibustering member of the Senate faced such scrutiny.

It’s stunning that, in the middle of a debate about whether or not they had the right to legislate a woman’s body, they stopped to legislate whether or not the vastly courageous woman protesting this bill in front of them, representing the voice of millions of Texas women, had the right to control and make decisions about her own body.

Zaffirini, who supported the bill, rose to protest this “strike,” citing the only Senate rules that dictate a member’s conduct while addressing the body.

The rule: Rule 4.01.

When a Senator is about to speak in debate or to communicate any matter to the Senate, the member shall rise in his or her place and address the President of the Senate.

… and the only applicable note:

When a member has been recognized and is speaking on a motion to re-refer a bill, he must stand upright at his desk and may not lean thereon (61 S.J. Reg. 1760, 1762 (1969)).

There is no rule about touching another member of the body — and even if there was, it would not count as one of the three strikes.

When Davis received her third strike (only her second for germaneness) the Capitol went insane. The gallery erupted into cheers after Van de Putte’s question to the chair:

enhanced-buzz-27732-1372223384-2

and those of us gathered on the second floor realized that if we could be loud enough, combined with those in the gallery, we could drown out the vote and run down the 20 minutes left on the clock… so that’s what we did. There was brilliant political maneuvering on the part of Senate Dems to run down the clock,  pointing out that Wendy didn’t have enough violations to justify an end to her filibuster. The loudness of everyone in the Capitol delayed the vote until after midnight. In the Capitol, we had no idea whether the vote would be considered valid, and kept cheering going until we got official word that the vote would not count.

The Senate clerk wrote down that the real vote did not start until 12:03am, but Senate Republicans actually went back and changed the time stamp on the vote in the official record. Luckily for us, over 100K people were watching the live feed, and someone leaked this photograph: 

photo

There might be a second special session, and we’ll deal with that when and if it happens, but this should be one HUGE message to our legislature: You don’t mess with Texas women.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Thank you Wendy.

Texas Politics: Special Session to Consider SB5*

*The special session was supposed to include HB60 and HB16 as well, but both got postponed and SB5 quickly became the focal point of the session. HB60 and HB16 were folded into SB5.

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