Show Us What Democracy Looks Like

This is what democracy looks like!

I’ve spent more time in the Texas Capitol in the last month than in the entire 19 years before that, and though there were times when I was tired or sick or hungry or on the verge of tears or actually crying, I never once regretted my choice to spend that time in the Capitol.

Thousands of us fought for our rights together; some of us sitting, some of us standing, but all of us together. There is no law, no piece of legislation, and no GOP campaign slogan that can wipe those memories from my mind. There is no law that can silence the women of Texas, and we will not go back.

Watching an ophthalmologist claim to be qualified to make decisions about reproductive healthcare; watching a couple in blue giggle every time a Democratic Senator explained the prevalence of child rape in America; watching women in blue claim that we were plotting to violently attack those on the other side of the aisle; watching women in blue hide their newborns from women in orange; watching Sen. Hegar table every amendment without debate and claim that he hadn’t heard testimony from rape survivors at the committee meeting; watching DPS confiscate tampons and pads from women entering the gallery; watching DPS take water and hard candy away from diabetics trying to control their blood sugar levels; watching Lt. Gov. Dewhurst adjourn for a two minute break to circumvent Senate rules, and watching 19 Republicans and 1 Democrat vote to deprive millions of Texan women of a Constitutional right and access to affordable healthcare: I would imagine it stretches the limits of anyone I know. It certainly stretched mine beyond belief.

At the same time that these things were happening, I was watching something else, too. I was watching a pro-life Senator stand up defiantly in opposition of HB2 because it wasn’t a bill designed for the health and safety of women and children; watching a woman in blue hold hands with a women in orange during incredibly emotional testimony; watching women who fought for Roe v. Wade 40 years ago fight for our right to control our own bodies all over again; watching feminists and activists from across the country send messages of support, food, and coffee as needed; watching those in the gallery tell us that they could hear us chanting and that we were keeping them strong; watching Texans refuse to allow HB2 to pass without forcing the GOP to look at us, to hear us; watching mothers and children and grandchildren put themselves at the front and center of a debate about our bodies. I was watching Texas women and the men who truly respect them fight to have their voices heard.

Whose choice?
OUR CHOICE!

Let this summer spark a lifetime.

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The Impact of HB2* on Women of Color

The national media missed its chance to cover the SB5 debate and filibuster in real time. Despite being contacted by hundreds of pro-choice activists, the cameras didn’t start rolling until after Tuesday night. Now that the battle against restrictive abortion laws in Texas is receiving national attention, Senator Wendy Davis is at the core of almost every report. Though Sen. Davis took an incredible stand for the women of Texas, her story is not the only story. 

In the House, the battle to delay a vote on SB5 was controlled almost entirely by women of color. Representatives Dukes, Farrar, Gonzalez, Allen, González, and Thompson were responsible for offering amendment after amendment to SB5 – all rejected without debate. The bill’s sponsor in the House, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, not only refused to answer questions on the floor about the bill, but refused to take the mike to enter her Motion to Table each amendment. As a result, Democratic legislators were left debating themselves on the merits of proposed amendments.

Representative Mary González, who introduced amendments that proposed delaying implementation of the bill until Texas reduced its repeat teen pregnancy rate to 15%, said “I have seen bills where they didn’t allow amendments because it wouldn’t pass the Senate again, but I’ve never seen someone refuse to answer questions. It was very disappointing that Rep. Laubenberg forced us to debate ourselves on such an important issue.”

The SB5 debate in the House stretched on until almost 4 a.m. on Monday morning, hard fought by female Democratic Representatives attempting to force Rep. Laubenberg and her colleagues to engage in real, fact-based debate on the bill. The House debate continued into early Monday morning, leaving the Senate unable to take up the bill until Tuesday due to a required 24 hour waiting period. No small accomplishment, this 24 hour delay meant that only 13 hours of legislative time remained in the special session – an amount of time that Sen. Davis could feasibly filibuster.

Though the efforts of Democratic Representatives in the House were crucial to Sen. Davis’ filibuster, there was little conversation about the role that women of color played in the battle against SB5. Most media coverage of the SB5 battle focused on a single narrative: that of Sen. Davis’ filibuster and the globally trending hashtag #StandWithWendy.

“I don’t think it’s about whether or not we were interviewed. Representative Dukes, Representative Farrar and I were definitely talked about. The problem with national media is its inability to move beyond a single identity. They pick women legislators to focus on; Democratic legislators; they never entertain the idea that we’re women of color,” said González.

González’s comment that “the media doesn’t apply an intersectional lens” to issues isn’t just reflected in the lack of discussion about the women of color who were crucial to preventing SB5 passage – it’s paralleled in the way that national media outlets talk about the potential impact of SB5 and other restrictions on abortion.

The SB5 requirement that abortion clinics meet the same standards as Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs) would force 37 of Texas’ 42 abortion providers to close, leaving only five clinics open to cover 268,581 square miles. These clinics provide not only abortion services, but birth control, STD screenings, cancer screenings, HIV testing, pregnancy testing, the morning after pill, and other healthcare services. For women in major metropolitan areas like Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston, this provision of the bill might not prove disastrous. Certainly, it would be more difficult to schedule an abortion before the 20 week mark with hundreds of women from smaller towns flocking to the same clinics, but there would be a clinic within a three hour drive. For women who live in border towns, rural areas, and cities like El Paso, there would be no clinics in the immediate area, forcing women to choose between a costly multi-day trip to San Antonio or a trip over the border for a considerably riskier abortion in Mexico.

Abortion in Mexico is a dangerous proposition: legal and accessible only during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City, abortion has been outlawed in 18 Mexican states. Studies indicate that although punishment for an abortion in Mexico depends on the state in which a woman undergoes the procedure, 127 women have been prosecuted for receiving an abortion over the last five years. Because abortion is illegal in so many Mexican states, women often turn to pharmacies that don’t ask questions before prescribing Misoprostol, to flea markets, where the pills are sometimes available, or to unregulated abortion clinics.

Women of color and women living in rural areas would be affected by SB5 and bills like it far more harshly than any other demographic. Legislation that attempts to offer affordable healthcare to women in rural areas or women with low income is not only unpopular in the Texas legislature – it’s impossible to get out of committee. Legislation that addresses teen pregnancy and aims to reduce unwanted pregnancies is “completely off the table for the GOP,” González said.

But in a world (this one) where Texas is currently ranked 4th highest in the nation in terms of teen pregnancies, the GOP’s unwillingness to look at the intersectionality between race, poverty, and education contributes directly to the problem. In 2010, 78% of pregnant teens in Texas were women of color. Offering preventative healthcare options to reduce unwanted pregnancies in both teens and adults might seem like common sense – but it’s simply not an option in the GOP-dominated Texas legislature.

Nancy Cardenas, a women’s rights activist from the Valley, made the trip to Austin for the SB5 hearings and debates. “It’s hard to hear male Republicans impose their blatant religious agenda on bills like SB5. They are under the impression that women who choose to have abortions are confused. Abortions will still happen. Women do not need to be guided by Republicans through one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. Trust women,” said Cardenas.

González commented that she “introduced two pieces of legislation in regular session to solve this, and it wouldn’t even get a committee hearing. To them, it’s so far removed from their reality. 20% of my district didn’t graduate high school, and a lot of that is because of repeat teen pregnancies. Those things are correlated – I can’t just ignore it. It impacts not only teen pregnancy rates but educational access, healthcare access, and economic stability. ”

The attitude of the GOP exacerbates the already existing structural problems that make it more difficult for women of color to access safe abortions. During the SB5 filibuster, almost no Spanish-speaking media covered the week’s events. Univision broadcast one report on SB5, but it was far from impartial or balanced coverage, urging women in the Valley to call the local Dioceses for more information about SB5. “The absence of Spanish speaking media throughout the process of the SB5 debates is alarming, and the absence of media attention on women in the House is even more striking,” said Cardenas. “The media has always found a way to exclude minority women from the spotlight they are entitled to. Although in Austin we know these women well, their actions are tossed aside by the media.”

There were thousands of pro-choice activists present for committee hearings and floor debates, but few women of color spoke during the opportunities for public testimony. Cardenas pointed out that “the absence of women from the Valley and El Paso during the protests is in no way shape or form an example of disinterest. It only proves that women from rural areas cannot access the only cities that will be left with centers that provide important health exams and safe abortions. If women from the Valley and El Paso could not make it for debates about the most restrictive piece of anti-abortion legislation that has been proposed in the Texas Legislature, they will not be able to afford the trip to Dallas, San Antonio, or Houston for a safe and legal abortion.”

There’s one thing that all pro-choice activists and legislators can agree on. Limiting access to abortion won’t stop it from happening, but it will make it more dangerous. “I can maybe understand people who are ‘pro-life’ but what’s more frustrating is that there’s not even a possibility of compromise for rural women, women on the border, or rape and incest survivors,” said González. “If you’ve been raped, you should be able to decide the outcome of that situation. This is a Constitutional right, and the GOP won’t engage in a serious conversation about how to address problems like teen pregnancies.”

*Interviews done for this piece were about SB5, but there is no substantive difference between the regulations contained in SB5 and HB2.

House Committee Hearing on HB2 & Diverse Needs of Texan Women

There has been some truly incredible testimony tonight at the Senate committee hearing, and there are many quotes that I would like to honor and remember as the days of the second special tick by, but that testimony — though moving and brilliantly compelling — isn’t what I wanted to share with y’all. A “pro-life” young woman stood up tonight and remarked that she didn’t need “reproductive justice or free birth control,” and the privilege in her statement was absolutely stunning. I don’t mean to attack this one young woman; her sentiment is shared by many. But there are some fundamental problems that were evident in her testimony that reflect a larger lack of understanding on the part of “pro life” activists who seek to curtail our access to affordable abortion care.

It was obvious from her testimony that though she talked about “crisis pregnancies,” she had no understanding of what it really means to be pregnant with nowhere to turn. Nor did this young women understand that just because she “doesn’t need free birth control,” that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women who do desperately need free or low-cost birth control. I work two jobs during the summer and one during the year, paying for a private school in Washington state, rent, utilities, and all other bills. I’m lucky enough to have supportive parents who help me when I can’t quite cover everything — but I certainly can’t afford the $100 per month sticker price of my birth control prescription. Keep in mind that I’m a white, middle class, young woman — and without clinics like Planned Parenthood, birth control would be unaffordable for me.

Now think about all of the factors that complicate access to birth control — both in terms of financial resources and community support — and it’s not hard to understand why so many women are fiercely defending their right to affordable and accessible health care; their right to make their own healthcare decisions. Women of color in Texas often grow up in conservative communities, where abortion and birth control are taboo subjects for young women. On top of that, there are far fewer free or low-cost clinics in rural and border areas than there are in major metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas, and Austin. It’s curious to me — and I know I’m not the only one — that women of color are already operating with far fewer choices than their white counterparts in big cities. Certainly there are women of color in these big cities as well — but the number of women of color disproportionately affected by bills like HB2 is astronomical. When posed as a question to GOP committee members, the disproportionate effect of HB2 on young women of color has been dismissed time and time again by pointing out that “it’s possible that some clinics will stay open.” If those speaking in favor of HB2 were truly pro-choice, they would understand that sometimes a woman’s life depends on her ability to access affordable birth control. Sometimes a woman’s life depends on her ability to access affordable abortion services. For many women in abusive relationships, the windows of opportunity to seek abortion services are few and far between — often forcing women past the 20 week mark. I challenge Rep. Laubenberg or any of her anti-choice colleagues to look a young woman in the eyes and tell her that she can’t have an abortion because the only day she could get to the clinic without notice from her abusive partner was past the 20 week mark.

Once you factor those things into your determination about whether or not sexual healthcare is easily accessible for all women in Texas, factor in other circumstances that can prevent a woman of any race from being able to access abortion or preventative health care: rape, incest, a significantly lower income than the national average, less information about safe birth control choices, abusive partners, and physical or mental disabilities. Women seeking birth control or an abortion likely often already have young children — remember that most women who get abortions are already mothers, many of whom have decided that they don’t have the ability or desire to care for an additional child. Should HB2 pass, you would be asking mothers to place their own welfare, and that of their children, below the welfare of a cluster of cells that might, one day, become a person. Should HB2 pass, you’re asking those same mothers to forgo affordable birth control or cancer screenings  because the clinics that once provided those services also provided abortions.

Just because that young woman and her “friends in blue” can afford to pay sticker price for birth control, HPV screenings and vaccines, STD testing, pregnancy tests, condoms, and other preventative healthcare doesn’t mean that all — or even most — women in Texas can afford those services. That Texas is ranked the 4th highest in the US for teen pregnancies should tell you something: abstinence-only education and inaccessible birth control just isn’t working. We should be wary when the bills we pass become law without any consideration for the diverse needs of the women of Texas.

Rio Grande Valley Media/ Medios de Comunicación en Español

*Post by Nancy Cardenas @nancycardenas91 *

La segunda sesión especial comienza en Texas, las mujeres y hombres por igual se reúnen por todo el estado de Texas para oponerse a la nueva legislación que en absoluto  prohibira los centros de abortos seguros.

La ausencia de mujeres en el Valle del Río Grande en el Capitolio estatal de TX es alarmante. El efecto de las leyes, HB 2 y SB9, sobre las mujeres del valle, tendran consecuencias drasticas. Ahora tendrán que viajar cientos de millas para un aborto seguro .

RGV (Valle del Rio Grande) medios de comunicación y noticias que hablan en español han sido en gran medida ausente en este debate.He compilado una lista de los medios de comunicación que hablan en español y medios del RGV abajo. Les pido que por favor comunicanse por Twitter, mensajes, llamadas, correo electrónico o facebook a estos medios de comunicación. Si lo único que prohíbe a las mujeres participar en esta discusión es la barrera del idioma, hemos cometido una gran injusticia. Esta lista no es de ninguna manera * completa * Pero es un comienzo.

The second special session begins in Texas in which, women and men alike, gather around the state of Texas to oppose new legislation that will essentially ban abortion centers.

The absence of women in the Rio Grande Valley at the state Capitol in TX is alarming. The effect of the legislation HB 2 and SB9 on women in the valley will result in drastic consequences. Now women in rural areas such as El Paso and South Texas will have to travel hundreds of miles to have a safe abortion.

RGV (Rio Grande Valley) and news media who speak Spanish have been largely absent in this debate. I have compiled a list of media who broadcast in Spanish and RGV media below. I ask that you please communicate by Twitter, messages, calls, email or facebook. If all that forbids women to participate in this discussion is a language barrier, we have committed a great injustice. This list is by no means * complete * But it’s a start.

RGV College Newspapers

1. University of Brownsville

– URL: http://utbcollegian.com/index.php/news

– Twitter Handle: @utbcollegiate

– Hotline # (956) 882-5143 or e-mail collegian@utb.edu.

2. The Panamerican

– URL: http://www.panamericanonline.com/

– Twitter Handle: @ThePanAmerican

– Hotline # (956) 665-2547 or email thepanamerican@gmail.com

RGV Newspapers

1. Brownsville Herald

– URL: http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/

– Twitter Handle: @BrownsvilleNews

– (Contact Info) Zulema Baez

El Nuevo Heraldo

Director of Spanish Publications/Editor

zbaez@elnuevoheraldo.com

P (956)982-6666

2. The Edinburg Review

– URL: http://www.yourvalleyvoice.com/

– Twitter Handle: @ValleyTownCrier

–  Hotline # (956)682-2423 or email  info@valleytowncrier.com

3. Harlingen Valley Morning Star

–  URL: http://www.valleymorningstar.com/

– Twitter Handle: @valleystar

–  Hotline # (956) 430-6200

4. The Monitor

– URL: http://www.themonitor.com/

– Twitter Handle: @monitornews

– Hotline #: 956-683-4000

5. Mission Progress Times

– URL: http://www.progresstimes.net

– Twitter Handle: @ProgressTimes

–  Hotline # (956) 585-4893 or email news@progresstimes.net

6. Rio Hondo News

–  URL: http://www.theriohondonews.com/

– Twitter Handle: –

–  Hotline # (956) 797-9920 or email laferianews@aol.com

 Texas Spanish Speaking Newspapers

1. Al Dia (Dallas)

– URL: http://aldiatx.com/

– Twitter Handle: @aldiatx

– Hotline # (469) 977-3720 or email preguntas@aldiatx.com

2. El Hispano News

– URL: http://elhispanonews.com/

3. El Heraldo News

– URL: http://elheraldonews.com/

-Twitter Handle: –

– Main # (214)827-9700 or email f.rayo@elheraldonews.com

4.El Nuevo Heraldo

– URL: http://www.elnuevoheraldo.com/

– Twitter Handle: @ElNuevoHeraldo

– Main #(956) 542-4301 or email  zbaez@elnuevoheraldo.com

5. Laredo Daily New

– URL: http://www.laredodaily.com/contact-us-

-Twitter Handle: @NewsLaredo

– Main # (830) 352-5075 or email noticias@laredodaily.com

RGV Television Stations

1. Univision Noticias 40 (Spanish)

– URL: http://knvotv48.com/

– Twitter Handle: @knvotv48

– Main #  (956) 687-4848 or email noticias48@entravision.com

2. Telemundo 40 (Spanish)

– URL: http://www.telemundo40.com/

– Twitter Handle: @Telemundo40

– Main # (956) 686-0040 or email news@telemundo40.com

3. Action 4 News

–  URL: http://www.valleycentral.com/

–  Twitter Handle: @kgbt

– Main # (956) 366-4422 or email listens@valleycentral.com

4. ABC 5 News

– URL: http://www.krgv.com/home/

– Twitter Handle: @krgv

– Main # 1-866-797-TIPS (8477) or email my5@krgv.com

5. News Center 23

– URL: http://www.kveo.com/

-Twitter Handle: @KVEO

-Main # (956) 544-2323

6. FOX News 2

– URL: http://www.foxrio2.com/

– Twitter Handle: @foxrio2

– Main # (956) 661-6000 or email newsroom@foxrio2.com

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: 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