Quick Primer: The Texas Legislature Special Session
Two weeks into the 2017 special session and the Texas legislature is on their way to addressing the 20 items set forward by Governor Greg Abbott, including several that very specifically affect Texas women. The Senate, moving at a quick clip, has already passed four anti-abortion bills to the House’s one.
Though all legislation debated by our representatives can, and likely will, affect our community, we’ve rounded up a quick primer on several key issues that most immediately impact the women in our state. Read up below, then follow local media, like the Texas Tribune, to keep up-to-date on the session’s final stretch (19 days and counting).
Though Texas leads the nation in maternal mortality rate, state lawmakers failed to pass a bill addressing the issue in the regular legislative session earlier this year, making it an urgent priority for the special session.
On July 24, the Texas Senate passed SB 17, a bill that will allow Texas’ Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity to continue studying the issue and its causes through 2023. If passed in the House and signed into law by the governor, the bill would, among other charges, also require the task force to research the health and class disparities of dying Texas mothers (disproportionately, they are African American).
The House has not yet taken a vote on similar legislation.
The special session has seen the return of legislation regulating who can use which restrooms, more recognizable as “bathroom bills.” After being passed in the state House in the regular session, the original bill target trans Texan’s bathroom use failed to make it pass the Senate because its members hoped to enact an even stricter version of the law that regulates who can use which bathroom depending on the sex on their birth certificate.
The failed legislation was resuscitated on July 25 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and was passed after an eight hour discussion.
As passed, SB3 would not penalize trans Texans individually, but rather would allow the state’s attorney general to sue entities (like schools or the city of Austin, for example) that establish policies allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The House has not yet considered similar legislation.
Anti-abortion bills have featured prominently in this special session, with four already passed in the Senate and one passed in the House.
A bill passed by the Senate on July 24 would bar insurance companies from covering abortions that aren’t deemed medically necessary, requiring women who want elective abortion coverage to pay a premium. The law does not include exceptions for pregnancies that occur due to rape.
The Senate also passed a bill that would effectively prohibit taxpayer money from funding abortion providers like Planned Parenthood by barring state and local agencies from contracting with them.
Finally, legislation increasing reporting requirements on abortion complications (with fine penalties) has made it through both the House and Senate. Another bill passed by the Senate would require reporting on abortions sought by minors, including their means of obtaining consent — either directly from their parents or through the judicial bypass process.
The House has not yet voted on limiting insurance plan coverage of abortions or on prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.
With Senate Bill 4 (legislation banning sanctuary cities in Texas) passed during the regular session earlier this year, no immigration-related bills were called for by Governor Greg Abbott this special session.
Democratic lawmakers in the House did push back on the bill, however, by filing a separate bill to repeal it. That bill failed and the ban on sanctuary cities will begin September 1.