Ready for Round Two in Texas? The state legislature meets today in special session, although it may not meet for very long, thanks to the holiday weekend. The bill to ban abortions after the 20th week of gestation and to require abortionists to meet the same standards as other ambulatory surgery clinics will get introduced into House and Senate committees in Austin, and then probably wait for any action until next week:
Round two of Texas’ fierce ideological battle over abortion limits was set to begin Monday, less than a week after a Democratic filibuster and hundreds of raucous protesters threw the end of the first special session into chaos.
The Legislature’s Republican majority has vowed to pass wide-ranging abortion restrictions quickly and easily this time, even as opponents mobilize for more protests.
Don’t expect a repeat of last week’s chaos. Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst plan to bring more security to keep the legislature from getting hijacked by a mob, as happened last week:
The scene was chaotic enough that Sen. Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, called for the gallery to be cleared. With lawmakers now heading back, she said, “I believe more presence by law enforcement will help keep disruptive behavior from thwarting the democratic process.”
She said more families may turn up to express their views and “every Texan’s voice deserves to be heard. Not just the noisiest and unruliest.”
A repeat scene seems unlikely. Texas Department of Public Safety state troopers provide security at the Capitol, and department spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the agency doesn’t discuss its plans.
“However, when necessary, we will adjust our security measures as a situation merits,” she said.
Some of the same protesters already have planned a rally at the state Capitol on Monday, but there may not be much action for them to see. Both the House and Senate could simply gavel in long enough to assign committees to hear new versions of the bills they plan to pass, then adjourn for the rest of the week that includes the July 4 holiday.
The Washington Post also notes that the next time won’t be like the last time:
Welcome to day one of Texas’s special legislative session, in which a heated debate over abortion that burst onto the national radar last week will pick up where it left off.
But this time, the story is likely to end differently. Equipped with more time, GOP majorities and renewed urgency, Republicans are poised to pass a measure to tighten abortion restrictions that state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) successfully blocked last week, catapulting onto the national radar.
One major reason Republican plans to pass the measure — which would would ban abortions after 20 weeks and require doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, among other things — in the previous session were foiled: Time was not on the GOP’s side. Gov. Rick Perry (R) added the the abortion debate after the session was already underway. This time, he’s established it as a priority from the outset.
“In the last session it was handled very poorly [by Republicans],” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “There was a coordination problem across the board.”
By the time the measure was on the verge of a vote last week, Davis was able to stall it by launching an filibuster spanning hours. She won’t be working with a similar timetable this go around.
The enhanced security means enhanced scrutiny of those in attendance. On Friday, Dewhurst told me that his office was reviewing the security video of the Senate after hearing reports that members of the media may have incited the gallery to riot, and that arrests could be made. That interview got picked up by the Dallas Morning News, which got an update from Dewhurst’s office that no crimes were committed by journalists:
Update at 3:27 p.m. from Gromer Jeffers Jr.: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Saturday that there was no reason to go after reporters for helping to incite opponents of a controversial anti-abortion bill.
“There was so much agitation about what happened on Tuesday night. I had my staff go back and look at the video and I’m pleased, I’m pleased that, although I’ve been told by many different people that they thought they had seen different members of the press who were trying to incite the crowd, the staff told me they couldn’t see anyone,” Dewhurst said. “That’s what I know about of the Texas press corps, who I respect.”
“We couldn’t see anyone that had done anything that they shouldn’t be doing, so the case is closed,” Dewhurst said.
Updated 10:15 a.m. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s office says after reviewing the video tapes, it has concluded the media acted appropriately the night of the Senate filibuster and won’t be arrested after all. A spokesman said Saturday the Republican lieutenant governor instructed his staff to look at the video after someone told him reporters were cheering on protesters in the gallery who disrupted the legislative proceedings. “He had his staff review tapes and was happy to learn that the media conducted themselves in a matter consistent with the decorum of the Senate chamber,” said Dewhurst spokesman Travis Considine. “He has a deep and abiding respect for the Texas press corps.”
Nevertheless, it’s clear that the leadership in Texas won’t be caught by surprise this time. Expect to see plenty of protests outside the legislature, and something a lot closer to business as usual inside of it.