The Brief: Top Texas News for June 26, 2013

Protesters in the Senate gallery disrupt the final hour of the special session on June 25, 2013.
Protesters in the Senate gallery disrupt the final hour of the special session on June 25, 2013.

The Big Conversation

Thunderous protests and a marathon filibuster on Tuesday marked one of the most dramatic days of the Texas Legislature in recent memory.

In a stunning end to a mostly low-key legislative session, outnumbered Democrats — led by state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth — and an impassioned throng of protesters helped slow proceedings and ultimately kill a bill that would have imposed some of the nation's strictest abortion laws, including a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Davis, a rising star in the state's Democratic Party, stood and spoke against the legislation for nearly 13 hours as Republicans tried to thwart her effort using the Senate's strict filibuster rules, which allow a senator two warnings before the chamber can vote to cut off debate. Throughout the evening, Republicans voted to penalize her once for receiving assistance while putting on a back brace and twice for veering off the topic of the bill.

As the special session's midnight deadline approached, Democrats used parliamentary maneuvers to try to appeal Davis' third strike, stalling debate for about two hours. The tension escalated at about 11:45 p.m., when Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, who earlier in the day had attended her father's funeral, objected as Republican leaders refused to recognize one of her motions.

 

"At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” she said, sparking a chorus of cheers and screams that swelled as protesters tried to run out the clock. The pandemonium drowned out a last-minute effort by Republicans to vote on the bill, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, after about three hours of confusion on the floor over whether the bill had been approved, announced that the vote had come too late.

Though Davis' 2011 filibuster over public education funding raised her profile in Texas, her effort on Tuesday appears to have shot her to national stardom overnight. The Senate debate made national headlines, and Davis received recognition on Twitter from the likes of President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as a few celebrities.

"I am overwhelmed, honestly," Davis said after the bill was declared dead. Support from protesters at the Capitol and across the nation, she said, showed the "determination and spirit of Texas women and people who care about Texas women."

Whether the bill will stay dead, however, remains unclear. Gov. Rick Perry, who added abortion restrictions to the special session agenda, could call lawmakers back for another special session at any time, especially since the debate on Tuesday killed bills on two of his other priorities: transportation funding and criminal sentencing for 17-year-olds.

Culled

•    Supreme Court ruling on Voting Rights Act could renew battle over Texas redistricting (The Dallas Morning News): "The Supreme Court decision striking down elements of the Voting Rights Act could lead to the Legislature implementing a 2011 redistricting plan that was deemed by federal judges to be discriminatory to Texas minority voters. Soon after Tuesday’s decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that the state’s voter identification plan would immediately take effect, requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls."

•    FreedomWorks vows to fight Dems in Texas (Politico): "The conservative outside group FreedomWorks has drawn up plans to spend nearly $8 million mobilizing and expanding the GOP base in Texas, in a move to counter state and national Democratic efforts to make the state more electorally competitive, POLITICO has learned. In a twelve-page internal strategy document obtained by POLITICO, FreedomWorks says that the Republican Party should be alarmed in particular by the Democratic group Battleground Texas, which several Obama campaign officials founded this year with the mission of organizing liberal-leaning constituencies that currently vote at below-average rates."

•    Lawyer: Texas woman's execution can't be stopped (Houston Chronicle): "For the second time in two days, Texas' highest appeals court on Tuesday rejected Dallas killer Kimberly McCarthy's request that it consider irregularities in the selection of her jury. McCarthy, 52, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for the July 1997 robbery-murder of a 71-year-old Dallas woman. McCarthy would be the 500th killer put to death since the state resumed executions in 1982."

Quote of the Day: "It's been fun, but, uh, see you soon." — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst after declaring the abortion legislation dead and adjourning the special session

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