The Brief: Texas Political News for Nov. 20, 2013

The Big Conversation

The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision keeping in place for now new restrictions on Texas abortion facilities has thrust the state and the hot-button social issue back into the national spotlight.

"The Texas law is one of several recent state measures adopted by Republican-controlled legislatures that seek to regulate or restrict abortion without banning it," wrote the Los Angeles Times' David G. Savage. "The laws are drafted in a manner that they are expected to be upheld by the Supreme Court's conservative-leaning majority that includes Kennedy. In the past, he has voted to uphold abortion regulations, but has refused to strike down Roe vs. Wade and the right to legal abortion."

Indeed, the five justices who make up the conservative bloc of the court were the ones who upheld the law pushed by Texas Republicans in the Capitol.

Abortion providers and abortion rights groups had challenged a portion of the law that went into effect at the end of October that forced doctors at abortion facilities to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Those challenging the requirement argued that it would lead to the shutdown of a third of the state's abortion facilities.

 

The court's four-justice liberal bloc agreed with that argument. Justice Stephen Breyer "wrote that the status quo in effect before the law should be maintained 'while the lower courts consider this difficult, sensitive and controversial legal matter,'" wrote the San Antonio Express-NewsPeggy Fikac. "The state, he said, 'provides no assurance that a significant number of women seeking abortions will not be affected.'"

The Austin American-Statesman's Chuck Lindell wrote that the conservatives on the court were not swayed. "Abortion providers, [Justice Antonin] Scalia wrote, 'have not carried their heavy burden of showing that [enforcing HB 2] was a clear violation of accepted legal standards — which do not include a special ‘status quo’ standard for laws affecting abortion.'”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis rose to national prominence over the summer through her filibuster of the legislation, which was eventually passed in a subsequent special session. She was quick to criticize the court's decision, reported The Texas Tribune's Becca Aaronson.

"Clinics will close and women's health will be hurt because of this law," Davis said. "This is an abuse of power by politicians in Austin. I trust women to make their own decisions and will continue to work to make sure that women and mothers are safe and have access to adequate health care."

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is defending against legal challenges to HB 2 and will likely face off against Davis next fall in the general election for governor, said: “These are commonsense — and perfectly constitutional — regulations that further the state’s interest in protecting the health and safety of Texas women. ... And we are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that HB 2 will remain in effect.”

Wednesday's action does not end the legal skirmishes over the law. Next up are oral arguments in January before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on the law's constitutionality. The law could wind up before the Supreme Court again before all is said and done.

Culled

•    LCRA Approves Plan That Could Cut Water for Rice Farmers in 2014 (The Texas Tribune): "After a contentious meeting over its latest drought management plan, which is almost sure to cut off water for coastal rice farmers in the lower Colorado River Basin for the third year in a row, the Lower Colorado River Authority voted 8-7 on Tuesday to approve the proposal."

 

•    LCRA board limits lawn watering (Austin American-Statesman): "The board of the Lower Colorado River Authority voted Tuesday to require several Central Texas cities to curtail lawn watering to once a week. It also voted to effectively cut off water releases for downstream irrigation for the third year in a row. Despite recent rainfall in the Austin area, the region’s primary reservoirs remain severely depleted."

•    Texans on Capitol Hill target “rampant” sex trafficking in Texas and elsewhere (Houston Chronicle): "With an estimated 25 percent of the nation’s sex trafficking victims hailing from the Lone Star State, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Congressman Ted Poe led an effort on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to punish 'Johns' as harshly as 'pimps.' The lawmakers’ proposed legislation, filed in the House and Senate with bipartisan support, would impose penalties of 15 years to life on convicted customers as well as convicted traffickers of sex slaves younger than 14 years old."

•    Textbook vote sees board of education's role changing (Houston Chronicle): "As state education officials choose new biology textbooks this week, some say the group's role in that decision has become a diminished one, given changes in the board's makeup as well as legislation. The State Board of Education has a smaller contingent of openly religious conservatives and new rules allow school districts to use state money to choose their instructional materials, factors that indicate the board is less likely this year to adopt materials that downplay the role of natural selection, a central tenet in biology."

•    Pro-Obama nonprofit Priorities USA raises $10.7 million (Politico): "An affiliated super PAC — Priorities USA Action — raised and spent $75 million during the 2012 cycle boosting Obama in the air war against Mitt Romney and Republican outside groups. The super PAC, which is required by law to release donor information, counted major Democratic donors like movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and Texas trial lawyer Steve Mostyn among its backers."

Quote to Note: “This is outrageous and unacceptable — and also demonstrates why we need stronger federal protections for women’s health. Your rights and your ability to make your own medical decisions should not depend on your ZIP code.” — Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, vowing to continue to fight new requirements in Texas on abortion facilities

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