Gov. Rick Perry is again expanding the agenda of the ongoing special session, and this time he has added an issue that is sure to spark partisan warfare.
Perry on Tuesday added “legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities.” Perry also added the issue of life sentences for 17-year-olds who commit serious crimes, a big issue for prosecutors but less likely to trigger divisive debate.
"The horrors of the national late-term abortion industry are continuing to come to light, one atrocity at a time. Sadly, some of those same atrocities happen in our own state. In Texas, we value all life, and we’ve worked to cultivate a culture that supports the birth of every child,” Perry said. “We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease and pain they cause.”
Dozens of Republican legislators and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had been urging the governor to include abortion restriction legislation in the 30-day session.
Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, cheered Perry’s decision.
“We do believe that it’s possible to pass some statutes to increase the protection for mothers and unborn children in abortion facilities in Texas, and we’d like to see that happen,” he said.
While abortion curbs failed to gain traction during the regular session, Pojman said the chances of success are much better in a special session because Dewhurst has said he plans to suspend Senate procedural rules that give Democrats a strong voice in legislative debates.
State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who fought unsuccessfully against a 2011 measure requiring sonograms for most women who seek to terminate a pregnancy, said Texans don’t want lawmakers to engage in another divisive debate over abortion.
She said the new agenda item will mark a major departure from the relatively peaceful regular session, which started in January and ended late last month.
“I think we have so many other priorities,” she said. “We’ve been able to compromise. We’ve keep those wedge issues off the House floor, and this is going to change what progress we’ve made with a bipartisan take-care-of-business attitude."
Perry is also adding “legislation relating to establishing a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old,” the governor’s office said.
Prosecutors argue they need such legislation because currently 17-year-olds who commit capital murder cannot be charged with that crime. There is a gap between Texas law and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits a sentence of life without parole for those younger than 18.
Opponents of the measure, though, argue that the mandatory sentence does not consider the many influences that lead youths to commit serious crimes. They argue that judges should be given discretion to adjust sentences based on the circumstances of the crime.
Perry added the issue of transportation funding to the special session agenda on Monday.
Becca Aaronson contributed to this story.