The Big Conversation

A previously tame special session looks likely to end in a burst of political fireworks. 

As the Tribune's Jay Root writes today, while a lack of partisan drama led some observers to dub this year at the Capitol the "Kumbaya Session," the special session has taken a sharp turn.

On Tuesday, Perry ratcheted up the drama by adding to the special session agenda "legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities." Several conservative-backed abortion restrictions, including new regulations for abortion facilities, failed to gain traction during the regular session.

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"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," Perry said Tuesday. "In Texas, we value all life, and we’ve worked to cultivate a culture that supports the birth of every child."

The looming partisan battle over the issue stands in stark contrast to the comity of the regular session, when a bipartisan group of legislators quietly worked to restore funding for women's health programs.

"If the governor is going to keep legislators in Austin, let’s make that time productive and work on issues that will take all Texans into the future, rather than pushing women’s reproductive rights back to the past," said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

The new agenda item, however, wasn't the only news from Perry stirring political tensions. In addition to a redistricting fight that has lasted weeks longer than expected and looming debates over transportation funding, Perry has threatened to eliminate state funding for the Public Integrity Unit unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigns.

Democrats pounced, accusing Perry of caring more about politics than about real legislative work.

"The regular session overall was collegial and productive. We saw bipartisan work for the benefit of public education, water infrastructure and other priorities," said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "In contrast, the special session appears to be largely about partisanship and scoring political points. I think that’s unfortunate."

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Perry on Tuesday also added to the agenda legislation allowing life sentences for 17-year-olds who commit capital offenses, though the bill is unlikely to prove especially contentious.

Culled

•    Anti-Fraud Unit Would Be Hobbled by Funding Cut, Director Says (The Texas Tribune): "The effort to ferret out fraud and corruption in state government will sustain a 'huge blow' if Gov. Rick Perry carries out his threat to eliminate state funding for the Travis County-based Public Integrity Unit, the lead prosecutor in charge of it said Tuesday. Assistant Travis County District Attorney Gregg Cox, the longtime director of the anti-fraud unit, said the $7.5 million it expected to receive from the state for the next two years is needed to support prosecutions in more than 400 cases, ranging from insurance fraud to public corruption investigations."

•    Complaint Targets Process Used by Truancy Court (The Texas Tribune): "A Dallas County court is charging truant students and their parents millions in fines, handcuffing students in their classrooms and infringing on youths’ constitutional rights, according to a complaint that advocates are filing Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Justice."

•    Obama Backs Bill to Overhaul Immigration as Debate Is Set (The New York Times): "As the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to begin debating an overhaul of the nation’s immigrations laws, President Obama offered a wholehearted endorsement of the bipartisan proposal, which presents him with a chance to reach the kind of landmark accord with Republicans that has eluded him on the budget and gun violence."

•    5th circuit panel agrees to exclude Jones from death penalty appeal (Houston Chronicle): "Two judges on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Tuesday to reassign review of the case of a man facing execution Wednesday to a new panel that would exclude Judge Edith Jones, who is the subject of a formal misconduct complaint. … That complaint alleges that Jones improperly discussed the facts of several specific cases, including Chester's, and also made disparaging statements about blacks, Hispanics, Mexican nationals and people with mental retardation." 

Quote of the Day: "Political rhetoric claiming to support farmers does nothing to help the future of agriculture. This 'no' vote on a major farm bill cannot be justified as pro-farmer in any way." — Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke in a statement criticizing U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz's votes against a major farm bill on Monday

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