The Brief: New abortion fights in Texas start today

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee is taking up three abortion-related bills today. Here's what you need to know.

Protesters on both sides of the issue face off in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is argued inside, March 2, 2016. The case is focused on Texas law HB2, which if enforced would result in the closure of more than 75 percent of all women’s health clinics that provide abortion services in the state.
Protesters on both sides of the issue face off in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is argued inside, March 2, 2016. The case is focused on Texas law HB2, which if enforced would result in the closure of more than 75 percent of all women’s health clinics that provide abortion services in the state.  Allison Shelley for The Texas Tribune

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Tribune today

  • Lena was not a prostitute; she was a child who had been sexually exploited. But since the state couldn't help the sex-trafficked teen, authorities sent her to jail
  • A Senate Finance committee workgroup is tasked with improving a juvenile justice agency that's pushing back on claims of inefficiency. 
  • The finance folks are looking for money to make the next state budget balance, but don't fret: They've got plenty of tax-avoiding, budget-balancing tricks in their bags.
  • State Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ presence in the House is a sensitive topic for her colleagues in the Travis County delegation, and most of them have only offered the 12-term Democrat a lukewarm welcome since session started. 
  • Gov. Greg Abbott blasted the NFL for wading into the bathroom debate Tuesday afternoon while talking with conservative radio host Glenn Beck. 
  • A study released Tuesday found that nearly 60 percent of Texas public school districts used an abstinence-only sexual education curriculum, and a quarter taught no sex education at all. 
  • UTSA President Ricardo Romo, who had been scheduled to retire in August, was placed on administrative leave pending a "review of allegations related to his conduct," UT System officials said Tuesday. 
  • U.S. Sen. John Cornyn raised questions about Russia and the Trump administration Tuesday.
  • Singers and actors — including Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys — signed onto an open letter asking state lawmakers to reject the so-called "bathroom bill."   

What you need to know

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee is taking up three abortion-related bills today. Follow Texas Tribune reporter Marissa Evans for updates, and watch live on our site. 

  • The bills proposed this session range from banning "partial-birth abortions" and fetal tissue donations to reinforcing a recent DSHS rule allowing cremation and burial as options for fetuses. Wednesday marks the beginning of this session's abortion fights with three related bills on the committee's agenda. 
  • Last month, a federal court blocked a Texas fetal remains burial rule. The decision came as a blow to anti-abortion lawmakers, with Judge Sam Sparks ruling the state couldn't require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office would appeal the decision
  • The battle lines over abortion this session are already coming into focus. Republicans have filed legislation that would require abortion providers to file fetal death certificates after the procedure, while Democrats have authored bills that would reverse the 24-hour waiting period to get an abortion. 

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Other stories we're watching today:

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  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will join North Carolina's lieutenant governor and the Family Research Council at noon to discuss what some states are doing to "protect the safety and privacy of women and children," according to the council. Follow Texas Tribune reporter Alexa Ura for updates. 

News from home

Help us report on sex trafficking in Texas: Over the past five months, The Texas Tribune has investigated the hidden world of sex trafficking. Now, we want to hear about your experiences.

Ask Texas Tribune journalists Neena Satija, Morgan Smith and Edgar Walters about our investigation into sex trafficking in Texas by joining us for a Feb. 21 Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat with a former child welfare investigator. 

What we're reading

(Links below lead to outside websites; paywall content noted with $) 

GOP back to open combat over Obamacare, Politico

The evolution of the energy capital of the world, Texas Monthly

Education Austin calls out Austin ISD superintendentKVUE

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Permian prices may deter some drillers, The Midland Reporter-Telegram

Galveston County seeking more power to enforce immigration laws, The Daily News ($)

Pence did not learn that Flynn misled him on Russia until last week, The Washington Post ($)

For your calendar 

Join us for an online screening and discussion of TOWER, a documentary that tells the untold stories of the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin, at 11 a.m. today. 

Join us in person or online for a discussion with state Reps. César Blanco, D-El Paso, and Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, at Odessa College Feb. 17. 

Photo of the day

Nobody wanted Lena, a sex-trafficking victim, to end up in jail. But Houston police arrested her anyway. They call this practice "arrest and recovery" — and it happens a lot in a system that provides few alternatives for young trafficking victims who need help. Photo by Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune. See more photos on our Instagram account

Quote to note

"Justice is the last line of defense for civil and human rights protected under the U.S. Constitution and laws passed by Congress. From the Civil Rights Act through the Voting Rights Act to the Shepard/Boyd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the DOJ has stood as the defender of citizens whose rights are denied."

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— Claude Cummings Jr. of Communications Workers of America about civil rights and newly-confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions via TribTalk

The Brief is written and compiled by your morning news baristas, Bobby Blanchard and Cassi Pollock. If you have feedback or questions, please email thebrief@texastribune.org. We're a nonprofit newsroom, and count on readers like you to help power newsletters like this. Did you like what you read today? Show your appreciation by becoming a member or making a donation today.

Disclosure: The University of Texas System and the University of Texas at San Antonio have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.