As conservative bills pick up steam, Democrats plan to put up a fight before midnight deadline in Texas House

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 8, known as the heartbeat bill, that essentially bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The only thing standing between the bill and becoming law is the governor’s signature, and he’s already signaled support.

“It’s now on its way to my desk for signing,” Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Thursday, thanking State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler) and State Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) for their leadership on the issue, having guided it through the Senate and House.

The bill would prohibit doctors from performing abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. It also allows any person to sue anyone who aids and abets an abortion in Texas.

Bills in the House must get initial approval on the House floor before Thursday at midnight. SB 8 beat that deadline easily. That’s something conservatives are proud of, but Democrats have been starkly against.

“Every woman’s abortion story is a little different, and it’s not the job of the government to decide whose story is worthy. It’s our job to make sure that once someone makes that decision, they have safe, legal access to that care,” State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Kyle) said Thursday.

“We get more work in the building done when we don’t try and rollback abortion rights,” Rep. Zwiener said. Instead, she wishes her colleagues on the other side would pay more attention to medical issues related to the pandemic, like Medicaid expansion.

“Every session since the Affordable Care Act became law, this has been our biggest failure as state legislature is not passing Medicaid expansion. We’re talking about helping 2.2 million Texans.”

That’s something Rep. John Bucy (D-Cedar Park) has been pushing especially hard this session. He said with Thursday’s looming deadline, he’s lost hope.

“There’s not a lot of optimism left of the Medicaid expansion this time,” Rep. Bucy said.

With more than 200 on the list for the day, it’s nearly impossible for lawmakers to get through all bills on the calendar. That’s something Democrats hope to take advantage of.

“Being in the minority party, one of the best strengths we have is running out of time in this building,” Rep. Bucy said. “The bad bills, the bills that deal with hate, such as the trans bill, we’re not going to let pass. We’re going to run out the clock if we have to.”

He’s referring to HB 1399 — a bill that would prohibit gender reassignment surgeries and procedures in Texas for anyone under 18.

“We’ll ask more questions than maybe we usually would including on bills that we may support to slow the process down and make sure we don’t move down the calendar,” Rep. Bucy said.

Other lawmakers are frustrated some bills never even made it to a committee hearing, like HB 420, authored by Rep. Carl Sherman, Sr. (D-Lancaster).

“HB 420, which deals with maternity mortality rate among African American women, which is four times more than other women. And it’s an issue that’s real,” Rep. Sherman said. He’s also disappointed a separate bill that would have made Juneteenth a state holiday didn’t make the cut.

While Democrats express frustrations with the session, Republicans are flaunting it as one of the most conservative sessions to date.

“I think we have a lot to be happy about in the fiscal restraint side,” Texas Public Policy Foundation’s VP of Policy Derek Cohen explained Thursday.

“Whether it’s constitutional carry or the heartbeat bill… when it comes to defining what conservative policy is, no matter how you do it, if it’s fiscally conservative, socially conservative, I think that there is a hook to hang a hat on, regardless,” Cohen said.

TPPF, however, also has other bills it’s still hoping the legislature will make time for this session, even if they miss the midnight deadline.

“The question on taxpayer-funded lobbying, as sticky as that’s been, that’s been a bit of a disappointment, but there is still a prospect of that moving in the House, because that’s a Senate Bill,” Cohen explained.

While Democrats criticized the majority party’s lack of response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TPPF said the opposite, applauding lawmakers for making substantiate changes to emergency powers and handling the economic crisis that stemmed from it.

“I think they have gone, gone above and beyond,” Cohen added. “I think that there are people that are going to generally be happy with what the legislature has come up with.”

Friday is the deadline for final passage of House bills on the supplemental calendar.

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