AUSTIN, Texas —
"If it were not for a suspension of the rules, we would not be having a special session," Democrat John Whitmire, the longest-serving senator, said in defending the tradition of requiring two-thirds of the Senate to vote yes to consider a bill. "The two-thirds rule builds consensus on behalf of the people of Texas."
After the redistricting vote, the Senate unanimously passed a law creating a mandatory life sentence with possibility for parole in 40 years for 17-year-olds who commit murder while carrying out another felony, such as rape or kidnapping. The law is necessary because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas' mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole is unconstitutional for minors.
After the Senate recessed, committees met to pass the rest of Perry's agenda setting the stage for a full Senate vote next week.
The Health and Services Committee approved measures that would ban abortions after 20 weeks unless the mother's life was in immediate danger, impose stringent conditions on taking abortion-inducing pills and require all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.
Republican Sens. Glen Hegar, Dan Patrick and Bob Deuell said their legislation would provide better protection for women seeking an abortion, but Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, called the measures an attempt to strip women of their right to make their own health decisions.
Currently, only five out of 42 clinics that offer abortions qualify as surgical centers. Houston has two such centers, while Dallas, Austin and San Antonio each have one. Upgrading clinics to surgical centers can cost millions of dollars, abortion rights groups said.
In a less controversial move in the Senate, the Finance Committee endorsed a plan Friday that would send a portion of oil and gas severance taxes into a new road-building fund. The plan sent to the full Senate would divert the money from the rainy day fund only after it hits $6 billion or more. Lawmakers say estimates show the fund will have more than $6 billion for at least several years because of an oil and gas boom.
That measure is expected to pass the Senate but could run into trouble in the House, where conservative lawmakers have complained about government spending.
The special session ends June 25.