(Orange, Texas)

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July 2, 2013

Roads, sentencing bills advance; abortion looms

AUSTIN, Texas — A major transportation funding plan and a new sentencing option for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder advanced in the Texas Senate on Tuesday, as lawmakers looked to make quick work of those issues with major fights still to come over new abortion restrictions.

The transportation and juvenile justice bills have widespread bipartisan support and were set to pass in the previous special session until they were wiped out as collateral damage of the Senate filibuster against the abortion measure.

Both issues have been overshadowed in the new special session by abortion, which was likely to heat up again with Tuesday's later hearing in the House Committee on State Affairs. The abortion hearing, which began at 3:30 p.m. and was scheduled to last until midnight, had nearly 2,000 witnesses scheduled to testify one day after thousands of demonstrators flocked to the Capitol.

A hearing 10 days ago began a series of protests by abortion-rights supporters. A filibuster and protest killed the bill on the last day of the first special session.

The transportation funding measure is a constitutional amendment that would divert nearly $1 billion per year from the state's cash reserve fund to spend on building and maintaining roads. The reserve fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, is filled with oil and gas severance taxes.

State transportation leaders have said the Texas needs to spend $4 billion more per year to keep up with the state's rapidly growing population. Supporters of the plan admit it won't cover the state's financial needs for roads but say it lays the foundation for a pay-as-you-go approach to building roads after years of amassing billions in long-term debt. Critics warn it puts transportation at the front of the line for money and could leave lawmakers in a bind if they face another crisis in the feature.

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