Published 8:18 am Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Senate committees this week took up a number of significant bills, some that would regulate abortion practices and some that would answer Governor Greg Abbott’s emergency call for a constitutional convention.   The latter bills are the last addressing four issues tagged as emergencies by Abbott in his State of the State address to be taken up by the Senate.

Abbott said in his January speech that the federal government has overstepped its bounds and called on the legislature to pass an official petition to call an Article V convention for the purposes of amending the U.S. Constitution. Thursday, the Senate State Affairs Committee took up two measures that would do that. SJR 2, by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell, would tell Congress Texas wants to amend the nation’s founding document to rein in the powers of the federal government, including term limits for federal elective offices, requiring a national balanced budget and strengthening state sovereignty. Birdwell says he believes this is the only way to restore the original intent of the Constitution. “For years we’ve watched as the executive, judicial and frankly the legislative branches have usurped more and more power from the states,” he said. “It is my firm belief that the only way we will save this republic and federalism as a whole is to go about the process of the states taking control of the federal government that they created.”

An Article V convention has never happened in U.S. history, and would require 34 of the 50 states to pass formal resolutions calling for one. Then, each state would send a delegation to represent its interests at the convention. SB 21, also by Birdwell, would govern the selection and authority of the delegates. They must be active legislators, and the Legislature would retain the authority to recall and replace delegates that go outside the bounds of the topics under consideration.   Both measures passed the State Affairs committee and will go before the full body for consideration.

Wednesday, the Senate Health and Human Services committee looked at three bills that would restrict some practices relating to abortion procedures. The first, SB 8 by Committee Chair and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, would strictly regulate the donation of fetal tissue from aborted pregnancies.   This comes after a 2015 undercover video that Schwertner said allegedly showed employees at a Houston-area Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of fetal tissue and altering procedures to allow for the recovery of fetal organs. “This bill is meant to address the sincere concerns of literally tens of thousands of Texans, including myself, regarding the donation and potential sale and profit of human fetal tissue derived from elective abortion,” said Schwertner.

The bill would prohibit the sale or donation of fetal tissue from elective abortions, and would create penalties for doing so. Facilities would only be allowed to donate tissue from medically-necessary abortions or miscarriages, and only to approved facilities. The bill also bans the practice of partial birth abortions in Texas, already illegal under federal law. Schwertner said because the federal ban only applies in matters involving interstate transfer, a state law is needed.

The committee also heard a second bill, by Dallas Senator Don Huffines that would regulate the disposition of fetal tissue, one that would require a proper burial or cremation following an abortion or miscarriage. A third bill, by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, would require that any second-trimester abortions using a dilation and extraction procedure must first terminate the life of the fetus if dismemberment is involved in the procedure. All three bills remain pending before the Health and Human Services Committee.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, February 21 at 11 a.m.