Ab­bot now 3-for20 as bills reach his desk

Gov­er­nor signs sun­set, voter fraud mea­sures; next, abor­tion re­ports.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

Gov. Greg Ab­bott on Fri­day checked three is­sues off his 20-item agenda for the Leg­is­la­ture’s over­time ses­sion.

Law­mak­ers sent their first­bills to Ab­bott on day 25 of the 30-day spe­cial ses­sion, meet­ing the gov­er­nor’s call for stricter re­port­ing of abor­tion com­pli­ca­tions, set­ting stiffer penal­ties for mail-in bal­lot fraud and keep­ing five state agen­cies from hav­ing to shut down over the com­ing year.

Sig­nif­i­cant progress also was made Fri­day on leg­is­la­tion to limit city an­nex­a­tion pow­ers and re­strict lo­cal tree-re­moval poli­cies.

And law­mak­ers will be back for more Satur­day, with the House set to take a con­tentious dive into a bill that seeks to limit lo­cal prop­erty taxes by re­quir­ing voter ap­proval for in­creases above a cer­tain level, while the Se­nate is ex­pected to con­sider two hot-but­ton is­sues — ban­ning in­surance cov­er­age for abor­tions and de­cid­ing how much ad­di­tional money to spend on pub­lic schools.

With the spe­cial ses­sion en­ter­ing its fran­tic fi­nal days — all work must be fin­ished by mid­night Wed­nes­day — Ab­bott quickly signed into law two bills that will ex­tend the life of the Texas Med­i­cal Board and four other state reg­u­la­tory agen­cies.

With his sig­na­ture, Ab­bott fi­nally put to rest an is­sue that forced the spe­cial ses­sion when Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, ea­ger to res­ur­rect bills to ad­dress prop­erty taxes and limit trans­gen­der-friendly bath­rooms, re­jected House at­tempts to keep the agen­cies op­er­at­ing dur­ing the closing days of the reg­u­lar ses­sion in May.

“Thanks to the pas­sage of this

crit­i­cal leg­is­la­tion, Texas will now be able to con­tinue to li­cense new doc­tors and reg­u­late the prac­tice of medicine,” Ab­bott said in a state­ment. “As the first or­der of busi­ness on my spe­cial ses­sion call, these bills were nec­es­sary in keep­ing im­por­tant state agen­cies run­ning, and keep­ing Texans healthy.”

Ab­bott also signed Se­nate Bill 5, in­creas­ing the crim­i­nal penal­ties for mail-in bal­lot fraud.

All Se­nate Repub­li­cans and one Demo­crat — Sen. Ed­die Lu­cio Jr. of Brownsville — voted Fri­day to ac­cept changes the House had made to the bill, although Sen. Joan Huff­man, R-Hous­ton, said she was un­happy that a House-added amend­ment will void a law that would have made it eas­ier for nurs­ing home res­i­dents to vote.

Democrats said they feared the bill will crim­i­nal­ize kitchen-ta­ble con­ver­sa­tions about can­di­dates that take place while a mail-in bal­lot is be­ing filled out, but the bill’s au­thor, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Rich­land Hills, said se­nior cit­i­zens and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties de­serve the same pro­tec­tion from po­ten­tial in­flu­ence as peo­ple who vote at polling places.

Ab­bott said he pros­e­cuted mail-in bal­lot fraud when he served as Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral be­fore be­com­ing gov­er­nor, “yet this prob­lem con­tin­ues to ex­ist.”

“It is a pri­mary func­tion of gov­ern­ment to pro­tect a cit­i­zen’s right to vote, and I will not al­low the in­tegrity of the bal­lot box to be com­pro­mised in Texas,” he said.

SB 5 also re­quires a sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion process for early bal­lots and pe­nal­izes those who fraud­u­lently ob­tain a mail-in bal­lot or al­ter an­other per­son’s bal­lot with­out per­mis­sion.

One other bill given fi­nal ap­proval Fri­day — House Bill 13, re­quir­ing stricter re­port­ing of abor­tion-re­lated med­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions — wasn’t ready for Ab­bott’s sig­na­ture Fri­day evening.

Op­po­nents of the bill ar­gue that abor­tions are safe, with com­pli­ca­tion rates well be­low other pro­ce­dures, mak­ing HB 13 an­other at­tempt to ha­rass abor­tion providers and fur­ther stig­ma­tize abor­tion.

Sup­port­ers say cur­rent abor­tion-com­pli­ca­tion re­port­ing pro­ce­dures are in­ad­e­quate, po­ten­tially hid­ing prob­lems and in­flat­ing safety rates.

Un­der HB 13, doc­tors will have three busi­ness days to file an elec­tronic re­port with the state if a com­pli­ca­tion arises dur­ing an abor­tion. Doc­tors in hos­pi­tals and emer­gency clin­ics also will have three days to re­port treat­ing women for prob­lems re­sult­ing from an abor­tion.

Re­ports must in­clude the type of abor­tion, ges­ta­tional age of the fe­tus and in­for­ma­tion about each pa­tient, in­clud­ing her mar­i­tal sta­tus, race, year of birth, county of res­i­dence and num­ber of pre­vi­ous live births. Sen­a­tors on Fri­day re­jected an amend­ment by Sen. José Menén­dez, D-San An­to­nio, to re­move much of the pa­tient in­for­ma­tion from the state forms.

Doc­tors who fail to com­ply could be fined $500 for each vi­o­la­tion. Three vi­o­la­tions “con­sti­tutes cause for the re­vo­ca­tion or sus­pen­sion” of a doc­tor’s li­cense or a health care fa­cil­ity’s per­mits, the bill states.

TOM MCCARTHY JR. / FOR AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

State Rep. Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, speaks to col­leagues Fri­day as he brings the an­nex­a­tion-ap­proval bill to the House floor for a sec­ond read­ing. The mea­sure, which re­quires large cities to get the con­sent of vot­ers in ar­eas they want to an­nex, passed by a vote of 115-24.

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