Senate Floor Debate Begins to Intensify
AUSTIN - One of the seven bills approved by the Senate on Tuesday was the most debated yet of the 2001 session of the Texas Legislature.
Early in a legislative session, the Senate usually focuses on non-controversial bills. But Senate Bill (SB) 269, sponsored by Bryan Senator Steve Ogden, brought some pointed questions during floor debate.
Ogden's bill would create a felony offense for injuring a pregnant woman, with increased penalties if the woman suffers a miscarriage or stillbirth as a result of the injury.
Dallas Sen. Royce West immediately asked what would prevent an "overzealous prosecutor" from using the statute to prosecute a doctor who performs an abortion. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio also had questions about how the bill legally defined the term "miscarriage."
Ogden assured both West and Van de Putte that he did not intend SB 269 as an anti-abortion vehicle, pointing to two sections of the bill that expressly exempt abortions and that the bill does nothing to redefine the legal definition of miscarriage.
SB 269 was finally approved by a voice vote, but not without the dissenting votes of six senators, who voted against the common parliamentary practice of suspending the regular order of business and suspending the constitutional requirement that a bill be read on three several (legislative) days before it can be considered. The six were Senators Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, David Bernsen of Beaumont, Mario Gallegos of Houston, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso and Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio.
The Senate also passed a bill to lengthen the statute of limitations for prosecuting certain felony offenses.
SB 214, sponsored by Bernsen, focuses on kidnaping, injury to a child, an elderly or disabled person, or child abandonment or endangerment. Current state law provides a statute of limitations of three years in which to prosecute these offenses. Bernsen's bill would increase that time to ten years.
The Senate also adopted a floor amendment offered by Plano Sen. Florence Shapiro that would increase the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases from five to ten years.
Other bills the Senate voted to approve were:
- SB 124 (Shapiro): Would require district judges to file electronic campaign reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.
- SB 256 (John Carona-Dallas): Would allow taxing entities to recover costs associated with delinquent tax auctions or sales.
- SB 286 (Carona): Would allow a county judge to delegate the authority to hold certain hearings.
- SB 288 (Ken Armbrister-Victoria): Would authorize district judges to appoint fiscal officers for community supervision and corrections departments and establishes guidelines for their appointment and use.
- SB 495 (Bernsen): Would increase the hours of training newly elected justices of the peace must undergo from 40 to 80.
In other Senate action, the Nominations Committee was schedule to hear testimony from seven nominees to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The Business and Commerce Committee held a special joint hearing with its Border Affairs Subcommittee. The reason for the joint hearing was to hear testimony on SB 517 from the bill's sponsor, Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., the chair of the subcommittee. SB 517 would provide border counties with the statutory authority to prevent the proliferation of unincorporated subdivisions that lack sanitation and infrastructure development.
The Senate stands adjourned until 11 a.m. Wednesday.