House Bill 661 by Representative John Zerwas (R-Simonton) would establish an alternative pathway for physicians to secure licensure, enabling them to practice in multiple states. Although the bill does not mention abortion, the bill, known as the “Compact,” designates rule-making authority to a commission that knowingly or not could adopt rules that supplant existing state law. Specifically, the following language could supersede or nullify the Pro-Life laws that Texas Right to Life and the legislature have worked so hard to pass:
Sec. 169.024. BINDING EFFECT OF COMPACT AND OTHER LAWS.
(a) Nothing herein prevents the enforcement of any other law of a member state that is not inconsistent with the compact.
(b) All laws in a member state in conflict with the compact are superseded to the extent of the conflict.
During the hearing on the bill last week, State Representative Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen) viciously challenged a doctor who shared with the committee how the Compact would impact her patients. Not once did she worry about the constraints of her own medical business; rather, she offered examples of how the Compact would compound the negative impact of the Affordable Care Act already felt by her patients. While this interrogation bordered on abuse of power, the invective against the doctor demonstrated how some legislators obfuscate fair and open debates by persecuting opposition.
John Seago, Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life, skillfully outlined the chief Pro-Life concern (shared by other state and national Pro-Life organizations) to the committee: (1) Not only would the Compact rules prevail if current law is silent on a specific issue, but also (2) if the rules adopted and promulgated by the Compact conflict with existing laws in the member states, the Compact rules trump [Section 169.024.] Both provisions could have far-reaching implications in the dismantling of Pro-Life laws. Avowedly pro-abortion State Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) tried to belittle John’s assessment as simply his own interpretation, but John respectfully pointed out that all witnesses were also representing their own interpretations and assessments of the bill, which is the whole purpose of committee hearings.
Zerwas, who begrudgingly mustered an abysmal 6% Pro-Life voting record in 2013, assured the committee that he was “on the Pro-Life bandwagon” and then read a letter about Texas Right to Life written by a local activist. Rather than the activist testifying like Texas Right to Life and other concerned citizens before the committee on the subject of the bill, Zerwas hoped the defamatory letter about Texas Right to Life would establish his Pro-Life bonafides.
Bandwagon or not, the intent or good will of a few Texas legislators will prove irrelevant in a new system of representatives from various states and whose disputes are resolved in a liberal federal court in Washington, D.C. Texas Right to Life offered a solution to the above concerns, including limiting Section 169.024 to “licensure,” thereby ensuring that the Compact only addresses licensing, and not substantive, state law.
Texas Right to Life has participated in several meetings with those promoting the Compact; however, proponents have claimed that the bill cannot be amended since all member states have to enact identical legislation and framework for this Interstate Commission to materialize and be enforceable. Not only have our Pro-Life concerns been dismissed and ignored, lawmakers are not being told that the Pro-Life laws for which they have worked could be nullified under the Compact.
Sadly, the House Committee on Public Health approved the measure this morning by a vote of 9-1, moving the bill to the House Committee on Calendars, the next step toward passage.
To read our analysis of HB 661, visit our blog.