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The third week of the much-anticipated 84th Legislative Session, and we hurried up to wait—like we always dutifully do. The first two weeks regrettably offered no surprises: business as usual in so many ways too long to list.
The next event for the 84th Legislative Session is the publication of the committee assignments in the House. We are told and believe to be true that this is the most conservative membership in the Texas House of Representatives in a long time. This result is why Texas Right to Life took substantial risks and spent tremendous sums in the primary election season. We are also told that the leadership operates according to the will of the majority of members, but many of the Pro-Life members do not experience their will, or the will of the Texas electorate, being done.
In the State House, 97 Republicans serve, and 94 will vote Pro-Life. Of the 52 Democrats, 5 will vote Pro-Life. That makes 99 Pro-Life votes out of 150 House members, or in other words, a Pro-Life super majority.
To reflect this Pro-Life majority and to govern according to the Pro-Life will of the House, House leadership should appoint design committees to facilitate the passing of Pro-Life bills. Many opportunities stand for moderates and lukewarm officials to serve on influential committees that do not consider Pro-Life measures so the wealth of cherry committee assignments can be spread. For example, a representative scoring 100% or above on the statewide Pro-Life scorecard would be ideal as chair of Public Health or State Affairs and Appropriations—to watchdog the Pro-Life budget provisions. Even with an active Pro-Life chairman, the committee makeup is key to ushering Pro-Life bills to passage without weakening amendments, such as the exceptions for babies diagnosed with fetal abnormalities in utero. Such a weakening provision can be avoided if the majority of committee members seek to protect all Life.
In the 83rd Legislative Session in 2013, the Pro-Life numbers in the State House were high, and yet, the will of the Pro-Life majority was thwarted through committee stalls and procedural tricks. Not one Pro-Life bill reached the House floor for a vote during the regular 83rd session DESPITE overwhelming support by the members where the bills would have easily passed with 100 votes.
Thus, the special sessionS (emphasis on plural)…no need to rehash the summer vacation in Austin here, but there was a happy ending much to the vexation of many RINOs.
House leadership holds a golden opportunity to respond to the voters who clearly enforced term limits at the ballot box both in the Texas Republican primary and in the November election. Texans and voters across the US expect elected officials to keep their values once they leave the neighborhood and enter their respective capitols to serve. The voters want policy changes, political transparency, and protection from government overreach.
All the legislative proposals to address these issues begin in committees, including protecting pregnant women and their tiny unborn Texans. House leadership could endear themselves to the grassroots by moving moderates around and appointing new committee chairs and committee members to expedite the passage of a Pro-Life agenda. Through committee assignments, House leadership actually demonstrates the conservatism boasted of in the speeches on the first day.
Most Republicans will at least feign opposition to abortion, but their actions as legislators (and their Pro-Life scores) show if their opposition is more to the unpleasant, time-consuming discussion and process of a Pro-Life bill passing OR if these legislators are saddened and repulsed by the barbaric dismemberment of a defenseless, voiceless baby, not to mention the harm done to the women in the clinics. If the latter is their true concern, these passionate legislators should be demanding conservative leadership in the committees – such as Public Health and Calendars – that will shepherd Pro-Life legislation to passage in this regular session.
At the outset of 2013, one committee chairman (likely to be a chair again in the imminent announcements—sigh!) told Texas Right to Life to be grateful for “everything we gave you in 2011 and not push too hard this time.”
Well, first off, in 2011, nothing was given to us, not even the scraps from the table. In fact, to achieve the budget success of defunding the abortion industry, we had to take from leadership. The time and energy that some in leadership spent on squash attempts was impressive, but Texas Right to Life won with the help of a few principled Pro-Life legislators who drove the budget amendments.
Secondly, the particular chairman was prepared to walk away from 74,000 unborn Texans and their mothers in 2013 for political expediency. SEVENTY-FOUR THOUSAND BABIES would have died had we acquiesced to that chairman. And he would have gone home satisfied without sparing one woman the pain and anguish from abortion, all while campaigning for reelection on a Pro-Life platform.
But we were “grateful” – just not in the sense he meant. We were grateful that the antics of some in leadership forced us to learn tactical maneuvers to work around them. And we were grateful that 2011 taught us that we can win either with or without leadership. While those who are tired of the Pro-Life issues let our bills die in committee, they have taught us stealth moves. The bad is muddy and bloody, but we have trudged this one before and will do so again.
Will Pro-Lifers again be forced to employ difficult strategies to protect Life? Or will the committee structure reflect the will of the Pro-Life majority of House members? The former is most likely, which is both appalling and bewildering. We hope that leadership capitalizes myriad opportunities to work with and among the Pro-Life members, to build consensus on how to protect the unborn, to achieve a victory together (and before June 1). If committee business is as usual, we may be vacationing in Austin again this summer.
We have no plans to leave Austin this summer.
One way or another, we will find a way to save the innocents.