WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE SENDS HEARTBEAT BILL TO GOVERNOR, PERMITLESS CARRY TO NEGOTIATIONS
(AUSTIN) — Governor Greg Abbott has said he will sign a bill that effectively bans abortions after six weeks after the Senate concurred in House modifications to SB 8, known as the Texas "heartbeat" bill. That measure, by Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes, requires doctors to attempt to detect a fetal heartbeat before they perform an abortion. If they do find one, they must stop or face civil liability of at least $10,000 per procedure. This bill differs from similar legislation in ten other states in that it applies civil liability, rather than criminal or administrative liability. It's this difference, Hughes has said in committee meetings, that could help this bill avoid being enjoined by federal courts like legislation passed by other states. Supreme Court precedent allows most abortion procedures to occur up to 20 weeks gestation. Though it can vary some, a fetal heartbeat is usually detectable around six weeks gestation.
The House added two amendments to which the Senate agreed. The first would roll back Senate changes to other abortion-related laws already in the books. "When it got to the House, the concern was that it was much broader than just the heartbeat bill," said Hughes. "An amendment was put on in the House that would make it just apply to the heartbeat bill, but not the other pro-life laws in statute." Another amendment would reduce the statute of limitations on civil liability, reducing the time in which a provider can be sued for performing an abortion in violation of the bill's proposed law from six years to four years after the procedure.
Governor Abbott has said he would sign such a bill this session, and tweeted his congratulations to the Legislature for sending the bill to his desk. Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. said the bill was "one of the most important" bills he's seen since he entered the Senate in 1991. "I'm privileged to be a part of it," he said.
The permitless carry bill will go to conference committee after the House refused to concur with Senate amendments to HB 1927. Five representatives and five senators will meet to hash out the differences between the two measures. The bill would allow Texans who are at least 21 years old and who are already lawfully permitted to carry a handgun to do so without a state license. The Senate added amendments that would prohibit carrying a handgun for five years after a conviction of certain violent offenses. It would also increase penalties for illegal carry by convicted felons or domestic violence offenders who are already barred from carrying a sidearm under federal or state law. Other changes added to the bill include a prohibition against public carry while intoxicated and a requirement that the Department of Public Safety create a free, online gun safety course.
Prior to consideration of the bill, House author and Tyler Representative Matt Schaefer warned via Twitter that any "non-germane" amendments added to the bill could jeopardize its chances, and tweeted again after Senate passage that he was "very concerned" about some of the Senate amendments, though he didn't say which ones. Now Senate sponsor and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, along with four of his colleagues, will work with House conferees to develop a consensus measure. If they can do that, then the final bill will be presented to the full membership of each chamber for an up-or-down vote. Abbott has indicated that he would sign the bill if the Legislature sends it to his desk. They have until May 31st to do so.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 17 at 2:00 p.m.