The Texas Legislature was in session early Monday morning, debating several hot-button issues before the first special session of the 83rd Texas Legislature ends at midnight Tuesday.
With a vote of 97-33 just before 3:30 a.m. Monday, the Texas House passed the second reading of Senate Bill 5, which would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and limit abortions to surgical centers.
Democrats were supported by hundreds of demonstrators as they stalled the legislation for 15 hours, but Republicans voted to cease debate and vote early Monday morning.
Republicans say the regulations on abortion facilities will make abortions safer and would also lead to fewer abortions.
The majority of women who viewed the debate at the Capitol in Austin argue the laws would make getting an abortion nearly impossible for many women across Texas.
If the bill becomes law, Texas would have some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country.
District 5 Representative Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) told us in a phone interview just after he voted yes on the bill that this vote was important both for him and his voters.
"The right to life and the woman's right to choose is one of the most gut wrenching…one of the most heartfelt issues we've dealt with," he said. "The people feel very strongly about it. The majority of the people that I represent and the majority of people in Texas, have told us in polls, have told us in person, that communicated with us….that they are in favor of this bill and the matters that are covered in this bill are important."
The House will still need to pass a third reading of the bill on Monday so it can go back to the Senate on Tuesday to resolve amendments that were made to the bill before the session ends at midnight Tuesday night.
If the House can delay the passage of Senate Bill 5 long enough, Senate Democrats can still stage a filibuster until the session ends, which would kill the legislation.
The House reconvened to continue the debate on Senate Bill 5 at 6:46 a.m. Monday morning.
Another issue that the House debated Monday morning was statewide transportation, or more specifically, whether to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to dedicate more funding to transportation.
The House voted around 4 a.m. to tentatively approve Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would dedicate more revenue to the state highway fund.
It passed on an 86-17 vote, with two members present but not voting.
The Senate first passed the joint resolution on a 30-0 vote on June 18.
The resolution would dedicate 50 percent of the oil and gas severance tax that goes to the state's rainy day fund to transportation.
The author of the resolution, State Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, believes that would raise about $900 million each year over the next two years.
He says that's important because the state isn't raising enough money from the state and federal gasoline tax and from the vehicle registration fee to pay for its 80,000 miles of roads.
"The largest item in our transportation funding is our cost to preserve the system. We have over 80,000 miles of highways, not counting county roads, just the highways that the state maintains," Nichols said. "And the cost to maintain those, or preserve them, every year goes up because they're getting older, they're getting more traffic on them."
Nichols said that the state has been borrowing money since 2001 to pay for its transportation projects, and that it is time to add additional revenue streams to the equation.
"The creation of a new revenue stream became very important, and we figured out a way to do it by using some of the oil and gas severance tax. It does not solve the whole problem. It is a long-term partial fix to the problem, but it's a big step in the right direction," Nichols said.
Two amendments were added to the bill, including one ensuring the money was not used for toll roads and another devoting one-third of the growth in motor vehicle sales taxes to the transportation fund.
The resolution goes back to the Senate, and if changes are approved there, it will appear on the November ballot. It would need a simple majority to become law.
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