DALLAS – A defiant Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged Democrats to another fight in a second special session of the legislature, placing the divisive issue of abortion in the same call with funding for the state’s transportation system.
The session beginning Monday will keep lawmakers in Austin through the Fourth of July holiday and beyond. The Texas Legislature meets in regular session only in odd-numbered years.
A proposed constitutional amendment providing $900 million per year for the Texas Department of Transportation was derailed by an emotional showdown over Perry’s demand for abortion restrictions that critics say would virtually shut down most abortion clinics in the state.
Hundreds of protesters showed up in the Senate gallery to support an 11-hour filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and parliamentary maneuvers by minority Democrats that ran out the clock on the session, preventing passage of the abortion bill along with transportation funding and another measure involving sentencing of 17-year-olds in murder cases.
“Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn,” Perry said in calling the second session. “Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do.”
Perry did address the National Right to Life convention in Dallas Thursday. The state’s longest serving governor has said he planned to decide by July 1 whether to run for another term in 2014. Perry, whose presidential run in 2012 was derailed by a series of gaffes, could also seek the 2016 presidential nomination.
While doubling down on the abortion demand, Perry again ignored pleas from the state’s colleges and universities for tuition revenue bonds that would allow them to keep pace with the rapidly growing state.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the Senate who put the abortion issue ahead of transportation funding on the last day of the session despite Davis’ plans for a filibuster, applauded Perry’s second call.
"I congratulate Gov. Perry for his decision to call a second special session to address the issues derailed by the actions of an angry mob in the closing moments of the first,” Dewhurst said. “Texas is unlike any other state because our leaders are willing to stand up in the face of pressure from Washington and special interest groups in the pursuit of freedom.”
In preparing for her filibuster Tuesday, Davis called the push for additional restrictions on abortion “profound irresponsibility and the raw abuse of power.” Davis’ filibuster was halted by Dewhurst before midnight when Davis discussed the 2011 Legislature’s passage of the controversial “sonogram law” that required women considering an abortion to watch a sonogram image of their fetus. Dewhurst ruled that the state law on abortion was not germane to the proposed state law, drawing angry outbursts from the galleries and chants of “Let her speak!”
But Democrats used other procedural maneuvers to run the clock until the session expired at midnight.