Readers who thrive on conspiracy theories will not enjoy this article. This article debunks the myth that Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst or House Speaker Joe Straus killed the pro-life bill, SB 5, during the summer of 2013. The truth is just the opposite – both leaders exercised extraordinary commitment to passing this strong, pro-life legislation.
I speak as one who has lobbied for pro-life bills in the Texas Capitol for nearly three decades and was intimately involved in SB 5 and HB 2 that summer.
During the Second Called Special Session in July 2013, the Legislature passed HB 2, the strongest and most sweeping pro-life bill ever passed in Texas. A month before that, during the First Called Special Session, an identical bill, SB 5, was nearly passed but was famously filibustered by Sen. Wendy Davis for 10 hours and shouted down by what some called an “unruly mob” in the Senate gallery during the final minutes of the session.
Claims that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst or Speaker Joe Straus were not fully committed to passing SB 5 and somehow held up the process are reckless and without basis. Both Dewhurst and Straus expedited the process in every way reasonably possible.
Passage of SB 5 during the first special session faced high hurdles: a legislative process inherently difficult to navigate; a short 15-day window; staunch opposition in both houses; an end-of-session filibuster; and masses of individual observers bent on disrupting the process.
The Texas Constitution of 1876, together with the Senate and House rules, presents huge speed bumps in the legislative process. Passing controversial bills during a 140-day regular session involves challenges and typically requires months. In a special session, which lasts at most 30 days, this can be extremely difficult.
A special session does have one advantage over a regular session – the Senate’s rule requiring a two-third majority (21 of 31 senators) to bring a bill to the floor doesn’t come into play. During the regular session the Senate lacked that supermajority for abortion bills, blocking all attempts in the Senate and rendering futile the passage of abortion bills in the House.
Supporters had relatively little time to pass SB 5. Gov. Rick Perry initially called the first special session on May 27 to address redistricting, a highly partisan issue with enormous implications for the 2014 elections. After that issue seemed to be making progress, Perry added transportation funding on June 10, then abortion and capital offenses of minors the next day. Of the four agenda items, only redistricting successfully reached his desk.
Opponents showed fierce commitment to preventing SB 5’s passage and commanded enough votes to block all attempts to suspend rules to save time. Despite strong support for SB 5 in both houses – 97 votes in the House and 20 votes in the Senate – neither house had the necessary votes to shorten the process.
Long filibusters in the Senate are not unheard of. The record is 43 hours, which for SB 5 corresponded to 5 AM on Monday, June 24, as the start of possible filibuster range. The record shows it was effectively impossible for the House to return SB 5 to the Senate prior to this deadline, a foreseeable risk of amending SB 5 in the House and returning it to the Senate for its concurrence.
Sen. Davis began much later, 11:18 AM on the last day of the session shortly after the bill became eligible for debate, requiring at most just under 13 hours of filibustering – certainly possible for someone with adequate motivation and physical stamina.
Here is a detailed chronology of the passage of SB 5 during the first special session in 2013. SB 5 was effectively the same bill as HB 2 that was eventually passed in the second special session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in July.
- May 27 – Gov. Perry calls the first special session to commence at 6 PM, initially to consider redistricting. The Texas Constitution Art. 3, Sec. 40, limits a special session to 30 calendar days, or midnight, Tuesday, June 25.
- May 27 – Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst convenes the Senate at 6:20 PM.
- May 28 – Speaker Joe Straus convenes the House at 11 AM.
- June 11 – On the 16th day of the special session, Gov. Perry adds “regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities” to the call.
- June 11 – Sen. Glenn Hegar files SB 5. SB 5 has four components: It requires abortion inducing drugs to be administered according to FDA safety regulations in the presence of a physician; it requires the abortion doctor to have nearby hospital privileges; it requires all licensed abortion facilities to upgrade to ASC safety standards by Sept. 1, 2014; and it bans abortions after the 5th month of pregnancy. SB 5 is read the first time and is referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
- June 12 – The Senate HHS Committee’s meeting on the next day is posted. Senate Rule 11.10(a) requires 24 hours public notice before the committee can meet to consider SB 5.
- June 13 – The Senate HHS Committee, chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson, considers SB 5 in a public hearing and takes testimony.
- June 14 – SB 5 is reported favorably from the Senate HHS Committee. The Senate HHS Committee’s report is printed and distributed at 7:32 PM.
- June 17 – SB 5 is placed on the Senate “Intent Calendar” per Senate Rule 5.14.
- June 18 – The Senate begins consideration of SB 5 on second reading. Sen. Hegar, offers a “floor substitute,” which contains three of the four components, but lacks the five-month abortion ban. After considerable debate on 18 hostile amendments and one friendly amendment, SB 5 passes on a 20-10 vote. The Senate adjourns at 10:51 PM.
Note: Texas Alliance for Life supported the five-month ban in every manifestation heard in committee during regular session (HB 2364), the first special session (HB 16, HB 60, SB 5, SB 13), and the second special session (HB 2, SB 1).
- June 18 – Lt. Gov. Dewhurst reconvenes the Senate at 10:55 PM, creating a new legislative day. SB 5 is passed on third reading without amendments on a 20-10 vote.
- June 20 – SB 5 is received in the House, read the first time, and referred to the House State Affairs Committee. The State Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Byron Cook, hears lengthy testimony on two other pro-life bills for nearly 11 hours until 3:35 AM.
- June 21 – At 1:16 PM the House State Affairs Committee meets in a “formal” meeting. At this type of meeting the public may attend but does not give testimony. This is usually done to expedite the process and save time, as is the case here. Rep. Harvey Hilderbran offers an amendment, called a “committee substitute,” to SB 5 that adds back in the five-month abortion ban. That amendment is adopted. The Committee adjourns at 1:23 PM. The committee report is written, printed, distributed, and sent to the House Calendars Committee by 6:23 PM.
Note: Since SB 5 is changed relative to the Senate’s version, the Senate must approved the House’s changes before SB 5 can be sent to the Governor for his signature, as required by Senate Rule 7.21. That necessarily adds at least two calendar days to the process.
- June 21 (cont’d) – At 7:00 PM, the Calendars Committee is convened by Rep. Todd Hunter, committee chairman, little more than the required two hours after the meeting’s posting at 3:39 PM, per House Rule 4, Sec. 11(b). The Committee sets SB 5 on the Major State Calendar for Sun., June 23, and adjourns at 7:12 PM. The House Calendar is published only 10 minutes later at 7:25 PM.
Note: House Rule 6, Sec. 16(a) requires notice of the calendar of at least 24 hours before a bill can be consider by the House. That means the earliest the House could consider SB 5 is 7:25 PM Saturday. While some may argue that the House could be convened late Saturday evening to consider SB 5, it is highly unlikely that 100 members of the House required for a quorum by Art. 3, Sec. 10, of the Constitution would be present or would continue to be present for the many hours of debate.
- June 23 – Accommodating legislators who wish to attend Sunday morning religious services, Speaker Straus convenes the House at 2 PM. This continues the legislative day from Friday, when the House recessed. To prevent a point of order, the House adjourns at 4:03 PM until 6:20 PM. This satisfies House Rule 8, Sec. 15, requiring a bill to be read on three separate legislative days. (This rule restates Art. 3, Sec. 32, of the Texas Constitution that “No bill shall have the force of law, until it has been read on three several days in each House.”)At 6:20 PM Speaker Straus convenes the House. After consideration of other issues, SB 5 is laid out at 7:27 PM. It was postponed until consideration of another bill, then taken up again at 7:48 PM. The House defeats 13 hostile amendments on records votes, and Speaker Straus overrules five points of order intended to kill SB 5. Speaker Straus recognizes a motion for the “previous question” (to cut off debate), which prevails on a 92-37 vote. The House then passes SB 5 on second reading 97-33. After conducting other business, the House adjourns at 4:30 AM.
- June 24 – Speaker Straus convenes the House at 6:46 AM for a new legislative day. SB 5 is read a third time, and the House passes it on a vote of 95-34.
- June 24 – The Senate is called to order at 10:40 AM. It is announced that the House has passed SB 5. The House amendments to SB 5 are printed and distributed by 11:15 AM. Senate Rule 7.21 requires a 24-hour notice before debate, pushing consideration until the same time on Tuesday, well within filibuster range.Shortly after 4 PM, Sen. Hegar moves to suspend this rule so that the Senate can immediately begin debate. That motion, which requires a two-third majority, fails on a 19-11 vote. At 7:44 PM Sen. Hegar again makes the motion to suspend the rule; the motion fails on a 19-10 vote. At 7:46 PM, the Senate recesses until 10 AM on Tuesday.
- June 25 – Lt. Gov. Dewhurst calls the Senate to order at 11:14 AM. Debate on SB 5 begins almost immediately. Sen. Wendy Davis is recognized to speak at 11:18 AM. Senate Rule 4.03 allows her to have the floor for as long as she is able to speak on the bill and without any physical aid from another senator. She violates this rule three times, as determined by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and the majority of the Senate, ending her right to continue speaking, at approximately 10 PM. Much debate ensues about the last point of order. At 11:45 PM, hundreds of spectators in the gallery erupt in extremely disruptive, high-decibel screaming.Shortly before midnight Gov. Dewhurst orders a roll call vote on SB 5. The Senate journal records that, although the Senate voted to adopt the House’s changes to SB 5 before the stroke of midnight, the bill was signed by Dewhurst shortly after midnight, not in time to be enrolled.
Links to various documents referenced above are given here: