Texas Legislature takes action on the first week post bill-filing deadline

On the first week following the bill filing deadline, legislators picked up the pace with the Senate approving 11 bills and the House of Representatives approving six.

Conversation in the House focused on a bill that cracks down on texting and driving, while senators continued debates on abortion-related policies and the transgender “bathroom bill.”

Texas got one step closer to implementing a statewide law that prohibits texting while driving last Thursday when the House voted 114-32 to pass House Bill 62, which will now move to the Senate. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is attempting to turn this bill into a law for the fourth time.

While more than 100 local regulations regarding texting and driving exist in some Texas cities, Texas is one of only four states that does not have a statewide ban on the activity known to be linked with distracted driving.The bill creates a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of $25 to $200 for reading, writing, or sending a message on a cell phone while driving.

Supporters of HB 62 say the ban would be more effective at reducing accidents caused by distracted driving than the local ordinances currently in place, but opponents argue conflicting data reports make it unclear whether texting-while-driving bans result in less crashes, according to a bill analysis by the House Research Organization.

The House also started deliberations on the “sanctuary cities bill,” which recently passed in the Senate. Senate Bill 4, requiring public universities and government agencies to enforce federal immigration legislation, was heard Wednesday by the House State Affairs committee.

More than 630 people registered to testify during the hearing with only about a dozen in favor of the bill. While no vote was taken and the bill was left pending, major changes were made including a person’s arrest being the only means by which an officer can inquire about immigration status and extension of legal punishment to police chiefs who do not comply with federal immigration orders.

In the Senate, Senate Bill 6, which would require a person’s sex on their birth certificate to determine the public bathrooms and changing facilities they use, was the center of attention Tuesday. The bill tentatively passed with the addition of three amendments.After another round of debate on the Senate floor Wednesday, SB 6 officially passed in the Senate with a 21-10 vote.

As the bill moves to the House for further consideration, it is expected to receive less support than it did in the Senate. House Speaker Joe Straus has expressed concerns about the potential economic consequences of the bill and said the legislation is not one of his main concerns.

The Senate also approved two bills that would limit state abortion practices Wednesday.

SB 8, authored by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, would ban “partial-birth” abortions. While the practice is already illegal at the federal level, Schwertner said his bill would align the laws and allow Texas to prosecute violations. It also bans selling fetal tissue and limits donations for purposes such as medical research.

The other piece of legislation considered, Senate Bill 415 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, which are known to be the safest practices in the second trimester. In a 22-8 vote, the Senate tentatively approved the bill Wednesday, and a final vote is expected Monday.

Senators unanimously voted to pass five bills related to increasing the safety and protection of law enforcement officers last Monday.

Among these bills was Senate Bill 12 by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, which helps officers purchase bulletproof vests and body armor through the creation of a grant program.