- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Racing both a U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and legislative deadlines, Texas Republicans pushed ahead Tuesday toward putting the state at the forefront of resistance if same-sex weddings are ruled constitutional.

Nearly every Republican in the Texas House is backing a measure that would prohibit state and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Less than three weeks remain in Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s first session, and the bill must clear the House by midnight Thursday to advance.

If signed by Abbott, the bill would aim to defy the Supreme Court if it legalizes gay marriage, laying the groundwork for Texas to potentially raise new legal battles over its ability to regulate marriage licenses.

“It would certainly put the state in a position to challenge,” said Republican state Rep. Cecil Bell, who filed the bill shortly after a Texas judge allowed a lesbian couple to wed despite a statewide ban on gay marriage.

The Alabama Supreme Court earlier this year already prohibited county officials in that state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Lawmakers in South Carolina are also pushing a bill similar to what was filed in Texas, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks gay rights issues.

Abbott didn’t give hot-button social issues legislative priority after taking office in January. But with the Texas Legislature now close to adjourning, Republicans have accelerated legislation that gay rights activists consider hostile. This week began with the Senate giving approval for clergy members to refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs.

That bill was filed on the same day last month that the Supreme Court heard arguments in the landmark gay marriage case - and long after a Senate deadline for new legislation.

It’s not as divisive as religious objection measures in Indiana and Arkansas that set off intense blowback earlier this year. Texas gay rights activists say they can live with the clergy bill - which they consider redundant - but the restrictions over marriage license have them on edge.

“It’s shocking that Texas lawmakers are pursuing a path that would set up this showdown,” said Rebecca Robertson, the legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas.

That Bell’s bill already has so much support in the Texas House - which is more moderate, at least by the standards of Texas politics - signals that the Senate would also favorably greet the measure. The session ends June 1.

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TEXAS HOUSE APPROVES USING STATE INCENTIVE FUNDS FOR PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES

Presidential debates hosted in Texas would get a financial boost from the state under a measure approved by the House.

The bill passed Tuesday now moves to the Senate, where an identical proposal has stalled.

The Commission on Presidential Debates says three Texas entities, Houston Community College, Texas A&M; University and city authorities in McAllen, have applied to host 2016 general election debates.

If it clears the Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, Garland Republican Rep. Angie Chen Button’s bill would add presidential debates to the list of things eligible for funding from the major events trust fund.

It already includes professional sporting events, national political conventions and college sports.

According to the state comptroller, three events in fiscal year 2014 received money from the fund.

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SENATE MANDATES SUICIDE PREVENTION TRAINING FOR TEACHERS

The Texas Senate has voted to require public school teachers to undergo two hours of annual training on suicide prevention.

New Braunfels Republican Sen. Donna Campbell’s bill was approved 30-1 on Tuesday without debate. The training regimen will be compiled based on the leading practices of programs already offered by some Texas school districts, as directed by the state Department of State Health Services.

Campbell’s bill now heads to the House, which already has approved a similar proposal instituting annual suicide prevention training for teachers and public school district officials.

Both were inspired by Kevin Childers, a football coach at Fairfield Independent School District near Corsicana. His 15-year-old son Jonathan committed suicide in 2013.

Kevin Childers has since become an activist for efforts to prevent teen suicide.

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BAN ON E-CIGARETTE SALES TO MINORS CLOSE TO REACHING ABBOTT’S DESK

E-cigarettes would be off-limits for Texas minors to purchase under a proposal that has cleared both chambers of the Texas Legislature.

The bill originated in the Senate and passed the House on Tuesday.

The upper chamber only needs to approve tweaks made to it in House committee to send the proposal to Gov. Greg Abbott. His signature is needed for it to become law.

The proposal bans sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and possession of the devices by youths under 18.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated smoking devices that vaporize chemicals, which are then inhaled. Under current Texas law, they are legal for minors to purchase.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is studying e-cigarettes, but does not currently regulate the devices - which are still relatively new.

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ON DECK

After another long day, the House is set to resume its work at 10 a.m. The Senate reconvenes at 11 a.m.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Now go get a job” - Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, concluding a House floor salute to his grown son, who was watching from the gallery.

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