- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - After nearly four hours of divisive debate, the Texas Senate voted along party lines Monday in favor of a Republican-backed measure that would tighten rules for teenagers unable to get the required parental consent for an abortion.

The bill, which won preliminary approval on a 21-10 Senate vote, drastically changes the process that allows girls under 18 to get a court-ordered abortion if they meet certain criteria. Among the changes are requiring women to show ID to prove they are under 18, extending the required time that a judge must rule on a teen’s application and the removal of a caveat that allows abuse to serve as criteria for an application.

The measure now faces a final, procedural vote. It has already cleared the Texas House, but lawmakers from both chambers will have to agree on tweaks before it heads to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Republican sponsor Charles Perry deflected a dozen amendments from Democrats that would have loosened the restrictions. Perry said the significant changes to the so-called judicial bypass process are meant to clarify judicial issues and protect young women.

“This is, No. 1, for the minor’s benefit,” he said.

Opponents say the bill stifles the process established in 1999 that allows about 300 pregnant teenagers in Texas to terminate their pregnancy in extreme situations every year. It also unfairly harms young women when they most need help, opponents say.

“Is one of your goals to reduce abortions?” Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson asked Perry.

No, the Lubbock Republican replied.

But immediately after the vote, anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life posted on Twitter, “Another #ProLife victory in the State Senate.”

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2 TOP GUN RIGHTS BILLS SET TO GET FINAL VOTES

Two bills to expand gun rights that had been expected to fly through the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature have instead hit several snags and will need a big push during this final week of the session if they are to become law.

A so-called campus carry bill, which would allow concealed handguns in college classrooms, cleared the Senate in March and is scheduled for a House vote Tuesday. An open carry bill, which would permit guns to be carried in plain sight most everywhere, passed both chambers in different forms but ran into unexpected turbulence last week as a surprising coalition of Senate liberals and tea party conservatives teamed up for a vote to limit police oversight of the measure.

Both bills now are short on time if they are to be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has pledged to expand gun rights in his first session as chief executive. The regular session ends June 1.

Campus carry has enjoyed majority support in the Legislature for years but has been stymied by fierce resistance from police and some higher education officials, notably within the University of Texas System.

New Chancellor William McRaven, the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command who spearheaded the covert raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, has told lawmakers that allowing concealed handguns in classrooms will make universities less safe and make it harder for schools to recruit and keep top faculty and staff.

Gun rights groups insist campus carry is an important self-defense measure for students and teachers and point to the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 in which the gunman killed 32 people.

The bill cleared the Republican-controlled Senate with ease, but a House vote has been delayed until this week amid squabbling between the chambers. Senate and House leaders finally agreed to put the issue to a vote this week as part of a broad deal on spending and tax cuts.

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IN-PERSON VISITS FOR JAIL INMATES MANDATE GOES TO ABBOTT

The Texas Senate has passed and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott a bill that requires county jail inmates be allowed a minimum of two in-person non-contact visitation periods per week.

Many counties are starting to eliminate in-person visits and building new jails with no space for them. Instead, they use video visitations for inmates and families, and some charge for them.

The bill approved Monday exempts 21 Texas counties that have built new jails or are already planning buildings that don’t include visitation space.

Advocates say it’s important to allow inmates to be able to visit family in person while incarcerated. And they complain that one company that supplies video equipment requires counties to eliminate in-person contact as part of the contract.

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ENDING STATEWIDE OFFICEHOLDER AUSTIN RESIDENCY RULE FAILS TO CLEAR HOUSE

The Texas House has passed - but fallen short of giving final approval to - a proposed state constitutional amendment allowing some statewide officeholders to no longer be required to live in Austin.

Lawmakers on Monday voted 94-46 to endorse a proposal by tea party-backed Sen. Donna Campbell. It would excuse the attorney general, land commissioner and comptroller form living in the state capital.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, though, it needs two-thirds House support, or a minimum of 100 votes.

A final chance will come during a vote Tuesday.

The proposal would put a referendum on this November’s general election ballot, letting voters decide whether to change the Texas Constitution and scrap a statewide officeholder residency requirement from 1876.

Campbell argues technology has made it obsolete.

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ON DECK

The House and Senate both look to have long days on Tuesday, but debate should be especially contentious in the lower chamber. On its calendar is a bill allowing license holders to have their handguns on college campuses, and a proposal that would prohibit insurance plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act from covering abortions.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I’m not going to let the House be run over by the Senate” - veteran Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, seeking to include a repeal of taxes on state bingo halls - even though the Senate opposed adding such an amendment - to a larger tax-repeal bill. The entire bill eventually collapsed on a technical challenge.

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