- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The battle over abortion in Texas returned to the floor where Democrat Wendy Davis staged a nearly 13-hour filibuster as the Senate on Tuesday approved eliminating coverage for the procedure under plans purchased through the federal marketplace.

The measure is not unique: More than two dozen states already have similar bans for coverage obtained through the Affordable Care Act, and abortion-rights groups have expressed surprise that Texas isn’t on that list already.

But it was notably the first bill related to abortion - a quiet issue so far in Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s first legislative session - that the Republican-controlled Senate has passed since Davis’ filibuster in 2013 catapulted her to national stardom and her supporters packed the Capitol.

The scene this time was far different. The Senate gallery was practically empty, and the bill quickly passed along party lines after Democrats raised only brief objections.

“You’re not going to be requiring other people across the spectrum to pay for a benefit that they don’t believe in,” said Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, the bill’s author.

The measure now moves to the House.

Less than a month remains in the 140-day session. Two years after Texas ultimately adopted sweeping abortion restrictions over clinics despite Davis’ filibuster, Republicans are pushing a mostly smaller encore of additional limits for Abbott to sign.

Abortion-rights groups say roughly 17 clinics are currently open for business in Texas. That number would plummet by half if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a portion of the 2013 law that requires abortion clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards.

A decision from that court may still be weeks or months away.

Taylor said women could still purchase supplemental insurance that would cover abortion but didn’t give a ballpark cost. Most abortions occur in the first trimester and cost about $500.

Twenty-five states limit abortion coverage under federal marketplace plans, and 10 of those states also restrict abortion coverage under private health plans, said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports legal access to abortion.

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HOUSE BEEFS UP REQUIREMENTS FOR FIRST-TIME DRUKEN DRIVERS

Under a bill that has passed the Texas House, convicted drunken drivers whose licenses are suspended may still drive - but only while sober.

Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba’s proposal cleared the chamber 143-1 on Tuesday, but still needs Senate approval.

Currently, a driver’s license is suspended after someone’s first conviction for drunken driving. Villalba said that doesn’t stop people from driving, though.

His measure would require those wishing to drive with a suspended license pass a breathalyzer test administered by an ignition interlock device. It ensures a car won’t start if the driver trying to operate it is drunk.

The change would only apply to first-time offenders with low blood-alcohol levels at the time of arrest. Ignition interlocks are already required for other convicted drunken drivers.

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SENATE OKS CUTTING TUITION BENEFITS FOR TEXAS VETERANS

The Texas Senate has approved slashing higher education benefits for veterans who are given free tuition for military service.

Republican state Sen. Brian Birdwell said Tuesday that the Hazlewood Act had become financially unsustainable without reforms. Costs for the program climbed nearly six-fold over the past four years and topped $169 million in 2014.

More dependents have begun receiving free tuition under Hazlewood than veterans.

The new guidelines would exclude veterans who haven’t been Texas residents for eight years. Veterans or their children would also now be required to use the benefit within 15 years of leaving military service.

The Senate passed the bill 24-7. Critics say the cuts send a signal that lawmakers are reneging on promises made to veterans.

The changes have yet to clear the House.

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ON DECK

The House heads back to work at 10 a.m. Wednesday and the Senate is in an hour later.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“You can talk from now until Jerusalem comes and opens up and closes up again,” said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, to Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, who spoke on the floor for 10 straight minutes, ensuring that a bill backed by Thompson couldn’t pass the House via a legislative mechanism to move measures quickly and with minimal debate.


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