Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Texas Showdown

Did the Texas legislature actually pass the bill that restricts abortions to 20 weeks and in hospital-level medical facilities?

As the clock passed midnight Tuesday in Texas, a scene of remarkable chaos unfolded in the state Senate chamber as an eruption of cheering and chanting drowned out the legislative action, leaving it unclear whether a bill that would have shut down most of the state’s abortion clinics had passed.

Republican senators claimed the measure passed, the Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News reported. But both outlets also reported that Democratic senators insisted the vote was not completed before midnight and was thus invalid.

The day began with Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis attempting a 13-hour filibuster to kill the bill. The only way Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate could have defeated the measure was by not letting it come to a vote before the session was to end at midnight (1 a.m. Wednesday ET).

Under the Senate’s rules, Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, was required to speak nonstop and on topic without sitting down or even leaning on her desk for support. Twice, Republicans won rulings that Davis broke the rules, once for getting improper assistance from a colleague who helped her adjust her back brace and once for straying from the topic.

Late Tuesday night, Davis ran afoul of a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule when Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, acting as Senate president, upheld an objection that she had strayed from the topic again, this time by discussing a 2011 law involving sonograms and abortions, which he ruled was non-germane to the abortion bill.

That opened the door for the Senate’s Republican majority to call for a straight up-or-down vote to end Davis’ remarks. A series of motions,  appeals and parliamentary inquiries on that order followed.

As midnight neared, raucous cheering erupted from the gallery during a roll call vote. The cheering, witnessed on a live video stream of the session, halted Senate action for several minutes. And it remained unclear whether a vote on the bill was taken.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the lawyers and the parliamentarians will come up with some way of figuring out that at the very moment of midnight, a temporal distortion occurred and time stopped so that the bill is now law.  Or something.

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