Perry expands special session to include roads, juvenile justice, abortion

In the two weeks remaining for the special session of the Texas Legislature, lawmakers have a wide range of issues they can consider after Gov. Rick Perry this week expanded the agenda beyond redistricting.

Legislators may now also consider such politically divisive issues as abortion, juvenile justice and the slightly less partisan issue of how to pay for roads.

The session convened on May 27 and must, by law, end by June 25. The governor has the sole discretion over what issues lawmakers may consider during the session. They are not required to do so, but are likely to be called back if they do not make progress on those issues.

It is likely that if legislators do not approve a district map by the end of the session, Perry will call them into another one. Republican state leaders want the Legislature to uphold the current maps, drawn last year in response to court rulings, as they move through the federal court system.

It is less certain that lack of action on the additional issues—abortion, juvenile justice and transportation—will prompt Perry to reconvene next month.

Each 30-day special session costs taxpayers more than $1 million.

Perry identified no emergency issues during the regular session, which ended in late May, but did name transportation among his priorities in his State of the State speech to lawmakers in January. He also called for a bill ending late-term abortions, though the Legislature made no headway on either of those two issues.

On June 11, Perry said lawmakers should take responsibility for protecting the unborn and pass legislation that bans late-term abortions and holds providers to higher standards.

"The horrors of the national late-term abortion industry are continuing to come to light, one atrocity at a time. Sadly, some of those same atrocities happen in our own state. In Texas, we value all life, and we've worked to cultivate a culture that supports the birth of every child," Perry said. "We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease and pain they cause."

Lawmakers filed several abortion-related bills during the regular session, including one by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, that would drastically increase the standards that must be followed by clinics that provide abortions. Opponents said that bill was a way to shut down access to safe and legal abortions.

Also added to the call this week was legislation regarding mandatory life-without-parole sentences for 17-year-old capital offenders, who are subject to a loophole in the system.

Adults 18 and older who are convicted of capital crimes get life without parole or death, and juveniles up to age 16 can get life in prison without parole for 40 years. Seventeen-year-olds are tried as adults, but because they are younger th 18, they are protected by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that state minors cannot be executed or given mandatory life-without-parole sentences.

Legislation approved by a Texas Senate committee on June 12 brings 17-year-olds convicted of capital offenses into line with the way other juveniles are punished in Texas, creating a mandatory sentence of life without parole for 40 years.

Perry also said he wants to see lawmakers figure out a way to solve the problem of transportation funding, which was not resolved during delicate budget negotiations in the regular session, but was named as a key issue by state leaders.

"Texas' growing economy and population demand that we take action to address the growing pressure on the transportation network across the state," he said. "As we enjoy the benefits of a booming economy, we have to build and maintain the roads to ensure we sustain both our economic success and our quality of life."