Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday checked three issues off his 20-item agenda for the Legislature’s overtime session.
Lawmakers sent their first bills to Abbott on day 25 of the 30-day special session, meeting the governor’s call for stricter reporting of abortion complications, setting stiffer penalties for mail-in ballot fraud and keeping five state agencies from having to shut down over the coming year.
And lawmakers will be back for more Saturday, with the House set to take a contentious dive into a bill that seeks to limit local property taxes by requiring voter approval for increases above a certain level, while the Senate is expected to consider two hot-button issues — banning insurance coverage for abortions and deciding how much additional money to spend on public schools.
With the special session entering its frantic final days — all work must be finished by midnight Wednesday — Abbott quickly signed into law two bills that will extend the life of the Texas Medical Board and four other state regulatory agencies.
With his signature, Abbott finally put to rest an issue that forced the special session when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, eager to resurrect bills to address property taxes and limit transgender-friendly bathrooms, rejected House attempts to keep the agencies operating during the closing days of the regular session in May.
“Thanks to the passage of this critical legislation, Texas will now be able to continue to license new doctors and regulate the practice of medicine,” Abbott said in a statement. “As the first order of business on my special session call, these bills were necessary in keeping important state agencies running, and keeping Texans healthy.”
Abbott also signed Senate Bill 5, increasing the criminal penalties for mail-in ballot fraud.
All Senate Republicans and one Democrat — Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville — voted Friday to accept changes the House had made to the bill, although Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she was unhappy that a House-added amendment will void a law that would have made it easier for nursing home residents to vote.
Democrats said they feared the bill will criminalize kitchen-table conversations about candidates that take place while a mail-in ballot is being filled out, but the bill’s author, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said senior citizens and people with disabilities deserve the same protection from potential influence as people who vote at polling places.
Abbott said he prosecuted mail-in ballot fraud when he served as Texas attorney general before becoming governor, “yet this problem continues to exist.”
“It is a primary function of government to protect a citizen’s right to vote, and I will not allow the integrity of the ballot box to be compromised in Texas,” he said.
SB 5 also requires a signature verification process for early ballots and penalizes those who fraudulently obtain a mail-in ballot or alter another person’s ballot without permission.
One other bill given final approval Friday — House Bill 13, requiring stricter reporting of abortion-related medical complications — wasn’t ready for Abbott’s signature Friday evening.
Opponents of the bill argue that abortions are safe, with complication rates well below other procedures, making HB 13 another attempt to harass abortion providers and further stigmatize abortion.
Supporters say current abortion complication reporting procedures are inadequate, potentially hiding problems and inflating safety rates.
Under HB 13, doctors will have three business days to file an electronic report with the state if a complication arises during an abortion. Doctors in hospitals and emergency clinics also will have three days to report treating women for problems resulting from an abortion.
Reports must include the type of abortion, gestational age of the fetus and information about each patient, including her marital status, race, year of birth, county of residence and number of previous live births. Senators on Friday rejected an amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, to remove much of the patient information from the state forms.
Doctors who fail to comply could be fined $500 for each violation. Three violations “constitutes cause for the revocation or suspension” of a doctor’s license or a health care facility’s permits, the bill states.