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OPINION-State Capital Highlights: Lawmakers stay for another special session

AUSTIN - Gov. Rick Perry on June 26 summoned lawmakers back to Austin for a second special session of the Texas Legislature to begin July 1. Perry ordered lawmakers to write and pass legislation to do three things:

• Regulate abortion procedures, providers and facilities.

• Fund transportation infrastructure projects.

• Establish a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old offender.

Perry's first called session ended on June 25 with Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, talking to death SB 5, legislation to increase state regulation of women's health care and access to abortion services in particular. Davis's 11-hour filibuster was augmented by motions and questions of parliamentary procedure by Sens. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, Kirk Watson of Austin, John Whitmire of Houston and other Democrats.

A crowd filled the gallery and corridors in support of Sen. Davis's filibuster, chanting loudly enough to create confusion on the Senate floor as midnight approached. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, called SB 5 to a vote just before midnight, but the 19-10 vote was not finalized until 12:03 a.m. on June 26. The filibuster -nonstop talking with no breaks - and the slowed-down vote had eaten up the clock, causing other legislation on the brink of final passage to die at midnight along with SB 5.

Davis's success in temporarily stopping SB 5 drew national and world attention, but Perry, determined to push through his agenda with the long-held advantage of a Republican-controlled Legislature, reissued his call for lawmakers to take up to another 30 days to pass the same set of bills that had just withered.

Voter ID law to take effect

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court released its ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General et al., a case calling into question the constitutionality of Section 4 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, a formula for determining which states or jurisdictions are held to a higher degree of scrutiny because of their history of racial discrimination.

Texas and other covered jurisdictions, as a result of the ruling, are no longer required to obtain federal judicial “preclearance” of election laws.

Attorney General Greg Abbott hailed the ruling, saying the Texas voter ID law and the redistricting maps passed by the Texas Legislature during the first special session and signed into law by the governor on June 26 immediately go into effect.

“Today's ruling does not abolish the Voting Rights Act,” Abbott commented.

“All states, including Texas, continue to be subject to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, which prohibit racial discrimination nationwide,” he added.

Meanwhile, Texas' chief elections officer, Secretary of State John Steen, said photo identification will now be required when voting in Texas elections. A voter must show one of the following forms of photo identification at the polling location before being permitted to cast a vote: a Texas driver license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS, a Texas personal identification card issued by DPS, a Texas concealed handgun license issued by DPS, a U.S. military identification card containing the person's photograph, a U.S. citizenship certificate containing the person's photograph, or a U.S. passport.

With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, the identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented at the polling place, Steen added.

SCOTUS remands UT case

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-1 decision published June 24 sent the civil rights case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans for reconsideration.

The high court ruled the Fifth Circuit erred in granting summary judgment to the university, and, attorneys for the plaintiff argued that the university's use of race in its student admissions policy violated the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Crime rate drops in 2012

Texas Department of Public Safety on June 26 announced that the overall major crime rate in Texas has dropped, while the actual number of violent crimes committed in Texas increased. Statistics in the agency's 2012 uniform crime rate report show the number of crimes per 100,000 people in Texas decreased by 3 percent in 2012 compared to 2011 but the actual number of crimes compared from one year to the next reflect a 1.2 percent increase in violent crimes over the same period.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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