GOVERNOR EXPANDS SCOPE OF SPECIAL SESSION
(AUSTIN) — Governor Rick Perry announced this week that he wants the legislature to consider legislation related to transportation, abortion, and prison sentences for 17 year-olds convicted of capital crimes. When he originally called the special session in late May, only redistricting was on the call. The Senate Redistricting Committee wrapped up work on the redistricting maps Wednesday, sending the court-drawn maps for House, Senate and U.S. Congress to the full body for consideration. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst announced he expects the Senate to vote on those maps Friday.
The Senate Finance Committee looked at a measure that would put more money into transportation funding. SJR 2, by Transportation Committee Chair Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would transfer money from the state Rainy Day Fund into transportation funding, and create an ongoing stream of revenue for transportation operation and maintenance. According to the Legislative Budget Board, the state collects about $4 billion in oil and gas severance taxes per year. Under current law, almost all of this money goes into the Rainy Day Fund. SJR 2 would also ask the voters to approve a plan to take half of the money from oil and gas severance tax revenue and put it toward road construction and maintenance. That bill remains pending before the committee.
Also Wednesday, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed a bill that would give juries the option of giving seventeen year olds convicted of capital crimes life with parole after 40 years. The state created the life without parole sentence as an alternative to the death penalty, but a recent Supreme Court ruling determined that it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without parole. That ruling applied to people under the age of 18. In 2009, the state passed a law that permits 14 to 16 year olds to be sentenced to life with parole after 40 years.
This law, combined with the recent court ruling, created a hole where 17 year olds could not be sentenced to life without parole or life with parole after 40 years. SB 23, by Houston Senator Joan Huffman, would correct this loophole and allow juries the option of sentencing 17 year olds convicted of capital crimes to life with parole after 40 years. The committee approved that bill unanimously and it now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
Bills related to abortion regulation, the final issue added to the call, will come before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday. The Senate will reconvene Friday, June 14 at 9:30 a.m.