By Ed Sterling
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on June 9 upheld the constitutionality of House Bill 2, the state abortion law revised by the Texas Legislature in a July 2013 special session.
HB 2 and its provisions may be applied throughout Texas, the panel stated in a 56-page ruling, but drew two narrow exceptions: (1) a health clinic that performs abortions in McAllen may continue to function without upgrading its facilities to comply with standards set for ambulatory surgical centers; and (2) the law’s admitting privileges requirement does not apply to a certain medical doctor when he is working at the McAllen facility. Elsewhere, a physician performing an abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location where the abortion is performed in accordance with the 2013 law.
Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Kent Paxton each released a statement applauding the Fifth Circuit’s action. Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Inc., while not a plaintiff in the case, also reacted to the Fifth Circuit ruling, saying: “If allowed to stand, this ruling will have a devastating impact statewide as access to safe, legal abortion is reduced to fewer than 10 providers for millions of Texas women. Limited access to other critical care provided at these and other health centers has already taken a terrible toll as clinics began closing two years ago.”
The plaintiffs, who are abortion providers and their patients, filed court papers seeking further review of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Comptroller certifies budget
State Comptroller Glenn Hegar on June 9 announced he had certified House Bill 1, the state budget. Certification is the last step before advancing to the governor’s office for final approval.
HB 1 appropriates $209.4 billion in total spending for the state’s budget for the 2016-17 biennium.
“This is a fiscally sound budget that is well under the constitutional spending limit and falls within the revenue estimate our agency provided lawmakers back in January,” Hegar said.
Sales tax revenue increases
Comptroller Hegar on June 10 said state sales tax revenue in May totaled an estimated $2.6 billion, up 5.2 percent compared to May 2014.
“This marks the 62nd consecutive month of growth in sales tax collections,” Hegar said, adding however, that “collections from the oil and gas mining sector declined, as was expected, due to the slowdown in drilling.”
Cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts will receive their June local sales tax allocations totaling $629.2 million, up 5.9 percent compared to June 2014, the comptroller said.
FEMA adds counties to list
Over Memorial Day weekend, waves of tornadoes, severe storms and flash floods hit many areas of Texas, causing widespread devastation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency on June 6 added to its notice of a major disaster declaration for the state of Texas that was issued on May 29, when assistance was granted to Harris, Hays, Van Zandt, Cooke, Gaines, Grimes and Navarro counties.
Bastrop, Blanco, Caldwell, Denton, Eastland, Fort Bend, Guadalupe, Henderson, Hidalgo, Johnson, Milam, Montague, Rusk, Smith, Travis, Wichita, Williamson and Wise counties were added to the declaration on June 6.
Commission elects new chair
David Porter was elected chair of the Texas Railroad Commission by fellow commissioners Christi Craddick and Ryan Sitton on June 9. Porter succeeds Craddick as head of the three-member commission that oversees the oil and gas industry-regulating agency.
A certified public accountant from Midland, Porter was elected to the three-member commission in 2010 to serve a six-year term.
In other news, on June 12, the Commission announced it had completed an analysis of hydraulic fracturing disposal well testing in Johnson County following a 4.0 magnitude earthquake there. “At this time, there is no conclusive evidence the disposal wells tested were a causal factor in the May 7 seismic event,” the Commission stated.
Governor signs clergy bill
Gov. Abbott on June 11 signed SB 2065, the Pastor Protection Act, which he said would “ensure that clergy in Texas cannot be forced to violate their religious beliefs.”
“Religious leaders in the State of Texas must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that religious freedom is beyond the reach of government or coercion by the courts,” Abbott said in signing the legislation by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney.