AUSTIN (Nexstar) — With Friday’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, many expect the Texas “trigger law” to take effect in 30 days, but that’s not exactly how it works. The law — which automatically bans most abortions in the state — takes effect 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court issues an official judgment, not an opinion, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
“The Court will issue its judgment only after the window for the litigants to file a motion for rehearing has closed,” Paxton said in an official advisory. “A judgment can issue in about a month, or longer if the Court considers a motion for rehearing.”
The Republican-led legislature passed HB 1280, dubbed the “Human Life Protection Act” in 2021. The law prohibits abortions “except under limited circumstances, such as a life-threatening condition to the mother caused by the pregnancy.”
A violation of the law is a first-degree felony “if an unborn child dies as a result” and could result in a civil penalty of at least $100,000 and potential criminal charges.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) was one of dozens of co-authors of the bill. He told KXAN Friday he also expects delays due to legal action.
“There will be a tremendous amount of litigation from here,” Bettencourt said. “I expect that we’ll be right back waiting for more Supreme Court rulings next year at this time.”
Jamarr Brown, co-executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said you can count on legal action along with voter mobilization.
“In Texas in particular, we are working to make sure we elect Beto O’Rourke [as governor] and that we flip seats in the Texas legislature so that we can repeal many of the abortion bans and laws that are in place,” Brown told KXAN.
In his advisory, Paxton said Friday’s Supreme Court decision means abortion laws that were on the books before Roe v. Wade are technically back in effect because they were never repealed.
The attorney general said as a result, prosecutors could take immediate action if they so choose.
“When that opinion came down, those laws are back in place,” said State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). Hughes was one of the leaders behind Texas anti-abortion legislation in the last session. He said lawmakers are already eyeing additional legislation.
“There are many district attorneys in Texas and around the country who have publicly stated they will not enforce pro-life laws…so that’ll have to be addressed,” Hughes said. He added that lawmakers could expand the state law that lets private citizens to sue abortion providers or people who help women get an abortion.
Hughes also suggested that the state could boost funds to help pregnant women.
“Look for more support, more help for those moms and for those babies. That’s what I’ll be working on next session,” Hughes said.
It could take a lot of work to boost resources for women and babies in Texas.
“The social safety net in the state of Texas is near the bottom of every state,” explained Elizabeth Sepper, a University of Texas law professor. “We’re in constant competition with Mississippi and Alabama for who can do it worse.”
“We have very high rates of maternal and infant mortality already, we failed to extend Medicaid in ways that would ensure that people of reproductive age are healthy…we don’t have pre-K or daycare subsidized in any meaningful way. The social safety net isn’t here,” Sepper said.
Despite the Court’s ruling, Sepper expects more legal battles to come over abortion.
“It’s pretty clear that the courts are going to need to continue to be involved. This is not going to end. The Supreme Court is going to continue to see legal battle over abortion,” said Sepper, noting that Texas will likely be an active player in cases moving forward.
“It’s going to take the form of states like Texas trying to reach abortions in other states done for its residents. It’s going to take place because states like New York are going to try to protect their providers from consequences around providing abortions,” Sepper predicted.
“The legal fight is not over,” she added. “So the real question is, where do we go from here?”
Texans boost bipartisan bill to address gun violence
U.S. Senators made a historic move Thursday night, passing a bipartisan bill to address gun violence. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act became the first major gun safety legislation to clear Congress since 1994.
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) helped lead efforts to reach the bipartisan deal.
“I don’t believe in doing nothing in the face of what we saw in Uvalde, and we’ve seen in far too many communities,” said Cornyn, speaking in the Senate chamber shortly before Thursday night’s vote.
“Doing noting is an abdication of our responsibility as representatives of the American people here in the United States Senate,” Cornyn said.
The bill divided the state’s two senators. Republican Ted Cruz voted no.
“After every one of these, the call comes out ‘do something.’ I agree, do something! But do something that works. Do something that will stop these crimes. This bill ain’t that,” said Cruz on the Senate floor.
The bill would enhance background checks for gun buyers between 18 and 21 years old. It also provides funding for states to enact “red flag” laws that allow firearms to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed dangerous, but the funding can also be used for other crisis intervention programs, like mental health courts.
Mental health and school safety programs also get a funding boost from the legislation. The bill also closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by expanding federal laws that prohibit domestic abusers from buying guns to include dating partners.
The Senate vote cleared the path for a Friday vote where the bill cleared the Democrat-controlled House and advanced to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
Congressman Tony Gonzales, a Republican from Uvalde, made news before the vote when he said he said he would cross party lines and vote for the bill.
He made the announcement in a Twitter post with a personal story, writing “I am a survivor of domestic abuse,” recounting how his stepfather abused both him and his mother. Gonzales described how one night, when he was 5 years old, his stepfather shoved a shotgun in his mother’s mouth.
“As a Congressman, it’s my duty to pass laws that never infringe on the Constitution, while protecting the lives of the innocent,” Gonzales continued in the string of posts. He then announced he would vote yes on the legislation.
The final vote was 234 to 193 to pass the legislation. Gonzales was one of 14 Republicans to support the bill, and the only Republican House member from Texas to do so.
Timeline raises new questions about law enforcement response to Uvalde school shooting
Texas DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw publicly laid out the most extensive timeline yet of what happened on May 24, when an 18-year-old gunman was left alone in conjoining classrooms for more than an hour, killing 19 children and two teachers.
McCraw revealed that there were enough armed officers on the scene to stop the gunman, as soon as three minutes after he entered the building. He also told lawmakers there was no evidence showing that officers on scene attempted to unlock the classroom door where the gunman was inside.
“I have great reasons to believe it [the classroom door] was never secured,” said McCraw, after revealing the teacher had previously reported her door lock was malfunctioning, before the shooting.
Instead, armed officers with rifles waited in the hallway for more than an hour before eventually breaking into the classroom and killing the gunman. McCraw placed the blame squarely on Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who he described as the scene’s “incident commander.”
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” the director testified.
Law enforcement has been scrutinized in the aftermath of the shooting for their delayed response in breaching the classroom and killing the gunman.
“There’s compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre,” McCraw said.
But some elected officials are pushing back at the narrative that Arredondo bears the bulk of responsibility for the failures at Robb Elementary.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin called McCraw’s testimony to lawmakers “misleading.” On Wednesday, State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, sued the DPS, saying the department has not released key records tied to the investigation.
“We’re seeking records. We’re seeking information as to situation or logistics, where people were…who was directing them, who was ordering them,” Gutierrez said. He criticized the information released at the hearing, calling it a “dog-and-pony show.”
“We heard body cam footage from other people, but none from DPS, except for a little bit of self-serving body cam footage,” Gutierrez said. “We need to get all of the body cam footage.”
“The fact is, all the responsibility shouldn’t be borne by one person or one entity. There was failure in every level,” Gutierrez added. “We had communication failure, system failure, human error here.”
The House Investigative Committee into the shooting also met Tuesday morning — and was again closed to the public. The three-member panel heard from responding law enforcement in the shooting. Arredondo, who has been largely silent since the shooting, testified to that House committee.
Arredondo took no questions from reporters following his testimony as he was ushered to an elevator, escorted by a DPS trooper.
In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Arredondo defended his response during the shooting, saying, “not a single responding officer ever hesitated, even for a moment, to put themselves at risk to save the children. We responded to the information that we had and had to adjust to whatever we faced.”
Tuesday’s Senate hearing lasted more than 12 hours with lawmakers also questioning top education and law enforcement officials including Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and John Curnutt, Assistant Director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University.
Curnutt told senators ALERRT — which is internationally renowned for its law enforcement active shooter training — was putting together its own review of what happened in Uvalde.
On Monday, Democratic members of the Texas Senate called for approval of four gun safety measures in the wake of the shooting. The group would like to raise the minimum age to buy certain guns to 21, require background checks, a 72-hour waiting period for specific weapons and red flag laws.
Republicans have largely resisted calls for tighter gun restrictions, arguing it won’t prevent another mass shooting from happening and pointing to mental health and school safety solutions.
The hearings come after Gov. Greg Abbott called for the creation of special committees to address school safety and mental health. He has refrained from calling lawmakers back for a special session to pass legislation in response to the shootings.
Gutierrez, like other Democrats, has urged the Governor to call as special session.
“We’re 54 days away from the start of school…God forbid this happens again, but we all know that it will as long as Greg Abbott doesn’t do anything about it.” Gutierrez said.
School safety emphasized in $1.5 billion bond proposal
On Tuesday night, the Austin Independent School District board discussed details of what could be the biggest bond proposal it has ever put before voters.
In 2017, voters approved a billion-dollar bond to upgrade Austin schools. At the time, that was biggest bond the school district asked voters to approve. This time, the 2022 bond proposal would ask voters in November to approve $1.5 billion to help secure schools.
Matias Segura, AISD’s chief of operations, said the request would not increase the tax rate.
“I want our community to know at the end of the day, we are doing our absolute best we can with the limited resources we have,” said Segura.
The district is taking steps now to implement what security upgrades it can afford, including bullet-resistant film on school windows to be completed by August.
“It provides an additional layer of protection. For security, we can’t communicate where it is, but it is something that has been going on for some time,” said Segura.
There are unannounced security audits at every AISD school during the school year, according to Segura.
“They occur continually through the entire school year. Our schools are not aware when they occur. It’s a collaboration between emergency management and the police department.”
The district said it is doing what it can with what money it has, but it may not be enough.
“Every new facility we design meets our security specification that we want to see moving on. Not that our schools aren’t secure, but that’s really where we want to be,” said Segura. “Since those specifications have been brought forward, we have completed 17 schools out of the 130. So, I would say 80% of our facilities would benefit from capital investment that would move them where we want them to be from a security perspective.”
One layer of security Segura would like to see, “at minimum security vestibules at every school.”
A security vestibule is a secure space at the front of campus with two sets of doors, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per school.
“We don’t have unlimited resources; if we did we’d do a lot more,” said Segura.
The 2022 bond could also address another problem at Austin schools: door locks.
“One challenge we have right now — we don’t have consistency in locking mechanisms. Cause when you think about it, you have essentially 70 years of different locks and keys. Standardizing that is actually one of the things we are looking to do in the 2022 bond program.”
Door locks have been a security issue emerging from the investigation into the Uvalde shooting.
Segura said the district can’t afford the security upgrades if the bond doesn’t pass, but failing students and staff is not an option.
“It’s hard work, but we care very much about our students and teachers.”