Bad Bills



It’s Hunting Season Again! HB 17 Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) What do javelina, deer, quail, and district judges have in common? In Texas, they are all considered fair game. With House Bill 17, Rep. Frank Corte hopes to place a bull’s eye on every district judge in Texas who dares approve an abortion for a minor under the state’s judicial bypass law. Texas law states that a minor who does not wish to have a parent or legal guardian notified that she intends to have an abortion can seek a judicial bypass hearing. The hearing determines if she is mature and sufficiently well-informed to decide to have an abortion performed without notice to a parent or legal guardian, if notifying a parent would not be in her best interest, or if notification could lead to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Under current law, Chapter 33 of the Texas Family Code stipulates that bypass proceedings at the trial court level and at the appellate level are confidential, privileged, and not subject to disclosure, discovery, subpoena, or other legal process (that would normally be available to the public in other civil actions). However, Rep. Frank Corte wants to amend Chapter 33 to make this information public. Corte’s move fits with the Texas Republican Party platform which “calls for the electoral defeat of all judges who through raw judicial activism seek to nullify the Parental Notification Law by wantonly granting bypasses to minor girls seeking abortions, and thereby thwart the will of the Texas Legislature and the people.” HB 17 requires that the number of bypasses granted, filed, and denied in each judicial district in Texas be tallied and made public. Corte’s staffer Kathi Seay maintains that the bill simply requests collecting non-identifiable statistical information. Pro-choice activists argue that the disclosure mandated under Corte’s bill would remove the confidentiality of the judges that hear these cases. “Some of these smaller districts only have one district judge,” says Susan Hays, a Dallas lawyer who is president of Jane’s Due Process, a group that helps young women get judicial bypasses. “The bill expressly requests separately reporting the bypasses by individual district. It won’t be hard to identify which judges are granting minors abortions without parental notification.” Corte’s bill is aimed at Republican judges who follow the law. In 2000, the Texas Legislature determined that a minor should be able to obtain an abortion without notification of her parents if she complies with the judicial bypass procedure and meets all the requirements of the statute. But once it is determined which judges grant the bypasses, GOP activists can systematically target them for defeat in Republican primaries. In many of these districts, the low-turnout Republican primary is the only election that matters. Pro-choice advocates fear that HB 17 could encourage judges to disobey the current statute and deny minors the right to judicial bypass. When court decisions on judicial bypass proceedings are made public, judges may base decisions on politics, not the law. Corte’s bill is one of a number of measures that attempt to curtail and eliminate legal abortions without confronting the laws that allow them head-on. If this legislation passes, for those judges who are faithful to the law and daringly practice objectivity in the courtroom, hunting season could be on the way. Back to the Pit of Hell HB 93 Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Houston) Rep. Debbie Riddle once showed her knowledge of the divine by referring to “the pit of hell” as somewhere in Moscow. She demonstrates further expertise in the afterlife in House Bill 93, which would change the label given to an executed inmate’s demise. Currently, the death certificates for those whom Texas executes read, “homicide.” The same word appears on a murder victim’s death certificate, of course, because both acts are killings. Such transparency cannot be allowed to stand in this age of governmental obfuscation. The phrase Riddle would prefer as a replacement is “judicial execution,” the damning force of which, the representative no doubt hopes would banish a convict to a deeper circle of Moscow. (In 2001, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) offered a version that changed it to “legal execution.”) Riddle wanted to make this change in the last regular session, but saw the bill die in committee after other members worried about insensitivity to inmates’ families. “I’m very sorry if someone has committed a murder, because that murderer has made victims out of his or her own family as well, but quite frankly, the family of the one who is murdered, that is my concern,” Riddle said. “I think it is reprehensible to have the cause of death the same in both, because they are not the same.” The victim-advocacy group Justice for All asked her office for the legislation last session and has pushed for homicides to become judicial executions since 2001. “We believe that it’s the appropriate designation. [The current policy] is, in a technical sense, demeaning to innocent crime victims who have lost their lives,” said Dianne Clements, president of Justice for All. Clements claims the bill would provide “clarity.” Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer’s Bad Bills Girl, who rises vampire-like from hibernation every two years to suck the blood from vile or absurd state legislation.