AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed 50 bills last week, dissolving a committee studying women’s health needs and axing the only government transparency measure that survived the legislative session.
Although the deadline to veto bills was midnight Sunday, Abbott announced most of his vetoes Thursday, explaining which bills he viewed as too costly or unnecessary.
One bill Abbott decided to kill, Senate Bill 790, would have extended the life of the Women’s Health Advisory Committee.
The committee, created during the 2015 legislative session and set to expire in September, was tasked with providing recommendations to state health agencies on the development of women’s health programs.
The bill’s author, Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, called the veto “incredibly shortsighted.”
“This legislation costs state taxpayers absolutely nothing, but the benefits are limitless,” Miles said in a statement. “Texas women deserve better.”
In a statement Thursday Abbott said the committee had served its purpose, because it had completed its charge of assisting with the consolidation of women’s health programs into the Healthy Texas Women’s program, launched in July 2016.
“Senate Bill 790 does nothing more than extend the expiration date of a governmental committee that has already successfully completed its mission,” Abbott said. “Rather than prolong government committees beyond their expiration date, the State should focus on programs that address more clearly identifiable needs, like my call for action to address the maternal mortality rate during the special session.”
Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, a rate that’s doubled since 2010 according to a 2016 report.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who authored the House companion to SB 790, was dismayed by Abbott’s veto, indicating that if the governor was serious about addressing maternal mortality, he wouldn’t have eliminated the committee helping to deal with the issue.
“It is especially galling to see this veto at a time when Texas is struggling with the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world,” Howard said in a statement. “Yet Governor Abbott is eliminating a trusted, highly-qualified group of providers that could help address this tragedy.”
Howard said the governor’s office had never expressed any concerns to her regarding the legislation, and said she was “shocked and frustrated” by Abbott’s veto of legislation that had passed out of the Texas House twice and received unanimous support in the Senate.
“This absentee style is disgraceful, and it is not jeopardizing the health and safety of women across the state,” Howard said.
Abbott also received criticism for killing House Bill 2783, the only government transparency measure that passed through both chambers this session.
The bill would have made it easier for plaintiffs who sue a government agency for withholding public information to collect attorney fees, by giving a judge the option to award fees in lawsuits where the agency decided to release the requested information before a trial was held.
Abbott said the bill would have encouraged lawsuits against the government.
“By threatening the taxpayers with attorneys’ fees, House Bill 2783 creates an incentive for requestors of public information to sue the government as quickly as possible instead of waiting for the statutorily defined public information process to play out,” Abbott said in a statement.
Kelly Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times last week that Abbott’s rationale for axing the bill doesn’t make sense, because Texas Public Information Act lawsuits are not common.
“Going to court is a last resort, and an option not many Texans can afford,” Shannon said. “When a lawsuit is necessary, a judge should have the ability to award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing plaintiff who had to turn to the courthouse when all else failed in seeking public records.”
The governor also vetoed Senate Bill 744, a bill that would have restricted local tree ordinances, because he said it didn’t go far enough to stop the “municipal micromanagement of private property.”
Abbott has called local tree ordinances “socialistic” and said a top priority for the special legislative session, which begins July 18, will be giving property owners the right to cut down trees whether their cities protect them or not.
“Cities telling landowners what they can and cannot do with the trees in their own backyard is an assault on private property rights,” Abbott said in a statement. “This bill was well-intentioned, but by the end of the legislative process it actually ended up doing more to protect cities than it did to protect the rights of property owners. I applaud the bill authors for their efforts, but I believe we can do better for private property owners in the upcoming special session.”
Abbott also vetoed a bill that would have let counties set up public defender offices to represent people with mental illness, an affordable housing bill, and a bill requiring schools to teach kids how to avoid sexual abusers.