Texas Legislature

Catching Up With Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Veto Pen

Raise your hand if you have a veto pen and aren't afraid to use it.
Raise your hand if you have a veto pen and aren't afraid to use it. Gage Skidmore
The Texas Legislature passed 1,429 bills in 2019. Lawmakers took swipes at problems that have plagued the state for decades, like Texas' public school finance system, and problems that don't exist, like doctors who regularly get away with committing infanticide. They passed many bills, the effects of which won't be felt for years, such as the one that will allow Texans to vote on whether to permanently ban the state from enacting an income tax, and more than 50 bills that don't matter at all, because Gov. Greg Abbott decided to veto them.

Let's take a look at how Abbott chose to wield his veto pen in 2019.

My child car seat, my choice — Texas House Bill 448 would've required parents of kids younger than 2 to secure their children in rear-facing car seats, echoing the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Abbott killed the bill because, he said, it micromanaged parents.

"House Bill 448 is an unnecessary invasion of parental rights and an unfortunate example of over-criminalization. Texas already compels drivers to use a car seat for a child under eight years of age," the governor wrote in his veto statement.

"(T)he governor's veto sends the irresponsible message that it doesn't matter if a child under age 2 is rear facing. It does matter, because it is proven to save young lives." — Chris Turner

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Grand Prairie Democrat Chris Turner, the author of the bill and the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said the governor's decision would give parents the wrong idea.

"Worst of all," Turner said Saturday, "the governor's veto sends the irresponsible message that it doesn't matter if a child under age 2 is rear facing. It does matter, because it is proven to save young lives."

Doing less to keep guns off airport property — Dallas state Rep. Rafael Anchia wrote House Bill 1168, he said, to cover for federal agents who don't have the resources to respond to cases in which an employee of an airport illegally possesses a gun somewhere like an airport ramp or tarmac. The bill would have made having a gun in one of those restricted areas a state crime, giving Texas law enforcement at airports the same jurisdiction as their federal counterparts.

Despite broad bipartisan support for the bill, Abbott refused to sign it, fearing it would inadvertently keep guns out of sections of the airport where they are currently permitted.

"By vetoing this bill, I am ensuring that Texans can travel without leaving their firearms at home. I look forward to working with the next Legislature on the good idea behind this bill," Abbott said.

Abbott keeps underage prostitutes criminal — Anti-sex trafficking advocates successfully pushed this session for a bill that would decriminalize prostitution for teens 17 years old and younger, making it easy for them to come out of the shadows and escape potential sex trafficking.

Abbott reacted to the bill as if it were creating some sort of a loophole in the state's vice laws.

"The bill takes away options that law enforcement and prosecutors can use to separate victims from their traffickers, and it may provide a perverse incentive for traffickers to use underage prostitutes, knowing they cannot be arrested for engaging in prostitution," Abbott said.

Think the Bowie knife is the state knife of Texas? Not so fast — Abbott deserves to be commended for this one. Rather than signing a seemingly easy bill that would've made the Bowie knife the official knife of Texas, the governor spotted a historical inaccuracy in the bill's text and saved the state from having a historic relic on its books, something it knows a little something about.

"This is the kind of resolution that a Texas governor would sign without thinking," Abbott said. "Fortunately, with a little thinking and study, it was learned that a statement contained in the resolution is factually incorrect: It identifies the location of Jim Bowie’s ‘Sandbar Fight’ as ‘near Natchez, Louisiana,’ when in fact the fight occurred near Natchez, Mississippi. So, as a thinking governor, I think it best not to sign a factually incorrect resolution and instead to allow the Legislature to consider this next session."

The governor lets a little radioactive waste get in the way of good domestic violence legislation — Victims of domestic violence were set to get a little help from the state until Abbott vetoed Senate Bill 1804. The bill would've required that bond information about Texas domestic violence offenders be placed in a statewide database so victims could be more easily notified when their attackers got out of jail.

Abbott vetoed the bill because of an unrelated provision tacked onto it by Eagle Pass Democratic state Rep. Poncho Nevarez. Nevarez's amendment, passed by both the House and Senate, would've delayed a surcharge and fee set to be paid by the operator of a nuclear waste disposal facility in West Texas.

"Senate Bill 1804 was a laudable effort to address domestic violence, until someone slipped in an ill-considered giveaway to a radioactive waste disposal facility," Abbott said. "Unfortunately, the bill author’s good idea about domestic violence has been dragged down by a bad idea about radioactive waste." 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young