AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The historic vote in the Texas House to impeach Ken Paxton is adding to the intensity of the final days of the legislative session.
House members spent nearly four hours Saturday considering the impeachment resolution, before voting to approve the measure. It’s the first time in Texas history that lawmakers took up, let alone passed, a resolution to impeach a sitting Attorney General.
Paxton is a Republican. So is State Rep. Andrew Murr, R – Junction, who leads the House General Investigating Committee that recommended the articles of impeachment. The idea of Republicans potentially ousting a top leader from their own party surprised some Texans.
But the vote comes amid a session of infighting among Republicans at the Capitol. Party members have been divided over priority issues like school choice legislation, even property tax relief. While most Republicans in the House voted in favor of the resolution to impeach Paxton, some of the chamber’s most conservative members stood in opposition.
Paxton released a statement shortly after the vote, calling the process “illegal, unfounded, and unethical.”
“What we witnessed today is not just about me. It is about the corrupt establishment’s eagerness to overpower the millions of Texas voters who already made their voices heard when they overwhelmingly re-elected me,” Paxton wrote.
Paxton faced three challengers in last year’s Republican primary. Then-Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, and then-Congressman Louie Gohmert all raised the issue of the accusations facing Paxton.
Primary voters did not seem to be concerned.
A Your Local Election Headquarters/The Hill/Emerson College Polling poll taken a week before the primary showed 41% of Republican voters said Paxton’s legal issues had no impact on their likelihood of voting for him. The poll showed 23% saying the accusations actually made them more likely to vote for him. A quarter of voters said the legal issues made them less-likely to vote for Paxton.
“The voters have rejected these smears. They’ve rejected these attacks. This committee is trying to undermine the will of the voters,” said Chris Hilton, head of litigation in the Attorney General’s Office.
The Republican chairman of the General Investigating Committee said the vote was not about politics.
“The evidence presented to you is compelling and is more than sufficient to justify going to trial,” Murr said, in his closing remarks before the vote. “Putting politics aside, this decision is clear.”
Politics could become a bigger part of the equation as the process moves forward. Should the Senate decide to remove Paxton permanently, it sets the stage for a special election for Attorney General. The field of potential candidates could be large, and could include some of the Senators who will decide whether to remove Paxton.
When the Texas Senate convenes to try Paxton, at least two-thirds of the Senate must be present. One of the current senators is Paxton’s wife, State Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.
Mom turns heartbreak into action on fentanyl legislation
Stefanie Turner carried three large boxes of cookies into the Texas Capitol Friday morning and delivered them to three state lawmakers who she said helped send a bill named for her late son to the governor’s desk.
“We just wanted to express our gratitude,” Turner said, smiling. “This couldn’t have happened without them and so we’re just grateful for them being willing to listen, to hear the problem that is happening and be part of the solution.”
The Texas House of Representatives signed off Thursday on a minor change the Senate made to House Bill 3908, initially introduced by Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Georgetown. The legislation is now bound for Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it into law.
It would require every school district in Texas to teach their students in sixth through 12th grades each year about preventing fentanyl abuse and making them aware of its deadly effects. It’s officially called “Tucker’s Law” because Turner’s son, Tucker, died at the family’s Leander home in 2021 from a fentanyl overdose.
“When I describe Tucker, I say he’s bigger than this Earth,” Turner said. “He sure is, and he’s continuing to be.”
The legislation also calls on the governor to choose a week to recognize as Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness Week. During that time, Texas districts would have to hold events that “include age-appropriate instruction, including instruction on the prevention of the abuse of and addiction to fentanyl.”
“I know that if my son had this information when he was first offered a Xanax pill, he would be here today,” Turner said.
At the beginning of the legislative session, the governor named fentanyl as one of his emergency items for lawmakers to tackle, and now he has more than just Tucker’s Law awaiting his signature. Another bill related to overdose prevention in schools is now headed to Abbott’s desk, too.
Senate Bill 629, filed by Democratic Sen. José Menéndez of San Antonio, directs school districts to keep Narcan, the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, on hand in case of emergencies. Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, sponsored the legislation in the House and talked Friday about how this legislation originated.
“Last year, a 13-year-old boy at a Texas middle school died from a fentanyl overdose, but now his school district requires Narcan and opioid overdose reversal medication to be on every campus in that district,” Talarico said in an interview with KXAN. “That policy has already saved five lives in the past year and so our bill will require Narcan on every campus across the state of Texas.”
Additionally, the legislature acted this week and sent House Bill 6 requiring murder charges be brought in cases of fentanyl poisoning as well as House Bill 3144, which would designate October as fentanyl poisoning awareness month, to the governor’s desk.
However, not every fentanyl-related bill made it as far as these others this session. State representatives passed House Bill 362 in April, which would legalize fentanyl testing strips in Texas. The test strips cost roughly a dollar and can be used to test drugs, powders and pills for the presence of fentanyl, which is significantly more powerful than other drugs and can be fatal.
Under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, though, drug testing equipment is classified as drug paraphernalia, which currently makes it illegal for people to recreationally test.
The Senate never took up the bill in committee, which halted it from progressing in the upper chamber any further. The governor previously indicated he would sign the bill into law if it made its way to his desk.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown said he hoped lawmakers would make legalization happen this session, pointing out how he believed it would help reduce the number of local deaths caused by fentanyl. He said overdoses are now the number one cause of accidental death in Travis County, so he expressed his disappointment Friday about what happened in the Senate.
“Everybody that I have talked to on the Republican and Democratic side that actually deals with this issue at the local level believes that we need to legalize fentanyl test strips,” Brown said. “Just because somebody has an addiction or because somebody decides to try a drug one time, that should not be a death sentence. That’s in effect what is happening in Texas right now is that we have such a problem with fentanyl deaths — even in drugs where people think it’s one drug, but it ends up having fentanyl in it, that has killed and can kill people. We need to have fentanyl test strips made legal in Texas so that people can can use them legally.”
A year ago, Travis County leaders declared a public health crisis in response to a growing number of drug overdose deaths that have been reported in Central Texas, which reflected a national trend.
This year’s regular legislative session will end Monday.
Calls for action on gun laws yield mixed results for Uvalde families
Following America’s second-deadliest school shooting in a small Texas town, grieving families and angry communities mourned, conversations about prevention turn political and people marched and protested to “do something.” Some of those calls turned into action while others were ignored.
A month after an 18-year-old gunman used an AR-15 to kill 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Congress passed its first federal gun safety legislation in decades. The Safer Communities Act expands background checks in certain cases, closed the “boyfriend loophole” to prevent domestic abusers from getting or keeping firearms and clarifies the created penalties for straw purchases and those who don’t follow federal firearm licensing requirements. Additionally, the bipartisan package doled out grants to bolster mental health resources and to better secure schools.
Many longtime gun control activists saw it as small, but meaningful progress. Critics argued it could be overly restrictive of Second Amendment rights.
The efforts were led by Texas’ senior senator and one Texas House Republican was a yes vote. Both Republicans took political hits, but say they do not regret their efforts on the legislation.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said it was “absolutely” worth the pushback he received within his party, including notably getting booed by conservatives at the Texas GOP convention last June. In an interview with Nexstar last week, he noted impacts the legislation has had — such as 160 instances in which the FBI has identified people who have juvenile records that would disqualify them from purchasing firearms.
“I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment, and I don’t think law-abiding citizens are a threat to public safety. But I think the one area of consensus is that people with mental health problems and people who have criminal records should not be able to access firearms,” he said.
Congressman Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde, also defends his vote despite getting censured by two county GOP parties in his district after the fact.
“Politically, it is always a concern because what often happens is things get spun one way or another. And it’s just part of being in politics,” Gonzales told Nexstar. “You should look beyond that, and go, ‘what is the right thing to do?'”
“I voted in favor of the Safer Community Act, for a couple of reasons. But the main one was, if that bill was law, it would have prevented the Uvalde shooting. That is more than enough for me to take any arrows from anyone in my party,” Gonzales said.
As for the possibility of furthering federal legislation gun reforms which cost Cornyn and Gonzales politically, the two Republicans expressed openness to expanding on policy so long as it protects communities but doesn’t infringe on the constitutional rights of others.
“While we’ve figured out how to investigate and prosecute and punish — and hopefully deter criminal acts — we haven’t figured out how to stop all of them. But I’m confident that the answer is not to deprive law-abiding gun owners of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” Cornyn said.
“A lot of times folks want to go to the end of the problem and talk about age limits or or weapons bans or these other different things politically that can’t get done right now,” Gonzales said. “I’m less focused on the things that can’t get done. And I’m more focused on the things that can get done,” he said.
On Monday, Gonzales announced the formation of the bipartisan School Safety and Security caucus in Congress. Gonzales teamed up with Democrat Jared Moskowitz from Florida on the announcement. He represents Parkland, Florida, where a school shooting in 2018 killed 17 students. The caucus aims to work across party lines on solutions to improve school safety.
Kim Rubio, whose daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio was among the 19 children murdered in Uvalde, said her goal is to continue to honor Lexi’s life through political action. As someone who describes herself as previously “soft-spoken,” activism was never something Rubio imagined for herself. But she also never imagined losing her youngest daughter to a mass shooting.
“I was perfectly content with just being a mom of five children in a small town,” she said. “Now I think [Lexi] still has the potential for change. It just has to be through me.”
While Rubio was thankful for progress, she wants to see more restrictions around the types of weapons that killed her daughter and her classmates.
She said victims’ families from the Uvalde and 2018 Santa Fe shooting focused their legislative efforts on raising the age needed to purchase semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21.
Rubio and other families regularly traveled to Austin to speak at rallies and press conferences and meet with lawmakers in hopes of getting action. Their efforts came to a climax earlier this month, when the House Community Safety Committee voted to advance the age limit bill with two Republicans voting in favor. Chairman Ryan Guillen initially did not plan to bring HB 2744 to a vote, but decided to do so in the wake of another Texas mass shooting in Allen.
“It’s a reminder that change is possible and that we’re changing hearts and I really needed that,” Rubio said.
A May poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas shows a majority of the state’s voters, 76%, support raising the age limit for purchasing any firearm from 18 to 21. Twenty percent oppose the idea, but most Texans polled from both parties back it — with 91% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans.
The House did not bring HB 2744 to the floor for debate before a key deadline.
From the start, Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, knew his gun restriction proposals would be an uphill battle in the Republican-dominated Legislature. He introduced 21 bills, many centered around gun restrictions, which never got hearings in the Senate.
“They didn’t shatter any expectations, but I felt like we needed to have the discussion,” Gutierrez said.
Lawmakers could still make it law by attaching provisions of the bill as amendments to other legislation, but Democrats thus far have failed to gain support in attempts to do so with enough Republican support.
“The public needs to really understand what we’re allowing to do, by the failure of [not] having laws that keep these types of weapons away from young people, away from people that have mental illness. We really are broken here,” Gutierrez said.
Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders have said the proposal is unconstitutional, referencing a Texas federal court decision on a state law that previously banned 18 to 20 year olds from carrying handguns. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman said the law was unconstitutional since the Second Amendment does not mention age limitations.
Gutierrez points to Republican states like Florida, which passed an age limit bill in the aftermath of the 2018 Parkland high school shooting — a law that has been upheld.
While gun restrictions are broadly out of the question for Republicans, GOP lawmakers have spent the session focused on bolstering school safety and mental health funding, as well as stricter requirements for active shooter plans and audits of Texas campuses.
Medical cannabis expansion bill dies in Texas Senate
Legislation to expand access to medical cannabis for Texans with chronic pain failed to pass this session. HB 1805 by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, passed the Texas House 127-19 on April 12. But the bill stalled in the Texas Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs, and did not get voted out before last Wednesday’s deadline to pass bills on second reading.
The legislation would have allowed Texans living with chronic pain or other debilitating medical conditions to get a prescription for low-THC medical cannabis products like edibles and oils. Current law limits eligible patients to those with epilepsy, cancer, autism, multiple sclerosis, and other incurable neurodegenerative diseases.
The bill also aimed to raise the amount of THC allowed per dose to 10 milligrams. Current law limits THC dosage to 1% by weight.
Patients benefitting from medical cannabis stressed the urgency of this legislation for other Texans who do not yet qualify.
Barry Freeman is a Waco-area veteran living with PTSD, cancer, and chronic pain from fifteen serious surgeries. He said no treatment eased his pain until he tried CBD.
“I was in unbearable pain. And by the time I got the dosage in me, another 45 minutes to an hour, and I could feel all that pain going away,” Freeman said. “That’s how urgent it is. There’s people out there right now in worse condition than I am that need it. It could make a difference in their life within one hour.”
Freeman uses a THC tincture produced by Texas Original Compassionate Cultivation, one of the only medical cannabis producers in the state. He hopes skeptical legislators change their minds before the deadline for bill passage hits.
“Not only would it help the people, which is what they’re supposed to be doing, it would also help the government because they regulate it,” he said. “They’re gonna get their share of the funds from activity and they can use the funds they get to do more testing and things that they need to answer the questions they have.”
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, chairs the committee where the bill stalled. He said the legislation could come up again next session.
“Maybe we’ll have an interim charge. I hope so. We need to have a conversation,” Perry told Nexstar on Tuesday.