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Looking Back At Bipartisan Success And Fierce Debates In The 83rd Legislature

Ryan Poppe
Texas Public Radio

From beer bills and a kumbaya legislative sessions to abortion bills and protests, Texas Public Radio takes a look back at some of 2013 legislative highlights.

The 83rd Legislature had several phases, the first of which was what has been commonly called the Texas lawmakers "kumbaya" session, where Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, was able to pass legislation with bipartisan support for a bill that gives Texas beer makers an opportunity to sell their craft beyond their brew pubs.

"Some of these craft brewers who are trying to make these specialty products and be the next big beer in Texas or nationwide, now they can, they can distribute and sell it at some of the H-E-Bs or 7-11s," Eltife said.

Another bill meeting with overall support was legislation that took $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help pay for the next 50 years of water projects. Lawmakers were also able to resolve their differences to reduce the number of standardized tests for high school students this session.

But even in the midst of bipartisanship there was still a large divide over issues like Medicaid expansion and replacing the cuts from public education in 2011, the lawsuit of the latter is due back in court in mid-January.

"We know we are number in the terms of the number people uninsured," said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

There was also legislation written in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn. that arms and trains Texas teachers to respond to a mass shooting.

"They are trained by TCLOSE, which is the certifying agency for law enforcement, and they have all the kinds of skills you would expect them to have when we have an active shooters in the schools," said Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who authored the bill.

The agency in charge of training teachers to respond to a mass shooting will be finalized by this January.

Then came a series of special sessions to help pass a set of controversial abortion restrictions that led to protests and the highest number of visitors the capitol has ever seen.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, took center stage with a filibuster of the abortion restriction bill that was watched from every corner of the globe, and ultimately launched the 2014 campaigns of both Davis and state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, who took the microphone in the dying minutes of the session.

"At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?" shouted Van De Putte just before the clock ran out on the special session, meaning Senate Democrats had killed the bill.

But the victory for Democrats was short lived as the legislature eventually passed the abortion clinic restrictions.

"This capitol belongs to the people and one day hopefully soon we’re going to return to the people of Texas," said Davis speaking at a rally following the passage of those restrictions.

Texas new abortion law now stands before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where both sides will debate the constitutionality of those restrictions - the trial begins this January.

Still left pending from the session is the issue of finding adequate funding for transportation. At the beginning of the regular session, the Texas Department of Transportation asked for another $4 billion to keep up with current road maintenance.

Lawmakers appropriated $1.2 billion with another $ 2.5 billion that now awaits voter approval in 2014. It is one of the issues Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst added to an interim charge while Texans await the next legislative session in 2015.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.