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I'm not saying you have to cut this or cut that. I'm just saying set up a citizens' panel that will review the tax code and offer recommendations."

Villarreal's not yet laying out any specific loopholes or giveaways he'd like to target, as he did last session. "Look, I tried that approach, and I slammed in the wall hard. It didn't go anywhere."

A likely second route for state budget planners will be to consider current basement-level funding for essential state services, like public education, the "new normal," and the baseline for budget discussions from here on out. Gov. Perry and the Legislative Budget Board this summer already sent state agencies a draconian memo telling them to prepare two budgets — one based on numbers from the current biennium, and another with a 10 percent cut in general revenue. Meanwhile constitutional amendments filed by Sen. Patrick (SJR 10) and Rep. Bill Callegari (HJR 23), both endorsed by Perry, would tie future appropriations to our current, pared-down budget, writing recession-based austerity directly into the state's constitution.

Anti-abortion

Gov. Rick Perry announced his unwavering support for a bill that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Appearing alongside staunch pro-life supporters like state Sen.-elect Donna Campbell at the Source for Women, a crisis pregnancy center in Houston, Perry lauded conservative leaders for making major steps in ensuring women seeking abortion make "the most informed, responsible" decision possible — like a probing, trans-vaginal ultrasound for any woman seeking abortion, which passed last session. But with "80,000 lives lost to abortion each year in our state, we know our work is far from over," Perry said, calling on the Lege to "strengthen our ban on the procedure, prohibiting abortion at the point a baby can feel the pain of being killed."

While right-to-lifers claim the fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks of gestation, that's anything but settled science. The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 consolidated and reviewed evidence surrounding fetal pain, and found that while a fetus may exhibit base reflexes after 20 weeks, nerves aren't developed enough to actually register pain until well into the third-trimester.

Similar laws in other states have sparked lawsuits. Arizona criminalizes abortions after 20 weeks except for "immediate" emergency situations. Critics say that law forces doctors caring for women in high-risk pregnancies to wait until the situation has become dangerous before considering an abortion. The ACLU of Arizona sued on behalf of a doctor arguing the measure hampers his ability to care for patients. While a state court upheld the law this summer, parties are now waiting on a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a brief supporting the ACLU's suit, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the ban on abortions after 20 weeks won't protect maternal health, but will rather "jeopardize women's health by severely curtailing physician's ability to treat patients who face serious health conditions later in pregnancy and will force women to carry pregnancies to term when their fetuses suffer from serious impairments."

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