tampabay.com

Victory turns into defeat for Storms

The Senate okays her bill to restrict abortion, then the House says no.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published May 5, 2007


TALLAHASSEE -- In the waning hours of the legislative session Friday, a divisive bill that would have made it harder for girls to get abortions without telling their parents crashed and burned with little warning.

The sudden death of HB 1497, however, didn't come at the hands of a strong abortion-rights' legislative contingent. It came at the request of Tampa Republican Rep. Trey Traviesa, perhaps the session's most outspoken abortion opponent.

Just two hours earlier, at 12:20 p.m., the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, stood beaming on the Senate floor as senator after senator lined up to offer congratulatory hugs for successfully passing the controversial bill by a vote of 24-15.

It was a moment that promised a remarkable last day of the session for the freshman senator.

But over in the House, Traviesa said the bill didn't go far enough: It didn't require physicians to wait 24 hours before performing an abortion after a woman requests it. And it didn't require that patients get ultrasounds.

Both were provisions Traviesa added in an earlier version of the bill, but the Senate took them out. So, he asked the House to reject it. And, by a quick voice vote, lawmakers did.

"It's important, " Traviesa said afterwards, "that we send a message today that if the issue is not taken seriously and the only thing that's going to come out of the Senate is minimalist crumbs as it relates to life, we're not going to take it."

It was a stunning moment for Storms, who said her last private conversation with Traviesa on the Senate floor led her to believe he would ask the House to accept the Senate's revision.

"He said, 'Tell me what you want me to do, '" she said. "I said, 'Pass the bill.' That was my last sentence. Pass the bill."

That the legislation got as far as it did in the Senate was a testament to Storms' willingness to compromise. Her reputation from her days on the Hillsborough County Commission is that of a hard-charging, outspoken conservative who rarely bows to pressure. But even Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller remarked on the lengths to which Storms went to try to address opponents' concerns.

In fact, this time around some of Storms' greatest opposition came from those in her own party.

Republican Sens. Jim King, Mike Bennett, Dennis Jones and Evelyn Lynn all voted against the bill, saying it was unreasonable to rewrite the parental notification abortion law enacted less than two years ago, because it had withstood court challenges over its constitutionality.

"It's not exactly like we've had an outcry ... or the judiciary saying, 'My God, change this!'" said King, R-Jacksonville, who was Senate president when the law was enacted.

As passed out of the Senate, HB 1497 would have required that before judges grant teens waivers from a requirement they notify their parents they are getting an abortion, the judges consider several things: a girl's "ability to assess the future consequences of her decision," whether she was being pushed by another with "undue influence" to terminate her pregnancy, and her "ability to comprehend the medical consequences" of an abortion.

It also required that judges put in a written order their reasons for granting permission.

Storms said none of the provisions was more important in her mind than considering if someone had forced the girl into aborting.

Though Storms started the morning in a celebratory spirit, the House defeat marked the beginning of a downward spiral for the legislative newcomer who, until the final afternoon, had had a strong first session.

Another of her bills died on the floor after an emotional debate during which Tampa Republican Sen. Victor Crist challenged her for amending the bill after verbally agreeing with him not to.

"She is smart, she is articulate," Crist said. "... And most of all the passion is in her heart. That's the first step in being a good legislator. The next step is learning the rules and the proper protocol, and today was the first lesson for her."

Times staff writers Jennifer Liberto and Shannon Colaveccio-Van Sickler contributed to this report.