Clay Robison: End approaching for governor's edict on cervical cancer vaccineSan Antonio Express-News
AUSTIN — By now, it should be obvious that Gov. Rick Perry's legally questionable order on the cervical cancer vaccine is on a fast track to nowhere.
It simply will remain a catalyst for discussion of a critical health issue, which may be mainly what the governor had in mind anyway.
If Chairwoman Dianne White Delisi has her way, the House Public Health Committee will take the first major step today toward overturning the edict. The full House and the Senate likely will follow suit.
Delisi's opposition to the governor's mandate is philosophical. She believes the new vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, has potential but needs to be studied more before schoolgirls are required to be inoculated.
It, nevertheless, is ironic that Delisi, R-Temple, will play a key role in deep-sixing the initiative. Her daughter-in-law, Deirdre Delisi, is Perry's chief of staff. Also, the legislator is a former chairwoman — and still is listed as a state director, although she says she is no longer active — of Women in Government, a health care advocacy group partially funded by Merck, the HPV vaccine's manufacturer.
Delisi also received a $1,000 contribution from Merck's political action committee during the 2005-06 election cycle, according to Texans for Public Justice, which tracks political donations.
There even have been whispers, which Delisi adamantly denies, that she played a behind-the-scenes role in drafting the controversial order for the governor.
Delisi said she was blindsided by Perry, as were other lawmakers.
"It was a great surprise to me," she said.
Delisi is confident that her committee and the full House will approve separate bills to overturn Perry's mandate and, in its place, order the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop a new education program on HPV.
She wouldn't make any predictions about the Senate, but 26 of the 31 senators have signed a letter asking Perry to withdraw his order.
Delisi also opposes proposals to impose a similar vaccine requirement by law. Instead, she said, education needs time to work while the vaccine proves itself.
Delisi said she scheduled legislation to rescind the governor's HPV order early because it was timely and she wants to leave the Public Health Committee time to tackle other issues, including Medicaid, later in the session.
But Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the sponsor of the bill, indicated there also is another reason. He said he wanted to leave time for the Legislature to have a chance to override a Perry veto, if the governor tries to strike down the legislation.
I doubt Perry would do that and further antagonize lawmakers weighing the fate of other proposals that are important to him, but the possibility presents an interesting scenario.
The Legislature doesn't usually get the chance to override most gubernatorial vetoes because most vetoes are issued after sessions have adjourned. Most bills go to the governor's desk in the final days of a session, which means the governor can wait until after lawmakers have gone home to kill bills he finds objectionable.
The goal, as outlined by Bonnen, is to get his bill to the governor in time for Perry to have to sign or veto it while the Legislature is still in town. Perry would have a 10-day deadline.
A veto override requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, and only one veto has been overridden in recent memory. That was in 1979, when a Legislature still dominated by Democrats defied Republican Gov. Bill Clements' veto of a local hunting bill.
There are still a few other ways in which Perry's HPV order could be thwarted:
Attorney General Greg Abbott could rule the order exceeds the governor's authority. Abbott has been asked for an opinion.
The Legislature could put a "rider," or special provision, in the appropriations bill, prohibiting funds from being spent to carry out the order.
Perry could rescind it.
"Not going to happen," said Robert Black, Perry's spokesman, of the third possibility.