JudicialLocal News‘Sanctuary for the Unborn’ Resolution Survives Kerr County Commissioners Court

County Judge Rob Kelly declared the "Sanctuary County for the Unborn" resolution dead last week. A revote revived it.
October 27, 2020
A controversial vote in central Texas has just affirmed the life of the unborn — specifically, in Kerr County, where the commissioners court failed to overturn a vote from their last meeting that would make Kerr County a “Sanctuary County for the Unborn.”

Last week, the court voted 2-1 with two abstentions to pass a resolution affirming the lives of children in the womb.

Yesterday, another vote to rescind last week’s decision failed 2-3, meaning that the original resolution stands. Jerry Wolff, president of the conservative activist group Kerr County Patriots and presenter of the resolution, said County Judge Rob Kelly brought it up a second time to rescind it after realizing he was mistaken in declaring it dead after the first vote.

“It was passed in the previous meeting by a vote of two yeses, one no, and two abstentions. And the county judge, who abstained on the vote on the 19th, ruled it as not being approved,” Wolff said. “And it was confusion on his part, and he didn’t realize until later that the resolution had actually passed. So he put it back on the agenda for today saying his intention was not to pass the resolution.”

Commissioner Harley David Belew (R-Prct. 1) pointed out yesterday that the original 2-1 vote from last week actually passed according to the rules of the court, meaning that Kelly erred when he said the resolution failed.

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“Two abstentions means we still had a quorum, two against one. However, it was stated that it didn’t pass, and I’ll have to say for my part that I was ignorant that it didn’t pass,” Belew said. “All that needs to happen today is clarification that it did pass.”

Tom Moser (R-Prct. 2) was the first to suggest rescinding the resolution, prompting Belew to point out that such action might as well prompt the court to redo every vote with even one abstention. Kelly acknowledged Belew’s point that the original vote passed the resolution and said he regretted not killing it then.

“There’s really no reason to [revote] other than that you don’t want it to pass,” Belew said.

“That’s correct,” Kelly responded.

“I didn’t want to have to vote against this resolution… which I thought was inappropriate and not county business… There’s nothing we can do about this. This is legislative… I will vote against it no matter what you tell me today.”

At the October 19 meeting, Commissioners Don Harris (R-Prct. 4) and Belew voted to approve the resolution with Moser voting against and Jonathan Letz (R-Prct. 3) abstaining with Kelly. Yesterday, Harris, Belew, and Letz voted against rescinding — essentially, voting to keep the pro-life resolution intact — with Kelly and Moser voting to walk it back.

Unlike the “Sanctuary City for the Unborn” ordinances trickling through towns across Texas, Kerr County’s resolution does not effectively outlaw abortion. Although Wolff referred to towns such as Morton that have passed such laws as inspiration for Kerr County, the Kerr County resolution has no legal teeth to punish abortion providers.

Wolff did bring an enforceable ordinance to the Kerrville City Council on October 13 during the public hearing portion of the meeting after claiming that City Manager Mark McDaniel declined to include it on the city council agenda.

If Wolff’s resolution stands, it makes Kerr the second county to pass a pro-life resolution after Ellis County deemed itself a “Sanctuary County for the Unborn” in January.

“Be it resolved and declared by the Commissioners Court of Kerr County that human life, including the unborn, must always be valued and protected, and that society must protect those who cannot protect themselves,” the resolution reads.

“Be it further resolved that the Commissioners Court of Kerr County encourages assistance for women by helping them find health care; helping mothers and fathers who make the decision to parent their child; supporting mothers and fathers who make an adoption plan for their baby and couples who seek to adopt; and encouraging businesses and schools to provide appropriate accommodations for pregnant women.”

The resolution also “encourages” state and federal levels of government to protect the unborn.

After reviewing the resolution, Kerr County Attorney Heather Stebbins said at the last meeting that the authority to approve it rests with the court.

“From a legal standpoint, I don’t have any comments or changes to the resolution. This is going to be up to you guys,” Stebbins said, addressing the commissioners.

Kerr County has not released a transcript of the October 26 meeting yet, but video of the meeting is available.

At the October 19 meeting, Kelly sat out the discussion until after the vote, when he briefly showed sympathy for Wolff’s position and encouraged action at the polls instead of the local government.

“Jerry, I think we’re in the same place we were 47 years ago when I was a young law student and Roe v. Wade came out. A court did this to us… Until the people get the votes we’re going to live with what the law is,” Kelly said.

“The people you elect to Congress — Chip Roy, Wendy Davis — they’re the ones that make those decisions. We know where she is on the issue. And we know where Chip is on the issue. So you know where I’m voting.”

Founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative and Right to Life of East Texas Director Mark Lee Dickson thinks the resolution is counterproductive to efforts at effectively outlawing abortion. Earlier this year, a petition to pass an enforceable ordinance in the City of Kerrville gathered a mere 34 signatures before being rushed to the city council for action “without a proper understanding of the ordinance or the consequences” according to Dickson, who believes that symbolic resolutions like Wolff’s can hinder the progress of effective laws.

“I believe that it was far too soon to move forward in Kerrville, which is why I discourage any attempt to move forward… There are reasons why we are not pushing county resolutions of this nature,” Dickson said.

“The resolution which narrowly passed in Kerr County does not work with our efforts.”

The group also successfully convinced the court on October 13 to pass 4-0 a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” resolution officially opposing “the enactment of any legislation, bill, law, ordinance, state statute or measure that would infringe upon the rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”

Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

Editorial: This article has been updated to include input from Dickson.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.