The Legislative Years: 1975-1976
1975 was the beginning of the 64th Texas Legislative session. During this year, Dr. Weddington was a member of the Elections Committee, the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, the Texas Commission on Interstate Cooperation and was appointed by Speaker Bill Clayton to serve on the Special Committee on Impeachment and the Board of Managers for the Senate impeachment trial.
Major legislation sponsored by Sarah Weddington was passed not only in the 63rd Legislature, but also in the 64th and 65th Legislatures. HB 31 placed a celling of $6 per semester hour on building use fees at state colleges and universities. This statutory celling ensured that competing public purposes—the needs of individual institutions and the statewide goal of low-cost higher education—would be balanced. The Kidney Health Care Act, HB 1581, strengthened the original act and provided additional benefits to end-stage kidney patients. Dr. Weddington was one of two principal sponsors for HB 284, which reformed Texas sexual abuse laws and provided legal protection to the victims of rape and sexual assault.
With now U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Weddington passed reform of the Texas Rape Law. This increased the statute of limitations on reporting rape from two to three years. The law was also changed so that women who press rape charges cannot be questioned about their prior sex life unless a judge rules, in a private hearing away from the jury, that it is relevant. Sarah Weddington was instrumental in the passage of several bills benefiting state employees. These included an emergency pay increase of 9 to 13 percent, an additional salary increase of 4.5 percent and 6.8 percent to take effect over a two-year period, money earmarked for merit raises over the next biennium, and increased retirement benefits and a mandatory increase in the level of the state's contribution to the state employee retirement system.
Weddington also sponsored legislation to limit unwelcome telephone solicitations, to allow counties expanded zoning and ordinance powers, and to provide tax considerations for historical structures. She was the major sponsor of the Liability Insurance, SB 466, which was written to grant the State Board of Insurance the authority to approve or disapprove premium rates for malpractice insurance, stating that the insurance carrier must supply rate-making information based on its state experience and statistics to the Board, and must comply with the Board's standards. The Utilities Commission Bill, which she co-sponsored, created the Utilities Commission to regulate utility rates. Dr. Weddington also opposed the "Winner-Take-All" Texas Presidential Primary Legislation and was instrumental in limiting the bill to the 1976 presidential primary campaign.
In addition to her legislative duties, Sarah Weddington maintained her private law practice and was a member of the Texas Family Law Council. She served as President of the National Abortion Rights Action League and continued as a member of the Joint Conference of Representatives of the American Medical Association and American Bar Association. She also served on the Executive Committee of the Atlantic Association of Young Political Leaders and was a board member of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a national organization promoting research on population issues. Weddington was given numerous awards and honors that year. She was named by Texas Monthly as "one of the 10 Best Texas Legislators"—the first woman ever included. "She has probably overcome more obstacles to reach the Ten Best Legislators than any other legislator...Persuasive and respected in debate, she may be the hardest working member of the House," according to the article. It states that "while she continues to be interested in feminist issues, she is definitely not just a one-issue legislator," adding that she "has a knack for making her male colleagues feel at ease in discussing serious subjects, which has helped her win the genuine respect of old-style House members."
In addition, for the second consecutive year, Weddington was named an "Outstanding Young Woman of America" "in recognition of outstanding ability, accomplishments and service to the community." She was also listed in Who's Who of American Women, 9th ed., 1975-1976 and Who's Who in American Politics, 5th ed., 1975.
In 1976, Sarah Weddington was elected Chairwoman of the Women's Legal Rights Committee of the Texas State Junior Bar, as well as elected to the Board of Directors of Womanpower, an educational fund (the name of the corporation was later changed to the Foundation for Women's Resources). She completed her term as President of the National Abortion Rights Action League (previously National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws). She served as a delegate for the American Council of Young Political Leaders to the National Atlantic Treaty Alliance meeting in Denmark. She was a member of the 51.3 Percent Committee for Carter-Mondale, an organization promoting women's involvement in political activism. Continuing as a member of the Joint Conference of Representatives of the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association, Weddington was also a member of the Education Commission of the States, a special task force on Equal Rights for Women in Education and served as co-president at the ECS annual meeting.
During 1976, Weddington also continued her private law practice, was certified as a Family Law specialist by the State Bar of Texas and was admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. She also earned a Certificate of Achievement from Southern Methodist University School of Continuing Education in recognition of the completion of its Management Seminar for Women. Additionally, the National Reciprocal and Family Support Enforcement Association presented her with a Certificate of Membership and she was given a Certificate of Appreciation by the Texas Rehabilitation Commission and Texas State Department of Public Welfare for dedicated service to their clients. She was also honored by Church Women United in Austin as their "Valiant Woman" for 1976.