Bad Bills

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CROSSING THE LINE

House Bill 1893

Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland

Joe Driver, a Republican state representative from Garland and concealed handgun license holder, takes umbrage at “an imaginary line” around college campuses inside of which he cannot pack heat.

He’s not alone. With two other Republicans and two Democrats, Driver has authored House Bill 1893 to legalize firearms on campuses. The bill has 38 Republican and 13 Democratic co-authors. Its companion, Senate Bill 1164 by Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, has eight Republican and two Democratic co-authors.

Statistically, campuses are safe, with much lower crime rates than their surrounding cities. According to a U.S. Department of Justice study, 93 percent of crimes committed against college students from 1995 to 2002 occurred off-campus.

“Statistically, lots of places in Texas are safe,” Driver says. “We never know when that statistic is going to change.”

Driver’s bill aside, handgun carriers in Texas must be at least 21, pass background checks, and complete around 10 hours of training. “Keep in mind, we are talking about a very small part of the campus population that would even be eligible,” he says. “Some professors, some grad students, and some seniors.” At large campuses like UT-Austin, that could add up to several thousand.

Virginia Tech’s Seung-Hui Cho and UT’s own Charles Whitman were over 21 when they went on their respective shooting sprees. Background checks are supposed to weed out such people. Driver admits “it would be possible” for someone dangerous to slip through the cracks in the system.

On Jan. 27, UT’s Student Government passed a resolution, in response to Driver’s bill, upholding a campus ban on concealed weapons. Driver’s bill would override such local bans. He has high hopes for the bill, he says, unless “the gun-control advocates try some tricks and emotionalize” the debate.

John Woods, the molecular biology grad student who authored the UT ban, was an undergrad at Virginia Tech when his girlfriend was shot and killed in that school’s infamous 2007 massacre.

A Harvard School of Public Health study on “guns and gun threats at college” concludes that “predictors for being threatened with a gun while at college include personally having a gun for protection.”

POSITIVELY STINGY

House Bill 1135

Rep. Ken Legler, R-Pasadena

If freshman legislator Rep. Ken Legler has his way, Texas’ already stingy unemployment insurance benefits will reach even fewer jobless Texans. The Pasadena Republican’s House Bill 1135 would mandate drug testing for people filing to collect unemployment insurance and deny payments to those testing positive.

Legler says his experience as a business owner led him to author this bill. “One of the things that bothered me more than anything was when a person used to come in and apply for a job,” he says. “My HR person would say, ‘I’m gonna send you down for a drug test.’ And then it comes back positive. And then they keep collecting unemployment insurance.”

Unemployment insurance has been hot at the Legislature this session. The feds have $555 million in stimulus funds for Texas’ fast-dwindling Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund­­-but only if the Lege expands eligibility. In 2008, Texas insured just 20 percent of its unemployed, earning the rank of 48th in the nation. On March 12, Gov. Rick Perry said he would turn down the feds’ $555 million.

Expanding eligibility would stimulate the economy, says Don Baylor, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank. When the jobless receive benefits, they are less likely to face foreclosures or need Medicaid or welfare. What’s more, Baylor says every dollar the state pays in benefits creates $2.15 in economic activity. “By suppressing people’s ability to get benefits,” he says, “you are also suppressing Texas’ ability to emerge out of the recession.”

Legler says workers who have used illegal drugs are not “physically able to work” and shouldn’t collect unemployment. “Unemployment insurance is employer-paid insurance that helps workers who are unemployed for no fault of their own. If they fail the drug test, right there, it’s their own fault,” he says.

Rick Levy, legal director at the Texas AFL-CIO, says Legler’s reasoning misses the point. “We should be doing everything we can to get people back to work, not devoting precious resources to ferret out the drug-using unemployed.”

Pre-employment drug screening typically costs $25 to $75. Texas had 884,422 claims for benefits in 2008, and the comptroller recently reported that Texas lost 75,800 jobs in January. You do the math.

Legler says he hasn’t worked out how the state would pay for the drug tests yet. He wants the state to pay for those who pass, but people who fail would pay their own way. “I think the person needs to know there’s consequences,” Legler says.

In that spirit, Legler has also authored House Bill 1136 to exclude people from benefits if they are fired for violating their employers’ drug-testing policies.

PROFILING PIT BULLS

House Bill 925

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston

Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston is proposing a law that relies on a tried-and-true American approach to police work: appearance-based profiling.

Dutton’s House Bill 925 would prohibit people age 15 or younger from handling a pit bull-or a mixed breed that sort of looks like a pit bull-without adult supervision.

Pit bull owners who allow someone under 16 near their dogs without adult supervision would commit a Class C misdemeanor, which could set them back up to $500. The bill also says that if the pit bull attacks or kills the child, the owner is liable.

Before giving cops the green light to comb neighborhoods separating 15-year-olds from dogs that look too pit bull-esque, lawmakers might ponder whether this is a wise use of taxpayer resources.

Laws that apply only to one breed of dog, known as “breed-specific legislation,” have been panned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and even the Centers for Disease Control as ineffective, difficult to enforce, and in some cases counterproductive. According to the ASPCA, “When limited animal control resources are used to regulate or ban a certain breed of dog, without regard to behavior, the focus is shifted away from routine, effective enforcement of laws that have the best chance of making our communities safer.”

A CDC report in 2000 pointed out that “a ban on a specific breed might cause people who want a dangerous dog to simply turn to another breed for the same qualities they sought in the original dog.”

Texas law already makes owners liable for dog attacks-including criminal prosecution. Dutton’s bill doesn’t significantly change the legal ramifications; it simply makes it a crime to let kids pet or walk certain animals.

“We’re not sure what the intent is here,” says Skip Trimble of the Texas Humane Legislation Network. “If [Dutton] is trying to protect the public from pit bulls, why doesn’t he just do that? I don’t see the benefit of segregating out an age bracket. And if he’s just trying to protect children, I’m not sure this does it. It’s going to hurt just as bad when they’re bitten by a German shepherd.”