He’s not the brightest light in the Lege, and last session as chair of House Human Services, Representative Hilderbran stood by and watched as his then-vice-chair spent a day explaining and passing his committee’s major legislative initiative – itself an attempt to clean up the mess Hilderbran had made of nursing home legislation in the previous session. This session Speaker Laney moved Hilderbran out of his chairmanship, which allows him more time to work on bad legislation. So here’s Harvey trying to dumb down Austin’s environmental smart-growth program. At the behest of builders, Hilderbran has raised from the dead a previous session’s bill that would freeze municipal environmental regulations – allowing builders to comply with restrictions in place when they initially filed for building permits. In Austin, developers raced to the city planning office before environmental ordinances were in place, then allowed their permits to gather dust for years before breaking ground. City planners in Austin – the municipality targeted by this bill, for its attempt to protect the sensitive Edwards Aquifer recharge zone – will face back-to-the future developers waiting to turn back the hands of time and bind the hands of Austin’s managed-growth proponents.
LINDSAY’S WETLAND DREAM
S.B. 1500 Jon Lindsay, R—Houston
Harris County Senator Jon Lindsay had to retire to the Senate in 1997, after his incestuous relations with county contractors became a liability in his attempt to win reelection as County Judge. But he continues to demonstrate an almost canine fidelity to the interests that underwrote his career as a “public servant” in Houston. His Senate Bill 1500 would remove from a wetlands restoration project the Westside Airport site – a city of Houston property that had once been scheduled to become a general aviation airport on the vanishing Katy Prairie. Lindsay’s bill undermines an 11-3 Houston City Council vote to designate the airport a wetland mitigation site, a practical measure that would both allow the expansion of the existing international airport while protecting the middle of Katy’s migratory bird flyway. (Under federal law, Houston’s airport can’t expand unless it establishes wetlands to replace the land consumed by expansion.) Lindsay’s bill is aimed specifically at Houston and ignores his party’s professed devotion to local control, using the Legislature to enact a county ordinance. It would also bust an agreement on which environmentalists and the city have worked for fourteen years.
H.B. 1871, 3961, 3077, & H.J.R. 64 Ron Wilson, D—Houston
Many legislators consider Austin’s downtown Mueller Airport more convenient than the soon-to-be-opened Bergstrom International Airport in far southeast Austin. So Rep. Wilson has responded, filing a bill that would require the state to operate Austin’s old airport. While H.B. 3961 and 1871 don’t mention Mueller, they would require the state to purchase “a municipal airport.” The Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines, however, are moving to Bergstrom, which opens in May. Wilson has even complained that he doesn’t know why Southwest Airlines would have to move, although Southwest has said that it, too, is on its way to Bergstrom.
In another altogether absurd initiative, Wilson’s H.J.R. 64 and H.B. 3077 would amend the Texas Constitution to create a District of Travis, similar in structure to the federal District of Columbia. This is frivolous legislation, informed by Wilson’s disdain for the City of Austin and his close association with developer Gary Bradley – a motive that Wilson has denied a bit too vociferously.
But maybe the public is better off when Wilson is preoccupied with frivolous bills that will not pass. He gets his air time on Austin television, shock time on radio, and residents of Texas are safer from Wilson’s more serious legislative package, which includes the right to carry handguns, the lottery, and now vouchers – an odd mix for a minority legislator from an inner-city district.
TRICKLE DOWN AND OUT
H.J.R. 11 Frank Corte, R—San Antonio
Representative Corte defines the right wing of San Antonio’s House and Senate delegation and he’s proud of it. “How many of you like tax cuts?” he asked a group of San Antonio real estate agents gathered around him in a circle outside the Governor’s Capitol office. (All raised their hands.) “Well, I do, too,” Corte responded. “I am a real believer in voodoo economics.” He advised them to check out his bill that would cap the franchise tax – the business tax which, along with the sales tax and oil and gas severance tax, provides much of the revenue for the state. H.J.R. 11 would limit the tax rate on the income component of the franchise tax to 4.5 percent.
“Governor Bush,” Corte reminded his audience, “is for tax cuts, too.”
H.B. 3102 Vicki Truitt, R-Keller
Truitt is a freshman, but she has wasted no time cracking down on crime. Her crime bill would ensure that any welfare recipient who knowingly makes a false statement or “misrepresents or conceals or withholds a fact” will lose benefits within thirty days. And any alleged false statement will be referred to a district attorney for prosecution. Anyone convicted of such an offense will be “permanently disqualified from receiving financial assistance and … also permanently disqualified from receiving medical assistance, child care, or any other social or support services.” H.B. 3102 carries no fiscal note, which would describe the actual costs that will result from a given policy, but it presents the opportunity to innovate and attach a “positive fiscal note” – which would describe exactly how much the state would gain in dollars and cents. With Texas ranking forty-seventh in social services, the revenue stream from busted welfare frauds could be significant. Truitt (a physician recruiter) serves on the House Human Services Committee, where this sort of tough love approach to welfare cheats is needed.
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