Bad Bills

Punishing Kids, Pushing Guns



S.B. 1158, S.B. 1159 John Carona, R—Dallas

There’s a dark side to compassionate conservatism, and Senator John Carona is its Darth Vader. S.B. 1159 would cut all public assistance to the entire family (read, children current and future) of any adult who fails to comply with the child support requirements in the reformed state welfare law. S.B. 1158 would disqualify anyone who makes a false statement or withholds information while applying for public assistance under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. First offense would mean a three-year suspension (right now it’s a measly one year); second offense would bring permanent disqualification. State officials would also be required to report any infractions to a district attorney. “In a state at the bottom of welfare benefits, how much are we going to save?” asked Corpus Christi Senator Carlos Truan before Carona was persuaded to pull the bill down. Not much, according the Center for Public Policy Priorities: in Fiscal Year 1998 fraud disqualifications represented only 3.2 percent of the state’s public assistance caseload. That’s 8,021 cases, 7,000 of which had already left the welfare rolls by the time they were disqualified. S.B. 1158 has, for the moment, been withdrawn. S.B. 1159 hasn’t moved in committee.


S.B. 826 Jon Lindsay, R—Houston

Another bizarre product of John Lindsay’s firearms-addled imagination. Lindsay’s bill would allow congregants or assailants to carry concealed handguns in churches or synagogues unless a sign is posted prohibiting handguns. (It’d look great in needlepoint: No handguns in the sacristy.) Actually shooting at someone in church would still be illegal.


S.B. 1514 Steve Ogden, R—Bryan/College Station

Part of Texas’ gradual re-descent into the Deep South, Ogden’s bill would allow counties to rent inmates out as contract labor for roadbuilding projects. Private prisons would also be allowed to get into the inmate-rental business, though still only for road crew work. So grubby, so conventional, so passé. Why not catering? entrepreneurial jailers are surely wondering. What about singing telegrams?


H.J.R. 21 Arlene Wohlgemuth, R—Burleson

Sound the bass drum, here comes the Wanton Wohlgemuth! (Dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum.) Observe as this unusual species of Homo Notaxus attempts to dismantle the Capitol and use the rubble to build a ranch-style lair in Burleson. Wohlgemuth’s proposed constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the members of the House and Senate before any tax can be increased, expanded, or created. Probably dead in committee, but these bills have a way of becoming “legitimate” when they are drafted and promoted session after session.


S.B. 5 David Sibley, R—Waco

The biggest ticket corporate welfare item this session (if you don’t count the likely write-off of “stranded costs” in the utility deregulation fight) may be Senator David Sibley’s S.B. 5, which provides tax credits for companies investing in research and development in Texas. As usual, the Waco Republican – joined by a ten-person offensive line of co-authors – is selling this $613 million giveaway as a job creation bill.

A closer look at the bill suggests that it’s Sibley’s staff who need help with research. The state comptroller’s office did the math on S.B. 5, and the results aren’t too good, as Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities points out. The bill is projected to generate only $369 million in new personal income and $59 million in buildings and equipment, leaving the state $164 million in the hole after five years.

The state will be spending about $55,000 for each job created, according to the comptroller’s office. The price tag per job created is a commonly used measuring stick for economic development programs around the country, and according to Lavine, most states wouldn’t swallow $55,000 per job. Virginia limits subsidies to $15,000 per job, Illinois holds them to $10,000, and even the free-spending feds won’t go over $35,000 per job in its Small Business Administration program. Lavine recommends spending the money on education instead, citing a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas survey that listed “Texas’ skilled labor pool” as the number one attraction for out-of-state companies looking to locate in Texas. And R&D is already exploding in Texas; the new patent growth rate in Austin matches that of Silicon Valley.


S.B. 1115 Ken Armbrister, D—Victoria

Texas law does not allow public school teachers to engage in collective bargaining. But just to ensure that teachers’ groups don’t make too much progress in other areas, Senator Ken Armbrister has proposed to make them consult on policy issues with mercurial school board members, rather than the administrators who actually manage the schools. To further obstruct any organizing on school campuses, Armbrister’s bill proposes to pit teachers’ groups against one another in each school district, awarding “proportional representation” – read, only so much influence – to any group that enrolls more than five percent of a school district’s faculty. Given Armbrister’s aversion to organized labor, this bill is probably aimed at the Texas Federation of Teachers, an AFL-CIO affiliate known for more aggressive positions on teachers’ issues than the other two statewide groups representing teachers. The bill is pending in committee.

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