Bad Bills

Back to the Future


No More Piping Up

HB 1931 Rep. Jaime Capelo • (D-Corpus Christi)

Texas pipeline operators and natural gas producers certainly have it rough these days. Under regulatory reforms passed last session, every time they want to build a new pipeline, companies actually have to tell the public about it. And, horror of horrors, citizens can even challenge the project in a public hearing. It was so much easier back in the good old days when operators could just snag land and build their pipeline without dealing with complaints from the Little People.

Well, good times may soon be here again for the pipeline and natural gas folks, thanks to Capelo’s HB 1931. This quaint industry handout repeals section 86.056 of the Natural Resources Code–that oh-so-pesky public notification requirement for new pipeline construction. This provision arose from a longstanding controversy over the Longhorn Pipeline project that so enraged South Austin residents, and was passed in 2001 as part of Railroad Commission of Texas Sunset legislation. It requires any company planning to build a new pipeline across three or more counties to inform affected communities through newspaper announcements at least 30 days, but no more than a year, before construction begins. The statute also gives affected citizens the right to request a hearing before the Railroad Commission to contest the building permit.

The pipeline and natural gas lobby claims that this is ultra-liberal over-regulation of industry that needlessly delays projects and costs too much money. They brought the bill to Capelo, who apparently saw a chance to help afflicted corporations such as Koch Pipeline Company, Copano Energy, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Sunoco, Duke Energy, and El Paso Corporation–many of which do business in his district. Capelo aide Chris Payne said the public notification statute is unnecessary since the Railroad Commission already enforces vigorous pipeline safety standards. “There are safeguards in place,” he said. “The public can always call the Railroad Commission and complain.”

HB 1931 has so far sailed through the Legislature with little opposition. The House Regulated Industries Commit-tee unanimously approved the bill on April 3rd after just 10 minutes of public testimony from four industry lobbyists. Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen was the only person registered against the bill, but he couldn’t testify at the hearing because of a scheduling conflict. HB 1931 then passed the full House almost unnoticed. At press time, the bill was still pending in the Senate Natural Resources Committee, though passage is all but assured. That would be a shame, Smith says, because the bill is gutting hard-won regulatory reforms. Sadly, you get the sense he’s said that about too many bills this session.

Don’t Know Nothin’ ‘Bout History

HB 2013 Rep. Inocente Quintanilla (D-Tornillo)

Hey, kids! Let’s turn back the clock and turn your local school district into La Migra. That’s the spirit behind HB 2013 introduced by “Chente” Quintanilla. Under current law, students living apart from their parents may establish residency and attend public school in the district where they live. School districts can only exclude students who show up in the district primarily to engage in extracurricular activities (i.e., athletics) or those who have engaged in delinquent conduct. Quintanilla’s bill would enable a district to boot anyone whom they decide is trying to avoid attending school in another state or country. So, even if a student could prove that she lives with her grandma in the school district where she is trying to attend school, the district could exclude her if it decides that she should really be living with her parents and attending school in Mexico. Quintanilla said that schools in El Paso are inundated with out-of-state children that cost the district too much money. His bill would lessen that financial burden by putting “a little more teeth into the law.” Critics like Ana Yanez Correa of the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) say that the bill creates a vague and unworkable standard. “Denying children the right to go to school will hurt El Paso and the whole state of Texas,” she says. “This bill is so far reaching it will inevitably lead to discrimination against minorities.” Take, for example, the girl who goes to live with her grandmother in El Paso. Under HB 2013 she would need a court order that designates her grandmother as her legal guardian–a hurdle many poor families can’t overcome.

The bill has sparked intense anger among members of the House Mexican-American Caucus. Since Quintanilla was born in Mexico, some in the caucus believe that he is turning his back on his roots. During the House debate veteran Democrat Paul Moreno addressed Quintanilla from the rear microphone and, in his own way, labeled his fellow Hispanic lawmaker a sellout. “Mr. Quintanilla, I’m just going to ask one question and get off this mike,” he said. “Have you ever been involved in any civil rights movement involving the treatment of Mexican-American children in El Paso and this country?” Quintanilla responded that no, he’d never taken part in a “civil, whatever it is, uh, movement.”

Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer‘s Bad Bills Girl, who rises vampire-like from hibernation every two years to suck the blood from vile or absurd state legislation.