Bad Bills Wrap-up
The regular session has mercifully ended. Legislators have returned to their districts. And Texans everywhere heave a sigh of relief. The Observer’s bad bill vultures have expired, gorged on more foul legislation than they could withstand. They leave behind a final take on what happened to all the bad legislation they discovered. How to sum up the season’s carrion? It was deadly.
HB 40 Rep. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney)
The feds are already tough when it comes to making Medicaid applicants prove they are citizens. Paxton wanted to make Texas even tougher with stricter documentation requirements. The bill was set to be heard in the House State Affairs Committee along with other legislation targeting the undocumented population, but was taken off the list at the last minute and never seen again.
HB 141 Rep. Jim Jackson (R-Carrollton)
One of the session’s many ill-fated anti-immigrant bills, Jackson’s legislation would have repealed a 2001 law that lets immigrant children pay in-state tuition at state universities. It never made it out of committee. A similar measure by Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) died on a point of order raised by Rep. Tommy Merritt (R-Longview). Immigrant kids who graduate from high school in Texas will still pay the more affordable in-state tuition rates.
WHERE IS THE LOVE?
HB 180 Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington)
Zedler tried twice to pass his law encouraging Texans to marry only once, but was jilted both times. He wanted to give couples the option of tying a stronger knot through state-sanctioned “covenant” marriages. The marriage license would be $5 cheaper, but the betrothed would have to agree to premarital counseling, and to jump through numerous hoops to get a divorce. The bill made it out of committee but was kicked off the House floor on a point of order. Zedler tried to rekindle the flame and fared no better the second time around. The bill died on the calendar, alone and unloved.
HEAR NO EVIL
HB 311 Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa)
Chisum wanted to reverse the way parents choose whether their kids get sex-ed classes at school. Now parents have to opt out. Under Chisum’s bill, they would have to opt in. The House Public Education Committee sensed a paperwork nightmare germinating and never gave Chisum’s curious conception a hearing.
HOLD YOUR TONGUE
HB 933 Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving)
Harper-Brown’s bill would have let some school districts get around laws requiring bilingual education if they set up English immersion programs. Schools could have simply placed non-English speakers in regular classes and let them fend for themselves. The bill was withdrawn before a scheduled hearing in House State Affairs.
NO BITE, NO BARK
HB 408 Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands)
House members howled their assent when Eissler’s bill to outlaw noisy dogs in unincorporated parts of The Woodlands passed on a voice vote. But the bill, which provided a $50 penalty ($350 in dog money, Houston Democratic Rep. Scott Hochberg pointed out), was still playing dead in a Senate committee when time ran out.
FAILURE TO LAUNCH
HB 23 Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio)
Corte’s novel proposal was to protect unsuspecting contraceptive buyers by putting large signs at pharmacy windows-Warning: Don’t take contraceptives if you want to conceive. It would have made for one heck of a committee hearing. The bill’s opponents created a mock-up of the 2-foot-wide sign to illustrate the ridiculousness of Corte’s proposal. That photo op will have to wait. The bill never received a hearing.
VOUCHERS MISS THE BUS
SB 1788 Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano)
The Senate version of Richardson Republican Rep. Jerry Madden’s sprawling network of remote classes is headed to the governor’s desk, without the “virtual vouchers” that made the bill so ripe when we first covered it. Ensuring that private school students pay for their own classes also cuts the network’s eventual cost by $7.5 million, down to $19 million a year.
POLITICAL, NOT VOTER, FRAUD
HB 101 Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball)
Riddle’s voter ID bill never made it out of committee, but a nearly identical bill by Terrell Republican Rep. Betty Brown spawned some of the session’s great partisan oratory. In the Senate it became a flash point for ill will and nearly killed Houston Democratic Sen. Mario Gallegos, who stuck around against his doctor’s advice to block the bill. Despite Republican efforts and exaggerated rhetoric from the lieutenant governor, it never passed.
NO APPLE FOR WAYNE
HB 557 Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown)
Smith’s effort to penalize slacker parents, working parents, or anyone else who skips a parent-teacher conference by fining them for each absence never saw a hearing.
SB 435 Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan)
Ogden’s bright idea to deny parole to any sex offender-including public urinators and the rest of the criminally pantsless-never received a hearing. Still, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it resurface during campaign season to burnish Ogden’s crime-fighting credentials.
HB 32 Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler)
Berman’s plan to send people who toss cigarette butts from car windows to prison went up in smoke. Legislators realized that once convicted, butt-throwers would be ineligible to hold concealed weapon permits. Forced to choose between Camels and Colts, Berman killed the bill by delaying consideration until July 4, more than a month after session’s end.
SB 596 Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio)
The Senate companion to House Bill 699, carried by Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) made it through the gantlet. The measure tightens public access to Land Office records and is headed into the law books, after which nobody will ever hear about it again.
SB 823 Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston)
Houston’s and other big cities’ cops may already be watching your phone activity thanks to Whitmire’s bill. It was the companion to HB 357, sponsored by Tomball Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle. The bill gives city police departments, not just the Department of Public Safety, access to tools that allow phone numbers to be tracked in real time. The law took effect May 23.
OUT OF GAS
HB 1927 Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa)
Chisum’s bill to liberate gasoline additive producers from the oppressive yoke of our civil justice system stalled eight times on the House floor before it sputtered to a dead stop on May 10 without a final vote.
HB 2832 Rep. Joe Driver (R-Garland)
Driver’s bill would have taken significant powers away from the yet-unfunded Texas Forensic Science Commission, created in 2005 to investigate crime labs and perhaps even suggest how Texas can avoid sending the innocent to prison. The legislation was heard but never put to a vote in Driver’s own House Law Enforcement Committee. More good news for the commission: It finally got some money. Come September, let the investigations begin.
PRAISE THE LORD
HB 3678 Rep. Charlie Howard (R-Sugar Land)
Howard’s “religious viewpoint nondiscrimination act” allows students at public schools to organize prayer groups and religious clubs. Students may now be forced to listen to prayers during the morning announcements. Lawsuits, here we come. The bill suffered persecution and banishment before it was miraculously resurrected. It initially cleared the House and Senate, then failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote back in the House three days before the end of the session. Dead? Not with the Lord Almighty as its lobbyist. The bill was revived and passed the next day. The bill’s main author, Kelly Coghlan, an attorney at Coghlan and Associates, sent the following e-mail upon the bill’s passage:
“This bill was dead last night. Five minutes ago … it was resurrected by the hand of God. This is a miracle. Your prayers-your persistent and fervent prayers-have moved the hand and heart of God. Thank you dear Lord for hearing our prayers for the 4.5 million school children in our Texas public schools. They will now have the clear constitutional opportunity to bring a public recognition of you, Lord, back into our schools, with no fear of retribution … Look what God can do when a bunch of ordinary Christians get together and give 100 percent toward a worthy cause under the power and guidance of our mighty God.”
LIFE IS CHEAP
SB 1567 Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)
The precocious freshman senator thought Texas could show its respect for children by paying mothers a $500 bounty if they put babies up for adoption rather having abortions. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee never heard the bill.
A FENCE TOO FAR
HB 3653 Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball)
The state would have been required to build 12-foot, razor-wire fences along the border for private landowners who felt threatened by illegal immigrants crossing their property. To hold down the cost, Riddle figured state prisoners could do the work. But Riddle fumbled tough questions thrown at her by members of the House Government Reform Committee. Where would the inmates stay? Might the border present a tempting escape route? Who would pay to fix the fence? Wouldn’t the immigrants just go around the fences? The bill died in committee.
DOCTOR FEEL BAD
HB 2347 Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco)
Anderson watched his bill to criminalize Salvia divinorium, a legal hallucinogen, smolder out. The bill never made its way out of a subcommittee of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. A less dopey proposal to ban the sale of Salvia to minors, SB 1796 by Wichita Falls Republican Sen. Craig Estes, burned brighter, only to be extinguished in the last week of the session in the House.