Bad Bills



HB 1200, SB 679 Rep. Kim Brimer (R-Fort Worth) — Sen. Chris Harris (R-Arlington)

Brimer and Harris are worried that Texas is “losing out” to other states, by failing to offer sufficient tax breaks to companies that are considering relocating or building new facilities here. Never mind that local economic development corporations and taxing entities, not to mention the state agencies that dole out job training grants and other goodies, routinely subsidize projects for needy corporations like Bell Helicopter and Samsung Semiconductor. Never mind that tax packages are only one factor when it comes to a company’s decision about where to locate. We’re losing plants to Oklahoma! The answer, say Brimer and Harris, is to authorize school districts to offer tax incentives as well.

With the help of corporate-subsidy booster Ray Perryman, an economist from Waco, Brimer and Harris have come up with a dandy explanation as to why this bill would actually help school districts. All new manufacturers would have to pay some school taxes before becoming eligible for the proposed property appraisal tax cap, and after eight years, they would have to pay in full. (In the meantime, presumably, all the other businesses and homeowners in town will be so pleased at the prospect of a new widget factory, that they won’t mind picking up the tab for schools and other services.)

Surely Brimer and Harris are being a little short-sighted here. When it comes to manufacturing, which neighbor poses the larger competitive threat: Oklahoma or Mexico? What would really make us better able to vie for new employers is if they could be paying eighty cents an hour like they do in Matamoros–so why bother with these penny-ante “incentives”? Let’s cut to the chase and start subsidizing wages, in order to more efficiently transfer our tax dollars to our corporate friends.


SB 595 Senator Chris Harris (R-Arlington)

Harris wants to make it harder for hospitals and clinics to seek background information on doctors who may be applying for privileges with them. Currently, a health care entity can check with the Board of Medical Examiners to learn whether a particular physician is being investigated by the board. SB 595 would restrict release of that information until after the investigation has been completed and legal action has been recommended.


HB 2343 Rep. Susanna Gratia Hupp (R-Lampasas)

Oops. Hupp had to revise the bill she originally filed, allowing school administrators, at schools in counties with populations under 20,000, to carry a firearm. Turns out, in the great state of Texas, this is already legal–provided the administrator has written permission from the school. So now Hupp is simply backing a substitute bill to clarify that point in the penal code. “We all just understood it to be that they could not carry on campus,” Hupp said, explaining the mix-up to a reporter. Hmm… hard to imagine why someone might make such a baseless assumption.


SB 546 Sen. Buster Brown (R-Lake Jackson)

The cement and concrete industry, having persuaded the legislature to restrain its citizen foes in 1999, is hoping to polish them off this time around. Seems that certain pesky neighbors tend to complain about cement kilns, such as the notorious Texas Industries incinerator in the town of Midlothian, even though all these incinerators are doing is going about their usual business of burning toxic waste. Seems that these activists keep getting all hot and bothered over toxic air emissions, just because stuff like dioxins have been associated with cancer, birth defects, and other health problems.

Worse, in the mid-nineties, activists started showing up at plant permit hearings before the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (the state’s “environmental agency”) with computer-made models of how this pollution was affecting the surrounding areas. Last session, the industry successfully promoted a bill that barred this unpleasant modeling evidence from permit hearings. Now they’ve persuaded their man Brown to introduce a bill that would put an end to public hearings for certain plants.

The punsters from Texans For Public Justice recently released a fact sheet criticizing the “ready mix of lobby and campaign dollars” behind the bill. They point out that among the lobbyists on the receiving end of the industry’s cash pour are former state Rep. Mark Stiles (whose own concrete company profited handsomely during the prison-building boom of the early ’90s), and former TNRCC director Dan Pearson.


SB 272 Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) HB 1366 Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton) HB 2846 Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland)

Carona’s SB 272 would allow lenders to charge up to 30 percent interest on loans not secured by property. According to Carona’s office, Texas needs such a law because currently, lenders affiliated with out-of-state banks can, in some cases, charge whatever rate they please. Thus the bill holds them to a “mere” 30 percent (which somehow doesn’t seem like such a great victory for consumers.) Among the contributors to Carona’s coffers are both big banks, like Bank of America and Citigroup, and strip-mall lenders like Cash America. Lately, these two classes of entities have been merging into one: last November, for instance, Citibank bought the Irving-based company Associates First Capital, now under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for predatory lending practices. (Carona, incidentally, took $2,000 from Associates’ employee PAC.)

With HB 1366, Solomons codifies into law certain rules on payday loans established by the state’s Consumer Credit Commission, in terms none too favorable to consumers. Lenders could charge up to $15 per $100 on these quickie loans, and add another $15 if the loan is renewed, with a maximum of three renewals. Add it all up, and you’ve got guys paying $60 in fees per $100 loaned to them.

Craddick’s HB 2846 is not a lending bill, but it would likewise help consumers who want to part with their money more quickly. The bill exempts securities agents from having to register as such under the state’s Investment Company Act, provided they have fewer than 15 clients. Apparently as long as you’re a small-time scam artist, the state is not too worried about it.