Bad Bills

Open Season: Deer, Kids, and Poor Folks


Predatory Lending

S.B. 471, S.B. 272 John Carona (R—Dallas)

The latest in a John Carona-sponsored series of dubious financial proposals, S.B. 272 and S.B. 471 both fall into the category of predatory lending: the use of loopholes in usury law to raise the cost of borrowing money. The more dangerous of the two, S.B. 471, would increase costs and weaken consumer protection for deferred deposit loans, better known as “payday loans.” Authorized by the State Finance Commission last summer, these are short-term, high-interest loans in which the lender requires a signed personal check as collateral. Since the lender can respond to missed payments by depositing the check, the borrower is in constant danger of an overdrawn account, having a rent or utility check bounce, or losing his or her checking account altogether. And the longer the period of repayment is extended, the higher the interest spirals, driving the cost of some loans as high as 700 percent of the principal. Rather than enabling people in already precarious financial circumstances to climb out of debt, payday loans bury them deeper. Not too surprisingly, payday lenders are concentrated in Texas’ low-income areas and particularly, Consumer’s Union research shows, in the minority neighborhoods of major cities.

Senate Bill 471’s slightly less scary counterpart, S.B. 272 (and its House companion, H.B. 690), would raise interest charges on consumer loans by establishing an across-the-board “maximum” flat rate of 30 percent. Lenders could choose between the 30-percent rate and the current scaled annual percentage rate, which ranges from 19 percent to 26.4 percent on most loans larger than $1,500.

Police Accountability

S.B. 231 Chris Harris (R—Arlington)

Civil rights advocates are up in arms over the Arlington senator’s proposal to relieve municipalities of responsibility for off-duty officer misconduct, in or out of uniform. This bill would render victims of officer misconduct and their families unable to make any claim against the city–even if the offending officer used a police-issued weapon or squad car to perform a criminal act. Harris would have off-duty cops–who often moonlight in uniform as security guards–treated the same as private security guards. But cities have a special responsibility for their own officers, who take advantage of their city-issued authority, city-issued weapons, city-issued vehicles, and city-issued badges. Probably not, but that’s not the point. At a time when police accountability is a hot issue in several big cities, this bill is a step backward: it leaves those who have been victimized by police with even less chance of getting the compensation they deserve.

Pledge of Allegiance

H.B. 88 Phil King (R—Weatherford)

If Phil King’s bill–which would make daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance mandatory for all public school students–is the answer, someone must have asked a pretty stupid question. King’s brand of forced patriotism is not the kind of help Texas’ public schools need, and the time spent discussing this bill (should any committee chairman be small-minded enough to schedule a hearing on it) belittles the crucial school issues–like teacher health insurance–that really will make a difference in the quality of education in this state.

Constitutional Right to Kill Bambi

H.J.R. 14 Barry Telford (D-DeKalb)

Feel like The Man is fixin’ to encroach on your ability to gun down a 10-point buck? Not to fear–House Joint Resolution 14 aims to put the right to hunt and fish up there with equal protection under the law and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Authored by Rep. Barry Telford (D- DeKalb) and co-authored by thirty others, H.J.R. 14 and its companion in the senate, S.J.R. 18, will ask voters to decide whether to amend the Texas Constitution to include the hallowed hobby. The states of Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama and Minnesota have all recently had their constitutions thusly corrected, and Montana, Wisconsin, Indiana and Georgia are considering it. Texas’ proposed amendment includes a clause allowing the state legislature to continue to regulate hunting, so it really might not change a thing. “Right to Hunt” proponents in other states say the amendment is a strike at animal rights groups that chip away at hunting by protecting particular species. Telford’s aide Alex Winslow says that although such groups haven’t hindered Texas hunters, now they’ll have a constitutional amendment to contend with should they dare to. The Fund for Animals, a nationwide group that was one of the most vocal critics of the Virginia measure, warns that the laws might embolden hunters to shoot prey on private land or let criminals get their hands on guns.