Yes, it’s that biennial moment, when legislators arrive in Austin from all over Texas – and citizens duck, cover, or head for higher ground. Although the 76th Legislature had just opened at press time, the pre-filed Bad Bills were beginning to flood the Internet (www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlo). What follows is a small sampling of Loopy Legislation to Look For this year.
KILL ‘EM EARLY
H.B. 41 Rep. Jim Pitts (R—Waxahachie)
Pitts was in the early running for Bad Bill of the Year when he grabbed a few headlines by announcing he would propose lowering the state’s minimum age for capital punishment to eleven. When even the Governor blanched at the thought of executing elementary kids, Pitts lost his nerve. As filed, H.B. 41 calls for lowering the eligible execution age from the current seventeen to sixteen, still cheerfully in violation of international human rights standards to which the U.S. nominally subscribes, but keeping the state in competition with such beacons of freedom as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, China, and the handful of other dictatorships still executing minors.
EMBRYOS GET YOUR GUNS
S.B. 65, 83, 27, 30, 36H.B. 342, 343, 181
Sponsors: Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), Chris Harris (R-Arlington) • Reps. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson), John Longoria (D-San Antonio), Frank Corte (R-San Antonio)
Those highlighted and bouffanted Metroplex babes, Jane Nelson and Florence Shapiro, once again co-captain the Capitol’s anti-abortion squad. Most of the depressingly familiar bills filed thus far – by the wonder twins themselves and by backup team members – fall into two categories: those requiring waiting periods (a/k/a “informed consent”) and those mandating parental consent or notification for minors. Both Nelson and Chris Harris propose waiting periods (Nelson, seventy-two hours; Harris, twenty-four hours), and both seize those idle hours to “educate” the attendant female patient as to the “characteristics of a fetus from fertilization to birth,” medical risks involved in the procedure, alternatives to abortion, a list of adoption agencies, and a list of agencies assisting with prenatal care.
In the second group, the not-without-telling-the-parent-or-the-judge bills fall into two legal subcategories: criminalizing the woman or criminalizing the doctor. Nelson’s consent bill begins, “A minor may not obtain an abortion without…” and Shapiro’s notification bill reads “A physician may not perform an abortion without….” Arlene Wohlgemuth, who likes to legislate in chunks, has filed both versions in the House.
Rounding out the should-be-aborted list are two House bills: the first, by Frank Corte, would restrict which facilities can perform abortions and require patients to receive the same sort of informational materials prescribed by Nelson and Harris. Finally, John “Long Shot” Longoria (H.B. 181) legislatively defines life as beginning at “the moment of fertilization,” affording the zygote “the rights, protections, and privileges of any other person in this state.” Alas, yet another bald-faced attempt to expand the scope of the state’s right-to-carry laws.
SHUT UP AND WORK
H.B. 407 Harvey Hilderbran (R—Kerrville)
Every Lege features a few humdingers designed to make it even more difficult for workers to organize and promote their interests. Hilderbran’s charming contribution to the corporate attack on workers’ rights would require every member to sign an explicit “written authorization” for any union expenditure for “political purposes” – including virtually any public activity whatsoever. In other words, union members must issue special permissions for the exercise of constitutional rights guaranteed every citizen. State “right-to-work” law already allows non-members free rides on union dues, and federal law allows union members to opt out of the political portion of their dues, but that’s not good enough for Hilderbran. He apparently believes Texas workers are too stupid to elect their own leaders to represent them.
In that spirit, we have a suggestion for Harvey – whenever he wants to go to the bathroom, he should be required to poll his district for permission.
Pay Now – Pay Later
H.B. 349 Steve Wolens (D-Dallas)
Conventional wisdom says that this is the year for utility deregulation in Texas. Infighting among power generators and providers killed last session’s attempt to introduce “competition,” but now the companies are closer to a consensus. But are the consumers ready? Deregulation in California and Massachusetts never delivered the promised savings – at least not to residential customers – and last fall citizen initiatives in both states sought (unsuccessfully) to abandon the wisdom of the market and return to the days of public interest regulation.
Wolens’ bill is a mixed bag, placing limits on how much of the market any one company can control, but stopping short of the type of consumer protection called for by Consumers Union and other groups. And it continues the hallowed utility company pickpocket tradition – requiring ratepayers to repay so-called “stranded costs”: debts anticipated when the companies will be forced to shut down older, less efficient power plants that can’t cut it under open-market conditions, because of the companies’ own previous bad decisions. Comanche Peak and the South Texas Nuclear Project will likely be the first to go. That’s welcome news for the environment, but should taxpayers be forced to foot the bill (again) for the biggest boondoggles in Texas history? h
Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer‘s Bad Bills Girl, who rises vampire-like from hibernation every two years to batten on bad legislation. If you have a likely candidate for “Bad Bills,” please fax her at (512) 474-1175, or e-mail “[email protected]”.