Bad Bills

Suburban Rule Marches On



S.B. 28 Jane Nelson: R–Flower Mound

Senator Nelson is back with her perennial pitch to govern the state by Initiative and Referendum. Consider California: Proposition 13, passed more than two decades ago, has destroyed what was once the nation’s flagship public school system, while providing its greatest ad valorem tax relief to owners of commercial real estate. Or how about the Golden State’s Proposition 227, which outlawed the use of Spanish in public school instruction? Nelson will again attempt to sell this bill as a mechanism that allows for the most democratic form of government: the people can vote on almost anything. In practice, it’s not the people — it’s the corporate money driving the initiative campaigns that makes the difference.


S.B. 274 Teel Bivins, R–Amarillo

In past sessions, the Republicans have eroded laws governing product liability, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, government liability, etc. The pigs are back at the trough. Bivins’ bill, filed in less-ambitious forms for two sessions, would effectively abate every class action filed against every insurance company, every drug manufacturer, and every purveyor of harm to the public, until the appropriate state agency has a chance to evaluate the issues. Find a lawyer who can conjure a cause of action that does not involve the interpretation, application, or violation of a state statute, and retain him quick, because this is a bill designed to keep plaintiffs out of court. It places an inordinate burden on state agencies, which are barely able to manage the pissant stuff they currently handle. Ironically, the bill originates from a conservative less-government-is-best Republican while increasing the role of government. The real goal, however, is to do away with class-action litigation by making it prohibitively onerous, time-consuming, and expensive.


S.B. 51 & 64 Jane Nelson

Topping the list of pleasingly self-righteous suburban fantasies is the notion that people on welfare are drug addicts who have babies simply to boost their checks. For a Senate committee chair, it’s time to join the real world of public policymaking and leave the demagoging behind. Early indications are not good for Health Services Chair Nelson, whose S.B. 51 mandates drug testing for welfare applicants (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) with prior drug convictions. Setting aside constitutional implications, the administrative costs would likely cancel any savings netted by kicking users off the rolls. Her S.B. 64 prohibits clients from receiving benefits for any children born while a family is on welfare. Former House Human Services Chair Harvey Hilderbran was given to similar hysterias, which is why Speaker Pete Laney canned him in favor of the more sane and seasoned Elliott Naishtat. Look for Naishtat to field Nelson’s foul balls when they head over to the House.


H.J.R. 12 Arlene Wohlgemuth, R–Burleson

Catching her second-term wind, Wooly Wohlgemuth is no longer content to carry anti-abortion bills; she’s going after those nasty taxes, too. This one proposes a constitutional amendment to require a “supermajority” (two-thirds) for the imposition of any state tax; a similar bill is sponsored by Katy’s John Culberson (rumored to be in line for Bill Archer’s Congressional seat, and eager to appear a Revolutionary Republican) and is a perennial dead duck in Congress. It’s not likely to pass, but creates much occasion for rostrum-pounding about “the people’s money” — at issue in every single record vote, not just tax bills. A suggestion for the anti-tax twins: a rider that each and every one of their own bills — including appropriations benefiting their districts — also require a two-thirds majority. That would at least be a test of legislative sincerity.


H.B. 1939 Kent Grusendorf, R–Arlington

The Lege hasn’t quite returned to public stonings or sentencing criminals to the stocks, but when the day comes, Rep Grusendorf will undoubtedly write the legislation. His latest draconia would require that former sex offenders be issued drivers’ licenses and license plates to henceforth advertise their convictions to all and sundry — thereby exposing them to vigilante outrage on the roads or wherever they need an ID.

In the ongoing national hysteria about sex crimes, this is one more attempt to make punishment permanent and redemption impossible. Maybe Grusendorf could save on material resources by just requiring public branding — breast or forehead, according to gender and season.


H.B. 1541 Tom Uher, D–Bay City

“Follow the money,” said Deep Throat to the Washington Post reporters working the Watergate story. Apply that advice to even a cursory reading of Tom Uher’s envirobill and its true intent comes into focus. Under current law, the big electric utilities TU and HL&P (managing partner in the South Texas Nuclear Project, in Uher’s district) are required to pay to fund the state’s effort to find a location to dump their low-level nuclear waste. Uher’s bill strikes six lines from the current law, and guess what he strikes? Each line including the phrase “planning and implementation fees.” If the utility companies don’t pay for siting the dump (which has already cost $50 million), a public interest lobbyist asked at a House Environmental Affairs Committee meeting, who pays? Who pays? Uher guess.

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The Bad Bills item “Rocket in My Pocket” (March 16), incorrectly stated the intent of Lampasas Republican Suzanna Gratia Hupp’s H.B. 1165. So we will try again. Under current law, if anyone wants to know whether a particular person has a license to carry a concealed weapon, that information can be obtained from the Department of Public Safety, for a modest fee. If H.B. 1165 becomes law, that information will no longer be available to the public. The bill is one of several gun bills Hupp is carrying.