Bad(dest) Bills

If there’s any upside to having an end-of-session breakdown in legislative progress—beyond the sheer, dopey spectacle—it’s that a lot of bad bills end up in the resulting pile of dead legislation. (See stories, pp. 3 and 21.) During the 81st session of the Texas Legislature, the Observer‘s intrepid legislative interns, Reeve Hamilton and Susan Peterson, sussed out and exposed dozens of rotten pieces of legislation. Here we’ve selected the worst of the worst from the nearly 7,500 bills filed during the session—no easy task. Though none of these stinkers made it to the governor’s desk this time around, chances are that they will be revived in 2011 because, sadly, most of the authors will be back for more. And we’ll be back to dog them.

The Big Empty

Senate Bill 362

Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay

Under the misleading banner of preserving “voter integrity,” Sen. Troy Fraser’s SB 362—universally known as “voter ID”—singlehandedly wrecked much of the session, sucking up the energy and attention of legislators, reporters and concerned citizens. To prevent the virtually nonexistent crime of voter impersonation, Fraser’s bill would have required Texans wanting to vote to present identification that some traditionally Democratic voters don’t have. This desperate Republican ploy to pilfer votes brought out the ugly in Democrats, too (see story, pg. 21).

For Shame

Senate Bill 182

Dan Patrick, R-Houston

Brought to us by the tech-savvy Sen. Dan Patrick, the latest “informed consent” bill to show up this session took a multimedia approach to shaming women who opt for abortions. Like its less-successful companion, House Bill 36 by San Antonio Rep. Frank Corte, SB 182 would have required doctors to provide even unwilling pregnant women with ultrasounds. The bill allows women to avert their eyes, but in this case it’s their ears that matter: Women would have to hear doctors narrate what they see on screen—fetus size, heart activity, organ development, arms, toes—and listen to the heartbeat. Fortunately, after passing the Senate, this nasty piece of legislation died during the stalemate in the House.

Back-Packing

Senate Bill 1164

Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio

Sen. Jeff Wentworth and Republican Rep. Joe Driver of Garland filed companion bills under the misguided premise that the way to improve security on college campuses—which are already exceptionally safe—is to allow concealed handguns. Driver argued that the bill would apply only to a “small part of the campus population” because you have to be 21 to be eligible for the necessary license. At UT-Austin alone, this “small part” could add up to thousands of armed students. After HB 1893 failed to move in the House, SB 1164 passed the Senate on a 20-11 vote—but thankfully, that’s as far as it got.

Needle Work

House Bill 1135

Ken Legler, R-Pasadena

In a session in which the Legislature desperately needed to (and didn’t) expand eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits to draw down federal stimulus money, Rep. Ken Legler opted, instead, for downright stinginess. HB 1135, which withered and died in committee, would have (expensively) mandated drug testing for the rapidly increasing number of applicants—and denied benefits to those testing positive. Rick Levy, legal director at the Texas AFL-CIO, marvels at the sheer counterproductivity of the proposal: “We should be doing everything we can to get people back to work, not devoting precious resources to ferret out the drug-using unemployed.”

Nuking Public Input

House Bill 2721

Dan Flynn, R-Van

One problem with building potentially hazardous, ecosystem-altering nuclear facilities: People aren’t always keen on the idea. Republican Rep. Dan Flynn of Van thought he’d figured out how to sidestep that hang-up: Keep us out of the picture entirely. It’s bad enough that HB 2721 tried to fast-track the process for obtaining the water permits needed to build nuclear plants. (That’s right: Build more water-guzzling factories in a state that’s periodically wracked by drought, and build ’em faster.) What’s worse is that the bill would have kept Texans from challenging those water permits in court. This two-in-one assault on the environment and democracy never made it out of committee.

Round ‘Em Up

House Bill 254

Leo Berman, R-Tyler

You might wonder why we’re singling out Rep. Leo Berman’s HB 254, which makes the impossible demand that undocumented Texans be rounded up and restricted to “sanctuary cities.” Why not the potential gubernatorial candidate’s House bills 253, 256, 260-263, 370, or any of the other stabs Berman made at making life rougher for what he prefers to call “illegal aliens”? Well, we had to pick just one, and among stiff competition, this one stood out for its sheer, vaulting madness. Berman’s quintessentially ineffective legislative agenda has nothing to do with good public policy; it’s all about proposing mean-spirited bills and, knowing they won’t get anywhere (which they didn’t), taking pride in the audacity of the filing. Call it what you will—overcompensation for being born a Yankee, perhaps—but, undeniably, it’s legislating at its worst.

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