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30 The Texas Observer HANS-PETER OTTO Austin PHOTOGRAPHER Home 476-4880 Business 474-7000 THE COMMODORE HOTEL On Capitol Hill Owned by Texans. Run by a Texan. 520 N. Capitol St., NW Washington, D.C. 20001 `.. EARTH SHOE STORE 474-1895 1610 Lavaca Austin, Texas 78701 In Austin: We serve the beer You make the politics Garden opens 4 p.m. ‘.1-,,, -1-s;i -,;*,.. _______j _”, ‘ \\ ‘ % = .d111 Alai II %. ss ta IN _ , r ` . , / 6 0 7 SO rt C./0 C I. /7 ,”0 FINE FOOD DRAUGHT BEER OUTDOOR PATIO Hightowe r What is involved is a 1976 federal law, that gives state attorneys general additional power to protect consumers against antitrust law violations, such as price fixing. The heart of the law empowers an AG to collect heavy monetary damages from price fixers and to distribute those damages to people overcharged as a result of rigged prices. If bread companies in Texas, for example, conspired to boost prices by a nickel a loaf, the AG could not only sue to make them stop it, but could make them cough up three times the amount of their overcharge. Such penalties might finally begin to discourage white collar criminals, and help keep prices honest. Big business doesn’t like the law one bit and vigorously lobbied the U.S. Congress to delete the penalty provision of the act. The major opposition came from the Business Roundtable, a lobby group made up of the chief executives of 170 of the country’s largest corporations. The businessmen failed in their effort to strike the noxious provision, but they did manage to include in the bill a little germ that Evans introduced in the Texas Housenamely, the right of legislatures to exempt states from compliance with the act. A surprise hearing Evans has not been on his own, however. Big business interests at the national level, apparently including the Business Roundtable, have urged their state counterparts to make use of the exemption clause by pushing it through the legislatures. A recently formed group, the Texas Conservative Union, took the lobby leadership here. Calvin Rucker, a former legislator from Dallas who now lobbies for TCU, says that a number of Texas business interests had been talking about an exemption effort, and that he helped bring them together for a January onslaught. Among those visibly involved have been lobbyists for Sears & Roebuck, the Texas Association of Realtors, the Texas Food Marketing Association, the Savings & Loan League, and the Texas Retail Federation. Many others took part in the maneuvering, but behind the scene. Most of the lobbying legwork has been handled by TCU and the realtors. Rucker says he went to Evans about the bill, the language of which is based on “model” legislation being circulated around the country. It is widely assumed in the Legislature that Speaker Clayton was the first to be consulted on the exemption bill and is the real force behind it, particularly in view of its speedy progress, but Rucker says emphatically “I never spoke to the Speaker about it.” Of course, someone else could have, but as yet the bill has not been traced to Clayton, and his office insists he has had nothing to do with it. Whatever, the powerful speaker certainly has not stood in its way. Clayton has said that he personally favors the Evans bill. HB 592 was filed quietly, and just as quietly a hearing was called. There was no press notice \(though some Austin news bureaus got wind of it and atstaff made no particular effort to inform all members about the meeting. Reps. NOW, MISER ATTORNEY GEKRAL, IT’S ALL WELL AN GOOD IF TH’ FEVRAL GOVERNMENT WANTS YOU TO HELP ‘EM PROTECT CONSUMERS FROM PRIGI PDON’ 54:13244r \(D-not notified of the hearing. All are progressives and opposed to the bill. “I first heard about the hearing Monday evening when the real estate people came to talk to me about voting for it,” Whitmire told the Observer. “I was already committed to be at a banquet in Houston the next day, but I didn’t worry about missing the hearing because I 4assumed a bill of this importance would be referred to subcommittee so we could get a chance to discuss it. That’s normally what’s done. I was surprised when I heard that it was passed, and now it’s already on the floor.” He was not the only one surprised. Atty. Gen. John Hill, whose consumerprotection powers would be gutted if HB 592 became law, was not invited to testify. He first learned about the bill and the hearing Friday evening and sent Assistant Atty. Gen. Lee Clyburn to testify, uninvited. Clyburn was allowed to speak his piece, urging the committee to reject “this negative, backwards-looking bill.” Texas Consumer Association president Jim Boyle also rushed to the Capitol to testify when he was tipped off to the hearing at the last moment. But the hearing was a charade. Reyes