The final assembly of all U.S. nuclear weapons takes place in the Texas Panhandle. Houston has more oil company headquarters than any other city in the world. The whole state reeks of Sunbelt boosters, strident antiunionists, political hucksters, and new industry and money. THIS IS THE LOOK OF TEXAS TODAY and the Texas Observer has its independent eye on all of it. We offer the latest in corporate scams and political scandals as well as articles on those who have other, and more humane, visions of what our stae can be. Become an Observer subscriber today, order a gift for a friend, or instruct us to enter a library subscription under your patronage. Send the Observer to name address city state zip this subscription is for myself gift subscription; send card in my name $23 enclosed for a one-year subscription bill me for $23 price includes $1.12 sales tar name address city state zip THE TEXAS OBSERVER 600 W. 7th, Austin, Texas 78701 nation. The basic rationale for the homestead protection remains that homeowners should be shielded from predatory lenders, and perhaps from their own shortsightedness as well. Home ownership has been considered a social benefit that should be promoted and protected by government for the good of the state. The homestead protection reflects a Jacksonian-Populist tradition of mistrust of money lenders by our Texas forebears, much like another constitutional restriction on debt collection the ban on wage garnish One of the most extensive campaigns of civil disobedience in Texas involved scores of retail chains defying Texas blue laws. ment. Texans for Home Value Access, which calls itself a coalition of concerned citizens but is a coalition of credit institutions \(including such non-Texan giants as Citicorp, Sears, and Merrill for good measure, will try to convince two-thirds of both houses of the legislature that they should send voters a constitutional amendment to allow use of the homestead as loan collateral under certain circumstances. Their contention is that the homestead protection is outmoded and paternalistic, that property owners should be able to use their most valuable asset as they see fit. Under the current restrictions, homeowners can use their houses as collateral for a loan to build a swimming pool but cannot use that asset to obtain needed funds for medical expenses or a child’s college education. Elderly people who have retired most or all of their mortgage and have equity worth far more than the original purchase price cannot use that asset to supplement their retirement income by taking out a second mortgage. To realize any benefit, they must sell their homes. But Texas homeowners are not the ones clamoring for change. It’s the credit institutions who are leading the charge. The number-one priority this session for the Texas Consumer Association is to block any attempt to weaken the homestead protection. They believe that, once the protection is diluted, lenders could routinely require second mortgages on the homes of most consumer borrowers. Those in difficult economic circumstances, who would most likely be forced to use their homes as loan collateral, would also be the ones with the greatest risk of default. Foreclosures for defaults on questionable home improvement loans are already a concern, the consumer groups say, so why compound the problem many times over? Those lenders seeking exceptions in the homestead protection in 1979 and 1981 did not get far. In 1983, the legislature actually expanded the homestead protection, allowing a city lot of up to one acre to be shielded from foreclosure, rather than just a portion of the original value of the lot. But this session the lenders sense an opportunity. Among the safeguards being proposed to make easing the restriction more palatable would be to require the first mortgage to be paid in full before the homestead could be used as collateral. Other possible safeguards would be to limit the size of the loan to a portion of the value of the homeowner’s equity, such as 80 percent, and to reserve second mortgages only for loans of a substantial amount. \(The 80 percent limit, consumer advocates say, protects none of the proposed exceptions to the homestead protection are acceptable to consumer groups. They are joined in opposition by the realtors, who are reportedly skeptical about any new competition for mortgage money. Are We Blue? ONE OF THE most extensive campaigns of civil disobedience in Texas during the past year was conducted not to protest apartheid in South Africa or inadequate shelter for the homeless. No, it involved scores of outlets of retail chains, such as K Mart and Target, defying the Texas statute prohibiting sale of certain items on both days of the same weekend. The current Texas blue law dates from 1961. It is the lineal descendant of previous, more overt efforts to reserve the Sabbath as a day of rest and repose. The derivation of the term “blue law” most often cited refers to the bluepaper backing on colonial laws regulating morals. The statute bars sale of 42 listed items, including clothing, appliances, kitchenware, furniture, jewelry, toys, and motor vehicles. All are nonnecessity purchases that could be deferred for two days without hardship. Violation of the blue law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100 on the first offense and six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $500 for subsequent offenses. In practice, violations are rarely prosecuted THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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