LOUIS DUBOSE Hidalgo County Colonia was a president praising the “demise” of socialisth in Eastern Europe and advocating more foreign aid. Bush believed that the federal government had virtually no additional role to play in providing services for some of its most impovershed residents. In mid-March, the Bush position struck a sensitive chord on the floor of the Texas Senate. “If we can’t have our own government taking care of our own people in our own country first … then something is wrong with the leadership of this country,” said Senator Hector Uribe, a . Brownsville Democrat. “Many of the problems that we face along the border are not created by Texas, are not created by Texans. Many of the problems we face along -the border is the inability of Mexico to supply employment for their own people.” Some colonia residents are Mexican immigrants who came to the United States to escape a collapsing economy in Mexico. Once they settled in the United States, many colonia residents were left without basic services by developers who offered affordable housing to recent immigrants and shirked the responsibility to provide proper sewage and water. \(A 1988 Department of Human Services study concluded that 64.4 percent of the residents in El Paso, Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy Counties were born in the United half of the colonia residents in El Paso, Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy Counties continue to use outhouses or cesspools. Other residents in these border communities dispose of sewage in septic tanks that are often improperly installed. Government officials have bickered over whether providing basic services is a local, state, or federal responsibility. In November, state voters approved $100 million in general obligation bonds for colonia water projects. That measure was the first major statewide commitment to the colonias. The federal government has yet to show an equal resolve. “You mean there haven’t been a 100 or two lights taking care of this situation?” state Senator Carl Parker asked Senator Uribe on the Senate floor. “I don’t think we’ve had half a watt,” Uribe said. Despite the position of the Bush administration, the prospect of additional federal dollars is very much alive. On March 27, the U.S. House passed the Rural Economic Development Act of 1989. The bill included a $60 million authorization in grants and loans for colonia water and sewage projects. The $30 million in loans in the bill would provide direct assistance .to residents. This money would be used to install indoor plumbing and run sewer lines from private dwellings to public sewage systems. And much of the $60 million authorization would go to local governments and water agencies to assist in water and sewage projects. “We feel the lack of running water and sewage collection is at the root of the [public health] problem,” said Norma Sierra, a legislative assistant to El Paso U.S. Rep. Ron Coleman. The Senate has also passeda version of the Rural Economic Development Act, but funding for the colonias was not included in the Senate bill. Both the House and the Senate versions are headed for conference committee, and a spokesman for Lloyd Bentsen said the Texas Senator supports the colonias funding proposal in the House bill. “I think what he’s going to do is ask the chairman of the [Senate] ag committee [who will likely be a member of the conference committee] to include the language of the House bill,” the Bentsen spokesman said. It remains unclear just how much money is needed along the border. Todd Chenoweth, project director of the economically distressed areas program at the Texas Water Development Board, said once state money is ex hausted problems will remain. “When that money is gone, there still will be people who do not have drinking water in their house or an adequate water disposal system,” he said. Efren Ornelas, epidemiology program manager at the El Paso health district, said proper water and sewage systems will help stop an increase in preventable disease. But he warned that if measures are not taken, a severe health crisis will grow worse. “It’s like a time bomb,” Ornelas said. Gary Mounce, an associate professor of government at the University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, said: “The people would probably tell you,’ we could get along fine if you could get the basic things done.’ I don’t think they’re asking for luxury items. Their demands are as American as apple pie and tamales.” A.F. Consumer Alert SHERMAN DEMOCRAT Curtis L. Seidlits, as expected \(TO, has filed a products-liability bill that could cause a roll-back of consumer rights. Consumer advocates are concerned. As the Observer went to press, Governor Bill Clements had yet to open the call of the current special session to the products-liability issue and it remains uncertain if he will. But the fact that Seidlits has filed the bill represents an important first step toward both inclusion in the call and passage. This is not the first time business groups have mounted an assault on consumers ‘rights. Product-liability legislation has been considered in the 70th and 71st Legislatures. Public-interest lobbyists say the Seidlits bill, filed April 5, is similar although not as strongly worded as past bills. For example, in other versions products subject to approval by the Food and Drug Administration were exempt from liability. FDA approval is no guarantee of safety. This measure would have made it more difficult to prove liability for drugs and devices. Nonetheless, the current bill would make it more difficult for consumers to win damages in personal injury lawsuits. The burden of proof in product cases almost always rests on the consumer. And like past versions, the Seidlits bill increases that burden. For example, the bill would make inadmissable in court evidence of changes made by a manufacturer after a product is put on the market. Under current law, such evidence is admissable. Without such evidence, it is more difficult to prove that an alternative and safer design exists. And the Seidlits bill would make it necessary to prove this relationship to win damages. “It’s just too hard for the claimant to get that information,” said Reggie James, an attorney with the Consumers Union Southwest Regional Office. A.F. 6 APRIL 20, 1990
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