ucts and non-existent for most consumer goods. The federal Food and Drug Adminbeen scarred by scandals in the generic drug industry, inadequate regulatory review of medical devices, and scores of prescription drugs that have caused serious injuries and deaths even after FDA approval. Equally disturbing are the dramatic reductions in the jurisdiction and funding of the Consumer was created to monitor and regulate the safety of consumer goods. It should come as no surprise that the same industries that are supporting legislation that would weaken products-liability law in Texas were in part responsible for disabling the CPSC and for budget cuts at other federal regulatory agencies. In the absence of effective federal and state regulation, products law is the only means to ensure that consumers receive fair compensation for product-related injuries. Product-liability suits also provide the only effective deterrent to the manufacture and sale of dangerous products. The Civil Justice League, the lobby group spearheading products legislation efforts in Texas, is claiming that economic development is the reason for limiting business liability and consumer recovery. They argue that products-liability judgments are driving business out of Texas. As proof, they cite a study performed by Baylor University economist Ray Perryman a study since shown to be invalid. Professor Perryman asked business what they thought of the law, rather than what concrete effects the law has had. More reputable studies have revealed Texas to be a national leader in business start-ups and corporate relocations. Studies conducted by the Rand Corporation, the General Accounting Office, and professors at Cornell University show that increases in products-liability suits were limited to certain products \(such as asbestos large numbers of people. Relatively few other industries have been the object of productsliability claims. But the fact that the arguments used to support products-liability legislation have been refuted has not stopped the movement to weaken consumer rights. The Perryman report and other misleading and possibly false information is being used to frighten small businesses and non-profit civic organizations around the state into putting pressure on legislators to pass misguided products liability legislation. It is frequently the volume rather than the content of constituent letters that forces many legislators to support such proposals. Although proponents of products liability legislation have attempted to characterize the issue as one of business versus trial lawyers, it is the public that will suffer from weakening common-law consumer remedies under products-liability law. Product liability suits have had no demonstrable effect on Texas’s economy and have much less effect on the cost and availability of liability insurance than the business lobby has asserted. Proponents of legislation to weaken products liability law have offered no compelling reason why change is necessary. Conversely, the need for consumer remedies in court to compensate consumers and deter the sale of dangerous products has been demonstrated. Despite the sophisticated techniques being used to push products liability legislation, consumer and public-interest advocates are redoubling their efforts to prevent the passage of this legislation. Preserving this law should be on the agenda of every consumer in Texas. REGGIE JAMES Reggie James is a staff attorney at Consumers Union of Texas. DANNA BYROM Christopher Cook Secure the Rights of Working Texans Texas labor unions have a full legislative agenda for 1991. The principal lobbying organizations of Texas labor are the Texas AFLCIO \(which has about 215,000 members and coalition of both AFL-CIO-affiliated unions and non-affiliated unions, and functions only during the legislative session. The legislative goals of Texas labor are set by a democratic vote of its participants. Education. Unionism advocates the empowerment of human beings to make choices, and we believe a person must be educated to become empowered and lib6rated. As a result, organized labor has for decades been at the forefront of establishing a public education system financed with tax monies. Texas labor solidly supports a restructuring of school finance to ensure equitable public education funding for all children. And we will oppose any proposed cuts in higher education or continuing adult education, and advocate improved vocational education to provide flexible, transferable skills to keep up with rapidly changing technologies. Just as important, retraining and remedial education should be available for workers whose jobs have disappeared. Prevailing wage. A prevailing wage law prevents the exploitation of workers on public works projects by requiring that they be paid fair wages. The existing Texas Prevailing Wage Law is antiquated and weak; for example, the penalty for noncompliance was set in 1933 at $10 per worker per day. A labor-supported bill now pending in the Legislature would increase the penalty to $60, and would allow a worker to appeal in court if there is an unresolved dispute. The bill would also close some anti-worker loopholes. Worker safety. Texas has the nation’s worst record of workplace deaths and injuries, and labor wants more stringent safety standards in the workplace. Besides saving lives, better workplace safety means lower. insurance costs for all. On worker compensation, any legislative progress will probably depend on the outcome of the constitutional to last year’s Texas Worker’s Compensation Act. Other workplace-safety bills backed by labor would license and regulate construction cranes, elevators, and electricians and electrical contractors. Another would require retrofitting older buildings with sprinkler systems. Public employees. The law treats public employees who form unions differently from private sector workers. Public employers should be prohibited from imposing any condition of employment that would take away rights enjoyed by private sector workers. For example, public employees should “dues checkoff” that is, to designate any portion of their earned income to organizations, such as their union dues. To protect public employees, labor seeks laws prohibiting: “employment at will,” drug and alcohol testing, and privatization of public agencies and facilities financed by public revenues. Revenues. Texas needs more revenues, but our existing tax system is regressive. Texas is one of the few states with no corporate profits tax. Such a tax would require wealthy corporate shareholders outside the state to pay their fair share for corporate benefits they receive from Texans. Labor also supports a sales tax on catalog sales and a state lottery. 16 FEBRUARY 8, 1991
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