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STATE REP. JACK HARRIS thus far is the obvious choice for the Branch Davidian Legislator pf the Year award. When the Pearland Republican led an unsuccessful defense of one of the worst provisions in the session’s worst anti-consumer legislation, he did it with a theological rationalization that would be familiar to the faithful holed up in the compound near Waco. During the very brief floor debate on the products liability bill in late February, Harris described children who die or suffer permanent brain damage from reactions to immunization as victims of “God’s will.” His own more worldly concern, Harris said, was the Texas children who are not being vaccinated because of the prohibitive costs caused by personal injury lawsuits. For the dead and disabled, God’s verdict is, after all, the one that counts. Harris was one of 20 legislators who just couldn’t let go on a provision that would have provided manufacturers of vaccines for childhood illnesses with immunity from product liability lawsuits. On the weekend before the vote, an overwhelming majority of House members had agreed to remove the childhood vaccine provision from the tort reform bill that had already received a 31-0 favorable vote in the Senate. Yet not everyone was convinced. “What has happened since [the previous] Monday,” asked Sugar Land Republican Jim Tallas, “that would prompt you to gut what I consider a significant part of the legislation?” Curtis Seidlits, D-Sherman, House sponsor of the bill that had originally included the provision, said from the front of the chamber that over the weekend the State Affairs Committee had been made aware of changes in the federal program that provides compensation for lifetime care of children permanently injured by vaccines. Several others participating in the floor debate, in the non-partisan spirit of the House, addressed Tallas’ question with similar circumspection until Waco Democrat Betty Denton took the front microphone and said that the State Affairs Committee, which had approved the House version of the bill, had just learned that the federal excise tax on vaccines had been vetoed last year by President Bush. Without the revenue provided by the excise tax, federal funds to compensate the victims of God’s will will soon run out. “What we are talking about are children who have to have lifetime care,” Denton said. She described the future of a 3-year-old child who would “never walk, talk or see again because of the adverse effects of DPT,” the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine the state mandates for all children attending public and private schools in Texas. Twenty house members remained unconvinced, as the House voted 117-20 in favor of removing the provision from the bill. That deletion of such a provision is worthy of debate suggests that the bill itself is very bad. This one, now passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Richards, is. Characterized by public interest lobbyist Tom “Smitty” Smith, of Public Citizen, as the “Merchants of Death Bill,” this session’s version of tort reform was underwritten by the tobacco lobby. It was around the issue of tobacco that what little debate that took place on the House revolved. And without Wichita Falls Democrat John Hirschi’ s willingness to fight a quixotic fight there might have been no debate at all. The products liability law, which becomes effective in September, bars smokers’ lawsuits against tobacco companies, claiming that tobacco is an inherently unsafe product, known by its users to be unsafe. \(As are, according to the new law, sugar, Hirschi proposed an amendment that would have left tobacco companies liable for damage claims from anyone who started smoking before age 18. He made the argument, previously made by Public Citizen’s Smith before the Senate committee that heard the bill, that many smokers become addicted to nicotine before they are capable of making a decision regarding long-term damage to their health. Citing studies that describe the average smoker in Texas as starting to use tobacco at 12.8 years of age, Hirschi said the decision to smoke is “not an adult decision.” His amendment was tabled on a voice vote, during the same week the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that almost two-thirds of teenagers who tried to buy tobacco during a statewide study in Texas were allowed to do so though state law bans tobacco sales to anyone under 18. IIhe products liability bill began in the offices of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who brought together representatives of the plaintiffs’ and defense bar to negotiate an agreement on a topic that has caused contentious fights in the Senate in the past. When tort reform efforts have died, they have died in the Senate. But this session’s Senate is far pp.,,,. THE TEXAS. NIP server MARCH 26, 1992 VOLUME 85, No. 6 FEATURES Big Tickets By Deborah Lutterbeck 7 Demand Judicial Choice By James Harrington 10 God, Guns & Guts By Molly Ivins 11 Health and Wealth By James Ridgeway 13 End-Time Journalism By Christopher Cook 15 DEPARTMENTS Editorials 3-5 Bad Bills 6 Journal Border Blaster Claims Left Field 8 Las Americas Death Squad Tied to. Texas Refugee By James Crogan 9 Books & the Culture Falling Down Movie review by Steven G. Kellman 20 The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover Book review by Deborah Lutterbeck 21 Stevie Ray: In the Beginning Music review by Brett Campbell 23 Political Intelligence 24 Cover illustration by Emily Kaplan ERRATA incorrectly identified the former Central America Resource Center, which is now the Documentation Exchange, as the Central American Resource Center. the name of Bernard Rapoport, who was recently elected to chair the University of Texas System Board of Regents. EDITORIALS Horrors at the Midway THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3 1t …v.on*srv,0100.4,0.47..4*.