Legislative Notes CHARITY CARE REQUIRED. Taxexempt hospitals would have to provide free care to the poor in order to keep their tax brdaks, under a bill sent to the Governor. The bill, which got final approval in the Senate on May 23, requires all but one of the state’s 120 nonprofit hospitals to provide at least 4 percent of their health care on a charity basis by 1996. The legislation was prompted by a lawsuit former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox filed against Houston’s Methodist Hospital. A state district judge ruled in the hospital’s favor earlier this year, finding the state had no authority to file the suit. Methodist, which gets $44 million in tax breaks annually, would have to increase its charity care from the current $8 million a year to $13 million, the Houston Chronicle reported. Methodist and other hospitals in the Texas Medical Center fought state efforts to impose charity levels, but dropped their opposition after working out a compromise with Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, that allows them to phase in the charity cases over three years. The sponsors reluctantly agreed to an amendment by Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, that exempts High Plains Baptist Hospital in Amarillo, whose 2.9-percent charity contribution Maxey said was the worst rate among nonprofits in the state. PENAL CONFEREES BUCKLE. House conferees won their showdown with the Senate to keep a misdemeanor penalty for sodomy in the new state penal code. The Senate had voted to remove the misdemeanor penalty for anal sex, which reportedly has never been enforced in Texas except as a pretext to discriminate against gays and lesbians; the House overwhelmingly voted not only to keep the provisions against homosexual sodomy, but also to outlaw heterosexual sodomy, in the hopes’ that the prohibition would survive court scrutiny. Rep. Allen Hightower, D-Huntsville, and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, agreed that keeping the sodomy ban was the price of passing the bill, although House conferees had second thoughts on the prohibition against heterosexual sodomy. Senators, led by Carl Parker, insisted on keeping the penalties for heterosexuals three days before they conceded to the House conferees on May 24. The conferees also agreed to enhance the punishments on bias-related “hate crimes.” Rick Casey of the San Antonio Express -News commented, “If this bill passes, the official policy of Texas will be that it is okay for the state to pick on homosexuals, but not the rest of us.” If no bill is passed, the state will be without a penal code as of September. TOUGH CHOICES. Austin lawmakers succeeded in mobilizing support from other urban areas to head off bills that would scuttle an Austin environmental protection ordinance. Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, announced he would not advance House bills 1305 and 1307, which would require uniform environmental standards throughout the city. Rep. Wilhelmina Delco, D-Austin, who opposed the environmental initiative to protect the relatively undeveloped Barton Springs watershed, argued that it set up tougher environmental standards there than are in place in minority communities of East Austin. EnvironmentaliSts complained that the bill, sponsored in the House by developer Rep. Ron Lewis, D-Mauriceville, would make the cost of environmental regulation prohibitive for cities. Armbrister said he plans to call for an investigation of whether Texas cities are treating their residents uniformly in ordinance, annexation and pollution issues. Another bill, Senate Bill 1029, which would stop cities from imposing new regulations on developments once a plat is filed, passed through the House and on to the Governor, who faces the choice of alienating developer Gary Bradley, one of her biggest contributors and a former land-deal partner, or Austin voters who accounted for much of her 100,000-vote margin of victory in 1990 and overwhelmingly approved the environmental controls last August. RAISING A STINK. Neighbors of malodorous livestock farms cannot look to the Texas Clean Air Act for relief, the Texas Supreme Court recently ruled. In a 7-2 opinion written by Justice Raul Gonzalez, reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the high court ruled that the stench from an Erath County calf farm is a natural country odor, not air pollution. After F/R Cattle moved its calf-fattening operation from California to Lingleville, 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth, three years ago, complaints by neighbors prompted the attorney general, at the behest of the Texas Air Control Board, to demand in a lawsuit that F/R Cattle, which feeds up to 5,900 calves at a time, cease operations or reduce its cattle population to 1,000. A state district judge ruled in the cattlefeeder’s favor, but the 11th Court of Appeals declared the odor unnatural and an air contaminant. Justice Rose Spector, in a dissent joined by Justice Bob Gammage, wrote: “A typical landowner … certainly would not ‘expect’ to be confronted with the continual odor from 6,000 calves’ manure,” adding that such a concentration is “unnatural..” Meanwhile, S.B. 684 by Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, would exempt agricultural operations from state air pollution control requirements unless those emissions were required to get federal operating permits. The Sierra Club and the Texas Farmers Union, which represents family farms and ranches, opposes the bill, which Marvin Gregory, a Hopkins County dairy farmer and spokesman for the Farmers Union, said would lead to large dairy operations relocating from the polluted Chino Valley in California to Texas, leading to further pollution and health problems and blame on the entire dairy industry. The bill also would allow unregulated burning of sugar cane fields and other croplands, the Sierra Club reported. The House passed the bill but sent it back to the Senate with amendments. BUDGET SLIGHTS. House and Senate conferees agreed on a two-year state budget of $70 billion that will not require a tax increase, but at the expense of surprise education and human services. The budget represents an increase of 11.6 percent from the 1992-93 budget and includes a $1 billion increase over current spending for public schools and a $1.1 billion increase in health and human services. The extra funding, however, will not keep up with enrollment growth and the increasing number of people applying for health and human services programs. RIGHT TO GOLF. The Senate passed a bill that would prohibit athletic clubs from discrimination based on race, color, religion, creed, national origin or sex. Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville drew up the bill after he discovered, while campaigning last year with Bill Clinton, that the Ozona Country Club does not allow Hispanic members. Because the club has the only golf course in town, Hispanic students who wanted to try out for the school golf team could play there only under supervision or would have to practice at another course 30 miles away. Opponents of the bill included Sen. Bill Sims, who said friends own the club “and they just prefer not to play that way,” while Republicans Florence Shapiro of Plano and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound said they objected to criminal as well as civil penalties. GOOD SHOTS. Gov . Richards signed a law requiring hospitals and physicians to immu nize all Texas children under age 18 who are not current in vaccinations against infectious diseases, such as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Continued on page 21 6 JUNE 4, 1993
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.