Page 11


BAD BILLS Regulation, Schmegulation… Bad Bill #1: H.B. 1461 Sponsor: Rep. David Counts House; amended in Senate. Under this bill the current State Board of Insurance, with its three full-time members, would be replaced by a six-member, part-time board responsible for setting insurance rates in Texas. John Hildreth of Consumers Union argues that part-time board members will have insufficient time and resources to study the complexities of the issues they will be called upon to decide, and thus they will be particularly susceptible to the influence of special interest groups, i.e., the insurance companies they should be regulating. This change is unwarranted, he said, and will likely undermine the department’s accountability and responsiveness to public concerns. State insurance policy-making power would be vested in one commissioner, to be appointed by the governor, under this proposal. Hildreth and Consumers Union voice concern that placing all policy decisions in the hands of one commissioner will necessarily remove diversity of views and expertise from the decision-making process. They also question whether one person could adequately perform all the duties inherent in regulating an insurance market as complex as Texas’. No doubt Counts and other lawmakers who have wrangled with this bill are counting on the availability of guidance from the ever-helpful insurance industry for any future beleaguered, gubernatorially-appointed insurance commissioners. This stinks. Bad Bill 2: S.B.684 Sponsor: Sen. Kenneth Armbrister amended in House. The sponsors’ purpose is to strip the Texas Air Control Board of any power to regulate agricultural operations which produce clouds of dangerous or smelly emissions. \(The obvious example is the annual burning of sugar cane debris in the Lower Rio Grande Valley: The resulting smoke and soot are unpleasant and hazardous for Valley residents and Written for agribusiness interests, the bills gut state power to force large agricultural operations to act neighborly toward nearby small farmers and residents; a number of small farmers are reportedly concerned about the proposed change. Scott Royder of the Sierra Club reports that the surviving Senate bill was “amended, but not fixed, in committee. It’s still bad.” S.O.S.: MAYDAY Bad Bills #3 & 4: S.B. 1029 Sponsor: Sen Kenneth Armbrister House. H.B. 1305 Sponsor: Reps. Ron Lewis in Senate. These bills are known around the Capitol as “Anti-S.O.S.” proposals, as they were tailorwritten for Austin-area real estate developers Gary Bradley and Jim Bob Moffett, who would dearly love to do away with Austin’s “Save Our Springs” ordinance. \(This ordinance would protect Barton Springs and erode Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, commissioned an analysis of these proposals by the Austin law firm, Thompson and Knight. In their report, Thompson and Knight say the bills will significantly hamper incorporated cities and towns all over the state as they seek to regulate or modify building development. Coastal areas’ abilities to protect sand dunes from untimely destruction would be limited. The bills are written so loosely that, under their provisions, cities may not even be able to regulate the location of sex shops. Texas localities’ powers to enact historic district and preservation zoning is also under attack in these measures. While S.B. 1029 passed, enough opposition developed to H.B. 1305 to kill it in the Senate. Just say no. Bad Bills #5 & 6 HB 938 Sponsor: Rep. Warren Chisum \(DPampa SB 996 Sponsor: Sen. Jane Nelson \(RThe last throes of the woefully ineffectual Reagan/Bush era “Chastity Education” fetish, these bills would enshrine in Texas statutory law the popular opinion that schoolchildren have no business experimenting with sexual activity. The latest statistics from the Texas Department of Health say that 16 percent of Texas births were to mothers 19 or younger in 1991, up from 14.8 percent in 1990. During this period, “Don’t have sex,” was the primary message given in sex education courses in Texas public schools. These bills direct that sex education curricula in the public schools must present abstinence from sexual activity as “the preferred choice of behavior in relationship to all sexual activity for school-age unmarried persons.” Yes, as the bills currently read, Chisum and Nelson will have Texas public high school teachers trying to talk their students out of masturbation, although, as the late, veteran Corpus Christi psychiatrist, James Meaney, once stated, “98 percent of all adolescents masturbate, and 2 percent lie about it.” Nelson’s bill provides that parents must sign permission slips before their children may receive sex education. As Peggy Romberg of the Texas Family Planning Association points out, every parent who has ever forgotten a school field-trip permission slip will recognize that this “Opt-in” plan will result in fewer students receiving sex education. Both bills require that schools teach “contraception and condom use in terms of human use reality rates instead of in theoretical laboratory rates.” What the legislators appear to be aiming at in the midst of that verbiage is the teaching of the Radical Right’s wildly inflated estimates about condom failure rates. \(In fact, when used properly and consistently, latex condoms have a 98 per cent effectiveness rate for prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, but that is probably not the message our legislators wish to When last heard from, both bills were presumed dead: the House bill in the Public Education Committee and the Senate bill in a Senate subcommittee. The 73rd Legislature adjourns sine die at midnight May 31. Readers with last-minute nominations of bills demonstrating avarice or stupidity, are invited to contact Mary O’Grady, “The Bad-Bills Girl”, TO, 307 W. 7th St., Austin, Texas 78701; telephone 512-477-0746. ‘For current status of these or other bills, call the Legislative Reference Library toll-free at 110 JUNE 4, 1993