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Game Called GOVERNOR ANN RICHARDS called the recently concluded legislative ses sion “a sure-fire, three-run homer for the people of Texas” and “one of the most productive we’ve had.” Its main accomplishment, going into 1994 election year, was the approval of a $70.1 billion budget without new taxes, but the 73rd Legislature also passed a patchwork school finance reform bill that promises to satisfy state judges, at least for the short term; she also promoted a bill that sets up health insurance pools for small businesses, which proposes to make insurance coverage more affordable. For consumers, environmentalists, libertarians, labor and other progressive advocates who are routinely outgunned by lobbyists for business and industry, there was little to celebrate in the session. The budget increased spending by 11.4 percent over the last biennium, with additional revenues from the federal government and lottery ticket sales saving the state from a tax increase that certainly would have caused mischief with all the legislators and the top state leaders up for election next year. The new budget provides $1.1 billion more for education, but it does not keep pace with projected enrollment increases and it left teachers without a pay raise. The budget was $400 million short of maintaining the current level of health and human services, so Texas will still rank at or near the bottom among states in those areas. There was an increase of $830 million in appropriations for prisons and public safety, as the Legislature approved 22,000 new “state jail” beds for non-violent felony offenders, 10,000 additional prison beds and 7,000 beds for substance abuse treatment. Voters in November will be asked to approve a $1 billion bond issue to build the state jails. Crimefighting bills, always a staple of a legislative session, were thick this spring as the Legislature outlawed stalking, adopted a new penal code that provides tougher penalties for hate crimes and more prison time for violent offenders and expanded the death penalty for killers of small children. The Legislature also maintained the misdemeanor penalty for homosexual sodomy which, even if it is virtually never enforced, gives a pretext for discrimination against gays and lesbians. House members had voted to outlaw heterosexual sodomy until they discovered what that meant and decided it would amount to an invasion of privacy of straight couples. In doing so, lawmakers upheld another tradition, leaving it to the Texas Supreme Court to decide whether the sodomy law violates the constitutional right to privacy and equal protection under the law. The pro-business tone of the 73rd Legislature was ordained in December 1991 when three Republican federal judges set aside the redistricting plan adopted by the Democrat-dominated Senate and ordered a new plan that maximized Republican votes in the 1992 election. The GOP gained four Senate seats, giving them 13, which allowed them to block bills under Senate rules. With business-oriented Democrats they formed a conservative working majority in the 31-member Senate to match the usually conservative House. Lieut. Gov . Bob Bullock, who was criticized for his partisan Democratic activity in the 1991 session, headed off a potential coup as he gained the support of moderate Republicans and worked to control damage during the session. Business interests scored a major victory early in the session with limits on product liability lawsuits. There was resentment among consumer and organized labor advocates that trial lawyers cut the deal in closed-door sessions supervised by Bullock, but some felt the damage could have been worse without Bullock’s intervention. If anything, Bullock was more powerful in his second session; few were the bills that got to the Senate floor without his approval. Going into an election year, Bullock also not only reversed his support for an income tax, but he undermined what figured to be the best Republican campaign issue next year by pushing a constitutional amendment onto the November ballot that would require a statewide referendum before implementation of any income tax. It’s bad public policy but good politics, and gave us the spectacle of conservative Republicans, such as Senator John Leedom of Dallas, opposing the measure because it didn’t go far enough. On the environmental front, the Legislature passed bills to regulate pumping from the Edwards Aquifer, accept low-level radioactive waste from Vermont and Maine and have the Railroad Commission regulate storage of hazardous materials in salt domes. At the behest of developers who feared environmental regulations in Austin, Senator Ken Armbrister, Democrat from Victoria, gained passage of a bill to stop cities from imposing tougher regulations on a development after it is filed with city officials. Governor Richards, faced with the choice of developers who helped finance her 1990 race and Travis County voters who provided two-thirds of her margin of victory, vetoed the bill. Governor Richards was preoccupied with school finance reform during much of the ses sion. Voters overwhelmingly repudiated the school finance plan she endorsed as well as her appointee to the U.S. Senate, but polls show her personal popularity remains high, with a 63-percent approval rating in a Dallas Morning News poll conducted May 20-25. Her other legislative efforts were mixed: She objected to efforts by the insurance industry to hijack the State Board of Insurance sunset bill. After negotiations in the Senate, a compromise bill was approved that allowed the industry to continue providing the data on which rates are based, but with regulatory oversight by the state insurance commissioner. The experience reinforced Richards’ belief in the need for a reform of the sunset process. But she supported successful bills to make health insurance more affordable for small businesses, as well as a bill to immunize children. House Speaker Pete Laney generally got good marks for his rookie session at the helm. The Hale Center conservative Democrat supported rules reforms that encouraged a more open process and prevented the usual end-ofsession crush of bills passed with little chance that ordinary lawmakers knew what they were enacting. They still might not have known, but at least the paperwork was available for their review. Laney’s committee assignments generally were good, although environmentalists complained that they faced panels stacked against them, and he gave his committees a loose rein and allowed the House the work its will on amendments to bills. For the first time in recent history, the Legislature adjourned with no special session looming. But opponents of the school finance plan have until mid-July to file their objections. There is still hope that a court will find the multiple-choice plan objectionable and strike it down, giving lawmakers a window of opportunity to piggyback their pet bills onto yet another school finance reform session. J.C. Editor’s Note: A more comprehensive look at the 73rd Legislature will appear in the next issue. Erratum In “Finding Ray,” TO 6/4/93, it was incorrectly stated that there were no indictments as a result of private jail construction in six Texas counties. Michael and Patrick Graham, both defendants in the civil suit that is the subject of the story, were indicted in state district court in Pecos County in October 1991 on charges alleging anti-trust violations. Indictments are still pending. 6 JUNE 18, 1993 7,1144., ,