Postmaster: If undeliverable, send Form 3579 to The Texas Observer, 307 W. 7th St., Austin, Texas 78701 POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE TORT REFORM ARGUMENTS are strikingly similar to the defense of workers’ compensation reform, which recently survived an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Acting on business demands that the system be changed to remove lawyers and lawsuits from the process so that they could control costs, the Legislature in 1989 rewrote the workers’ compensation law to make injured workers more subject to an administrative process and fixed benefits. Sure enough, premiums paid by businesses have dropped nearly in half since 1991, when the “reforms” were implemented, but benefits paid to injured workers under the new system also have dropped by more than onehalf, the Workers Compensation Commission recently reported. The “reforms” increased the maximum weekly benefit to $472, as defenders noted, but that maximum is rarely awarded; the average weekly benefit for an injured worker in 1994 was $259, $100 less than the average weekly wage. The new workers’ comp system has succeeded in reducing the role of attorneys representing injured workers even as more insurance companies are bringing their own lawyers to hearings. At contested hearings, according to the commission, 38 percent of claimaints had attorneys in 1994, down from 59 percent in 1991. In the same period, the percentage of insurance companies represented by attorneys increased from 79 percent in 1991 to 86 percent last year. POLICE DISCRETION? When the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, came up for a vote Feb. 7, only six Texans in Congress stood up for it. As part of the “Contract with America,” Republicans are seeking to expand the “good faith” exception to the rule keeping illegally obtained evidence from use in criminal trials. The GOP would expand circumstances under which police without a search warrant have an “objectively reasonable belief’ they were acting properly. During the debate, the San Antonio Express-News noted Feb. 9, Melvin Watt, D-N.C., introduced the Fourth Amendment as substitute language, but it was voted down 303-121. Among those supporting the Fourthall Democrats were John Bryant, Dallas; Henry B. Gonzalez, San Antonio; Kika de la Garza, Mission; Eddie Bernice Johnson, Dallas; Sheila Jackson-Lee and Gene Green, Houston; and Ron Coleman, El Paso. As the ExpressNews editorialized, “Many Americans, including most members of Congress, have not experienced the terror of having their homes, families and selves violated by unreasonable searches and seizures….” TURNABOUT. Democratic senators are threatening to block Gov. Bush’s first appointee to the Public Utility Commission unless the Senate considers Sarah Goodfriend, a holdover Democratic appointee. Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is leading a movement to block confirmation of GOP appointee Patrick Wood unless the Senate first votes on Goodfriend. Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, the Nominations chairman, told the Dallas Morning News he did not plan to bring up Goodfriend’ s name because she did not have the support of twothirds of the Senate, which is needed for confirmation. If she is not confirmed by the end of the regular session in May, Bush would get his second appointment on the powerful three-member panel, which otherwise would not come up until 1997. While 12 Democrats reportedly signed Barrientos’ letter demanding action on Goodfriend, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Frank Madla of San Antonio later stated that while they supported Goodfriend they would not vote to block Wood. Democratic appointees from the 3rd, 4th and 30th districts, where Democratic incumbents were replaced by Republicans, may be in jeopardy because of the tradition that an appointee must have the support of his or her home senator. The Abilene Reporter-News reported that Democrats are complaining that freshman Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, already has told Richards appointees their nominations are in trouble unless they become Republicans. DICK BARMY. U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Irving, convinced few with his explanation that he was mixing the words “Frank” and “harangue” when he recently referred to a Massachusetts congressman who happens to be gay as Barney Fag. Armey found it politic to deny the slur was intentional, but the New Republic noted in its Feb. 20 issue that the words follow his actions: Armey “has voted for every anti-homosexual law or amendment that has come up; and he has voted against every legislative initiative that could conceivably be said to further the equality or dignity of gays,” according to an editorial. In the 101st Congress, Anney was among 47 members who voted against George Bush’s Hate Crime Statistics Act, which allowed the government to merely record violence against homosexuals. He voted not to block an amendment that would have required states to report the names of people who are AIDSpositive; and he voted to exclude people with AIDS from the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the 102nd Congress, he voted to stop groups that boycotted the Boy Scouts of America \(because the Scouts won’t hire hofunds. In the 103rd Congress Armey voted to codify the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against homosexuals. He won’t sign a voluntary statement saying his own office won’t discriminate against gays. “His record places him in a select group of around ten die-hard members. No one in the House has a more anti-gay record,” the New Republic wrote. TRY AGAIN. Efforts to expand the Big Thicket National Park in Southeast Texas are endangered again. The 1993 Addition Act, which authorized the expansion along Village and Big Sandy creeks, required that the acreage be acquired within two years, but Congress did not authorize funds until fiscal year 1995, the Big Thicket Reporter of Batson stated. U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, DLufkin, is trying to get an extension. TRASHED. The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission on Feb. 8 approved the expansion of a landfill south of Dallas. On a 3-0 vote the commission Continued on pg. 12 24 FEBRUARY 24, 1995
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