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THE TEXAS server JUNE 16, 1995 VOLUME 87, No. 12 FEATURES Heroes and Whores: Scenes from the 74th Lege By Jo Clifton and Louis Dubose 2 140 Days of Solony Laney’s Session By James Cullen 3 Swatting Colonias: Morales Squirms By Louis Dubose 13 Looking Back at the Lobby: A Scorecard By Robert Bryce 15 Principles and Interest: Justice Denied By David Armstrong 23 Bad Cop on Torts: Richard Weekley Comes to Town By Steven Wisch 30 DEPARTMENTS Molly Ivins Scoring the Lege 16 Legislature in Review How They Voted By the Staff 18 Bad Bills Developers Swear By Mary O’Grady 27 Political Intelligence 14 Cover art by Michael Alexander Photos by Alan Pogue BY JAMES CIALSI Gan OVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH d Lieut. Governor Bob Bullock got most of the credit for ginning up the locomotive in the 74th Legislature, but the man who really called the shots was a laconic farmer from Hale Center who worked quietly but efficiently in the switchyard. Mark my vote for Pete Laney as the dominant force in this session. The conservative Democrat, easily overlooked if you weren’t paying attention, solidified his leadership in his second term as Speaker as he moderated the House that was predisposed to vote conservatively while Bullock was moving the Senate to the right in an attempt to keep it from breaking down in partisan gridlock. While Governor Bush was heard on the four issues that mattered to himtort reform, welfare reform, criminal justice and educationit was Laney and his chairmen who determined which issues moved and when, and his committees took a good, hard look at some of the questionable legislation that sped through the Senate on lopsided and misguided votes. “It was the House that stopped term limits. It was the House that stopped home equity loans. It was the House that started the insurance rollback and it was the House that slowed down and refined the tort reform propositions,” noted John Hildreth of Consumers Union. It also was the House that initiated a bill to require legislative caucuses to report their contributions and to suspend their fundraising during the session. Laney promoted Internet access to legislative information and in mid-session put floor debates on Austin cable TV on an experimental basis. “The House is so much different this year. There was much tighter control of the agenda and the flow of legislation. He had some quite talented committee chairman and in saying that I had my share of disagreements with thembut Curtis Seidlits ran a tight State Affairs Committee and Mark Stiles ran a tight Calendars Committee,” Hildreth said. The Calendars Committee also was one of the most diverse in recent memory, and one without a clear ideological tilt. Laney is by no stretch a progressive, but most lobbyists for progressive causes credited the Speaker with operating a much more open and fair House than in past sessions. For example, even though the insurance committee continued to be dominated by people in the insurance business, Hildreth noted that Laney assigned a staff member to moderate the committee and make sure the process was fair. Ken Kramer of the Sierra Club was less charitable. While he acknowledged that the House has been fairer under Laney than under previous speakers and that Laney helped to stymie bills that would have required cost-benefit analyses of environmental rules, Kramer complained that Laney continues to appoint committees that are strongly anti-environmental. “If you look at the list of the environmental degradation team members [with the worst anti-environmental voting records as compiled by the Sierra Club], they include the chairs of the House Environmental Regulations Committee, Natural Resources Committee, Land and Resource Management Committee, State Recreational Resources and others,” Kramer said. But, strictly speaking, the committees are not supposed to thwart the will of the House, and the fact that most of the environment-bashing bills passed by wide margins on the House floor indicates Laney was in pretty good touch with what his members wanted. Kramer acknowledged as much when he announced that the Sierra Club and other progressive groups will be targeting some of the legislators with the worst anti-environmental and anti-consumer voting records in the next election cycle. “There is very little reason for us to have much hope of making significant environmental progress in the Texas Legislature in the next session or subsequent sessions without some major changes in personnel in the Legislature,” he said. When asked if the Sierra Club would target Laney, Kramer replied, with a smile, “We’ll leave that to the Republicans to do the kamikaze ones.” IN POLITICS THE LEGEND is often more important than the reality. Bob Bullock is legendary as a hard-nosed and detail-minded former state comptroller who succeeded Bill Hobby as president of the Senate in 1991. Bullock’s attention to parliamentary detail and his commanding presence helped enact the insurance reforms and the merging of the state’s principal environmental protection agencies into the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in that year’s relatively progressive session. Then reaction set in; Republicans, with an assist from court-ordered redistricting, made gains in the Texas Senate in 1992 and whittled the progressives below the magic number of 11 votes needed to block bad bills in the Senate, which requires a twothirds consensus before bills may be brought to the floor. Next thing you know the business lobby was coming up with tort “reforms” to limit product liability and the rights of foreigners to sue Texas companies. The Legislature also retreated on many of the environmental protections it had approved in 1991. Governor Ann Richards was still there, but the fact that many of the objectionable bills passed with more than two-thirds margins practi 140 Days of Solony THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3