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BAD BILLS Money Doesn’t Talk, Develop ers Swear. Gary Bradley and Freeport McMoRan didn’t come to the 74th Session of the Texas Legislature asking for very much. These major real estate developers merely wanted to carry on bulldozing and paving environmentally sensitive acreage on Austin’s outskirts. They and their lobbyists threw tens of thousands of dollars around the Legislature, but they publicly deny that they got a lot of bang for a relatively small pile of bucks. Nevertheless: ried H.B. 2471 and S.B. 1017, allowing Bradley and Freeport McMoRan to exempt their areas of construction in southwest Travis County from Austin’s water quality ordinances. sponsored H.B. 3193, to establish a special water district for Gary Bradley’s Circle C real estate development. This new water district will have appointed rather than elected commissioners and unprecedented powers, comparable to those of a city. The bill’s language gives Circle C’s new water district regulatory oversight for parklands which actually belong to the City of Austin. Plano Republican Senator Florence I. Shapiro’s S.B. 1017 exempts developers from compliance with Austin regulatory ordinances. As written, its statewide implications are staggering: Besides easing permitting requirements for subdividing land and new construction, the bill will affect regulation and permits for facilities such as nursing homes and sewage treatment plants in ways that are difficult to predict. As these bills made their way through the Texas Legislature, the New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan admitted the largest releases of toxic chemicals to air, water and land of any U.S. company in 1993, according to documents filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Of Freeport McMoRan’ s 194 million pounds of pollutants, 184 million pounds found their way into waterways. Few outside the Texas Legislature would regard this as a sign of trustworthiness for a future steward of public water quality. These bills are on Governor Bush’s desk. He says he will not sign them until June 18, because he wants to hear the public’s comments on them. To comment, call the GoverMary O’Grady is a researcher, writer and Bad Bills Girl in Austin. “Wise Use” in the Statehouse The 74th Legislature further gratified Texas real estate and business interests by passing a property rights bill sponsored by Amarillo Republican Sen. Teel Bivins and Rep. Susan ans could sue state and local governments over action, including environmental regulation, that restricts use of their property or reduces its value by as much as 20 percent. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution supports the idea that property owners should be compensated for unwarranted “taking” of their land, and in recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has said that overreaching governmental regulations can constitute a “taking” for which affected property owners can be reimbursed for lost property values. One overriding principle in such cases is the balancing of the rights of individual property owners against the interests of the general public. Bivins’ and McCombs’ legislation creates a new system which says that state and local government must pay off property owners if any regulation reduces the value of their property by 20 percent. One unhappy aspect of these “takings” bills is their enthusiastic encouragement of thousands of frivolous lawsuits aimed at nullifying all manner of governmental regulations, including the ones that provide minimal protection to public health and safety, clean water, and so on. \(A memo from the Harris County attorney’s office pointed out that counties may have to compensate landowners to continue keeping dirty bookstores and strip joints a reasonable distance Taxpayers will be paying for potential losses to private property owners, and legal fees for all parties to such suits, and there is no cap on government’s liability in these cases. Over the past year, the anti-environmentalist “Wise Use” movement has promoted similar legislation in 32 states. So far, “takings” laws have been passed in Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee. And now, Texas. Race to the Death “Texas: It’s a whole other country!” blares our state tourist agency. So it appears, since the 74th Legislature took a detour around English common law and American constitutional practice to demolish the niceties of the right of habeas corpus for persons sentenced to death. new law to speed up executions in Texas. \(Gallego professed that quicker executions are more humane, both for crime victims’ families and for death row inmates themprisoner’s first, mandatory appeal to the State Court of Criminal Appeals, dealing only with trial procedure, be carried on simultaneously with the state habeas corpus appeal, which until now has been the second step in the process. The state habeas corpus appeal must bring up all errors of procedure, evidence, and constitutional error, as well as the adequacy of the prisoner’s representation at trial, not only for argument at the state level, but also to prepare for all appeals at the federal level. Hurrying the state habeas appeal will lead to slipshod federal appeals for some prisoners. Thus, combining the direct and the state habeas appeal will save timepredictably, whole lifetimes, for unlucky condemned prisoners who are innocent. The Body Armor Manufacturers’ Relief Act A famous new laW allows Texans to carry concealed guns, as of January 1, 1996 \(as long as they think ahead to qualify for a liperforatable bystanders have Sen. Jerry PatR-D-Houschambers to thank for this law. Would-be gunslingers will have to attend a handgun proficiency course, pass a brief written exam, and undergo a cursory background check. Such provisions are intended to reassure the public that concealed weapons permits will not be given out absolutely willy-nilly. Proponents have included a stunning expression of faith in the veracity and personal insight of our fellow Texans. No effective means exist to check individual permit applicants for alcoholism, drug addiction, psychosis or other avenues to unwholesome emotional volatility. Applicants for gun permits will merely be asked to attest that they are “of sound mind” and free from substance abuse. Substance abusers are frequently oblivious to the reality of their own addictions. Similarly, gun dealers will rarely interact with their customers so probingly as to uncover a gun-buyer’s problems in reconciling the commands of several intracranial voices, or other chronic personal dilemmas boding ill for public tranquility. For more information on what happened, call the Legislative Reference Library at 1-800-253-9693 or in Austin 463-1251. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27