Page 1


THE BACK PAGE Bivins, Big Bucks, and Asbestosis Some do it for love; some do it for money. Teel Bivins, the second-term Republican Senator from Amarillo, falls into both categories. He’s an ideologue who believes that the less the state is involved in environmental matters, the better the environment; and that Texas courts are so generous to in jured workers and consumers that it’s getting hard for corporations to make a profit here. Ay nd although Bivins isn’t the Senate’s top fundraiser, a group of $250-ayear tithers from West Texas provides him enough money to scare opponents away. Additional funds from the lobbylike last year’s $2,500 from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform \(the lobbyists dismantling the civil justice sysasbestos manufacturer working the Lege for more insulation from workers suffering from asbestosismake Bivins’ seat one of the safest in the Senate. In. 1994, Bivins did something almost unheard of. He gave all of his political contributions back to the donors. All his regularsfrom Malouf Abraham to Richard Ware, Amarillans who contributed $1,000 above ‘ their $250 tithegot their $1,000 back, because the Senator had no opponent. Beyond the regular lobby givers, who are usually good for $1,000 except former Speaker Billy Clayton who seems to get by on charm, connections, and $300 checks the most notable contributions Bivins received last year were $5,000 from OwensCorning and Texans for Lawsuit Reform. This session Bivins is the Senate sponsor of a bill that will make it much more difficult for workers harmed by asbestos to file suit in Texas courts. Senate Bill 220 is one of several “tort reform” bills filed this session [see cover]. It is, as Senator Royce West said on the floor of the Senate, a bill with a retroactive effect. It would not only deny certain victims of asbestosis the right to file suit in Texas, it would also invalidate many asbestosis lawsuits already filed. Bivins de Warning! Contains Asbestos. Asbestos is odorless and extremely hazardous to your health. But thanks to the corporate lobbyists and their representatives in the Texas Legislature, by the time you develop asbestosis, you will likely have no recourse in Texas Courts. scribes current cases as “pending time-based loophole claims.” What can’t be hidden by the language of a jurist like Bivins is that Senate Bill 220 creates two classes of claimants in Texas courts: Texans and nonTexans. The latter will be left to sue in their own state courts, even if injured in Texas by a Texas corporation. What pleases economic conservatives doesn’t always work for social conservatives. For the latter, Senator BivinS has filed a voucher bill, which could provide as many as 270,000 schoolchildren with more than $1 billion in public funds to pay private school tuition. Voucher pro grams are always a favorite of the Christian right, and although this program would only be available to 18 percent of Texas 3.7 million schoolchildren, defenders of public education see it as the beginning of public funding of parochial schoolswhile public schools remain underfunded. Religious conservatives are also encouraged by Bivins’ assault on tenure. Among the newcomers to Bivins contributors are former Panhandle Congressman Kent Hance and his son Ron. Kent is part owner of Waste Control Specialists, which operates a toxic waste dump in Andrews County. Ron Hance is Waste Control’s Human Resources Director. Waste Control is competing with the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Dis posal Authority for a license to operate a radioactive waste dump, and if Waste Con trol’s private Andrews County site is ap proved, the Authority’s site in Sierra Blanca might not be necessary. Near the end of the last session Bivins filed a fast tracked bill that permitted disposal of radioactive waste in private facili ties. The bill died in the House, but the fight between Waste Control and the Authority is anything but dead. House Appropriations has ze roed out the Authority’s funding, and if the Authority and its proposed Sierra Blanca site is to survive, Senate Finance will have to restore its funding. Bivins is a Finance Cornmittee member, Waste Control’s site is his district and Carl Clayton, and Kent and are betting on and ivins. in in Parker, Billy Ron Hance bankrolling B 32 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 11, 1997