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BAD BILLS Legislation To Look Forward To . . . BY THE BAD BILLS GIRL No Substitutions S.B. 1591 S.B. 70 Sponsor: Senator Tom Haywood This just in from the office of Senator Tom Haywood, which has been perfecting the art of the conservative press release. On April 22, the senator passed SB 1591, which gives the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission the power to grant exemptions from some state environmental regulations. The subsequent pronouncement to Capitol media: “This bill will give businesses an incentive to look for better ways to protect our environment. Protecting the environment should be everyone’s goal. If the private sector can come up with a way to do a better job for less money, we should applaud them and let them go to work.” Even more upbeat was the announcement, two days later, that Haywood had successfully sponsored a bill that would end unemployment compensation for substitute teachers. S.B. 70 would amend the labor code to exclude substitute teaching from the definition of “employthent.” The senator was still clapping: “I applaud my colleagues for the courage they’ve shown in voting for this bill,” he press-released. “…[S]chools should not be required to bear the financial burden and pay unemployment compensation to folks who are only part-time help.” Dangerous Liens and So On S.B. 173 H.B. 1188 Sponsors: Sen. Jerry Patterson \(RD-Texas is the only state that does not allow you to take out a home equity loan \(i.e. borrowing on the difference between your home’s market value and the debt owed on state went ahead and caught up to the rest of the Unionparticularly those Texans who own or operate banks. In previous sessions, home equity lending bills have passed in the Senate, only to founder in committee on the House side. The current push to expand home equity lending has already proven stronger than in years past: H.B. 1188, compromise legislation originally sponsored by Danburg, was vaulted out of the House Financial Institutions Committee by an 8-0 vote on April 17. Groups like Texas AFL-CIO and Public Citizen have opposed any broadening of home equity lending because, they argue, in a recession many lowand middleincome borrowers would lose their homes. Consumers’ Union, meanwhile, supports the extension of home equity lending in principle but opposes H.B. 1188, charging.that it fails to include sufficient borrower protections. Higher-income customers may be relatively safe at their local bank, but the current legislation makes it too easy for pawn shops and unscrupulous lenders to take advantage of lower-income clients. and although lenders are limited from pursuing assets other than the home in case of foreclosure, the bill does not provide for a judicial foreclosure process. \(In twenty-one states, a judge must assess the legitimacy of the forecounseling for loan applicants, as is done in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, and North Carolina. Oates Makes Hay S.B. 436 H.B. 1341 and Rep. Ron Lewis \(D-Mauriceville For Dallas businessman William “Sonny” Oates, it’s not the decay of buildings or roads that threatens the public so much as the decay of the deeds, tax liens and land records that those buildings and roads generate in your local county clerk’s office. “The records in a lot of counties are just going to deteriorate,” Oates told the Dallas Observer’s Ruth Farleyunless the legislature passes S.B. 436 and its companion H.B. 1341, bills that would add an additional $10 filing fee per document at the state’s 254 county clerk offices. Coincidentally, Oates is the owner of Government Records Services, Inc., the largest provider of document restoration fs services to county clerks in Texas. He stands to make millions if the filing fee legislation gets passed \(though he wouldn’t tell Farley how much money he expects or which counties he currently contracts five lobbyists to push for passage. Senator Eddie Lucio, who filed S.B. 436, says he decided to sponsor the bill at the request of two county clerks. But according to a spokeswoman for the County and District Clerks Association of Texas, a majority of county clerks oppose the fee increase. Eighty-eight of the 111 clerks who responded to a March survey felt that the current $5 fee is adequate. Round and Round S.B. 965 H.B. 2905 Sponsors: Sen. Ken Armbrister \(D-VictoGreasing the way for electric utility deregbills would weaken the state Public Utility Commission’s revolving door law. Right now, PUC employees may not go to work for a regulated utility or its competitors for two years after leaving the commission. The commission is trying to change that, on the grounds that the restriction on PUC employees is harsher than similar restrictions on employees of other state agencies. So although these bills contain various valuable consumer protection provisions earning them the qualified support of Public Citizenthey’re still seriously flawed. The weakened revolving door rules would allow ex-staff \(i.e., the folks who are most familiar with the little nooks and crannies nies that would most like to take advantage of loopholes. According to Public Citizen Texas Director Tom Smith, commission alumni have helped unregulated utilities overcharge their customers in the past. Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer’s Bad Bills Girl. If you have a candidate for THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19 MAY 9, 1997