executions, Lucio is “very much in favor of the death penalty.” The Brownsville Senator described his bill as “truth in sentencing” legislation. Under current law, he said, “a jury does not have the right to know that there is no such thing as a true life sentence in Texas.” \(Criminals given life sentences are not eligible for parole for forty years, but defense attorneys are not allowed to tell this to juries which often leads jurors who believe parole is available in less than Lucio even tried to reassure death penalty advocates that it is unlikely that life without parole will erode public support for executions. He cited a Scripps-Howard poll which found that 84 percent of Texans favor life without parole and that 73 percent of the same group polled “would continue to support the death penalty if life without parole was a law in Texas.” Lucio even brought in a witness from the faculty of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, considered by many to be an extension, of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The combination of the death penalty and life without parole as an alternative, said Dr. Dennis Longmeyer, “would not result in a disaffection for the death penalty.” The debate over life without parole illustrates another facet of the Governor’s use of the Legislature as an extension of his political campaign. Beyond austerity budgets and an ongoing attempt to purge the welfare rolls is the Governor’s need to be “tough on criminals.” That requires more than a yellow rose garden embrace of Rudy Giuliani. Both Republican women on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Senators Shapiro and Jane Nelson have proposed life without parole legislation. But not while George W. is running for president. “They are instructed to vote against it,” one source said, “because the Governor doesn’t want to have to sign it or veto it.” Many death penalty opponents see life without parole as an opportunity to move the state from execution to incarceration, and thus lower the rate of executions. Signing such a law might make the Governor seem soft on crime. The most peculiar argument against Lucio’s bill had to do with compassion for the Texas taxpayer. Walker County D.A. David Weeks not only argued that such a law would render rehabilitation meaningless \(as if execution encouraged be able to parole convicted murderers when they grow old and occupy space in prison geriatric wards. “We need to be able to put them in private institutions where Medicaid will pay for them … we’ve got to parole out the aged and infirm,” Weeks said. Lucio’s bill was also left pending before the committee. Out of committee and on its way to a vote in the House is Warren Chisum’s bill that would begin again the process of licensing a low-level radioactive waste disposal site. There is huge profit potential in rad waste, and if their lobbyists were billing by the hour, Waste Control Specialists and Envirocare ran up a big tab April 8, when Chisum’s House Environmental Regulation Committee heard testimony on the radioactive waste bill. Watching the process were two former speakers, Gib Lewis and Billy Clayton; one former Speaker Pro Tem, Hugo Berlanga; former Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock’s lifetime aide, Tony Proffitt; and Hilary Doran, a former legislator who has also served on the state racing commission. All are waste contractor lobbyists. Only “Speaker” Clayton spoke, arguing the committee should open the loophole it closed by setting strict limits on the amount of waste that can come from states other than Texas, Maine, and Vermont which are participating in the disposal Compact that designates Texas the compact’s waste dump state. These dumps thrive on volume, Clayton argued, suggesting that more waste means lower disposal costs. Fort Worth Democrat Lon Burnam added two amendments. One would require the state to consider the geology and hydrology of any proposed nuclear waste disposal site a provision not in the draft of the bill under consideration. His second amendment would require that “assured and isolated retrievable waste” would not be buried and thereby made unretrievable. Burnam also proposed requiring that the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, rather than the Department of Health \(which has a worse track record than the radioactive waste dump. When that amendment was rejected by committee chair Chisum, Burnam said he “reserves the right to come back and bring it up on the floor.” “I guarantee it a cold, cold reception there,” Chisum said. The bill is a mixed bag. It includes “above ground and retrievable” storage \(which most environmentalists argue is option. And as one House aide said, “At least it doesn’t let private companies hold the licenses.” Not yet. Waste Control Systems owns a dump in the Panhandle and wants a private license to accept U.S. Department of Energy radioactive waste. The D.O.E. is rewriting its rules and moving toward private dumps, rather than state facilities operated by private contractors. W.C.S. is said to be considering offering a “private license” amendment on the House floor, where it will probably get a warmer reception than the environmental protections Burnam said he would offer. Sondheim’s Mrs. Lovett killed Londoners then ground them up and served them in the “best pies in London.” In the Governor’s Grand Guignol farce in Austin, Bush’s Arlene Wohlgemuth is cast in a more pernicious role. Wohlgemuth, a Burleson Republican, objected to a resolution that Houston Democrat Garnett Coleman had placed on the local and consent calendar. The resolution simply noted that there are 1.5 million children without health insurance in Texas and urged that funding be made available to help them get insurance. Wohlgemuth, never as funny nor charming as Mrs. Lovett, went ballistic. “Those numbers are based on a survey,” she said. “I do however, disagree with the numbers and their claims to know how many children do not have health insurance.” Wohlgemuth added that we cannot assume that children are poor just because they do not have health insurance. “Their parents might be making $10,000 a year. Or they might be making $1 million a year. It is still our right in this country not to have health insurance.” Wohlgemuth’s comments are a preview of debate over the federal/state Children’s Health Insurance heart of the Governor, who kicked off the session with a proposal that would deny 200,000 children access to the health insurance program. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15 APRIL 30, 1999
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