POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Bigwigs Go to Bat for Phys Ed in Plainview DUMPING MONEY INTO CHARITY Why would an all-star lineup of Texas political and business heavyweights including former governors Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, and Ann Richards, as well as rich guys Red McCombs, Herb Kelleher, and Ed Whittakergive a fig about a plans for a physical education building at a small west Texas college? Because the building in question, to be built at the Wayland Baptist University campus in Plainview, has been designated the Pete and Nelda Laney Center, in honor of the longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives and his wife. Let the shaking of trees begin: It’s one measure of the widespread respect Laney commands that all those big names have joined ‘the Statewide Advisory Committee to raise.funds for the building. Lately, though, there’s been some offthe-record grumbling around Austin about the fact that people with interests currently before the legislature are giving money to a project honoring the current Speaker of the House. \(The private gifts are not subject to the ethics rules instance, should owners of Waste Control Specialists, a nuclear waste company that stands to make millions of dollars if a certain bill passes this session, be making donations to the Laney Center? Senate Bill 1541, which had just passed the Senate at press time, would authorize a private company to dispose of low-level radioactive waste from United States Department of Energy weapons production sites. The only Texas company currently positioned to do this, with a disposal site in Andrews County, is WCS. In two past sessions, Laney has ruled on points of order to kill similar bills. Meanwhile, WCS Chairman of the Board, part-owner, and lobbyist Kent Hance is chair of the Statewide Advisory Committee for the Laney Center. “I’m a Baptist, and I tithe,” Hance told the Observer. “I think I’ve probably given probably 40 or 50,000 \(dollars to the yearly basis.” Hance, a former United States Congressman whose district included Plainview, said that he’s been chair of the Statewide Advisory Committee for more than three years. \(In particular, he was chair last session, when Laney was responsible for the WCS bill’s Wayland Baptist Board of Trustees for 12 years. “This really is a religious deal, rather than a political deal” said Hance, who added that he has not discussed any waste control legislation with Laney this year. WCS is also partly-owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to George W. Bush and to state candidates. Simmons did not return phone calls to say whether or not he had contributed to the Laney Center. Another member of the advisory committee is Ralph Wayne, a former deskmate of Laney’s in the House and now the lobbyist for the Texas Civil Justice League, which this session has supported legislation to restrict class action lawsuits. Dr. Russ Gibbs, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Wayland Baptist, said that the fundraising effort for the Laney Center has been conducted carefully, to avoid the appearance of conflict-of-interest. “Anything anyone gives has nothing whatsoever to do with anything before the Legislature. It’s simply a recognition to Pete and Nelda for their service to Texas” Gibbs said. “I don’t send a spreadsheet to the Speaker say ing these are the people who’ve given to the project.” The Speaker “is not keeping any kind of tabs at all on who’s donating to this project,” said Laney spokesman Mark Langford. Ah well. Given that business lobbyists normally devote so much time and money to no higher purpose than getting probusiness laws passed, maybe it’s a good thing when some of their time and money actually go toward the construction of a college building. Now the question is who to name the waste dump after. BABIES VERSUS BUNIONS Which costs more? A bunion removal or a Caesarian Section? If you guessed Caesarian Section, you guessed wrong, says Dr. Margaret Thompson of Austin, who recently testified on behalf of legislation to correct gender discrimination in medical insurance in the state. Thompson was one of a group of doctors behind the Renaissance Women’s Center, an innovative women’s hospital that closed its doors last February despite a patient list of 1,000 expectant mothers and a six-month waiting list. One of the reasons the Center closed was the very nature of the kind of care it providedwomen’s health care. “Volume was not a problem; the hospital could not pay its expenses with the amount of money that was reimbursed for the care they provided” explains Dr. Donna Hurley, who used to practice at the Center. To combat gender discrimination in medical insurance payments, Center physicians founded the Equal Health Care Alliance of Austin, with the support of such prominent Austin women as University of Texas women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt; clothing designer Susan Dell, who is married to Michael Dell; and businesswoman Luci Baines Johnson, Lyndon Johnson’s daughter. According to a Texas Woman’s University study, reimbursements for female-specific surgery average 32 percent less than other surgical procedures requiring equivalent skill and resources. Thompson and others point to those statistics to explain another finding of the TWU studynearly one million women in 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/11/01
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