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FEATURE t, o e e How big business turned the Texas House into a pup pet show. And can we cut the strings? Payoff is a Bitch BY JESSICA CHAPMAN AND DAVE MANN During the lengthy House floor debate on the omnibus civil justice legislation last month, Democrats referred to the House gallerywhere the three an -ugos of tort reform, Dick Weekley, Leo Linbeck, and Dick Trabulsi were perched \(along with the Speaker’s many at the Capitol as an accurate assessment of who really ran the Texas House while it passed House Bill 4 and its companion constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 3. Together, the two bills will cap noneconomic jury awards in medical malpractice suits at $250,000, pave the way for future caps, and impose a host of other restrictions on civil liability cases. The folks in the owner’s box represent its top donors. They helped engineer the Republican takeover of the House last fall that handed Rep. Tom Craddick ship. In return, Craddick and the House leadership went to extraordinary lengths to pass the tort reformers’ dream legislative package almost untouched.As the three founders ofTexans for Lawsuit Reform watched from the gallery, Craddick overruled one point of order after another, and 88 Republicans robotically scuttled nearly 70 Democratic amendments in an impressive display of legislative force and heavy-handed politics. The true beneficiaries of all this legislative turmoil will be TLR and its supporters, not coincidentally, the very people who wrote the bill, and the heaviest hitters in some of the state’s most lawsuit-prone industries. Beginning with the 1996 elections, the Houston-based TLR PAC spent millions in highly organized attempts to overthrow former Speaker Pete Laney In 2002, it finally succeeded, joining with the Tom DeLay-spawned Texans for a Republican Majority and the Texas Association of Business to help elect 27 Republican freshmen. \(The coalition’s efforts are currently the focus of a Travis County grand jury investigation examining possible election law and income didn’t come cheap, unless one factors in future business savings. According to campaign contribution records, TLR’s political action committee gave more than $1.8 million to candidates in 2002. Its top donors separately contributed several million more. \(In contrast, the opposition Texas Trial Lawyers Association contributed $559,500 to the Democratic Party ofTexas and individual candidates in 2002. Individual trial lawyers personally contributed to shoveled money to the campaigns of 23 of the 27 winning freshmen Republicans in House races, totaling more than $331,000. That included huge donations in three key races: $97,000 to B THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/25/03