By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
OK, here's the score card from the Texas Legislature:
Legal and civil rights--screwed.
The Senate--a whore's dream.
The House--some leadership, but mostly outgunned minorities, not enough to stop "local control" of schools.
More Texans will be toting guns, and we can't dis veggies anymore.
Although both houses of the Lege remain nominally in the hands of Democrats, every Democrat who won a narrow race was voting the Republican agenda. All in all, a disgusting performance. It was as lobby-directed a session as I have seen in 25 years.
And this is what U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich thinks should have more power?
A heavy contender for Worst Bill is the "takings bill" sponsored by Representative Susan Combs, R-Austin, who, in an earlier career, wrote breathless, bodice-ripper romances. Her takings bill was fairly breathtaking, too. Even though the thing was gutted and completely rewritten, it is still a terrible bill.
If a property owner finds the value of his or her land decreased by more than 20 percent because of a government decision (zoning, antipollution, endangered species, anything), he or she shall have the right to sue for damages over said decision.
It took an open-records lawsuit to pry from the office of the attorney general the assessment that this will cost local governments millions of dollars. This monumental folly is so badly written that should a city deny a building permit, it can get sued and then sued again when the neighbors don't like the result.
A long-headed legislator of great clout observed privately that some of this nonsense too shall pass. At the urging of Bush, we have now so "reformed" our tort laws that practically nobody has access to the courts anymore. Said this shrewd ol' West Texan, "In the next two years, half the sumbitches who voted for that crap will get screwed themselves and scream, 'Sue the bastards!' When their lawyers just smile and say, 'Sorry,' they'll be back down here next session to change it back again."
It is possible that some good will come from the education bill.
Normally, when we head into unknown waters on public policy, I'm inclined to favor hope over fear. If it could be good or could be bad, let's root for good.
The trouble is, the evidence, the experience with local control, is on the side of those who fear more harm from this bill than hope for good. We had local control of schools in Texas, and one notable result was systematic discrimination against minority students.
There is every reason to believe that Christian fundamentalists will be taking over many school districts. Governor Bush, whose resemblance to Howdy Doody is sometimes quite pronounced, said cheerily, "Mistakes that are made closest to the people are the easiest to correct."
Having covered government at all levels, I cannot say I have found that to be true. Local evils are often remarkably persistent.
At that always interesting point where political power confronts the power of money, it's instructive to watch what happens when power is "handed back to the states." In this case, a municipality--to wit, Austin--made a stand against two major developers, Circle C Land Corp. and FM Properties, Inc. Austin was trying to protect the Barton Creek watershed, which feeds Barton Springs, Austin's famous municipal cold-water spring/swimming pool, the city's pride and greatest ornament.
The Barton Creek watershed is already sufficiently polluted so that after a heavy rainfall, the springs have to be closed for a few days until the coliform bacteria count goes down. So, the city, rallying behind an environmentalist coalition called Save Our Springs, voted for a strict plan governing development on the watershed.
But the developers spread contributions among Texas legislators who don't live anywhere near Austin, and lo, they introduced and passed legislation at the state level that takes away Austin's right to protect the watershed. This was done in the context of "Austin-bashing," a popular legislative sport based on Austin's reputation as a bastion of liberalism in a conservative state.
As a longtime observer of Texas legislative language, I am interested in the new use of a particular verb this session. "To whore" is not a new locution in our Capitol, but previously, it was used in the active voice--as in, "I'm whorin' on this bill."
This session's constant usage in the passive voice--"This bill has been whored up good"--is new.
Ronald Reagan was famous for continuing to repeat untrue stories long after the facts had been established; the press spent years patiently trying to correct him, and finally concluded it was just one of the old boy's amiable foibles--he never let the facts get in the way of a good story, especially if it supported his political ideas.
Citizens for Sensible Safeguards is a coalition of 230 public-interest groups (these are the ones that don't have a financial stake in public policy) that has issued a report called "Myths and Consequences," detailing the full facts in 25 popular horror stories that have been cited by members of Congress. From the alleged case of pineapple pesticide testing in Ohio to the hole-in-the-bucket fairy tale, the report explains how these stories distort the truth, tell only part of the story or are just made up out of whole cloth.
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