Saturday, June 4, 2011


One of the beautiful things about our system of government is that our Constitution was designed not only to limit the power of government and protect the people from runaway government, but it was also designed with checks and balances to protect the minority of the moment against the majority of the moment.  

Unfortunately, all of this can be cancelled and held for naught in the Texas Legislature, at least in the House, by the Rule of 100. This means if you can muster 100 votes in the Texas House you can do anything you want to.

Even though the direction of most bills strongly favored by the majority in a legislative body will pass mostly unscathed, occasionally a little ray of light seeps in and some significant changes can be made as a result of honest debate.  Even though legislation favored by the leadership is much like a freight train on a downhill track, it can be slowed occasionally by the right kind of flag man.  This can only happen if all the members of the Legislature, or a particular body considering the bill, are fully informed and the public is given a chance in open session to listen to the debate.  Even if the minority cannot alter the course of the legislation, the minority ought to have the opportunity to air its frustrations, objections and even perhaps occasionally a better idea.  

A perfect example of a runaway majority occurred recently in the Texas House of Representatives.  Governor Perry declared the Loser-Pay Bill an emergency.  The leadership of the House took its 101 majority, suspended the rules and stifled the debate, allowing no amendments, no real public discussion of the merits or demerits of this measure.  Had the public had the opportunity to listen to a full discussion of this measure, those who cared to pay attention would have learned several things.  

First of all, the title of the bill itself is a lie.  The bill is not a loser-pay bill.  The bill is a provision for a plaintiff to be faced with the requirement of paying outrageous attorneys’ fees whereby the plaintiff who received a large judgment can be required to pay the losing side’s attorneys’ fees along with court costs.  This legislation is not to reduce frivolous suits but to intimidate ordinary citizens into not availing themselves of the American jury system.

With all the talk of nonpartisan approaches and cooperative spirits working best in the legislative process, bipartisanship is out the window. The Republican Texas Senate and Republican House has shown that if the shoe pinches just a little, they will change the rules in midstream to accommodate their ideology.  The Two-third Rule in the Senate has worked well to require collegiality and cooperation among members of the Senate for 70+ years.  When Governor Perry declared "sanctuary" cities, picture ID for voters, tort reform or required medical procedures for women emergencies, the Republican Senate could not wait to dump the traditions of many years to accommodate the Republican agenda.  

In the House, the Speaker, who decried the heavy-handed tactics of Tom DeLay via Tom Craddick, has tossed the rule book in the trash. The democratic process was bypassed because the Republican leadership became frustrated at Democrat’s insistence on following the rules of the House.  On Mother’s Day weekend, House Representatives used the Rule of 100 to pass more “tort reform” which prohibited debate on amendments.

A truly honest loser-pay law would simply require the party against whom the jury found would pay the other side’s legal cost.  What’s wrong with that?  The answer is nothing, except that the rich, fat cat, tort reformers just didn’t want it; and they’re the ones who have given Republicans more money than any other group.

As an ordinary citizen there is little you can do about this situation this time.  There is, however, and will be a time in a November soon to come when you can do something about it.  These folks are counting on you having a short memory and a blind spot about where your interest is as opposed to folks who care mostly about money.  Find out how your representative and senator voted on this.  

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