The latest efforts to tackle lawsuit reform may be destined for defeat in the Texas House, despite strong backing from Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Texans for Lawsuit Reform.
Last session the Texas Senate passed major legislation to eliminate hailstorm lawsuit abuse. Liberal trial lawyers have cultivated and filed thousands of the suits as a moneymaking effort that has driven major insurance cost increases. Despite being the number one issue of Texans for Lawsuit Reform and that group’s cozy relationship with Speaker Joe Straus, the reform bill died in the Texas House.
The measure is back this session. In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Patrick gave the issue a low bill number with State Sen. Larry Taylor (R–Friendswood) authoring Senate Bill 10. In the House, State Rep. Greg Bonnen (R–League City) has filed House Bill 1774.
TLR has been making a major push for Republican lawmakers to sign on to HB 1774. However, so far a large contingent of the House leadership has refused to offer their support.
The measure supported by a bevy of lawmakers, but so far Republican State Reps. Byron Cook (Corsicana), Charlie Geren (Fort Worth), Ken King (Canadian), and Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi) have refused to coauthor the bill.
Each of those lawmakers is a loyalist to Speaker Straus and the Democrat coalition that runs the Texas House. Also, all are members of the powerful Calendars Committee which sets the chamber’s agenda. As the arbiter of if and when a bill proceeds to the floor for a vote, the Calendars Committee is where many bills go to die.
State Rep. Jason Villalba (R–Dallas) exposed the truth about the calendars committee in a clownish attempt to defend Straus from conservative criticism.
“On Calendars [Straus] has appointed his closest [allies]. Calendars decides what bills get to the floor for a vote,” said Villalba. “I can tell you right now most bills die in Calendars… because Calendars is, again, loyal to the speaker and loyal to the folks who are trying to get things done.“
While some reform bills are openly opposed, many others are killed in secret behind closed doors. Often bills are even killed as a result of an author’s request – something admitted by Calendars Chairman Todd Hunter on the floor of the Texas House earlier this year.
“Members if you come to me and say, ‘Mr. Hunter I don’t want you to set my bill,’ which happens not once, not twice, but that’s what I do,” said Hunter. “And then when I do it and you read about me in the blogs, I take the heat.”
A former Democrat himself, Hunter is a concern for lawsuit reform advocates given his significant ties to prominent trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, a Democrat mega-donor whose law firm is perhaps the biggest offender of lawsuit abuse.
By torpedoing the legislation, Hunter could again “take the heat” this session for members who don’t want to cut off a money stream for the Texas Democratic Party. Doing so would allow Republicans loyal to the Democrat coalition to defend their political base without having to publicly oppose TLR, an organization that hands out a large amount of cash during campaign season.