Lawmakers were debating a measure dubbed “loser pays” Saturday when the Legislature melted down.
While the bill in question seeks to limit lawsuits, its moniker seems a fitting reminder that Texans could be the losers who ultimately pay for the bad governance in evidence recently in Austin.
The Saturday session devolved into partisan one-upmanship that was more about trickery than sound public policy. The result — a consequential bill ramrodded through without debate — was a disquieting prelude to the last few weeks of this legislative session.
Legislators were already weary when they were called into session on Mother’s Day weekend. House Democrats had frustrated their GOPcolleagues last week by trotting out an assortment of procedural maneuvers aimed at delaying debate on Republican priorities.
The GOP has a supermajority in the House, so Democrats have few options to impact legislation that Republicans are determined to pass. But Democrats failed to recognize when enough was enough as their stall tactics ran out of steam and Republicans’ patience simply ran out.
While Democrats eventually should have backed off and taken their best shot at amending or improving the loser-pays legislation, which effectively makes it riskier to bring suit against a business, Republicans took this tit-for-tat to a whole new extreme. GOP leaders went for the nuclear option, giving preliminary passage to the bill with neither debate nor consideration of amendments.
With 101 of 150 House seats, Republicans can pass just about anything without a single Democratic vote. So, GOP leaders have no reason to railroad through legislation or take shortcuts that undercut the democratic process.
Saturday’s upheaval revealed a lack of leadership and raised questions about misplaced priorities.
Gov. Rick Perryrecently added loser-pays legislation to his list of “emergency items.” Enormous and urgent questions still loom about the state’s budget, a structural deficit, growing population and inflation demands, and funding cuts to everything from schools to nursing homes. But bills discouraging lawsuits against businesses or requiring sonograms before abortions have been deemed emergencies rising to the top of lawmakers’ to-do lists. Saturday’s drama suggests that these less-than-pressing “emergencies” are becoming a divisive distraction.
With only a few weeks left in the session, Republicans and Democrats should take a hard look at how they can govern more effectively. Allowing public debate and reordering some priorities would be a good start.
Punting Texas’ most serious challenges down the road while playing parliamentary games is no way to serve this state.
From the Dallas Morning News Editorial Board.