AUSTIN- Arguments about whether to limit lawsuits against gun makers continued today in the Texas Senate. Bill sponsor Jon Lindsay says he's trying to stop a national trend of lawsuits by local governments against the gun industry before it reaches Texas. "The idea of suing a gun manufacturer for misuse of its product I believe is frivolous at best," said Lindsay. "And would lay the groundwork for future lawsuits against who knows who--auto makers, alcohol producers, many others."
Senate Bill(SB) 717 prevents the state, cities, counties, the Attorney General and other government agencies from suing gun and ammunition manufacturers without the Legislature's approval. Lindsay says that if these lawsuits are going to be filed, it should be on behalf of the whole state, as was the tobacco lawsuit. Other Senators were concerned that even the lawyer elected to represent the State of Texas--the Attorney General--couldn't file a lawsuit without permission under this law. Houston Senator Rodney Ellis spoke against that provision during session, "the Attorney General of Texas wouldn't be able to file this lawsuit against gun manufacturers unless the Legislature approved it. Although in numerous other areas the Attorney General can go out and protect the public interest."
Opponents question why one industry should get protection from lawsuits while others do not. They say the Legislature shouldn't choose who has the right to sue, that it should be up to the courts to decide which cases have merit. Lindsay is working on amendments, one of which would take the Attorney General out of the bill. He plans to bring it up again tomorrow.
In the Education Committee today, Senators heard mixed testimony on the school voucher bill. SB 10 would give certain students living in the six largest Texas counties the option to pay for private schooling with public money. Supporters say qualifying students should have the option but its opponents argue against taking any money away from public schools. Dallas Senator Royce West raised the argument that trying to put money into the education system for teacher pay raises and compensatory education while taking it away for the voucher program may be contradictory.
Under the bill as currently written private schools would get 80 percent of the total amount of state and local public school funding for a student's education. Public schools would keep the other 20%. Students would have to meet a list of requirements to be eligible. They must have low TAAS scores, be in the free and reduced lunch program, and not be enrolled in a private school during the current or prior school year. Bill sponsor Teel Bivins of Amarillo plans to cap the number of students who can participate to prevent a mass exodus from public schools.
Bivins says the five-year program will be an opportunity to test a new approach to education. "If there were any endeavor that mankind is involved in that ought to embrace the scientific method and be willing to put new ideas to the test, it is education, Bivins said. The Committee is expected to vote on the bill tonight.
The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, March 25, at 10:00 a.m.