From the Office of State Senator Troy Fraser

For Immediate Release
January 12, 1999
Contact: William A. Scott - (512) 463-0124

76th Texas Legislature Convenes Today in Austin

AUSTIN -- Countering problems associated with the Y2K computer bug, advancing efforts to deregulate the electric industry and protecting water rights are among the legislative priorities of Senator Troy Fraser as the 76th Legislature convenes today for its 140-day session.

"The single most important consumer issue of the session will be dealing with the Year 2000 computer problem because of the possible losses incurred by consumers and businesses and the subsequent impact on the Texas economy as a result of computer failures," Fraser said, adding that he will file legislation in coming weeks to address the problem.

"This is a problem that could leave Texas consumers and businesses eventually footing the bill for a potentially huge sum of money associated with the costs of resolving Y2K disputes if they reach our courtrooms," Fraser said. "That money would come out of the pockets of every individual and business."

Published reports indicate that Lloyd's of London estimates potential litigation costs associated with Y2K disputes at up to $1 trillion. Fraser noted that some of those would be borne in Texas.

"We have one of the world's largest economies, and it's an economy increasingly dominated by the computer and high-tech industry," Fraser said. "Texas risks significant economic disruption if nothing is done to avert the potential avalanche of Y2K lawsuits."

Fraser's legislation is designed to remedy the problem up front, by providing computer and high-tech manufacturers with an incentive to be pro-active in fixing the problem before failure occurs. If they do not, they will exposed to lawsuits.

The legislation also will provide a blueprint for rapid and efficient dispute resolution, with the intent being to avoid clogging our courthouses with lawsuits that seek major windfalls.

Other major policy areas that Fraser expects to be debated include:

Electric Industry Deregulation --- Texas is exploring the idea of deregulating the electric industry, which mean consumers would have a choice in who they buy electricity from, just like they now do with telephone companies. Competition among electricity providers should lead to lower rates for consumers.

"This is a major undertaking, and we need to go slow," Fraser said. "My main concern is to ensure reliability of service in rural, hard-to-serve areas so they can enjoy the same flexibility as those living in urban areas when shopping for an electricity provider."

Regional Water Planning -- Water planning was a big issue last session with the passage of the most comprehensive water planning bill passed in 40 years. "We expect some adjustments to the bill passed last session, but the main concern is protecting the restrictions on inter-basin transfers," Fraser said. "Senate Bill 1 from last session makes it difficult to transfer water from one river basin to another, and I will resist any efforts to ease those restrictions."

Surplus Funds -- The state's economy is robust, which means Texas has a budget surplus of about $2 billion. While major debate is expected on how to use the surplus, Fraser said he prefers the surplus money be applied to property tax relief and public education improvements.

Contingent Fee Contracts -- Fraser has filed legislation, co-sponsored by Senate Finance Chair Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, that would require legislative approval before the Office of Attorney General or other state agencies hire outside lawyers to represent the state. The measure stems from outgoing Attorney General Dan Morales' hiring of outside lawyers on a contingency basis to represent the state in its case against the tobacco industry. Five lawyers were subsequently awarded $3.3 billion for 18 months work, even though the case never went to trial.