Following is a list of the bills, sponsors, and numbers for those filed and a brief summary of the contents of each bill. We will be using our web site to list what proponents and opponents say about these bills, as the information becomes available.

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Bill ............................................ Senate ....................... ....... House ............... ............... Status ............... ................
Offer of Settlement SB 532 Ratliff HB 1524 Clark Passed by the Senate on April 30. Died in House Civil Practices.
Currently, under Texas law, a party is not penalized for threatening to drive up expenses in a lawsuit, although an abuse of litigation can be extremely costly to both parties. An innocent defendant may be forced to pay huge legal fees to fight an inflated or merit less claim. Conversely, a plaintiff may be left with accepting a low settlement or pursing a lengthy and expensive lawsuit.
  • Allows a party to recover litigation expenses if the opponent rejects a fair settlement offer and then wins less or, in the defendant's case, loses more at trial.
  • Litigation expenses include attorney's fees, court costs, witness fees and reasonable deposition costs.
  • Offers to settle are not admissible. The offer of settlement provision may not be conveyed to the jury.

Class Action SB 274 Bivins HB 1036 Junell Passed by the Senate on April 26. Reported favorably as amended in House Civil Practices on May 19. Died in House Calendars.
Under current law each of 14 different Texas courts applies rules governing class action lawsuits in a slightly different manner. This proposed reform would allow the Texas Supreme Court to apply a consistent rule to all Texas class action suits before the lawsuit goes forward. The lawsuit could be put on hold or stayed until the Texas Supreme Court reviews the certification of the class. Court observers believe this measure could ultimately save litigants from expensive discovery and pretrial proceedings in cases that may not properly be tried as class actions.
  • Allows direct appeals to the Supreme Court to review certification of class.
  • Stays lawsuit until reviewed.
  • The Supreme Court may decline review if it finds the state has no compelling interest.
  • Pertains to all actions pending on September 1, 1999 in which an order granting or denying certification has not been issued or the time for appeal has not yet elapsed.

Job References SB 90 Nelson HB 341 McCall Passed by the House on April 15. Passed by the Senate on May 11. House concurred with Senate amendments on May 13. Signed by the Governor on May 28.
Under current Texas law, an employer can be found liable for disclosing or withholding certain information about current or former employees. As a result, many employers provide only limited information to a prospective employer about a current or former employee’s job performance. Sometimes the information provided is limited to merely a confirmation that the employment occurred and the dates of employment.
  • Provides civil immunity to employees who provide truthful information about the job performance of past or present employees.
  • Job performance is construed as an analysis of the employee’s attendance at work, attitudes, effort, knowledge, behavior, and skills.
  • Immunity is removed if it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the information disclosed was known by that employer to be false at the time the disclosure was made or was made with malice or in reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the disclosure.

Good Samaritan Law / Defibrillator Use SB 122 Nelson HB 580 Janek Passed in the House on April 13. Passed in the Senate with amendments on May 21. The House concurred with Senate amendments on May 26. Sent to the Governor for signature.
More than 19,000 Texans die of a heart attack outside of hospitals each year. Some of those people could have been saved if their heart was restarted within moments of cardiac arrest. This bill would expand the so-called Good Samaritan law to provide civil immunity for those who use a defibrillator in an emergency, provided they are properly trained.
  • User of the defibrillator must receive training given or approved by the Texas Department of Health.
  • A licensed physician must also be involved in the cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator training.
  • The defibrillator must be maintained and tested in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • A person or entity that uses a defibrillator on someone in cardiac arrest must contact the local emergency medical service and notify them of use of the defibrillator.

Gun Maker Lawsuits SB 717 Lindsay HB 1716 Hupp Passed in the Senate by a vote of 23-7 on April 6. Passed in the House by a vote of 107-39 on May 18. Sent to the Governor for signature.
During the past several months, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami-Dade County, Atlanta, Bridgeport, Conn., and a half dozen California cities have filed suit claiming gun companies are legally responsible for the harm caused by their product These suits seek to recoup the public’s expenses incurred in treating gunshot victims. Most of the lawsuits claim the gun industry is negligent for not including more safety features. Other suits charge gun makers have been lax in their distribution policies, making it too easy for minors and criminals to acquire guns. Proponents of the bill argue that gun makers are being mistargeted for blame. Some states, such as Georgia, have responded by blocking local governments from suing gun makers for the lawful use of their product.
  • Prevents governmental entities in Texas such as cities, counties and hospital districts from suing gun makers for the costs associated with gun violence.
  • Allows the Attorney General to file suit on behalf of the state or any other governmental unit.
  • Otherwise, governmental entities must obtain legislative permission to file suit.
  • In all instances, cities and counties could still sue for defective equipment and any resulting injury or death.
  • Individuals are not prevented from filing a product liability suit against a gun maker or dealer.

Third Party Liability/Employer Submission SB 614 Sibley none Reported favorably from Senate Economic Development Committee on April 14. Failed to garner enough votes for a hearing on the Senate floor.
Under current law Texas juries are prohibited from assigning fault in a lawsuit to uncaught criminals or those who provide worker's compensation coverage. Homeowners, business owners and property owners may therefore be sued for the actions of others. Even if a jury feels that an uncaught criminal was 90% responsible for an injury, for example, the jury may be given no choice but to assign the entire responsibility to the defendant who is only marginally at fault. This proposed reform would allow juries to assign fault to all responsible parties while still maintaining the immune status of worker's comp providers.

Trial lawyers argue that business owners will incur additional legal costs and that workers' compensation rates will rise if this bill becomes law. Proponents disagree. A business owner covered by workers' compensation insurance is and will remain immune from suit, they argue. The bill places no additional legal burdens on the employer and small business organizations support the bill. Proponents contend all business- big or small - have an interest in being liable for only their fault when they are sued. The Texas State Office of Risk Management has testified that the significance of this bill in setting workers' compensation rates is negligible.

  • Allows the jury to consider the responsibility of the uncaught criminal who injured the plaintiff and assign a percentage of fault.
  • Allows juries to consider the responsibility of the employer who provides worker's compensation coverage and assign a percentage of fault. Maintains current immunity from suit of the employer providing coverage.
  • Ends the shifting of fault to those only marginally responsible.

Judicial Selection SJR 9 Duncan HJR 49 Hupp Passed by a 21-10 vote in the Senate on March 22. Reported favorably as substituted in House Judicial Affairs on May 3. Died in House Calendars.
Currently, Texas is one of only seven states in which judges are elected, not appointed. Texas has come under criticism for this system which forces judicial candidates to wage expensive political battles. This proposed bill would eliminate the partisan election of judges at the appellate level.
  • The Governor appoints vacancies to the bench (as is presently the case).
  • Appellate justices and judges are retained or rejected through an nonpartisan election.
  • If retained by the voters, the justice or judge serves a six-year term.
  • If the officeholder is rejected by the voters, the Governor appoints a replacement.
  • Write-in candidates are prohibited in judicial retention elections.
  • Eliminates straight-party vote in district court races.

Y2K SB 598 Duncan HB 9 McCall Signed by the House and Senate on May 7. Signed into law by the Governor on May 19.
Currently, many computer products are unable to recognize and process dates beginning with the year 2000. The inability to recognize the year, along with other dates, stems from earlier computer programming policies devised to limit the use of expensive memory resources to process information. Now, computer manufacturers and sellers have distributed and provided huge quantities of merchandise, placing them under threat of litigation, containing the computer glitch known as the "Year 2000" or "Y2K" bug. This bill provides legal exemptions and affirmative defenses to those who take action to cure or correct the problem. Plaintiffs lawyers argue the computer industry has known for years about the Y2K glitch but chose not to correct the problem. Industry spokespeople say the Y2K problem is more complex than that. Those who knew about the Y2K problem probably thought the software would be replaced before it became an issue. Plus, many software programs designed for one purpose have been dropped into other applications, making it difficult to trace blame. Proponents argue the bill encourages Y2K problem-solving, rather than encouraging a rush to the courthouse.
  • Encourages early detection and solutions for potential computer "Year 2000" date failures.
  • Creates a web site with links to vendors for easy access to problem-solving information and a toll-free state number with the same information.
  • Provides an affirmative defense to those who give proper notice and offer to cure or correct the problem at no additional charge other than reasonable and customary charges for delivering and installing the product or item needed to make the cure.
  • Provides procedures for resolving disputes without a lawsuit, such as pre-litigation notice and alternative dispute resolution.
  • Requires prompt, early filing of lawsuits when efforts to avoid litigation fail. A lawsuit must be filed no later than two years after the computer date failure caused harm.
  • Limits speculative damages ( such as pain and suffering ) and damages the claimant could have avoided.
  • Excludes bodily injury and death cases.
  • Permits the seller of a computer product or service to file a product liability lawsuit against an upstream vendor to recover losses.
  • A lawsuit must be filed no later than 15 years after the computer product or service was sold.
  • Insurance coverage or benefits are not affected by this bill.
  • Provides no exemptions if a manufacturer or seller expressly represented hat the computer product or service would not have a Y2K problem.

Contingency Fee Contracts With State Government SB 113 Fraser HB 604 Craddick Passed by the Senate on April 27. Attached in a conference committee as an amendment to SB 178, which was passed on May 31. Sent to the Governor for signature.
Currently, under Texas law, state and local governments may enter into contingent fee agreements with outside lawyers without first receiving the express permission of the legislature or political sub-division such as a city, county or hospital district. This bill would clarify when, how, and on what terms state governmental entities may enter into contingent fee contracts with outside lawyers.
  • The filing of the contingent fee contract must first be approved by the Legislative Budget Board if the state's anticipated recovery is greater than $100,000 and adequate funds have not been budgeted to prosecute the case.
  • The contracting attorney or law firm must keep current and complete time and expense records. Expenses must be reasonable, proper, necessary and actually incurred. In most cases, time and expense records are subject to public disclosure.
  • Effective hourly rates are capped at $1,000 an hour. Attorney fees may not exceed 35 percent of the recovery, and risk and difficulty multipliers may not exceed four times the base rate without prior approval by the legislature.
  • All litigation and settlement funds recovered by the state are the property of the state.
  • Payment of fees and expenses must specifically be approved by the governing body.
  • A state or local officer, employee or governing body, including the attorney general, may not waive any of the requirements of this bill.

Legal Self-Help SB 764 Duncan HB 1507 Wolens Passed in the House on April 21. Passed in the Senate on May 21. Sent to the Governor for signature.
The state of Texas prohibits the unauthorized practice of law. A federal court in Dallas has held that the sale of a software product violated this law. Texas is the only state in which this maker of legal self-help software has been sued for allegedly practicing law without a license.
  • Exempts from the practice of law printed materials, internet sites or computer software items that clearly indicate they were not prepared by a person licensed to practice law in Texas.
  • This bill does not deprive the judicial branch of the power and authority to judge alleged cases of practicing law without a license .

Veggie Libel Law none HB 126 McClendon Failed in the full House by a vote of 54-80 on May 6.
Texas law permits producers of perishable food products to sue anyone who knowingly expresses false information suggesting that a food item is unsafe to eat. Dollar damages may be sought for loss of income. Opponents of this bill claim current law does not require so-called defamatory comments to be specific. Plaintiffs are allowed to claim libel by implication, they argue, plus public debate about food safety could be thwarted.
  • Repeals the false disparagement of perishable food products law passed in 1995.
  • The veggie libel law is most noted as the tool used to sue Oprah Winfrey for allegedly defaming the Texas beef industry.

Texas Tobacco Settlement none HCR 9 Junell Adopted by the House on March 9 and adopted by the Senate on March 11. Signed by the Governor on March 26.
  • Urges Congress not to make federal claims against proceeds of the Texas tobacco settlement.
  • Texas bore all the risk and expense in the litigation, receiving no assistance from the federal government, and is entitled to all of the funds negotiated in the tobacco settlement.
  • U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Bob Graham of Florida have introduced bipartisan legislation, S. 346, to prohibit the federal government from seizing any part of the tobacco settlement. Similar legislation, H.R. 351, has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.