The following is a list of proposed reforms, a summary of each bill, as well as the sponsor and status of those bills. We will be using our web site to list what proponents and opponents say about these bills, as the information becomes available.
Reported favorably as substituted in House Civil Practices on 4/20. Sent to House Calendars on 4/26. Died due to lack of action.
A court may impose penalties when a party files a bad faith or groundless claim. Sanctions are usually limited to reimbursement of attorney fees. Physicians’ reputations have been ruined by groundless or frivolous lawsuits leading to the possibility of these physicians losing their practices with little or no compensation for the damage such lawsuits inflict.
Authorizes legal standing to sue when a health care liability claim is brought with a reckless disregard as to whether reasonable grounds exist to bring the lawsuit.
The bill authorizes a doctor to bring the cause of action as a separate lawsuit or as a counterclaim.
The only opposition on record is from the Texas Trial Lawyers Association
Campaign Finance Disclosure
SB 6 Shapiro
HB 2 Gallego
SB 6 passed the Senate as amended on 3/14. The companion bill, HB 2, passed the House as amended on 4/18. HB 2 died in Conference Committee on 5/26 when House and Senate members could not agree on the bill's final language.
Texas voters are often left in the dark not knowing who is bankrolling political campaigns. Numerous loopholes in disclosure law allow individuals and political action committees to hide or obscure their true level of giving. Texas’s campaign laws are considered by some to be among the most permissive in the nation. No caps are placed on political giving in either the House or Senate bill. However, the bills require more detailed and timely reporting of campaign contributions.
SB 6 would require reporting the occupation and employer of those who give $500 or more. There is no similar disclosure requirement in HB 2.
House members argued collection of such information would be too burdensome for part-time lawmakers who have little or no full-time staff. Advocates argued the disclosure of occupation is the linchpin of any effective campaign disclosure bill. The federal government has required the disclosure since the mid-1970s, and 29 states do as well.
Out-of-state political action committees or PACs would be required to report their expenditures in Texas, just like in-state PACs.
Contributions greater than $1,000 received within the last nine days before an election must be reported to the state within 48 hours.
Candidates and political action committees that do not file required reports would be prohibited from raising and spending money.
A truth-in-labeling provision in HB 2 would require PACs to disclose the principal occupation of its largest proportion of contributors.
Obscurely named PACS would lose their stealth capabilities.
Advocacy groups would be required to disclose their contributors if they spend more than $2,500 on advertisements attacking or supporting specific candidates within 60 days of an election.
Gay rights, religious and anti-abortion groups argued publicizing donors would threaten free speech. They contend individuals could become targets of harassment and that would reduce their willingness to participate in politics.
The bill does not affect get-out-the-vote campaigns, issue advertising or the publicizing of non-advocacy voter guides.
The Texas Ethics Commission would be required to make electronically filed reports available to the public via the Internet no later than the second day after the report was filed.
Campaigns For People, Common Cause, the Grey Panthers, the Republican Party of Texas, Texans for Public Justice, the Green Party and the Texas Senior Advocacy Coalition are on record in support of SB 6. The Texas Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, the Texas Catholic Conference, the Sierra Club, the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and Public Citizen are on record supporting HB 2.
SB 842 Bivins
HB 2072 Junell
SB 842 died in Senate Business & Commerce and HB 2072 died in House Civil Practices due to lack of action.
This proposed reform would allow the Texas Supreme Court to apply a consistent rule to all Texas class action lawsuits 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 pending resolution of the appeal.
The Supreme Court may preserve a class action for settlement purposes provided:
the interests of all class members are adequately protected
the settlement is fair, just and reasonable for all class members, and
the award, if any, of attorney’s fees and expenses is fair and reasonable. When considering the reasonableness of fees and expenses, the court shall consider the circumstances of the action, which includes the amount of damages awarded to class members individually and collectively.
A court shall dismiss an action if a state agency has the exclusive jurisdiction to determine an issue in dispute or grant an administrative remedy.
A state agency may order all or part of the relief sought.
The court shall dismiss an action if the court determines the state agency granted all or a substantial part of the relief sought.
SB 129 Duncan
HB 1518 Junell
SB 129 was reported favorably without amendment in Senate Jurisprudence on 4/5. SB 129 passed in the Senate on 4/23. The Senate-approved bill was received in the House on 4/26 and reported favorably as substituted in House Judicial Affairs on 5/14. SB 129 was sent to House Calendars on 5/18. Died in House Calendars Committee due to lack of action.
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 justices to the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals.
Seats on the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals would be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.
SB 129 would have appointees face retention elections at the end of their six-year term. In the House version justices would have to be reappointed and reconfirmed at the conclusion of their six-year term.
Write-in candidates are prohibited in nonpartisan retention elections.
In the Senate version judges to the intermediate court of appeals would be appointed. In the House version they would be elected.
All trial court judges would be elected and the Governor would appoint all vacancies to the bench (as is presently the case).
Eliminates straight party vote in district court race.
Many believe that gubnatorial appointments offer the best chance for minorities to sit on the state’s two highest courts. Others argue abolishing elections would remove the controversy over contributions to Supreme Court justices by parties with cases before the court. Critics contend that appointees to the state’s two highest courts would be beholden to the Governor if the Governor were given authority to reappoint justices to the bench.
On the record favoring the bill are former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill and the Committee for Judicial Excellence, Common Cause, the Texas Civil Justice League and the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce. The Texas Trial Lawyers Association opposes the bill.
Medical Practice Liability
HB 3011 Smithee
Died in House Civil Practices for lack of action.
In 1995, legislation was passed in Texas aimed at holding down the costs of medical services by discouraging frivolous medical claims. The law raised to $5,000 the bond a plaintiff must post for each defendant named in a malpractice suit. The purpose of the provision is to cover court costs should the suit be dropped.
Current law requires that a cost bond or expert witness report be filed within 90 days of the filing of the lawsuit. If the plaintiff opts to post a cost bond then an expert witness report must be filed within 180 days of the filing of the lawsuit. However, judges have discretion to extend the time for filing. This legislation has resulted in inconsistent enforcement of cost bond and expert report requirements across the state. HB 3011:
Allows only one 30 day extension for the filing of an expert witness report.
Requires a motion and hearing for “good cause” to gain the 30 day extension.
Offer of Settlement
HB 61 Clark
Died in House Civil Practices for lack of action.
Many lawsuits endure lengthy discovery and pretrial maneuvering because one or both parties have failed to realistically evaluate the case early in the litigation process and determine if it should be settled. This practice leads to many settlements in the courthouse that wastes time and money for the parties and clogs court dockets. HB 61 encourages early lawsuit settlements by providing incentives for both defendants and plaintiffs to analyze their cases early and make realistic offers to settle. 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.
Allows a party to recover litigation expenses if the opponent rejects a fair settlement offer and wins at least 10 percent less or, in the defendant’s case, loses more than 10 percent at trial.
Litigation expenses include attorney’s fees, court costs, reasonable deposition costs, and reasonable fees for not more than two expert witnesses.
Offers to settle are not admissible. The offer of settlement provision may not be conveyed to the jury.
This bill pertains to written offers of settlement made within 45 days of the original petition or answer.
HB 61 does not pertain to class action lawsuits, deceptive trade allegations, shareholder derivative actions or actions to collect worker’s compensation benefits.
Third Party Liability
SB 1397 Fraser
HB 3331 Williams
SB 1397 died in Senate Business & Commerce and HB 3331 died in House Civil Practices due to lack of action.
Under current law Texas juries are prohibited from assigning fault in a lawsuit to an uncaught criminal. 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 or 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 in a premises case.
Allows the jury to consider the responsibility of the uncaught criminal who injured the plaintiff and assign a percentage of fault.
Ends the shifting of fault to those only marginally responsible.
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse
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