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The Brief: Top Texas News for June 23, 2011

Lawmakers to lobbyists: Butt out of TWIA fight.

State Sen. John Carona at the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency hearing June 20, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

High-powered special interests groups may be interfering with the passage of legislation to reform Texas’ quasi-governmental insurer of last resort for coastal residents, the Texas Wind Insurance Association. "Too many special interests have their hands in it," said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas.

Lawmakers and advocates of coastal residents are saying negotiations in the special session to reform TWIA have become a battle between Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, The Texas Tribune’s Brandi Grissom reports. "We have got to have an agreement to get the outside lobby groups out of this," said state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, chairman of the House Insurance Committee. "They’ve been much too involved." 

The House and Senate are divided on the issue, and the influence of special interests isn't helping. If lawmakers can't reach an agreement before Wednesday, they will have to come back for a second special session. 

TLR, a proponent of tort reform, is backing the House version of the bill, which would only allow policyholders to recover the cost of damages from a storm. Currently, policyholders can recover up to three times the cost of their hurricane damage if they successfully sue TWIA for knowingly denying coverage they paid for. TTLA, which represents plaintiff’s lawyers, does not want the reform to limit policyholders’ ability to sue and recover money from TWIA when they have been wrongly denied coverage. They're backing the Senate version, which was approved Wednesday and allows claimants to sue for twice the amount of actual damages.

"Lawmakers should shut out all these special interests who have agendas that don't fall in line with the needs of the folks on the coast," said Alex Winslow, executive director of the nonprofit citizen advocacy group Texas Watch

Culled:

  • Dave Carney, Perry's top political strategist, maintains that the likelihood the governor will enter the presidential run is "50-5o" and depends on whether Perry has enough time to muster millions of dollars to fund the campaign, the San Antonio Express-News  reports. "Basically, do we have enough time to mount a successful campaign, which involves raising millions of dollars and, at the same time, campaigning aggressively in the early states?” Carney said Perry plans to attend the Iowa Poll Straw on Aug. 13 in addition to his appearance that weekend at a RedState blogger conference in South Carolina.
  • Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said he has concerns about the proposed "sanctuary cities" legislation after listening to testimony of dozens of students who admitted they were in Texas illegally, the Trib's Julian Aguilar  reports. "I’ve stated on numerous occasions that I have a soft spot for young people, so I am trying to understand how what we do may affect them,” he said Tuesday. “Most of them [who testified] appear to be terrific students, and they go off and they do extremely well in college... And what happens to them?"
  • The drought has some rice farmers in Matagorda County fearing for their livelihood, reports Kate Galbraith for the Tribune and Erika Aguilar for KUT. "When we take the news of what we're having to settle on back to our farmers, it's close to being a lynch mob," says Ronald Gertson, a Wharton County rice farmer who has advocated for the farmers in negotiations with the Lower Colorado River Authority and other "stakeholders" in the lakes' water, such as cities, lakeside residents and environmentalists. "That may be overstating it. We're making considerable sacrifices."

"The problem today is there’s nobody saying, 'Let's sit down and decide what the people on the coast need.' This is not brain surgery. We've done it before." — Former state Sen. A.R. "Babe" Schwartz, on TWIA

Must Read:

Texas House Republican lawmakers clash over abortion language in proposed bill, The Associated Press

Rep. Aaron Peña Announces Re-election Bid, The Texas Tribune

Lawsuit filed against state Formula One subsidy, Austin American-Statesman

More and more counties restricting fireworks, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Council OKs $1.8 billion budget, hundreds of lay-offs, Houston Chronicle

Some water well owners feel harassed by water-conscious neighbors, Midland Reporter-Telegram

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