AUSTIN, Texas -- They just went too far, that's all. This session of the legislature has been as brutal, callous and indifferent to the welfare of the weakest, the most frail, youngest and oldest Texans as it is possible to get. The level of pure meanness is just stunning. They have just gone too damn far.

The session was pretty well summed up by Rep. Senfronia Thompson when she illustrated what was going on by taking the House rulebook to the podium with her and dropping it on the floor. There is no rule of procedure, fairness, common sense or decency that has been observed by the Republican majority in the Texas House.

This is not about partisan politics -- although that has certainly reared its ugly head. In case you hadn't noticed, every major newspaper in this state has criticized the plans and performance of the legislature this session, often in harsh language. Those wild-eyed radicals at the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle are just disgusted with the tacky display these people have been putting on.

There is no excuse for this, and blaming it on the deficit will not wash. We all knew going in that some terribly hard choices would have to be made, but what in the name of heaven was the governor thinking when he had handicapped people arrested? These were citizens who came to their capital to protest budget cuts affecting them, and they get arrested. Maybe it was because they were in wheelchairs -- don't even have to be hauled away, they can just be rolled away.

Most of us thought it was pretty funny when Rep. Debbie Riddle popped out with her now-classic statement: "Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell."

Amusing as that was, the House has been doing its dead-level best to destroy both public education and public health. They've taken 250,000 poor children off the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the schools are in dire straits. As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out in an editorial, these same fine thinkers did manage to find $10 million to appropriate for cow research and $300 million for Gov. Perry to woo companies to Texas.

Of course, there have been some lovely moments we can celebrate, like the day Speaker Tom Craddick decided that the new ethics reform law should be debated in a backroom, closed-door session. Amazingly enough, the proposed ethics law was weakened and watered down behind the closed doors!

I think a special salute for clear thinking should go to the House for its amazing decision to cut the program that pays for medications for mentally ill people who are out of prison on probation or parole. Is this brilliant? Now these people will be wandering around the state without their meds.

The latest flap is over a congressional redistricting map that is so bad it's actually funny. Of course, the thing was passed without public hearings, because as Rep. Joe Crabb explained, "The rest of us would have a very difficult time if we were out in an area -- other than Austin or other English-speaking areas -- to be able to have committee hearings or to be able to converse with people that did not speak English." Sometimes you have to wonder what planet these people are from.

That was the proverbial straw for the Democrats, 53 of whom left the state or went into hiding Sunday to break the quorum, thus bringing legislative business to a halt. They've already been dubbed the Killer D's, after the tradition of the Killer Bees in 1979. Believe me, stopping the legislature from functioning at this point is high public service.

Speaker Craddick called it a "stunt." The R's have been pulling stunts every day of this session, and don't write it off as payback for heavy-handed Democratic rule. Speaker Pete Laney ran a fair House, and everyone knew it -- these people are disgracing themselves and the state.

The way things got to such a sorry pass is that the R's have been running on rote, lockstep voting. No Democratic amendment gets considered on its merits, no matter how sensible it is. Shell bills get introduced, and then whole sections are amended on the floor, in a parody of legislative process. Much time has been spent on gay-bashing and trying to take away abortions rights. I'm starting to think right-wing Republicans all have an unhealthy fixation on sexual behavior.

The choices on how to spend money couldn't possibly make Republican "values" any clearer. We can spend money on corporate welfare, but not on people's welfare. We can't cover health insurance for our teachers, but we must have brush control.

The creepy thing about the far-right Republicans, who are definitely in the majority in the House, is not that they are dismantling government because they won't raise taxes, they're dismantling government because they think it shouldn't help people. They really think health and human services should not be provided. It's an old line among liberals that anti-choice people care more about the unborn than they do about the born, but I'm telling you that it's not just some clever line -- these people are writing it into the state budget.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.