AUSTIN, Texas -- Don't worry about a thing! The Texas Legislature is riding to the rescue. Oh, sure, we still have a $10 billion deficit, but the House just outlawed gay marriage. At last, we're safe from the hideous threat of gay marriage, which would have directly ruined our entire lives.

Meanwhile, the House has:

-- Eliminated 10,810 state jobs;

-- Cut 250,000 poor children off the Children's Health Insurance Program and about 365,000 from health insurance through Medicaid;

-- Cut prenatal care and delivery for 17,000 pregnant women and services for 366 women with breast and cervical cancer;

-- Closed one state school for the mentally retarded and one state mental hospital;

-- (This one's my favorite) Cut $22 million from a criminal justice program that provides medication and treatment for mentally impaired offenders who are out on probation or parole. (Isn't that nice? They'll be wandering around the state without their meds.)

But fear not, as our peerless leaders have passed a 24-hour waiting period on abortion and included state-provided color photographs of fetuses for women to study while they wait. So, don't worry about higher education. (If you don't see the logical connection there, you're not ready to serve in the Texas Ledge.)

The ugliest fight of the session, which naturally had nothing to do with the $10 billion deficit, was over tort deform, yet again. As you recall, the state has already been through two major rounds of tort deform, and each time we are promised that if we will just give up even more of the right to sue doctors and corporations that have done us terrible damage, insurance rates will fall, "frivolous" lawsuits will disappear, our teeth will be whiter, our breath fresher, and there will be sunshine and joy in Mudville. Every time, they promise us the world, and every time it doesn't work -- because we never regulate the insurance companies. So they come back and do it again.

Since Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the tort-deform business lobby, paid for the election of the new Republican majority in the House, it naturally expected value-for-money -- and got it. The debate in the House went on for days, as nasty, uncivil and intolerant a display as I've seen since Gus Mutscher was speaker. Speaker Tom Craddick didn't just ignore open debate and fair play, he made a mockery of them. The D's, led by Jim Dunnam of Waco and others, tried again and again to amend the hideous bill. They deserve credit for a valiant and impressive stand -- they fell fighting to the last man, in the great tradition of Texas liberalism.

During the days of debate in the House, three of the top donors to Texans for Lawsuit Reform sat in the House gallery along with the speaker's wife. This section of the gallery was christened "The Owners' Box" by Democrats, and that's just what it was. The Texas Observer ran the records on TRL's top donors and found that Dick Weekly, of Weekly Homes, has been named a defendant in 10 civil suits in Harris County since the start of 2002, four involving deceptive trade allegations. Harlan Crow, son of construction magnate Trammell Crow, has been named in 16 civil suits since 1986. But the winner is Bob Perry of Perry Homes, sued more than 60 times in the past 15 years. And now, they're free at last.

Unless, of course, the Senate should come through for us. Tort deform in the Senate goes to the committee headed by Bill Ratliff, former lieutenant governor (he would have run for the office last time but Karl Rove nixed him) and a notoriously civilized Republican. Upon Senate passage of a budget that, while not as bad as the House version, still takes aim directly at poor children so under-taxed Texas corporations will not have to pay a single additional nickel, Ratliff made a moving speech in which he rebuked his colleagues: "I don't think this is worthy of the great state of Texas."

The Senate under Lite Guv David Dewhurst, much to the amazement of many (and that definitely includes me -- mea culpa, I was wrong about this guy), is turning out to be a stopper for the most horrible impulses of both the House and the governor. It's always dicey when a known liberal such as myself praises a Texas Republican -- I'm always afraid it will be used against them in the next primary. As far as I know, Dewhurst does not have a liberal bone in his body. What he has, unlike Craddick, is respect for the process.

You'll be happy to know that Bill Zedler, R-Tarrant, has introduced a bill concerning pubic hair (about which I cannot say more, since the rest of the bill is totally unprintable). Zedler's against pubic hair. We still have a $10 billion deficit. I love living under Republican governance.

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