AUSTIN - Texas consumers would be able to choose their own electric providers in the new millennium under legislation in the Senate passed today. The electric utility market would be open to competition under the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 7 as amended. Supporters of the bill believe Texas consumers will benefit from lower prices in a competitive market. The bill's sponsor, Waco Senator David Sibley, says that despite almost fifty floor amendments there were no major changes in the full Senate. Sibley praised floor amendment 41 by Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. It is designed to assist low-income electric consumers. Reduced rates would be offered in periods of severe weather and for customers who depend on electrically-operated equipment or who live in all-electric dwellings. The bill also includes incentives to reduce pollution.
Opposing senators say Texas should wait and see how similar systems now being implemented in other states pan out before deregulation is tried here. But Sibley says the time is now, "We've looked at it for four years. We had a bill in '95, we rejected it, we had a bill in '97, we rejected it. We've studied for the last two years. I'm not sure when it 'is' time."
Carthage Senator Drew Nixon spoke against the bill, citing deregulation failures in other industries such as airlines and banking. Nixon argued that there is too much at risk, "There will be some unintended consequences of this bill. I don't think anyone knows exactly what's gonna happen with that and that does concern me folks, for we're talking about changing something that every citizen of the state needs to have good, reliable, reasonably priced access to."
In other floor action, any minor who wants an abortion would first have to tell their parents or get a court to say OK. Plano Senator Florence Shapiro sponsored CSSB 30 and argues that the issue is not abortion, it is parental rights, "Most parents are shocked when they find out that this right has been taken away from them, and that their minor child can have this invasive medical procedure without their knowledge. The strong support for such a law is not surprising."
Opponents of the bill began an emotional and lengthy debate arguing that parental rights are NOT as important as is the safety of minors. The bill's judicial bypass clause allows a judge to decide whether a minor is mature enough to make the decision on her own. But Houston Senator John Whitmire says that's not enough, "If a woman's determined, if a minor's determined, she can have illegal abortions even though they will be more unsafe, more unsanitary."
San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth says the problem is even simpler, you cannot legislate communication between parents and their children.
A doctor who performs an abortion on a minor without consent or the court's OK could be sentenced to a year in jail with a $4000 fine. The bill has bipartisan support with a vote of 23 to 8 and was left pending on third reading.
The Senate stands recessed until tomorrow, March 18, at 9:00 a.m. for the Local and Uncontested Calendar, and then will stand adjourned until 10:00 a.m. the same day.