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Naked City

Lewd legislation: lowlights from the 79th session

By Wells Dunbar, June 10, 2005, News

Want to know how to finance Texas public education?

How about turning down the damn AC in the Capitol committee rooms – not to mention on the House and Senate floor? Boosting those cryogenic catacombs just five degrees would go a long way to paying for all those newfangled computers – even possibly bumping state teacher pay to the national average. Alas, the unintended consequence of such selfless waistband-cinching ("We need more chilled air for our money, not more money for our chilled air!") would be the threat of legislators rising from suspended animation. With the Lege sine dead but still warm, the prospect of the 79th session in dreary residence one day longer would be unendurable.

What follows is a (very selective) list of Top 10 Ludicrous Session Moments.

1) Sis, Boom, Bah!: Houston Rep. Al Edwards' widely ridiculed bill banning "sexy cheerleading." It never quite became law, but received TV tongue-lashings from Bill O'Reilly and even a lap dance for Edwards from The Daily Show correspondent Bob Wiltfong. Edwards blamed lewd cheerleading for pregnancy and AIDS, and explained the strength of the opposition: "Satan is not just going to let you walk over and get something."

2) Outsmarting the Heathen Chinese: In the House Public Education Committee, No Child Left Behind mastermind Sandy Kress and Ross Perot do more sanctimonious shilling "for the children!" than The Simpsons' Helen Lovejoy. By the way, Perot warns of the dangers an educated workforce of "Chinamen" poses to American prosperity.

3) Now We Can Only Count Our Blessings in English: Rep. Dan Branch compared his opulent Highland Park school district to impoverished border communities, because both had to cut bilingual programs.

4) If He Only Had a Brain: Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, on banning third-trimester abortions no matter the condition of the fetus. Asked by Rep. Beverly Woolley, "You can live without anything but a brain? Can you live without a heart? A liver?" Hartnett replied, "Sure, you can live without just about anything." Hell, you can become a representative from Dallas.

5) That'll Teach 'Em to Get a Tattoo: Brother in the Fellowship of the Fetus, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, on his failed bill calling for written parental consent for a minor child's abortion: "You can tell a minor they can't smoke, can't drink, and can't quit school … can't get a tattoo, can't get your ear pierced. … Yet we allow them to make the decision to have an abortion."

6) Did He Really Say That?: Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, on his failed amendment prohibiting gays and lesbians from becoming foster parents: "If they want to be a homosexual or bisexual when they turn 18 that's fine and good. But I think we ought to wait until they're of age. They're at their vulnerable times – 9, 10, 11, 12 – when they're trying to find out their sexuality … and we're exposing them to this, and the studies show that if they're exposed to it there's a greater percentage of them that would be homosexual or bisexual." We're waiting for the direct mailers: Robert Talton says homosexuality is "fine and good"!

7) "Then they came for the plug & play USB rifles … and I said nothing because I did not have a plug & play USB rifle.": HB 391, Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, would have prohibited game hunting in Texas via the Internet. Yes, the Internet. Despite dozens of co-authors, the bill croaked in Calendars. Was it due to the heartfelt testimony of owner John Lockwood, the only Texan currently offering such a service? Or the "slippery slope" testimony from the only other individual opposing HB 391, a hunter whose laundry list of affiliations included the Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America? Nope, some bills just die.

8) That's How We Count O&G Royalties Back Home: To drum up support for his party's dubious school-finance plan, House Speaker Tom Craddick spent precious arm-twisting time teaching the kids at Mendez Middle School the legislative process. Too bad Tom needed a refresher himself: his proclamation that Congress had 454 representatives and 60 senators was a bit off (actual numbers being 435 and 100).

9) Did the Bride Wear Black?: The reality-TV-worthy marriage of Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, on the House floor was surreal enough, yet held as the Lege adjourned in the immediate aftermath of the death of Rep. Joe Moreno, D-Houston, the proceedings veered from the lighthearted to the bizarre. Declared Denny, "Joe was not one to have wanted us to stop our wedding over this. … He would have wanted us to go on and enjoy the day." Um, well, it's her day.

10) Smells Like Lege Spirit: The most atmospherically apt moment came in early spring, when the sewer system backed up under the Capitol cafeteria, and a rancid stink permeated the pink granite corridors of power. Houston Dem Scott Hochberg declared he thought it was the draft budget that stank. For once the white-coiffed representative was wrong – it was that, and so much more.

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