"Loser Pays" Koch brothers backed bill passes making it safer for corporations to violate the law. House Bill 274 passed the Texas House this weekend with no amendments and no debate because Gov. Rick Perry deemed it to be 'emergency legislation'. The only emergency evident is the GOP and their supporters didn't want any debate or changes because if the average Texan knew exactly what it does they would be horrified.
Ostensibly, the law is designed to cut down on frivolous lawsuits even though laws and penalties are already in place for that. 86% of Texas judges, not normally known for the liberal views feel the current system is more than adequate but not the Koch brothers et al. The new law will make the plaintiff liable for all the defendants costs not only if the plaintiff loses but even if the plaintiff wins but the award is less than the amount in the original suit. Large corporations have unlimited resources and this will inhibit individuals or even small businesses to take on corporations even if they feel they have a good case, especially with the conservative nature of judges in Texas and the ultra conservative 5th circuit Court of Appeals is notorious for siding with corporate power.
A Koch refinery in Corpus Christi is notorious for violations and was indicted in 2000 on 97 counts of leaking Benzine, a known carcinogen. Under the new law, citizens affected by something like this could risk everything if they try to sue. Even if they win, they could still lose, or at best see their entire award being paid back to the defendant. Heads you win, tails I lose.
This same law was tried in Florida and was a total disaster, forcing the state to drop the law five years later. Large corporations can know be far more negligent, knowing the likelihood of being sued has become a lot less likely. Likewise, a large corporation can use it's power to push the legal envelope in wiping out smaller competitors knowing that even if they lose and settle for less than the original amount they will achieve their objective of wiping out their smaller competitor. Greed knows no limits and when it comes to the Koch brothers, $20 billion each is just not enough.
Florida is just one of a number of states that are 'reforming' voting laws under the guise of stamping out alleged voter fraud. I say 'alleged' because these allegations are seldom proved and when they manage to find fraud, it never amounts to more than a few votes here or there. Republicans use this as an excuse to tighten voting laws by forcing people to show a photo ID. Something that many low income elderly people may not have. Florida has added some new wrinkles.
Previously if someone has moved they could show a photo ID with their new address and have their vote counted. Now that only works if the address is in the same county. Now if a person has moved from county 'A' to county 'B' and has a photo ID with proof, they will only be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, meaning their vote will only be counted if the election is close enough.
Absentee ballots will be disqualified if the signature on the ballot is an exact match of the original signature when they registered to vote, something that could have been done decades previously. This could affect voters with arthritis, stroke victims or any ailment that hinders their ability to replicate their signature exactly unless they had updated the original signature.
Third party voter registration groups will now have to turn in all voter registration forms within 48 hours of signing or face stiff fines. The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group that has been doing this for 91 years with no controversy have already stated they will cease to operate in Florida as the law makes it virtually impossible to comply.
They have also reduced early voting from two weeks to one. This allows people who may have work and or travel schedules making it more difficult to vote. If an early voter finds there is a problem with their registration, it gives them less time to resolve it.
Republicans tend to be older, wealthier and more settled. All the above actions are designed to make it more difficult or those on the other side of the spectrum, more difficult to get their vote counted. It's no coincidence that these voters tend to be Democratic.
Between 2008 and 2011 there were 31 allegations of voter fraud. Two were proved to be fraudulent. That's two whole votes. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is rightfully pissed about this and has referred it to the Department of Justice. Because of its past history, Florida is one o 9 states that is subject to obtaining Federal clearance under the Voting Rights Act for any changes in voting laws because of its prior history.
Republicans in Wisconsin are facing some tough recall elections as early as July so they are rushing through new voter rules in anticipation. One is a new voter ID law. Although Student ID cards are technically permitted, current Wisconsin student ID cards don't meet the law's requirements. How convenient. Additionally 175,000 seniors, 70% of them women do not have drivers licenses. They will all now have to get new ID cards, and for those living in rural areas this could involve a 100 mile round trip just to be able to vote.
Ironically this bill will cost the state an estimated $5.7 million, showing that while Gov. Scott Walker is quite happy to screw teachers on the pretext of 'balancing the budget' after handing out over $100 million in corporate tax breaks as well as another $5.7 million to make it more difficult to vote. I have no idea how many cases of voter fraud have been proved in Wisconsin between 2008 and 2011 but extrapolating from the numbers in Florida, Wisconsin, with about a third of the population has had 0.6 cases of voter fraud in the past 3 years.
21 other states are in the process of passing laws to stamp out voter fraud. Republicans seem to be fanatically devoted to ensuring the integrity of our election system except in cases like this.