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For 140 days, the 78th Legislature wrestled with weighty issues — how to balance the state’s budget despite an estimated $10 billion revenue shortfall, how much tort reform is enough and how much tort reform is too much. With Republicans for the first time in recent Texas history controlling the House, Senate and Governor’s Office, the mood often was tense during the session as Democrats strove to have an impact on major bills. Partisan warfare raged in the Capitol, where bipartisanship had been the watchword. Through it all, lawyer-legislators had an impact on the process and the legislation that emerged. The following are some of those whose influence was felt: Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock partner, Crenshaw, Dupree & Milam Every legislative body needs a fix-it man, and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, fills that role in the Texas Legislature. Duncan played a key role in revising H.B. 4, a major piece of tort reform legislation. A member of the Senate Finance Committee, Duncan served on the conference committee that negotiated the final version of H.B. 1, the state’s budget bill for 2004 and 2005. Among other measures, Duncan sponsored and won the Legislature’s approval of S.B. 1057, which overhauls the state’s criminal competency law. Through passage of S.B. 1369 and S.B. 1370, Duncan restructured the Teacher Retirement System’s health insurance program, which was headed for insolvency and would have cost the state about $1.2 billion in the upcoming biennium. Duncan served in the House of Representatives from 1993 through 1996 and has been a member of the Senate since 1997. He chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not everything Duncan tried was successful. He made another attempt to pass a judicial selection reform measure, which died in a House committee. Duncan, 49, is a graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law and is a partner in Lubbock’s Crenshaw, Dupree & Milam. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco partner, Dunnam & Dunnam Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, became chairman of the House Democratic Caucus at a time when Democrats had little with which to leverage on major bills. But Dunnam made sure that the Democrats’ voices were heard. Although he didn’t win many battles, Dunnam proposed numerous amendments to H.B. 1, the budget bill, and H.B. 4, the tort reform measure. “My role was to show we had some real alternatives to what we were doing” in the budget and tort reform, Dunnam says. When he decided that talking would do no good, Dunnam helped organize the Democrats’ impromptu trip to Ardmore, Okla., to stop a House vote on a congressional redistricting bill that was expected to boost the GOP’s Texas numbers in the U.S. House of Representatives. The walkout shut down action in the House for four days. Dunnam, 39, is a graduate of Baylor University School of Law and a partner in Waco’s Dunnam & Dunnam. He has served in the House since 1997. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston One of the most articulate members of the Legislature, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, frequently uses humor to defuse potentially explosive situations. But Ellis, an attorney and investment banker, makes sure that everyone understands what he means. When State Bar of Texas officials lobbied to eliminate a provision in the Bar’s “sunset” bill that requires lawyers to pay $65 annually to help support civil legal services for the poor and indigent criminal defense, Ellis displayed a pair of Nike tennis shoes and vowed to filibuster the bill unless the mandatory contribution provision was retained. After the House Democrats’ walkout jeopardized H.B. 2, a massive bill to effect reform in state government, Ellis, chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee, grafted the measure on S.B. 1952, a shell bill, and tried to push through the reforms. When S.B. 1952 ran into problems, Ellis worked with others to find other pieces of legislation that could carry the money-saving provisions that had been in H.B. 2 to provide the funds needed for the state budget. The 49-year-old Ellis has served in the Senate since 1990. He is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Terry Keel, R-Austin When it seemed almost impossible to pass a bill in the House to free the “Tulia 14″ from prison on bond, Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, demonstrated his skill with legislative maneuvers. Keel placed S.B. 1948 on the House’s general calendar, but also attached it as an amendment to another bill. When the bill again appeared doomed late in the session, Keel won approval from the House on a four-fifths vote to recommit the bill to the Criminal Justice Committee, which he chairs, and had the committee send the bill to the House’s local and consent calendar. The passage of the bill enabled 14 people who were convicted as a result of a questionable 1999 drug sting to be freed on bond while the Court of Criminal Appeals considers their habeas writ applications. Keel also created a subcommittee of the Criminal Justice Committee to determine the fiscal impact of sentencing enhancement bills and weed out those deemed too costly and unnecessary. Keel angered criminal defense lawyers when he passed a bill in the House that required a jury to decide whether a defendant is mentally retarded during the punishment phase of a trial and refused to back a bill by Ellis that would have allowed a pre-trial determination of that issue. The session ended without a bill being passed. The 45-year-old Keel, a former prosecutor and the former sheriff of Travis County, received his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. He is a solo practitioner in Austin and has served in the House since 1997. Phil King, R-Weatherford shareholder, Law, Snakard, Gambill & King SBC Communications came to the Legislature seeking to rid itself of state regulation of its high-speed Internet access and broadband services. Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, declined to have the House Regulated Industries Committee, which he chairs, consider H.B. 1658, a measure that would have achieved SBC’s goal. King says the Federal Communications Commission is establishing new regulations that will pre-empt state law substantially. The Legislature should wait until the federal law is finalized, he says. King also authored the congressional redistricting bill that prompted House Democrats to go AWOL. By King’s estimations, the redistricting map, drawn with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s assistance, could have increased the Texas GOP’s numbers in Congress from 15 to 20 of the 32 seats. King, 47, is a graduate of Texas Wesleyan Law School. A former captain in the Fort Worth Police Department, King is a shareholder in Law, Snakard, Gambill & King in Weatherford. He has served in the House since 1999. John Smithee, R-Amarillo partner, Templeton, Smithee, Hayes, Heinrich & Russell Although a member of Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick’s team, Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, bucked the House leadership during the debate on H.B. 4. As passed by the House, H.B. 4 would have created a one-sided offer of settlement that allowed only defendants to make such offers. Smithee argued passionately that plaintiffs and defendants should be able to offer to settle and received a tongue-lashing from Craddick for taking that stand. Smithee, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, sponsored S.B. 14, which expands state regulation of homeowner’s insurance and auto insurance. But Smithee refused to sign off on the bill when it came out of a House-Senate conference committee without a provision authorizing the state insurance commissioner to review management fees that an insurer sends to its parent company for shared services. Smithee, 51, is a graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law and is a partner in Templeton, Smithee, Hayes, Heinrich & Russell in Amarillo. He has served in the House since 1985. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas partner, Baron & Budd Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, wrote a strong ethics bill only to see the measure — H.B. 1606 — watered down as it moved through the legislative process. When his House colleagues on a conference committee announced they wouldn’t support the bill, the feisty Wolens went into attack mode. Hastily calling a news conference, Wolens accused the House conferees of dropping their support for the bill at House Speaker Tom Craddick’s request so that ethics could be put on the call for a special session that also would include congressional redistricting on the agenda. In the end, the Legislature passed the bill, which, among other things, stiffens the disclosure requirements for political candidates and requires lawyer-legislators to disclose when a court grants them a legislative continuance. Wolens risked irking some minority lawmakers by pushing for passage of his H.B. 54, which is designed to reduce voter fraud and “vote harvesting” by political activists. The measure requires a person who helps another person vote by mail from home or a nursing home to sign his or her name and provide other identifying information on the mailer. Minority lawmakers voiced concern that the bill would chill get-out-the-vote activism in minority communities. Wolens, 53, is a graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and is a partner in Dallas’ Baron & Budd. He has been a member of the House since 1981.

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