Changes are coming to the loser-pays bill the Texas House passed last week. The Senate State Affairs Committee hopes to release a substitute bill Wednesday or Thursday.
Committee member Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, declines to comment on the changes, because she says she’s still drafting language for the substitute bill. But Huffman’s comments during a public hearing Monday provide clues about changes coming to House Bill 274 as it moves through the Senate.
Huffman says she’s meeting with stakeholders and “making every attempt to consider the issues from many perspectives and many viewpoints. It’s my objective to come up with legislation that’s meaningful and fair. That’s my goal.”
At Monday’s hearing, representatives of three groups testified in support of the House version of H.B. 274. Thirteen people testified in opposition, and another five speakers opposed amendments added on the House floor during H.B. 274′s final vote — amendments addressing attorney’s fees in disputes with appraisal districts and the statute of limitations for suing third-party defendants.
When presenting H.B. 274 during the hearing, Huffman said the committee substitute would change a provision on early dismissal of claims that the House version states “should be disposed as a matter of law on motion and without evidence.” Huffman said the Senate version of the bill would provide for dismissal only after a court determines a claim is “baseless” and brought in “bad faith.”
Huffman said the substitute bill also would tweak a provision in H.B. 274 about offer of settlement that entitles defendants to collect attorney’s fees after they file a declaration seeking settlement but the plaintiff later rejects the offer; fees would be available for litigation after the plaintiff’s rejection.
Current law allows a defendant to collect attorney’s fees after a plaintiff refuses a settlement offer then wins a verdict 80 percent or lower than the offer.
Some lawmakers objected, arguing that H.B. 274′s provisions, in some cases, would force a winning plaintiff to pay a defendant’s attorney’s fees totaling more than the jury verdict.
Responding to a concern Monday, Huffman said the offer-of-settlement provision in the Senate version would be different than the House bill, but she said she wants to tweak the rule in current law to make it an “effective tool.”
Also, Huffman indicated the committee may change the bill so all family law cases would be excluded from a provision making interlocutory appeals easier to file, and the Senate may limit another provision providing attorney’s fees to the winners in any breach-of-contract cases.