Voting along party lines, the Texas Senate gave initial approval Thursday to a bill that would cap legal fees at $250,000 if the state loses lawsuits challenging redistricting plans and the way public schools are financed.
Democrats opposed Senate Bill 949, saying it was a blatant attempt to discourage lawsuits, particularly from frequently low-income Texans who allege violations of the Voting Rights Act — cases that typically take years to litigate and can cost millions of dollars in legal work, expert witnesses and other expenses.
“Your bill will make it harder for citizens of this state who are aggrieved by actions that violate the Constitution, to bring these cases,” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told the bill’s author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, noted that SB 949 would not cap awards if the state attorney general’s office were to win a case. “You’re really tipping the balance of justice,” she said.
Kolkhorst disagreed, saying her legislation would not cap what can be spent on a case, only what a court could require Texas to pay in legal fees if it loses a redistricting or school finance case.
“This is taxpayer dollars,” Kolkhorst said. “Thirty-eight states don’t award attorney fees in any of these cases.”
After Thursday’s 20-11 vote, a final vote on SB 949 will take place next week, sending the bill to the House.