Senate OKs bill capping legal fees at $250,000 in certain cases


Highlights

Winning side would be eligible for limited legal fees if Texas loses a redistricting or school finance case.

Democrats say bill is an attempt to discourage lawsuits.

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.

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“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.



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