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Attorney general criticizes Kaiser Permanente HMO
Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Thursday, March 27, 1997
Author: Staff and Wire Reports
AUSTIN - Attorney General Dan Morales has chided the Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization for trying to "harass and intimidate state officials and public employees" in its battle with insurance regulators.

Morales said in a letter this week to Kaiser attorneys that the HMO's request for communications between the Texas Insurance Department and certain state legislators was unwarranted.

Attempts to reach Kaiser were unsuccessful late yesterday.

Kaiser has sued the Insurance Department and wants to block an enforcement action initiated by the department, court records show. The department has accused the HMO of discouraging emergency care and of denying payments for such services in some cases, the records show.

The HMO says regulators botched their investigation and violated procedures in recommending sanctions.

In the ongoing court battle, Kaiser has attempted to subpoena records - including communications between senators and the Insurance Department - regarding HMO legislation contemplated in the Legislature, officials said.

"Please be advised that any attempt to intimidate state employees and officials acting to protect the interest of the public . . . will not be tolerated," said Morales, who noted that the state has asked the judge to throw out the subpoenas.

Bush seeks apology from film agency for letter

AUSTIN - Gov. George W. Bush wants an apology from the Texas Film Commission for warning film and video professionals that a tax overhaul plan could harm their industry.

A key state lawmaker said the letter, sent this month, amounted to prohibited lobbying by state employees. Bush said neither he nor any senior officials on his staff were aware of the letter, which his office called "inappropriate."

The letter was signed by commission Director Tom Copeland and an assistant director. The commission is part of the governor's office.

"If that is the case, he Copeland ought to apologize. I haven't seen the letter," Bush said during an appearance in Fort Worth yesterday. Ray Sullivan, a Bush spokesman, said that Copeland was traveling but that the commission will soon apologize to legislators.

In the letter, the commission pointed out that a plan to eliminate certain sales tax exemptions could mean higher taxes on items important to the film industry.

West Texans testify for bill to block dump

AUSTIN - West Texans who fear the effects of a planned low-level nuclear waste dump testified before a House committee in favor of a bill that would scuttle the project.

The House Environmental Regulation Committee heard testimony yesterday on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso.

The bill changes the requirements for a waste dump planned for a site 16 miles from the Rio Grande in Hudspeth County, saying the dump must be at least 60 miles from the river.

The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority is petitioning for a license to operate the dump in Sierra Blanca, a rural community 90 miles southeast of El Paso.

The committee sent the legislation to a subcommittee while Chavez awaits an opinion from federal authorities on whether the site violates an agreement between the United States and Mexico not to enter into projects that might significantly affect the border environment.

Proponents argued that the dump poses health, ecological and economical hazards.

The authority contends that the waste would be disposed of in containers designed to last 500 years.

Authority attorney Lee Mathews said there is no danger of the containers leaking because the waste would be solid, and the area is generally dry.

Agencies fight over oil spill cleanup duty

AUSTIN - The Texas Railroad Commission and General Land Office are squabbling over which state agency should have the responsibility to clean up oil spills affecting the state.

A House subcommittee looking into the duplication of services by state agencies took testimony yesterday on a bill that would put the Railroad Commission in charge of spills.

Currently, the two agencies share the duties, with the Railroad Commission in charge of oil and gas spills under 240 barrels and the Land Office handling spills over that amount.

"The vast majority of coastal oil and gas exploration and production facility oil spills are less than 240 barrels," Railroad Commissioner Carole Keeton Rylander said.

That was disputed by Greg Pollock, the associate deputy land commissioner in charge of oil spill prevention and response.

"We are responsible for 93 percent of all spills reported in coastal waters," Pollock said. "We handle such an overwhelmingly large percentage of spills, it makes more sense to transfer the 7 percent over here than break up our large program and send it over to the Railroad Commission."

Pollock said the Land Office would assume the additional responsibility without requiring additional money.

Senate gender quota proposed for parity

AUSTIN - Noting that women make up more than half the Texas population but less than 10 percent of the Texas Senate, Sen. Jane Nelson has a solution to promote parity.

"Perhaps we need to set a quota for the 1998 elections to ensure that there will be at least 16 women senators" when the 31-member Senate convenes in regular session in 1999, Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said in a letter to her colleagues. She attached a news story about a proposal for gender quotas for the French parliament.

"In the meantime, might I suggest that we enact a proportional voting system for the remainder of the current session whereby each vote cast by Senators Florence Shapiro, Judith Zaffirini and myself count 5.17 times while each male senator's vote would count 0.55 times to ensure equitable representation," she wrote.

"It seems only fair.


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