State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Allen) came under fire last month when he introduced House Bill 19. If passed into law, it would greatly benefit trucking companies that are sued for dangerous negligence. Leach himself works for Gray Reed, a law firm that defends large trucking companies.
Despite the backlash, HB 19 has been making progress in the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee, where it had a public hearing on March 24. Despite some minor revisions, little has been done to change the fact that the bill is a huge windfall for trucking companies that are involved in accidents.
“This bill will allow trucking companies to hide behind and use their own employee drivers as a scapegoat and take no responsibility for their actions,” wrote attorney Thomas J Henry in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “Reducing roadway accidents is about introducing new safety measures that can protect Texas families and Jeff Leach’s proposed bill only panders to his political sponsors and donors.”
The committee made no meaningful changes to the bill. It has not yet been scheduled for a full House hearing or vote, nor has its companion bill in the Senate. With the Texas Legislature rapidly running out of time to consider the large number of priority bills this session, it’s possible that Leach’s efforts will go nowhere.
Even if it doesn’t, though, Lech may still face sanctions for introducing it in the first place. Rule 1.10 of the Texas State Bar Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states that no member can use a publicly held position (such as representative) to directly benefit a client. At the very least, Leach must give notice to the governing body that HB 19 could or would aid current or future cases being defended by Gray Reed. So far, he has received no disciplinary action from the state bar.
House Bill 19 is a complicated set of new parameters of civil legislation that would tilt the field favorably for trucking companies under the banner of tort reform. Among some of its more egregious aspects are the fact that previous incidents of negligence by the companies are no longer admissible in court. Only records directly related to the specific causes of an accident can be considered, and even then, only for the last two years. The bill also shifts the blame from the trucking companies to the individual operators, leaving many of them out to dry.
The bill has the support of the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, which has donated over $1 million to Leach’s campaigns and generally lobbies to protect big business from being sued.
Leach himself seems to try to be flying the bill as much under the radar as possible. He hasn’t mentioned it on his Facebook page since it went into committee, preferring to focus on juicier topics such as a bill that would prevent churches from being closed during a public health crisis and anti-abortion efforts. The outcry has been kept alive by many of the state’s more colorful plaintiff lawyer personalities, such as Jim “The Texas Hammer” Adler and Henry.
Unfortunately, the Judicial Fairness PAC, which pours thousands of dollars into Texas Supreme Court races, is also heavily involved in getting the bill passed. If Leach manages to sneak the bill onto the schedule with the support of powerful Republican donor money, it’s likely to pass. Right now, the only danger seems to be from the clock. If the bill’s time in committee is any indication, there’s no significant opposition otherwise.