AUSTIN - A House bill designed to penalize those who file frivolous lawsuits received unanimous support from members of the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee, a move that surprised both sides of the aisle.
HB 274 was approved by the state House earlier this month during a contentious session in which Democrats opposing the legislation walked out of the House Chamber before the vote.
Saturday, the Senate committee approved 9-0 a revised version of the bill, which seeks to limit court costs and penalize parties who pursue meritless lawsuits.
According to the Austin American Statesman, several committee members were surprised by the vote.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said the consensus was a "milestone."
The revisions will allow judges to rule on whether a case is meritless much earlier in the court process, will limit discovery, expedite hearings and improve the equitable assessment of court costs.
The legislation is known as a "loser pays" bill because it would allow prevailing parties in certain civil suits to collect attorneys fees.
But before the bill made it through the House on May 9, the wording was changed to allow the assessment of legal fees only in cases dismissed for failing to state a valid legal claim.
Texas is among eight states that do not allow motions to dismiss before evidence is presented in civil court. The Texas Supreme Court would adopt rules to allow that option under the proposed bill.
As reported by the Statesman, trial lawyers, defense attorneys and tort reformers attended a brief public hearing before the vote, with all groups agreeing to support the legislation.
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, a former judge, was a key figure in the negotiations. She told the Statesman the revised bill "balances the needs of both the plaintiffs and the defense."