If Texas bond lawyers have a list of favorite legislators, chances are good that state Rep. Ron Wilson is not on it.
For the sessions now, Rep. Wilson, D-Houston, has crafted floor amendments into House bills that could affect the bottom line for bond counsel handling state issues.
So far, those efforts have failed, including a twice-proposed measure that would have made the Texas attorney general the bond counsel for all state bond issues --- effectively doing away with the need for outside counsel.
That has not deterred Rep. Wilson, which does not surpise bond lawyers. Just last week the House passed an appropriations bill that listed his amendment to ban contingency fees by bond counsel and force state issuers to pay only an hourly fee for bond work.
"He's been at it for three years now and it has always been beaten in the past," said one bond industry source who follows state politics. "The Senate sponsor [of the appropriations bill] has already said it won't pass."
Bond lawyers are not worried. But what is behind this effort to do away with the need for outside bond counsel on state issues?
A Dallas bond lawyer suggested that Rep. Wilson's real target was not the industry, but one firm active in state bond deals: Vinson & Elkins of Houston.
He speculated that the firm has drawn the representative's ire because of its involvement in Houston transit projects opposed by the law-maker, who did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
"I've heard that," said Jerry Turner, a bond lawyer in the Austion office of Vinson & Elkins. "But I haven't talked to [Rep. Wilson] about it."
Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court, acting in his role as circuit justice for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, has temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that forbids the state from taxing self-insured employee benefit plans.
The fifth circuit appeals court had ruled the state does not have the power to levy the tax, and ordered Texas to provide refunds to firms that paid the tax.
In issuing the stay last week, Justice Scalia noted that the fifth circuit's ruling is in apparent conflict with a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a similar case, adding it "is probable" the Supreme Court will vote to hear arguments in the Texas case.
Justice Scalia went on to note, "I also think there is a substantial possibility that the judgment below will be reversed."
The appeals court ruled the tax was preempted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Texas officials had argued unsuccessfully that plaintiffs were barred from filing suit in federal court by the federal Tax Injunction Act, which generally requires that disputes over state tax laws be resolved in state courts.