More than two months ago we reported on House Speaker Joe Straus’s appointment of an array of discredited members to the “Select Interim Committee to Study Ethics Laws.” The committee was created by Senate Bill 1773 which was passed during the 83rd Legislative Session. Despite a statutory deadline requiring the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor to appoint members of the committee by November 1, 2013, the appointments were not made until nine months later, on August 22, 2014.
At the time of the appointments, we asserted that the committee’s conclusions would be predictable: the members would demand greater regulatory burdens on citizens who speak up, while doing nothing to deal with conflicts of interest within the legislature.
What we didn’t predict was that the committee would apparently fail to meet for its first two months. A review of the House and Senate websites show no notices of the committee meeting since the appointments were made and no audio or video recordings of meetings of the committee.
So, either the committee is doing all of its work in secret — the committee is, ironically, tasked with looking at legislation like the open meetings act and public information act — or it has not yet begun to do its work. That second option may be even more disconcerting than the first given that the committee is required to deliver its report by December 20, 2014. If true, Straus appointee Rep. Sarah Davis intends to do in 50 days what the legislation that created the committee anticipated would take over a year.
With time off for Thanksgiving and for members to prepare for the December holidays, it is impossible that this committee will review the state’s campaign finance reporting (so-called “ethics”) laws, gain meaningful public input, and make recommendations before the December 20th deadline. However it is almost certain that the committee will deliver a report that will be used to bolster efforts to suppress speech during the 84th legislature.
Citizens should keep a close eye on this committee to see if its members take any action after Tuesday’s election. Our freedom of speech is at stake.