While legislation dealing with the issue passed the Texas Senate weeks ago, lawmakers in the Texas House are signaling the death of a measure banning taxpayer-funded lobbying. This would be the fourth of five priorities of the Republican Party of Texas to be dealt a potential death blow by House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s leadership team.
A constituent of State Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) was told by his staff that Mayes Middleton’s House Bill 281 is “dead.” The legislation would ban local governments from using taxpayer resources to hire lobbyists.
The measure is one of five priorities of the Republican Party of Texas. “Pass legislation to abolish all forms of taxpayer-funded lobbying and end the automatic payroll deduction of union dues by the government,” reads the RPT website. The second half of the stated priority—ending union dues collection by government offices—wasn’t even filed as legislation in either chamber of the legislature despite commanding majorities in both bodies.
The legislative session ends on May 27.
When the House took up the state budget at the end of March, Middleton was seen working what many observers thought was a good deal. In exchange for him not pursuing a budget amendment dealing with illegal aliens, Bonnen’s leadership called a meeting of the House Committee on State Affairs. They voted HB 281 out of committee, and Middleton stood down on his amendment and then voted for the bloated budget growing state government at twice the rate of inflation and population.
The measure languished in a kind of procedural purgatory. After the State Affairs Committee voted, it took weeks for it to be processed and sent to the Calendars Committee where it has been stalled ever since. That delay effectively stopped legislators from being able to force the issue to the floor.
Middleton did not respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this week, Metcalf’s office was telling people opposing the ban that HB 281 was “dead in the water” and that the House would instead pass a version that opponents will be “happy with.”
The Senate ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying is still procedurally alive. Authored by Edgewood Republican Bob Hall, Senate Bill 29 was passed April 17 and sent to the House. Speaker Bonnen took nearly two weeks to send the measure on to the State Affairs Committee earlier this week.
It is possible the House State Affairs Committee could vote SB 29 out in the coming days and still get it to the House floor for action.
James Dickey, chairman of the state GOP, said that “lobbyists are attacking this priority” and SB 29 could still make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
It is also possible that the Texas House could decide to advance Senate Bill 702, which would require the disclosure of taxpayer-funded lobbying contracts from government entities—but this would not be a ban. That bill, however, has been sitting in House State Affairs for nearly a month without a hearing.
Meanwhile, Bonnen had signaled to lawmakers early in the session that he was going to kill “constitutional carry,” another priority of Texas Republicans. Legislation abolishing abortion was also killed by Bonnen’s leadership team.
Also dead is the Republican Party priority to “abolish the Maintenance and Operation school property tax.”
This leaves just “religious freedom and privacy;” but even there, state officials began the session rejecting the idea that the Legislature should “pass legislation that protects the privacy and safety of women and children in multi-use facilities such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers in all Texas schools and government buildings.”