The 87th legislative session has reached its conclusion and though several bills were filed to ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying, ultimately none of them made it through the entirety of the legislative process.
As the session began, it appeared there might be hope that the legislature would consider and ultimately pass a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying.
Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted against the practice in November, by chastising the city of Austin. The Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan (R), was a joint sponsor of the ban in the 86th legislative session in 2019 and served as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee facilitating its consideration. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced the ban as one of his 31 legislative priorities in February.
The policy was popular with the general public as well. A 2019 poll conducted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and WFAA found that nearly nine out of 10 Texans support a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying. In March of 2020, almost 95 percent of Republican primary voters voted in favor of a ballot proposition in support of the ban. A University of Texas and Texas Tribune poll found that it was largely popular amongst Republicans, Democrats, and Independents with 69% support overall.
The ban took the role of several bills this session addressing the practice at the local, state, and federal levels.
The bills seeking to ban the practice statewide were ultimately unsuccessful.
The bill filed in the House by State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) was pre-filed before the legislative session even began in December of 2020. It was referred to the House State Affairs Committee on March 1 and later granted a public hearing on March 26 where afterward it would never be considered again.
The Senate version of the bill by State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) was similarly pre-filed in December and referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee on March 3, where it was never even granted a hearing.
The only real vote on a statewide ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying took place when the House of Representatives deliberating the budget for the next biennium for fiscal years 2022-23. An amendment authored by State Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas) struck existing language in the budget that prohibited certain funds directed to schools from being used to hire a registered lobbyist. Davis was successful by a vote of 84 in favor and 54 opposed.
The lack of a statewide ban on the practice was certainly a blow to activists led to believe that legislative momentum was on their side this cycle.
As the legislative session went on, Patrick’s priority became more clear with relation to a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying.
The lone bill that ended up being filed on the subject ended up only being a ban on the practice for cities and counties. It was filed March 10; two days before the bill filing deadline and considered in its first public hearing in early April in the Senate Local Government Committee where it passed out shortly thereafter to be considered by the overall Senate.
It was not considered in the House State Affairs Committee until almost one month later and even then it was substituted by the bill’s Sponsor; State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), with a completely revised version that created a massive loophole as well as attempted to expand the ban’s purview to almost all local jurisdictions among other things. It passed the House State Affairs Committee in mid-May but was not put on a calendar for the whole House to consider until May 24 where it was ultimately postponed several times until finally being postponed beyond the impending deadline in the House precluding any additional consideration; i.e. killing the bill. To make matters worse, Paddie postponed the bill to that of September 18, which is notably Middleton’s birthday, to rub salt in the wound.
A bill seeking to ban the practice on the federal level was filed as well. House Bill 2319 by State Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Sugar Land) was filed in late February where it was then referred to the House State Affairs Committee on March 15. It was never granted a hearing.
So What is Next?
As the 87th legislative session concluded, Lt. Gov. Patrick implored Gov. Abbott to add the ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying among other bills to any upcoming special legislative session.
Abbott shortly after hinted at at least two special sessions on the horizon due to the death of two of his own emergency legislative priorities in election integrity and bail reform. It is unclear as to whether a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying will also be added to the call.