During his tenure in the Texas Senate, newly-elected Congressman Van Taylor, a Republican from Plano, was a champion of bringing about needed transparency and accountability to state government. With his election to Congress, another man has taken up several of the bills Taylor had championed in prior sessions: Democrat State Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin.
A four-bill package of legislation aimed at improving transparency in the state was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday. Watson, the author of the bills, filed three iterations of bills Taylor had previously carried, in addition to a fourth bill Watson himself has sponsored in past sessions.
“Our laws have to ensure a transparent government that’s accountable to the people,” Watson said in January when he first filed the bills. “This should be the session that both parties and both chambers come together to pass these bills and deliver on the promise of meaningful ethics reform.”
Three of the four bills sailed out of the Senate in the 85th Legislature, but never made it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, because they were killed by the Texas House leadership. The Senate State Affairs Committee, which boasts a strong 7-2 Republican majority, is expected to again move the bills to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
All four of Watson’s bills deal with the issue of relationships between lobbyists and elected officials. Watson describes them as follows:
- SB 366 improves transparency by requiring more detailed reporting when lobbyists spend money to influence the legislative or executive branch. For example, SB 366 closes a loophole that currently allows lobbyists to split a check to avoid detailed reporting.
- SB 367 prohibits lobbyists from simultaneously holding most elected office positions, which can create at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
- SB 368 requires former legislators to wait one legislative cycle after leaving office before they may profit by lobbying their former colleagues — closing the ‘revolving door.’
- SB 369 requires the Texas Ethics Commission to continue to maintain lobby registrations and reports online so that the public can access them without driving to Austin.
None of the four bills currently have House companions, but conservative members of the Texas House have stated they intend to circle back on reform measures that were unsuccessful in previous sessions.