After a long day of testimony that stretched into the early hours of Friday, several citizen legislative priorities were heard in various committees throughout the Texas Legislature.
One of those priorities is that of House Bill 749 by State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Wallisville), which would ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying. It was heard in the House State Affairs Committee among a litany of bills, including several related to religious freedom and penalties for local governments that defund law enforcement.
The companion bill to Middleton’s in the Senate, Senate Bill 234 by State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood), has been referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee but has yet to have been scheduled for a public hearing.
A bill that would end the practice at the local level was also filed in Senate Bill 10 by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) and has been referred to the Senate Local Government Committee but has yet to get a hearing.
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.
The ban was a legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas in 2018 and remains so this cycle.
Though it was not made an “emergency” legislative priority by Gov. Greg Abbott this cycle, he has expressed public support of the ban before. Speaker of the House Dade Phelan also voted in favor of the bill last session.
Notably, the current chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, State Rep. Chris Paddie (R–Marshall), voted against the bill last session when it was considered by the overall House.
During the 86th Legislative Session in 2019, Middleton and Hall both filed similar bills seeking to ban the practice. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 29, finally passed the Senate with a vote of 18 in favor and 13 against. The vote was largely partisan, with the exception of the lone Republican vote against the bill by State Sen. Kel Seliger (R–Amarillo).
The bill was later considered by the House of Representatives. When it was brought up, a majority of members voted to water down the legislation, before ultimately voting it down entirely.
This year, supporters are hopeful for a different outcome.
“Banning taxpayer-funded lobbying is a top Republican priority,” Middleton told Texas Scorecard. “Taxpayers are tired of being forced to hire Austin lobbyists that then work against the taxpayers. So many taxpayers took an unpaid day off work to support this bill and make their voice heard that they want it passed into law. I’m thankful for the speaker and House State Affairs Committee for making this bill a priority.”
Chris Woolsey, a city councilman in Corsicana who came down in support of the bill called it an “unfair and unethical practice.”
He continued: “It puts people into two kinds of castes here at the Capitol. You have the connected and the forgotten, and I want to make sure we are creating a level playing field for citizen advocates who come down here when they testify and that they are not getting squeezed out by big groups like [Texas Municipal League], and [Texas Association of Counties], or people like them who have that taxpayer-funded base that they can pull from and that use those taxpayer funds against the very people who were forced to pay them.”