With lawmakers returning to Austin and the Texas Legislature convening in only a few days, State Sen. Van Taylor (R–Plano) is making clear that lawmakers wishing to subvert ethics reform legislation will have to do so in plain sight.
Last session, Taylor spearheaded the ethics reform effort by drafting Senate Bill 19, a rigorous ethics package which gained the support of Gov. Abbott. Taylor was successful in moving the legislation through the Texas Senate where it passed unanimously, but during the process it was heavily amended by lawmakers on both sides.
Because the bill exposed conflict-laden money-making opportunities for legislators, it was feared by those who profit from public office. But it could not be publicly opposed lest their self-dealing be revealed to voters.
When SB 19 arrived in the Texas House it was hijacked by State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana). Cook flipped the bill on its head, virtually rewriting the legislation to give lawmakers special privileges and curtail the rights of citizens.
The move drew scathing criticism from Taylor who accused Cook of sabotaging the legislation “[muddling] the bill with a litany of bizarre measures” and “[launching] an assault on the First Amendment.”
But Taylor’s condemnation couldn’t breathe life back into the bill. Cook had killed it and gloated that the legislation was “graveyard dead.”
By swapping consensus for controversy, Cook changed the narrative and drove the debate on the legislation into an impasse. No longer was the fight about higher ethical standards for lawmakers, but morphed instead into a fight about what degree speech should be regulated.
As a result, lawmakers could publicly vote and aggressively beat their chests in support of “ethics reform” all while knowing that the legislation “was never going to pass.”
Aiming to prevent such “muddling” from occurring again, Taylor is limiting his legislation this time to core elements that lawmakers quietly seethe about but cannot publicly oppose. Those reforms are the keystones of ethics reform, such as requiring lawmakers to disclose government contracts, terminating conflicts of interest, and revoking pensions from corrupt politicians.
“Recognizing the legislative vulnerability of an ethics reform omnibus bill, last session’s votes offer a road map to navigate the turbulent topic,” wrote Taylor an op-ed published in the Dallas Morning News. “By patching together measures that gained overwhelming support, but did not make it through the full process, the 85th Legislature can do the people’s work without the unnecessary theatrics.”
By using lawmakers’ votes and statements against them, Taylor is placing strong pressure on lawmakers and daring them to expose their duplicity by openly rejecting the commonsense reforms citizens demand.
Now that all excuses and ancillary arguments have been dispensed with, lawmakers will get a chance to review clean, commonsense, and comprehensive ethics reform.
Taylor’s message is simple: Establishment lawmakers have made their bed. Now they’ll have to lie in it or suffer the consequences.