Banning local governments from using taxpayer dollars to lobby against citizen interests is a top concern for the grassroots this year. Lawmakers’ past votes indicate an easy path in the Texas Senate but a difficult path in the Texas House.

Citizens noticed Gov. Greg Abbott omitted any mention of taxpayer-funded lobbying in his State of the State address last week, recalling when he said in 2013 that the practice “must stop.”

A 2019 poll found 88 percent of Texans oppose taxpayer-funded lobbying. Banning the practice has been a legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas for the past few years, and in March 2020, nearly 95 percent of Republican primary voters in Texas supported a proposition to call for ending the practice completely.

Any bill to do that will likely be assigned to the State Affairs Committees in the Texas House and Senate, both of which currently have Republican majorities (8-5 majority in the House and 5-4 in the Senate). Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appoints members of Senate committees, while Speaker of the House Dade Phelan appoints members of House committees.

A historical analysis may predict how these committees will act this session.

Any proposed effective ban of taxpayer-funded lobbying, based on 2019 voting, should have an easy path in the Texas Senate.

In 2019, the Senate considered State Sen. Bob Hall’s (R–Edgewood) bill to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying. Nine of the senators appointed to the Senate’s committee this session voted on the issue in 2019; six voted yes, and three voted no.

The no votes were State Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D–San Benito), Beverly Powell (D–Burleson), and Judith Zaffirini (D–Laredo).

However, things in the Texas House could be more complicated.

Despite Republican control, Hall’s bill died in the House with a final vote of 58-85, with two voting present.

This session, Republicans maintain a majority of 82-67 in the House, with one vacancy due to Drew Springer‘s (R–Muenster) recent election to the Texas Senate.

Of the 13 members Speaker Phelan appointed to the House’s State Affairs Committee this session, only six voted yes in the 2019 vote.

The no votes were State Reps. Joe Deshotel (D–Beaumont), Ana Hernandez (D–Houston), Donna Howard (D­–Austin), Todd Hunter (R–Corpus Christi), Eddie Lucio III (D–Brownsville), Chris Paddie (R–Marshall), and John Smithee (R–Amarillo).

Paddie was appointed committee chair this session, with Hernandez as vice chair.

Seven of the committee members also voted for an amendment that would have weakened the bill by making the ban apply only to counties with large cities in them. The yes votes were Deshotel, Hernandez, Howard, Phil King (R–Weatherford), Paddie, Raymond, and Smithee.

If these committee members vote as they did in the previous session, an effective ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying should come to the full Senate for a vote but may face problems in the House’s committee.

The 87th Legislative Session runs through May 31. Concerned citizens may find committee memberships and keep track of bills filed in the Legislature by visiting Texas Legislature Online.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.