Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is signaling that he will not let House leadership’s end-of-session sabotage of a major ethics reform package stand in the way of reform efforts in 2017.
Patrick today released an interim charge calling on the Senate Committee on State Affairs to revisit ethics disclosure for public officials in preparation for the 85th legislative session.
Specifically, Patrick charged the committee, Chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston), with reviewing the following issues:
Ethics: Review current ethics laws governing public officials and employees and recommend changes necessary to inspire the public’s confidence in a transparent and ethically principled government. Review public officials’ reporting requirements to the Texas Ethics Commission. Examine the categorization of ethics reporting violations and make recommendations to encourage accurate reporting and timely correction to inadvertent clerical errors.
Last session, at the urging of Gov. Greg Abbott, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 19, a comprehensive ethics reform package focused on restoring public trust in Texas’ public officials. Amongst other reforms, as passed out of the Senate, the bill would have prohibited legislators from simultaneously being employed as lobbyists, would have ended the revolving door of legislators leaving office and immediately going to work as hired gun lobbyists, and would have required legislators to disclose the contracts they, their families, and their businesses have with government entities.
Unfortunately the leadership of the Texas House, led by House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R–Corsicana), attacked Abbott and the Senate’s proposal before gutting out all of the provisions listed above and replacing them with unconstitutional measures designed to suppress the First Amendment rights of citizens, businesses, civic groups, and churches.
After the House passed their butchered version of Senate Bill 19, they refused to come to the table to negotiate with the Senate, and the ethics reform package died.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has not yet released any interim charges for House committees. If Straus doubles down in support of Cook’s unconstitutional measures, it will be an open signal that he intends to obstruct Abbott and Patrick on ethics reform for legislators again next session.