The Texas State Senate unanimously passed one of the emergency items declared by Governor Greg Abbott for the 85th Texas legislative session. Ethics reform has passed its first major hurdle and now is headed to the Texas House.
Governor Abbott declared ethics reform one of his four emergency items during his State of the State Address in late January, as reported by Breitbart Texas. The Texas Governor referred to a primary author of the bill, Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano), during his discussion about the reform during his address.
Senate Bill 14, “The Ethics Reform and Anti-Corruption Act of 2017,” passed out of the senate by a bipartisan vote of 31-0. It was the first bill voted out of the senate this 2017 Texas legislative session.
“Historic ethics reform is usually the result of major scandal. Thankfully, that is not the reason we passed Senate Bill 14 today. The ethics reform package that passed unanimously out of the Senate is unique in that it was born out of leadership. I want to thank Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and so many of my fellow colleagues for their leadership in making meaningful ethics reform a priority,” said Sen. Taylor in a statement released after the bill’s passage in the senate.
Taylor added, “This sacred compact, that we serve our constituents as their public servants, is at the core of our democracy. If that trust were to ever erode then everything else the Legislature does would suffer. That’s why this bill is needed. It is an affirmation to the people that our efforts to represent them rise above even the appearance of impropriety or self-service, and that after the dust settles from important public policy debates they have the confidence to know, in no uncertain terms, that we work for them no matter our party or position.”
Taylor says there are “four major pillars” to the bill:
- Felon politicians losing their pension and office;
- Disclosure of government contracts, bond counsel, and legal referral fees;
- Shining light on lobbyist wining and dining; and
- Establishing a clear line between elected officials and lobbyists.
The Republican senator from Plano says that these components “represent the largest ethics reform in a generation.”
There were “versions of each pillar” that garnered “overwhelming support” during the 2015 Texas legislative session Taylor said, “but for a variety of reasons ultimately did not make it to the Governor’s desk to become law.”
He said as passed through the senate, Senate Bill 14 would:
- Revoke tax-payer funded pensions of felon politicians;
- Automatically eject felons from the Legislature and statewide elected office;
- Require state officers and candidates for state office to disclose government contracts, bond counsel, and legal referral fees;
- Cut the meals reporting threshold for lobbyists in half from 60% of per diem to 30% of per diem;
- End the practice of ‘ticket splitting,’ in which multiple lobbyists collaborate to make an expenditure above the reporting threshold;
- Prohibit elected officials from registering as lobbyists;
- Establish a ‘cooling off’ period of one full legislative session before members of the Legislature may become lobbyists; and
- Institute two year freeze of campaign accounts before members of the Legislature may become lobbyists.
Governor Abbott responded to the senate’s action by releasing the following statement:
The faith that people have in their democracy is linked to the trust they have in their elected officials. Representatives in Austin must be voting with their constituents’ interests in mind – not their own – and I am confident that this session will lead to increased accountability and meaningful reforms that are desperately needed in Texas. I want to thank Senator Van Taylor who is once again leading the charge in shepherding this bill through the Senate, and I look forward to its passage in the House.
“Government, at all levels, must inspire the public’s trust in a transparent and ethically principled manner. I congratulate Sen. Taylor on today’s unanimous vote in the Senate to pass SB 14 – this is a victory for Texas voters. Ethics reform was one of my top priorities and I am very proud that this first priority bill has passed,” said Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the leader of the Texas Senate.