Frisco Reps Vote Against “Ethics” Reform that Grants Special Privilege to Legislators

In one of the largest shifts in bills this session the House State Affairs Committee substitute for SB 19, the Ethics Reform bill, turned the entire bill around. When the bill came out of the Senate it was focus on reforms meant to keep legislators in check. The House version primarily includes more laws for citizens wishing to be involved in the process.

The Senate version included the following reforms:

  • Disclosure of government contracts
  • Disclosure of bond counsel
  • Disclosure of legal referral fees
  • Prohibiting elected officials from simultaneously being lobbyists
  • Closing loopholes to evade disclosure of expensive meals paid for by lobbyists
  • Automatically ejecting felons from serving in the Legislature
  • Instituting a one full legislative session “cooling off” period before members of the Legislature may become lobbyists

While Rep. Giovanni Capriglione was able to get the disclosure of government contracts added back to the House version Rep. Byron Cook described the Senate reforms as “superficial.”

Governor Greg Abbott seemed pleased with the direction the Senate was going. “I applaud the Texas Senate for passing a meaningful ethics reform package. SB 19 reinforces the faith and trust that Texans deserve to place in their government, and it ensures that we remain focused on who we truly serve – the people of Texas. I look forward to working with the House to enact these ethics reform into law.”

The House did not agree with the governor and replaced the provisions of the Senate with legislation geared toward citizens.

One of the most debated portions was a change to force citizens to get permission to film their elected officials. In the state of Texas as long as one person in a conversation knows and gives consent to film or record the others do not need to be informed. The Texas House has decided to set aside a special exception for themselves. Instead of holding themselves to a high standard of transparency many see this as them setting themselves up at an elite standard.

It was also clarified that the bill was retroactive and that those that filmed elected officials without consent could be prosecuted. The provision seems to be aimed at American Phoenix Foundation who has been filming legislators this session. The change has lead some citizens to ask what they must have caught on film to cause the legislature to respond this way.

One lawyer, and conservative activist with Empower Texans, said he believes that the bill likely violates all portions of the First Amendment.

Senator Van Taylor, who represents the Collin County section of Frisco, who originally authored the bill was not happy with the changes either.

“The purpose of the Senate’s ethics package, which was applauded by Governor Abbott who placed this charge on his emergency call, is to put a mirror on elected officials and affirm to the people that our efforts to represent them rise above even the appearance of impropriety or self-service,” stated Taylor. “Some in the House apparently don’t think elected officials are the problem and instead muddled the bill with a litany of bizarre measures that point the finger at everyone besides themselves, including a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook to launch an assault on the First Amendment. This is one of those head shaking moments that rightfully raise doubts in the minds of our constituents as to the Legislature’s resolve to serve the people above all else.”

Another highly debated provision was requiring outside groups to disclose donors in order to engage in free speech. During the House hearing on SB 19 Senator Ted Cruz said, “Today the Texas Legislature is holding a hearing on requiring outside groups to disclose their donors to engage in political speech. That would be a disastrous policy that would unconstitutionally chill free speech. President Obama and U.S. Senate Democrats have been trying to enact this wrongheaded law for years at the federal level.” Cruz added, “the Texas Legislature should not enact these pernicious laws at the state level.”

Senate Bill 19 now moves back to the Senate and will go to a conference committee where Senator Van Taylor maintains that he hopes to find areas of common ground, but has made it clear he will not accept any effort to, “weaken the First Amendment, chill free speech, or restrict the ability of individuals to engage in the political or legislative process.”

While this was an emergency item for Governor Abbott the House changes may kill the bill or lead to a veto.

The Senate sent the bill to the House a month in advance and it was not placed on Calendars until the final day for the House to debate the bill. Many pro-life advocates also feel the bill was placed to kill SB 575 which would have kept Texans from automatically paying for elective abortions through insurance.

State Rep. Matt Schaefer asked Rep. Byron Cook twice to postpone the bill to which Cook refused.

Senate Bill 575 died with over one hundred other senate bills at midnight as House rules dictate they could not be heard after midnight.

A near majority of Republicans voted against SB 19 including Rep. Pat Fallon and Rep. Scott Turner of Frisco. The bill passed third reading 94-49. Rep. Harold Dutton, who has a reputation for strong civil rights advocacy, was the lone democrat to vote against the bill.

According to Rep. Cook who started a twitter account today such a large number of Republicans voted against the bill due to fear-mongering from Michael Quinn Sullivan and Empower Texans. It should be noted that among those that voted against the bill several opponents funded by the Empower Texans PAC. This is evidence of a large variety of Republicans that opposed the bill from Dennis Bonnen to Jonathan Stickland.

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Jason Vaughn

Jason Vaughn is a profession balloon artist and entertainer and runs a weekly podcast on Texas. He is also a public speaker promoting entrepreneurship to youth and creative thinking to corporations and clubs,