Senate Bill 14, an ethics reform package authored by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, was unanimously approved by Senate members in a 31-0 vote, becoming the first bill passed in the Senate this legislative session.
SB 14 would in part require elected officials to disclose contracts they and their immediate family have with governmental entities, bar public officials who have been convicted of a corruption felony from receiving a state-funded pension, ban public officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after they leave office and decrease the threshold at which lobbyists must disclose spending on public officials.
“The faith that people have in their democracy is linked to the trust they have in their elected officials,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement after the Senate passed the bill. “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.”
Gov. Greg Abbott named ethics reform as an emergency priority for lawmakers in his State of the State address last Tuesday. This fast-tracks the legislation, as only items named emergency items can be passed before March 10.
Tuesday’s bill passed the Senate with several amendments favorably adopted. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, withdrew an amendment, which would have required lobbyists to disclose spending on “widely attended events” by lawmakers, such as tailgates.
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said he was “offended” by Watson’s proposal because his vote wasn’t for sale.
SB 14 now moves to the Texas House, where it will be carried by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.
An amendment added to SB 14 makes the bill effective immediately if it receives a two-thirds vote in the House. If the bill fails to meet that two-thirds threshold, it would go into effect Sept. 1.
“The public demands greater accountability from its elected officials,” Rep. Eddie Lucio, R-Brownsville said. “...(The amendment) is a demonstration that we demand accountability of ourselves as well. Let’s...let the public know we’re serious about the high standard of accountability that is expected of all of us.”
In 2015, ethics reform was also designated as an emergency priority, and a similar bill died on the House floor over an amendment that would have required the disclosure of donors to politically active nonprofits.