Reform by the light of Sunset

Watchdogs or just pets? A couple of agencies that are supposed to protect average Texans may be more about protecting unaverage Texans…

In this American-Statesman article, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct‘s, uh, conduct is called into question because of its refusal to answer questions from the Sunset Advisory Commission.

In this report by The Sunset Advisory Commission, we see that the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC — the state equivalent to the Federal Elections Commission) has problems of its own. Is it an accident that a commission created by the Legislature tends to be very forgiving of legislators’ campaign finance infractions? Several of us are looking at this and plan to testify in favor of TEC reform next month.

Please share your views on this so we can tell Sunset what our members think.

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One Response to Reform by the light of Sunset

  1. Joanne Richards says:

    My summary of Key Recommendations under Issue 2: The Hearings Process for Ethics Complaints Weakens the Commission’s Effectiveness in Enforcing Disclosure Laws.

    If the TEC is to be an effective enforcement agency, it must be restructured so that it operates like all other civil state law enforcement. Enforcement should be established as a separate division from advisory and regulation. TEC officers must be able to pursue cases without having to get permission from partisan appointees. The enforcement division should not have to rely on the lay public to find out about all possible infractions.

    1. Eliminate Commissioner involvement in the preliminary review of a sworn complaint and restructure the preliminary hearing to include only two Commissioners.

    This should be a staff responsibility. The Commission’s involvement in the preliminary review of complaints partially impairs its ability to fairly judge them. Commissioner involvement in the preliminary hearing phase should be limited to two commissioners.

    2. Provide for judicial review of Commission decisions based on substantial evidence of the record and decisions made by the Commission.
    Contested case hearings would be subject to appeal under the “substantial evidence rule” rather than the requirement of a new trial. Additionally, a respondent would be required to exhaust the Commission’s administrative remedies and not be allowed to bypass agency hearings before taking a case to court.

    3. Clearly establish that the Texas Ethics Commission has the choice of holding formal hearings itself or delegating this responsibility to the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

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