SB 19, Omnibus ethics bill, strengthened on senate floor.

SB 19: A summary by Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice

Senate Bill 19, sponsored by Senator Van Taylor (R., Plano), started out as a relatively weak ethics reform package, and was further weakened in the State Affairs Committee on April 20. The committee, which reported the bill out on a 6-1 vote, weakened the provision requiring lawmakers to wait two years before becoming lobbyists by exempting all current members of the legislature. The committee also removed a provision prohibiting lawmakers from working as bond counsel for other public entities (the Wendy Davis provision.) As reported out by the committee, the bill was so weak that it prompted Public Citizen Director Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith to declare that the legislative session was shaping up to be “the worst session for ethics in 30 years.”

But in a pleasant surprise to reform advocates, the bill was substantially improved on the Senate floor earlier this week as senators adopted 10 strengthening amendments. The amendments added provisions that reformers have been pushing for years. Key strengthening amendments:

  • An  amendment by Senator José Rodriguez (D., El Paso) requires candidates and office holders to include all sources of income on their Personal Financial Statements, closing a loophole that allowed some income to be hidden from disclosure.
  • A second Rodriguez amendment requires that Personal Financial Statements be filed in an electronic format and posted on the TEC website in a searchable format within 15 days of filing.
  • An amendment by Senator Carlos Oresti (D., San Antonio) prohibits legislators and statewide officials from receiving any compensation for serving as a board member or officer of a financial institution.
  • An amendment by Senator Don Huffines (R., Dallas) stripped the special exemption for current legislators from the 2-year revolving-door cooling-off period.
  • An  amendment by Senator Brian Birdwell (R., Granbury) automatically removes a member of the legislature convicted of a felony.
  • An amendment by Senator Joan Huffman (R., Southside Place) requires elected public servants who are attorneys to provide a detailed accounting on their Personal Financial Statements of referral fees they receive.
  • Two amendments by Senator Kirk Watson (D., Austin) improve disclosure of  lobbyists’ entertainment expenditures.

In a move that will likely rankle civil liberty advocates, an amendment by Senator Eddie Lucio (D., Brownsville) requiring all officials elected to public office to take a drug test was adopted on a 22–9 vote. The Ethics Commission is required to post the results of those tests on its web site. Said Sen. Lucio, “I think whoever serves should have a clear mind.”

The bill passed the senate 31–0. There’s no word yet on when the House might consider the bill.

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