Closer look at ethics reform bills failing in the TX Legislature

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 8:51am

It was set up to  be the session of "Sunlight", but the 83rd Legislature largely failed to pass major ethics reform. Alana Rocha, with the Texas Tribune, takes a closer look.

There was good reason to think lawmakers this session might finally be ready to update the ethics laws that govern them. Forty plus freshman came in, ready to make good on campaign promises to get the part-time legislature to be more transparent.

"There's been a couple of decades where we haven't made any changes and so maybe this is the beginning much needed changes in our disclosure and our ethics forms."

It was a bipartisan effort that garnered the support of more senior members, too. "I think people will feel like, by the time this session ends," It didn't take long for that feeling to fade, "I just know that when I was trying to make some changes on there, the resistance was coming from mostly elected officials."

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, for one, proposed legislation that would require elected officials to disclose their business contracts with government entities. "For every business association that's in 11A, please list those that have government contracts, with some exceptions - specifically that there's a $10,000 minimum.'

When the bill itself failed to make it onto the House calendar, Capriglione tacked a watered down version of it onto the ethics commission bill, and faced tough questioning. "I just want to make sure I understand this - You think it's a good compromise? I think it is, yes. Okay, so less transparency is good. No."

Capriglione's amendment was ultimately adopted by a slim margin, only to be stripped off the bill in conference committee along with several other measures. One of those would've forced lawmakers to put their financial disclosure forms online. "I can remember talking to Senators on the floor about that bill, some of us talking about voting against the bill if for no other reason than that one thing."

The few amendments that stayed on the ethics bill would require people posting political ads online to disclose who's paying for them, and force railroad commissioners to resign if they run for another office. "This was a session of missed opportunities, it's difficult to work on those topics and really make changes."

There are always future opportunities, lawmakers say. In 2015, they'll be returning to the Capitol with the results of one ethics bill they could get passed, an interim study on the state's disclosure laws.

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