AUSTIN – In a move that will put legislators under more scrutiny and provide more governmental transparency, the Texas Senate has approved the ethics reform bill SB 14.
Passing by a unanimous vote by the Texas Senate, the bill will next head to the House of Representatives for a vote. The bill, which was championed by Sen. Van Taylor, will allow for government retirement funds to be stripped of legislators convicted of a felony as well as provide more disclosures on contracts and expenditures and separates elected officials from lobbyists.
Under SB 14, any legislator that is convicted of a felony while in office for a litany of crimes such as bribery, embezzlement, extortion, theft of public money or perjury to name a few, will lose their rights to their pension. All payments of the retirement system will cease if convicted. If the charge is overturned, annuity payments will continue and interest on the payments will be paid.
Disclosure of government contracts by legislators was also defined in SB 14, bring more transparency to their roles and allowing for reporting on which contracts that they hold.
If approved, SB 14 will also provide for requirements by lobbyists to report all expenditures. Under this section of the bill, lobbyists must report expenditures that exceed 30 percent of the amount of the legislative per diem. This includes transportation, lodging, food, beverage and entertainment for members of the legislative or executive branch as well as for immediate family members.
A report will need to be filed to disclose to whom the expenditure was made in addition to date, location, and purpose of the expenditure. This section of SB 14 also includes disclosing gifts, awards or mementos received that exceed the value of $50 each.
Further introducing ethics reform with SB 14, the Senate approved the bill, which adds a section that prohibits elected officials from lobbying. They cannot be registered as a lobbyist under Chapter 305 of the Government Code and must have satisfied all requirements by law for office. The bill specifies a full legislative session (two years) as the time period that an individual can go from being a legislator to a lobbyist, creating more separation between the roles and preventing any bias.
Gov. Greg Abbott showed his support for the ethics reform bill by releasing a statement following the passage of the bill by the Texas Senate that advocated the moving forward of the ethics reform bill as much needed reform in Texas.
“The faith that people have in their democracy is linked to the trust they have in their elected officials,” Gov. Abbott said in a press release. “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. I want to thank Sen. Van Taylor who is once again leading the charge in shepherding this bill through Senate, and I look forward to its passage in the House.”