The Texas Legislative Guide was designed and developed by Becca Aaronson, Emily Albracht, Daniel Craigmile, Annie Daniel, Ben Hasson and Ryan Murphy for The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern.
Gov. Greg Abbott declared ethics reform an emergency item in the 2015 session, and the idea of beefing up disclosures by lawmakers and lobbyists was a hot topic in the Capitol. But at the end of the day, watchdogs say Texas lawmakers actually went backward — passing legislation under the veil of ethics reform that actually requires them to disclose less. Indeed, the overhaul ethics reform bills that lawmakers in both chambers debated — measures that included greater disclosure of lobbyist wining and dining — died when no compromise could be reached.
There were a few minor wins: Democratic Rep. Chris Turner helped add an amendment to a bill requiring state officials to reveal pensions and "public benefits" on their annual disclosures. There will also be more sunlight on elected officials who profit from government contracts or certain public debt-financing deals. Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, managed to overcome the anti-ethics inertia to pass a bill requiring governmental entities to provide to the Texas Ethics Commission a list of people who have a financial interest in their significant contracts.
But there were bigger steps backward. Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, managed to tack on an amendment — in two different bills — that opens up a “spousal loophole” allowing politicians to shield details about their spouses' financial holdings. Huffman was also instrumental in passing a bill creating a unique carve-out for lawmakers accused of public corruption. If Abbott doesn't veto it, no longer will he or other state elected officials be required to face an investigation by local prosecutors in the county where the alleged corruption occurred. Instead, they will face an initial probe by the state police — whose budget the politicians oversee — and then prosecution and trial in the county where they maintain a homestead.
Updated: June 1, 2015
- Former legislators as lobbyists
- Lawmaker and lobbyist disclosures
- Overhauling the public integrity unit
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