As was widely expected, House Republicans took what was an ethics bill and flipped it on its head. Authored by State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), SB 19 was passed unanimously in the Texas Senate and included notable measures such as transparency and disclosure requirements for state ethics reports, ending the revolving door between elected office and the lobby, forcing officials and legislators who are convicted of felonies while in office to resign, and preventing lobbyists from skirting disclosure rules by changing the way expenses to entertain legislators are reported.
Upon its arrival in the House, it was assigned by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to State Affairs where Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) took up the bill. Cook derided the legislation as “one of the most superficial efforts [he has] ever seen,” and morphed the bill from a measure to rein in lawmakers into one that attacks citizens.
Cook gutted the provisions that prevented elected officials from simultaneously being paid to lobby, and instead included special privileges for lawmakers and attacks on the First Amendment rights of Texans. In the bill, Cook rolled in much of the draconian limitations on free speech he had authored earlier, but like other foolish, unpopular ventures had failed to receive approval in the House.
Conservatives fought back and tried to amend out many of the provisions, but were met with little success. Notably, State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) offered an amendment to strip all of Cook’s changes from the bill to restore the unadulterated Senate version. He was defeated 33-113.
However, the legislation was so unpalatable that the majority of Republicans rejected it on final passage. Half of them voted against the legislation, leaving Cook and a fraction of Republicans to rely on Democrats to push the bill through.
“Some in the House apparently don’t think elected officials are the problem and instead muddled the bill with a litany of bizarre measures that point the finger at everyone besides themselves, including a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook to launch an assault on the First Amendment. This is one of those head shaking moments that rightfully raises doubts in the minds of our constituents as to the Legislature’s resolve to serve the people above all else.”
The bill will now return to the Senate as amended, but chances of such a toxic bill surviving in the upper chamber are far less likely, where Taylor and other conservatives have the upper hand.