Unconstitutional NASCAR Reimbursement Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk

With full knowledge of how it violated the Texas Constitution, a supermajority of the Texas House of Representatives has voted forward an unconstitutional retroactive law to benefit NASCAR and other special interests. If signed by Gov. Abbott, Senate Bill 293 will retroactively expand events eligible to receive benefits from the Major Events Trust Fund.

The legislation stems from a series of reimbursement requests by NASCAR that have recently been denied by the Comptroller. As recently as March 20, the Comptroller explained they were unable to provide payments for a racing event, as NASCAR was not currently included in the definition of eligible organizations under the Major Events Trust Fund statute. This has apparently angered NASCAR, and caused them to threaten a boycott of the state if funds are not appropriated.

SB 293 easily passed the Senate 28-3, with only Republican Senators Burton, Hall, and Schwertner registering their opposition.

When it reached the floor of the House, Rep. David Simpson raised a point of order against it. He noted that the bill’s language states that it applies to events “held on or after the effective date of” SB 1678, a bill passed by the 83rd Legislature in 2013 that expanded the Major Events Trust Fund. This language would make events that were ineligible when the events actually occurred eligible for reimbursement after the fact. In other words, it would retroactively reimburse previously ineligible parties for past events.

Article I Section 16 of the Texas Constitution explicitly provides: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, retroactive law, or any law impairing the obligation of contracts, shall be made.”  Since the events in question were correctly denied under existing law, Simpson argued, it is a breach of the state constitution for the legislature to write a new law to make the past events eligible for compensation.

House Speaker Joe Straus exercised his discretion and refused to rule on the point of order, effectively passing it on to the members on the following vote. Despite Simpson’s impassioned pleas that his colleagues honor their constitutional oaths, the measure passed to third reading with 113 representatives voting in favor and just 28 representatives voting against (numbers adjusted for journal statements).

When the bill was brought up on third reading, Simpson urged additional points of order, noting that the bill had a misleading caption and a misleading bill analysis which did not even address the section of the law making it retroactive.

Again Straus overruled the objections, arguing that Simpson’s complaints were not timely, and submitted the unconstitutional legislation to the body for a vote. SB 293 finally passed the House on an adjusted vote of 114-29.

All eyes are now on Gov. Abbott to see if he will sign the unconstitutional legislation, or veto it and find some other constitutionally proper solution to the NASCAR situation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel for Empower Texans. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony received his J.D. in 2012 from UT Law School. While in school, Tony served as Senior Vice Chairman for Young Conservatives of Texas and helped manage its legislative affairs. During the 83rd Texas Legislature he served as Chief of Staff for Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Tony resides in Austin and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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