GOP lawmaker asks Abbott to add ethics reform to special session call


Gov. Greg Abbott’s spokesman called the House focus on ethics reform “showboating.”

One ethics reform bill would curb the politician-to-lobbyist revolving door.

State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, asked Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday to add ethics reform legislation to his special session call, but the governor’s spokesman called the legislators’ request “showboating.”

Davis, joined by the members of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee — which she chairs — and Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, rolled out five bills, most of which the panel has approved in the past:

  • House Bill 15 would prohibit lawmakers and elected statewide officials from lobbying immediately after leaving office. Specifically, the bill would prohibit them from lobbying “before the first anniversary of the first day of the first regular legislative session to convene after the date the person ceases” to hold office.
  • HB 16 would give the Texas Ethics Commission more oversight over local campaigns and political action committees inside and outside the state.
  • HB 17 would increase disclosure requirements for vendors that do business with local governments to identify possible conflicts of interest.
  • HB 18 would extend conflict of interest disclosure requirements to members of governing boards at state agencies. Under the bill, they would be prohibited from participating in decisions “where conflicts arise.”
  • HB 19 would ban political contributions to the legislative and executive branches during special sessions and 20-day veto periods.

All bills are scheduled for a Thursday public hearing.

READ: Greg Abbott looks to 2017 for ethics reform

“It has been clearly displayed time and again that the House is dedicated to comprehensive ethics reform,” said Davis, who authored all five bills. “It is not our goal to focus on items that target only one class of individuals responsible to those they serve but to ensure that all levels of government are held to the same ethical standards as others.”

Davis hadn’t heard back from Abbott’s office by the time she announced her bills Wednesday morning, but the governor designated ethics reform an emergency item during each of the last two regular sessions, she noted.

“That gives me some amount of hope that he would add it to the call,” Davis said.

READ: Will Texas lawmakers toughen the ethics rules governing themselves?

Abbott, however, has remained focused on property tax reform, stripping authority from cities and imposing transgender bathroom restrictions, among other legislative priorities.

“Once the House and Senate pass all 20 items on the governor’s agenda, he’ll be happy to consider adding other items to the call,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman told the American-Statesman on Tuesday.

Davis doesn’t see her chamber — which is moving slowly, compared to the Senate — overcoming that hurdle.

“I feel at this point that’s unlikely to come from the House.” Davis said. “I think that it’s an important subject, but we’ll just be hopeful.”

After Davis’ press conference, Abbott’s office pushed back with a more direct tone.

“Instead of working to advance items on the special session agenda that could reform property taxes, fix school finance, increase teacher pay and reduce regulations, Reps. Davis and Larson are showboating over proposals that are not on the governor’s call,” Wittman said in a statement. “Their constituents deserve better.”

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