Before telling state lawmakers to plan on a July special session, Gov. Greg Abbott asserted that some priorities were fulfilled in the regular session that ended Memorial Day.
Abbott said in his June 6 remarks: “At the beginning of the 85th legislative session, I declared four emergency items: first, reforming CPS (Child Protective Services) and our foster care system to keep our children safe; second, banning sanctuary cities to keep our communities safe; third, ethics reform, to reduce the perception of corruption; and fourth, calling for a convention of states to rein in an out-of-control federal government.
“All of these priorities were passed by the Legislature and are now law,” Abbott said.
Proposals in three of those realms made it into law though the Republican-dominated Legislature’s endorsement of Abbott's call for a federal constitutional convention lies in an adopted joint resolution urging Congress to call a convention of the states “for the limited purpose of proposing one or more amendments to the Constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and to limit the terms of office of federal officials and members of Congress.”
Abbott’s mention of ethics reform led us to check on his declared progress by using the PolitiFact Texas Abbott-O-Meter, which tracks progress on promises Abbott made on his way to winning the governorship in 2014.
Abbott entered 2017 with three ethics campaign promises, each one rated a Promise Broken in that we previously spotted no progress on his campaign trail calls to limit lawyer-legislators from making money from lawsuit referrals; eliminate loopholes enabling lawmakers to vote on legislation financially benefiting themselves; and require state elected officials to disclose more about personal sources of income including contracts.
Our search of measures that gained momentum during the 2017 session again revealed no progress on limiting lawyer-legislators from making money from referrals or from voting on proposals financially benefiting themselves — so we're leaving each vow an Abbott Promise Broken.
Yet lawmakers this year embraced Abbott’s vow to improve disclosures of personal income.
Abbott said in his Jan. 31 State of the State address: "It is time to let Texans know if elected officials have government contracts paid for by the taxpayers. Voters deserve to know if lawmakers are working for themselves or the people that elected them."
And on June 6, Abbott signed into law House Bill 501, authored by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, which steps up what public officials must report, starting Jan. 8, 2019, in annual personal financial disclosure statements.
The measure was in keeping with Abbott’s November 2013 campaign proposal that “all state elected officials be required to disclose more about their sources of income and to disclose any contracts they, or their family members, have with state agencies or local government bodies.”
Under the new law, officials must reveal any ownership stakes of 5 percent or more in any business entity, down from 50 percent previously. The law also imposes dollar-amount thresholds for contracts that an official must disclose, and it folds in any contract with a government body or subcontractor in which the official or his or her immediate family members have a combined stake of at least 50 percent. It also newly requires lawmakers providing bond counsel services to reveal the relevant government clients and to report roughly how much was paid to the individual and her or his firm.
By phone, Capriglione, R-Southlake, told us, “Our goal was to make sure that all contracts of any elected or public official, including the governor’s appointees, would have to be disclosed in the personal financial statements.” (Next, Capriglione said, he’d like to put in motion independent audits of candidate campaign contribution and expenditure reports.)
Also by phone, Carol Birch, a lawyer in the Texas office of Public Citizen, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that calls itself the “countervailing force to corporate power,” said the adopted financial disclosure mandates were a win for people seeking sunlight on officials’ holdings.
We are revising our rating of this Abbott vow to Promise Kept.