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Prohibit legislators from voting on legislation they may financially benefit from

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  • Prohibit legislators from voting on legislation they may financially benefit from

    Started by Greg Abbott

    Prohibit legislators from voting on legislation from which they may financially benefit by closing loopholes in the Texas Government Code, and providing options for both criminal and civil suit to ensure the enforcement of these provisions.

    TGC 572.053(a) provides:

    A member of the legislature may not vote on a measure or a bill, other than a measure that will affect an entire class of business entities that will directly benefit a specific business transaction of a business entity in which the member has a controlling interest.

    There are three problems with this language. First, Texas legislators interpret the provision to mean that they do not have a conflict of interest if they vote on legislation that affects an entire industry, and not just their own specific businesses. Indeed, the House Rules comments provide that the disclosure and non-voting for personal business requirement is one “which each member is left to comply according to his or her own judgment as to what constitutes a personal or private interest.” Second, the language does not cover many instances in which a legislator may gain financially because the language only restricts voting on matters in which the member may have a “controlling interest” in a business. Finally, the language does not provide a sufficient enforcement mechanism to ensure that legislators who have a conflict are deterred from improperly voting on issues that implicate them directly.

    In order to foreclose any opportunity for financial gain through official governmental business, Texas Government Code Chapter 572.053 should be amended to include any pecuniary gain through employment, contracts, subcontracts, contingency fees, referral fees, or agreements in order to close legislative interpretation loopholes. Expanding this provision allows for greater transparency and serves to limit potential conflicts of interest.

    Finally, when legislators violate these provisions, there must be a viable method for the citizens of Texas to hold their representatives accountable. Under current law, any individual may file a sworn complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging a violation of certain laws, including those provided in Texas Government Code Chapter 572, which governs the provisions of this recommendation. This does not provide a sufficient disincentive to discourage legislators from voting on matters of personal interest. Enforcement on the issue should be expanded by providing an option for private citizens to bring civil suit against any alleged violation of this law.

    Amend Texas Government Code Section 572.053 to prohibit legislators from voting on a measure or bill in which the member or member’s spouse has a controlling interest, or through which the member or spouse would derive a pecuniary gain through employment, contract, subcontract, contingency fee arrangement, referral fee, or agreement.

    In addition, amend Texas Government Code Section 572.0531(a) to require members to file a notice before introducing or sponsoring a measure or bill if a person related to the member within the first degree of consanguinity or the member’s spouse is a registered lobbyist with respect to the subject matter of the measure or bill, or if the member has a controlling interest in an entity effected by the measure or bill, or derives a pecuniary gain through employment, contract, subcontract, contingency fee arrangement, referral fee, or agreement.

    Finally, add Texas Government Code Section 572.0532 to provide that violations of the previous sections shall be a Class A Misdemeanor, and may be prosecuted by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office; and to provide that any individual may file civil suit against a legislator in any District Court in Travis County, Texas. In such a civil suit, provide that the individual bringing the suit shall receive at least 15 percent but not more than 25 percent of the proceeds of the action or settlement of the claim, depending upon the extent to which the person substantially contributed to the prosecution of the action. The remainder of the award should be kept by the state for indigent defense under Government Code Chapter 79. The party that prevails in the suit shall also receive an amount for reasonable expenses which the court finds to have been necessarily incurred, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

    These changes to the Texas Government Code will ensure a more responsible government for Texas. Disclosure of state contracts, along with the recommended amendment within the Texas Government Code will result in a more transparent government without loopholes for public officials.

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