Senator makes second attempt at ethics reform

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With the strong support of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, State Senator Van Taylor has filed an ethics reform package aimed at curbing some common ways that elected officials enrich themselves through public office and forcing more disclosure of conflicts of interest.

Senate Bill 14 is the second attempt by Taylor, a Republican from Plano, to get his ethics reforms enacted. His prior attempt in 2015 died in the House in the final days of session, in what Taylor and others decried as a concerted effort by House leadership to subvert and then bury his legislation.

Taylor’s new bill focuses on measures that he believes have broad support, and that Patrick predicts will fly out of the upper chamber.

• One measure would restrict lawmakers from retiring from office and immediately cashing in as lobbyists influencing their former colleagues at the behest of special interests.

• Another measure would cut back on the amounts that lobbyists are allowed to spend wining and dining lawmakers.

• Taylor’s bill would also cut off state pensions to elected officials who are convicted of corruption.

• And the bill would also impose reporting requirements on lawmakers who have contracts with government entities.

Perhaps the most controversial part of Taylor’s bill is a measure that he did not include.  Last session, the House added a provision to force politically active non-profit organizations, pejoratively referred to as “Dark Money,” to disclose their donors.  This was a major point of contention in the clash between House and Senate Republicans and is expected to heat up again this time around.

“Dark Money” detractors contend that political activists, who often take aim at entrenched politicians, should be forced to disclose their donors similarly to the way politicians must disclose their campaign contributors.  Taylor, Patrick and others refute this position, contending that such disclosure requirements would subject donors of citizen-led groups to political retribution from those in power and violate their First Amendment right to free speech.

After his bill died in 2015, Taylor had this to say:

“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.”

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