Texas Monitor Week in Review – May 13, 2017

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This week, The Texas Monitor delved into the clash between union groups and backers of a bill aimed at stopping state-run collection of union dues.

Dozens of union members recently held a town hall meeting in a Harris County suburb to give their Republican state senator and sponsor of the bill, Joan Huffman, a piece of their mind.  Huffman declined to attend, so attendees instead directed their ire at a photo of Huffman. A lobbyist supporting the bill told The Texas Monitor that such tactics by the unions are a “distraction dance” put on by lobbyists who are paid out of the union dues collected by the state at taxpayer expense.

Supporters of the bill, including a cadre of Republicans including Governor Greg Abbott, say that the government should have no official role in collecting dues from public union paychecks.  Opponents of the bill claim that automatic payroll deductions of dues are a convenience to public union workers, and that eliminating them is a ploy by Republicans to undercut unions and the Democrats they staunchly support.

The bill has passed the Senate and is now awaiting debate in the House. Despite the Republican majority in the House, the bill’s passage is uncertain.  A similar bill passed in the Senate and died in the House last session.

In another story, The Texas Monitor revealed that the Austin Independent School District continued paying a company owned by indicted state Representative Dawwna Dukes despite the company’s revoked business license for failure to file franchise taxes.

Shortly after Dukes’ indictment, Austin ISD cancelled her contract, which had earned her over $1 million over several years for coordinating the district’s use of minority contractors.

Over that period, Dukes’ business license had been revoked on three separate occasions, which went unnoticed at the district.  A spokesperson for the district told The Texas Monitor that “the District’s standard contracting procurement practice does not include contacting the State Comptroller’s office to check standing of the business franchise tax returns and payments.”

Former AISD district trustee Paul Saldaña said the revoked business charter of a contractor “would have definitely gotten the attention of the board” and that “it would be something [he] would have liked to have known” had the board been informed.

Dukes faces felony charges for allegedly tampering with a governmental record.

In other news, a major ethics reform bill passed the Texas House this week that would strip government pensions from elected officials who commit serious acts of public corruption.

Governor Greg Abbott made ethics reform one of his top priorities at the beginning of session and is expected to sign the bill into law.

But in an ironic twist, according to the Texas Tribune, the Texas House is taking aim at what critics call a “pay to play” culture among the governor’s appointees.  State agencies are barred from lobbying the Legislature but not the governor’s powerful appointees who oversee them.  Members in the house have moved to outlaw the practice and to bar big donors from appointed office altogether.

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