Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is taking full advantage of one of the perks of being an incumbent: He can draw attention to himself (and thus away from his very strong opponents in his re-election campaign) by engaging in high-profile official acts.
He’s been doing that lately with one of his routine duties as the Senate’s presiding officer: charging committees to study various topics in preparation for the 2015 legislative session.
So far, he’s listed topics on the state economy, public safety, border security and, on Friday, protecting privacy and increasing government transparency.
It’s within the Senate’s power to boost its own transparency by requiring that “committee substitutes” for all legislation be made public a reasonable amount of time (at least 24 hours) before there can be a committee vote.
Here’s what happens now:
Say Sen. Dudley Do-Right has a bill saying all Texans must own a cat and must feed it every day. The bill calls for state financial subsidies for everyone who can’t afford to feed a cat.
Do-Right must first get support from his colleagues and the Senate’s leaders to give the bill a committee hearing. Let’s say he does that and the hearing is properly advertised.
At the hearing, members of the powerful Texans for the Support of Cats testify about the virtues of the bill. But Texans for the Support of Dogs also sends representatives to testify for equal treatment. Things get heated.
The committee adjourns without a vote. Lobbying ensues. Media hordes cover the issue.
A week later, when the cat and dog folks have gone home, the committee meets again.
The chairman, with no public notice at all, says there’s a committee substitute for Do-Right’s bill.
It says cats and dogs are both good. The committee votes its approval and leaves.
Publication of the substitute bill would at least allow Texas for the Support of Cats to rally its troops before the committee vote.
A news release from Dewhurst says he wants to “determine how Texas Senate websites can be improved to provide a more interactive and transparent government.”
It’s easy: Use those websites to publish committee substitute bills well before a vote.