State Politics

Texas Senate’s ethics reform plan unveiled, targets revolving door

Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, details his plan for passing ethics reform during a press conference at the Texas Capitol on Jan. 25.
Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, details his plan for passing ethics reform during a press conference at the Texas Capitol on Jan. 25. For The Texas Tribune

With Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at his side, Sen. Van Taylor unveiled an ethics reform package Wednesday that would make it harder for elected officials to cash in on their public office and require more disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

Senate Bill 14 revives several measures that crashed and burned in the waning hours of the 2015 session. The lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, called the legislation “a strong bill that will have transparency and hold our elected officials to a high standard” and said it had more than enough support to fly out of the chamber.

Taylor, a Republican from Plano, is focusing his efforts on measures that got broad support two years ago even though they didn’t make it all the way through the legislative process and into law.

“We have no more valuable bond in democracy than the trust people have in their government,” Taylor said. “This is the people’s bill.”

His Senate Bill 14 takes aim at several controversial practices that have helped give the Legislature a reputation for loose ethical regulation and ineffective disclosure.

One notable absence from the bill: a provision closing the “dark money” loophole, which has been used by GOP and Democratic activists alike to cloak the source of their political donations. A fight among House and Senate Republicans over that issue doomed passage of the ethics reform legislation in 2015.

Elsewhere, Taylor’s legislation would ensure that elected officials convicted of felonies must vacate their office. Though current law says felons can’t qualify as candidates for office, it doesn’t expressly say they can’t keep serving after getting convicted. Taylor was asked if the provision might eventually apply to Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been indicted on felony charges stemming from alleged securities fraud and faces a trial in North Texas later this year.

Taylor noted that there are a “lot of cases” people might conjure up. Last week, for example, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, was indicted on felony charges.

“My focus is not any individual case,” Taylor said. “It is these sets of principles which are bigger than any one case.’’

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