Already watered down from the original versions filed by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) proposed an across-the-board prohibition for all taxing entities, Senate Bill (SB) 10 placed a prohibition on taxpayer dollars financing lobbying activities for only cities and counties when it was received by the House.
The largest contributor to property taxes, school districts, was not included in the anointed Senate version.
Middleton’s version was debated in a marathon committee hearing in late March, but hasn’t budged since.
But in a committee meeting Friday, the House State Affairs Committee introduced its own version with an altered direction. Where SB 10 prohibits taxpayer-funded lobbying on all issues, the substitute limits that scope only to the no-new-revenue property tax rate and the unused increment rate.
Those found in violation of this narrower prohibition, rather than face legal action from a taxpayer or resident of the government entity, would face a penalty in the form of a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). The TEC is the agency tasked with regulating lobbying activities.
Under the new version, there is no judicial mechanism through which to punish violations — though an agency review process can yield financial penalties.
Another substantial difference lies within the scope of political subdivisions subject to the respective bills’ regulation. The Senate’s version applies only to cities and counties, but the House substitute expands the category to all political subdivisions that impose a tax as well as special districts that can issue bonds — such as mobility and transit authorities, municipal utility districts, and river authorities.
It also incorporates public universities and community colleges in the narrow prohibition.
Both versions allow elected officials or employees of the political subdivisions in question to lobby on any issue. But localities have leaned heavily on outside representation — i.e., lobbyists — to spend more time working the halls of the capitol to advance their priorities.
As the bill moves toward potential floor action, opponents will be scouring its contents for procedural vulnerabilities. Points of order, a parliamentary tool used to expose a bill’s violation of House rules, have spelled doom for many prized pieces of legislation over the years.
Last session, Hall and Middleton’s bill faltered on the House floor after an amendment was successfully tacked on to exempt all but 20 counties in the state.
That legislation applied to any taxing political subdivision or regional mobility authority and prohibited taxpayer-funded lobbying on any issues related to taxation, bond elections, tax-supported debt, or ethics and transparency — but included the ability for a taxpayer to seek injunctive relief.
Momentum for a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying gained some steam over the interim, but has struggled to continue during the session.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.