TPWD — a state agency tasked with “manag[ing] and conserv[ing] the natural and cultural resources of Texas” — is, like all state agencies, prohibited from lobbying on any legislation.
But a release by the department shows the agency is outwardly supporting the passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), which would create a $1.4 billion annual pot of funding to be divvied out to states for fish and wildlife conservation.
“Help is needed to get RAWA to the finish line,” reads the TPWD release. “The public is encouraged to contact their U.S. senators and representatives to vote ‘yes’ for this important legislation.”
The release was posted to the agency’s official accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
TPWD estimates passage of RAWA would bring as much as $50 million to Texas each year for that conservation.
“While it would do much to protect fish and wildlife that need it most, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would also mean a long-term investment in the public health and well-being of all Texans, as well as stewardship of our home ground,” said TDWP Executive Director Carter Smith.
Texas Government Code states, “A state agency may not use appropriated money to attempt to influence the passage or defeat of a legislative measure.”
A violation of this statute, “is subject to immediate termination of employment.”
But according to the agency, federal legislation is not subject to the prohibition.
“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is proposed federal legislation that is not in conflict with operations of the Office of State-Federal Relations (OSFR),” a TPWD spokesman told The Texan. “Therefore, with the approval of the direct supervisor, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employees using state time (time not coded to any federal grant) may advocate for this federal legislation. This does not affect guidelines already in place regarding employee involvement in state proposed legislation.”
OSFR is a state agency that “advocate[s] the interests of Texas, especially as interests relate to the missions and functions of Texas state government.” Minted in 1965 as a branch of the governor’s office, OSFR became its own agency in 1971.
The agency then pointed to a decade-old court decision by Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals. That case, Texans Uniting for Reform (TURF) and Freedom v. Saenz, considered the legality of a similar situation. In the mid-late aughts, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) contracted public relations firms for the Trans-Texas Corridor project to corral support from Texans for federal legislation that would fund the project.
TURF gestured at the same provision of Texas code referenced above and made the case that TxDOT’s efforts ran afoul of the state’s lobbying prohibition.
The court ruled that TURF’s case was without merit because OSFR’s mere existence proved the legislature’s intent to allow interagency contracting.
“Especially in light of these legislative authorizations for federal legislative advocacy, we agree that the legislature did not intend section 556.006’s lobbying prohibition to extend to federal legislation,” the opinion reads.
That section was added to Senate Bill 645 during the 75th Legislative Session in 1997 as a floor amendment by Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas).
Davis did not return a request for comment on the original intent of the provision she succeeded in passing and the House journal offers no insight. OSFR also did not respond to an inquiry by the time of publishing.
Should the law pass, TPWD says the funding will be directed toward species of greatest conservation need and expanding staffing at state parks to ensure their more frequent operation.
The legislation has passed through the committee process in both congressional chambers but hasn’t yet moved beyond that.
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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.