by Brandon Waltens
Legislation originally intended to bar the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying in the Texas Capitol has been defeated by the Texas House after being severely watered down by the bill’s own sponsor and a handful of liberal Republicans who teamed up with Democrats to destroy the bill.
As passed by the Senate last month, Senate Bill 29 filed by State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) would have banned the practice across the board, prohibiting counties, cities, school districts, and other local entities from spending taxpayer dollars for the purpose of lobbying the state legislature.
But when the bill was sent to the House, lawmakers began the process of gutting the bill irreparably. The committee substitute of the bill, drafted by State Rep. Drew Springer (R–Muenster), shrunk the scope of the bill by limiting the number of topics a registered lobbyist, paid by a taxing entity, could lobby the legislature on, leaving the floor open for taxing entities to continue the egregious practice.
Then State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Wallisville), who sponsored the legislation in the Texas House, offered an amendment to weaken the legislation even further by removing the prohibition on hiring lobbyists for schools.
Additionally, Middleton’s amendment allowed cities and counties to pay dues to chambers of commerce that engage in lobbying as well as clarified that employees of cities and counties could be paid to come to Austin to testify on legislation and be reimbursed for expenses.
Before the amendment was adopted, however, State Rep. Trent Ashby (R–Lufkin) brought an amendment to limit the scope of the bill even further by exempting counties with a population of fewer than 250,000, leaving only around 20 counties subject to the provisions of the bill.
According to Ashby, “rural” communities like Midland and Waco would be free from the restrictions in the bill. The amendment drew sharp critique from State Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R–Fredericksburg), who noted Ashby’s amendment would carve every taxpayer in his district out of the protection offered by the bill.
“Is the purpose of this bill to protect our cities and counties, or is it to protect our taxpayer?” Biedermann asked Ashby.
Ashby, however, insisted that small communities should be able to use taxpayer dollars to lobby the legislature, going as far as to mockingly use air quotes when saying “taxpayer.”
“This bill still supports taxpayer-funded lobbying,” Ashby added.
Though Middleton objected to Ashby’s amendment, Democrats and a group of Republicans teamed up to pass it 90-54, taking a firehose to the already watered-down bill.
Middleton then attempted to withdraw his amendment, now tainted even further with Ashby’s population exemption, but was informed by House Speaker Dennis Bonnen that he would not be allowed to make that motion.
Middleton then took the extraordinary action of urging members to vote against his own amendment, but to no avail. The amendment was approved 81-59.
Democrat State Rep. Harold Dutton (Houston) asked Middleton during his closing statement on the bill whether the bill would prevent the cities and counties still subject to the provisions of the watered-down bill from hiring “session-only government affairs” employees as unregistered lobbyists. Middleton conceded that it did, highlighting yet another major weakness in the bill as presented to the body.
Ultimately, the bill went down on a vote of 58-85, officially killing the measure this session.
A longtime legislative goal of conservatives, delegates at the Republican Party of Texas named ending taxpayer-funded lobbying as one of their top five legislative priorities during their state convention last June.