Texas House Approves Change To Ethics Rules

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The Texas State Capitol building. (credit: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)

The Texas State Capitol building. (credit: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)

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AUSTIN (AP) - Lawmakers would have to disclose more information about their campaign transactions and potential conflicts of interest with lobbyists under a bill that won approval Wednesday night in the Texas House.

But a last-minute change could also have a chilling effect on prosecutors who go after state elected officials on official corruption charges. The amendment, proposed by GOP Rep. Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville, stays state attorneys “may not prosecute” officials who follow advice given out by the Texas Ethics Commission.

Fort Worth Rep. Charlie Geren, the Republican sponsor of the legislation, said he may remove the provision when lawmakers take up the bill for its final procedural push through the House on Thursday.

“I’m not sure it’s going to stay on it,” Geren said. “We’re going to get some legal opinions. If we need to strip it off, we will.”

The bill takes aim at double-dipping spending practices by lawmakers that have led to a criminal investigation.

The legislation would clean up shoddy disclosure laws that have allowed lawmakers to pocket taxpayer money for political travel with little oversight or transparency. The Associated Press reported extensively on the spending practices, which have drawn scrutiny from Texas prosecutors.

By law, legislators don’t have to detail transactions made between their campaign and their personal accounts. They also don’t have to report when they earn interest or investment dividends, or when they get money back from deposits, rebates or other credits.

Geren’s bill would require disclosure of those transactions, which would make it easier to see if politicians are using their campaign accounts to make money. Lawmakers voted to make the new disclosure requirements apply only to transactions in excess of $100.

Geren’s legislation also would require registered lobbyists to disclose their paid relationships to politicians. Geren said Texans should be able to know who lobbyists are working for and whether their ties present conflicts of interest.

Companies often hire lobbyists without knowing about paid relationships they might have with lawmakers, and legislators often don’t know that their colleagues have close connections to lobbyists pushing various policy initiatives in the Legislature.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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