Wed April 8, 2015 3:21 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Earlier today, Paul Burka wondered, Wither the Governor? I think I found the answer, and it’s not at the Legislature. 

Wed April 8, 2015 1:50 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Legislature this year is eager to do away with local control: city plastic grocery bag bans or the use of red light cameras, restrictions on tree cutting or the carrying of firearms on municipal property—plus, the big one, banning hydraulic fracturing to drill for gas within a city limit.

But by a 20-11 vote today, the Senate made it clear that local control is just fine when a state official—including the senators themselves—is accused of committing an ethics crime ranging from election code violations to the corruption of bribery, perjury and abuse of office. Essentially, they voted to put the venue for prosecuting an alleged crime into the location where they will have the greatest influence over whether that crime is prosecuted, their own hometown.

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Wed April 8, 2015 1:32 pm By Paul Burka

I find the silence from the Governor’s Mansion deafening. It has been a long time since Greg Abbott weighed in on any major issue in the legislative session. As one who has put ethics front and center, you might think he would have concerns about the contracting scandal at HHS and making a determination on Kyle Janek’s future. He can’t be pleased that occupant of the office he previously held is an admitted lawbreaker (and Sid Miller at the Ag Department could be headed for trouble as well).

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Wed April 8, 2015 8:42 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Houston Chronicle’s Mike Ward is reporting that later today the Texas Senate will take up an ethics bill that, in my opinion, will end almost all ethics prosecutions in the state of Texas.

AUSTIN — A compromise has been reached to allow passage of a controversial Senate ethics bill that would allow state elected officials to be prosecuted in their home counties, rather than in Austin, the bill’s author confirmed Tuesday.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she has agreed to remove the Attorney General’s office from having any involvement in the prosecutions of ethics violations, and to allow local prosecutors to handle the cases…

With Sens. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and all Senate Democrats opposed to the anywhere-but-Austin prosecution exception for statewide officeholders, lawmakers and lobbyists, Huffman had been unable to get her bill called up for a vote by the full Senate.

Seliger last week had proposed allowing the Texas Rangers to investigate all cases, and to have a special prosecutor appointed by the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court handle any charges filed.

With the Texas Rangers, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature generally believe they would get better outcomes in ethics investigations of them than those conducted by the Travis County district attorney’s office run by Democrat Rosemary Lehmberg, who stirred controversy two years for being arrested and serving jail time for drunk driving.

 

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Tue April 7, 2015 4:21 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Once upon a time, in the waning days of Democratic rule in Texas, a major warning sign of the party’s decline was when conservatives came to believe their party had drifted so far left that it no longer represented the state’s mainstream. When these conservatives eventually switched parties, the catchphrase was: I’m not leaving the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.

This year, I’ve heard from more than one fiscal conservative – a Ronald Reagan or a George W. Bush Republican – that their party has moved so far right that they feel shunned like liberals. As one Republican consultant lamented to me about the hard right, “They probably think I’m a RINO.” For those who don’t know, that means Republican in Name Only.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates how far to the right the evangelical tea party agenda has pushed the Legislature than the fact Bill Hammond stood up at a news conference today with Democrats and human rights activists to oppose a proposed religious freedom constitutional amendment that could be used to discriminate against gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people.

Hammond, chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Business, is no liberal. Nor is Hammond a RINO. Not by any stretch of the imagination. He is a staunch conservative with the credentials to prove it.

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