Senate Bill 19 was described by sponsor Van Taylor during a floor debate today as “generational” ethics reform, but when an amendment was offered to bar employment and co-investing between legislators, Senator John Whitmire erupted with accusations that Taylor and Don Huffines were trying to turn the legislation into unethical political payback.
Whitmire said the core intent of Taylor’s bill was payback against former Senator Wendy Davis. During last year’s election, Governor Greg Abbott accused Davis of unethical behavior because she served as bond counsel to local governments while a sitting senator.
And when Senator Don Huffines tried to amend the bill to bar co-employment among legislators, Whitmire said that was aimed at the incumbent Huffines defeated last year: John Carona. The president of a homeowner association management company, Carona is known to have employed Senator Judith Zaffirini as a consultant.
“You and I know you’re trying to get at John Carona…and Taylor’s trying to get at Wendy Davis,” Whitmire said during the debate. Whitmire said they were just trying to settle scores.
Huffines fired back: “The score was settled when I won.”
Whitmire also took exception with Taylor using the example of indicted state officials in New York on bribery charges as an example of why a new ethics bill is needed. “Senator Taylor implied we are all crooks,” Whitmire said.
Taylor did not immediately respond to Whitmire during the debate.
Senator Kirk Watson won passage 31-0 of amendments to require lobbyists to disclose expenditures of $50 or more for meals for legislators, their immediate family and staff and also prohibit lobbyists for splitting bills to get below disclosure thresholds.
The original bill would require legislators to wait for a two-year session before becoming lobbyists, but it would not apply to anyone currently in the Legislature. It also would require greater disclosure by legislators of contracts they have obtained and disclose whether they are serving as bond counsel. The original bill also would have banned incumbents from serving as bond counsel, but Taylor removed that provision to get the bill out of committee.
Update (April 28, 2015, 5:05 p.m.): During the course of debate, controversial amendments were added to prohibit legislators from receiving any compensatioin from a financial instition and to require drug testing of persons filing as candidates for office. The banking amendment by Senator Carlos Uresti of San Antonio was clearly aimed at Taylor because he serves on a banking board, and much of his original bill would have restrained the income of lawyer legislators. The drug testing amendment was added by Senator Eddie Lucio.
The Senate sent the bill to the House on an announced vote of 30-1, but the one opposition vote switched to an affirmative vote before it was recorded.
After the Senate adjorned, Taylor declined to answer questions from reporters about Whitmire’s statements. He also attempted to avoid questions about the banking amendment being aimed at him.
Taylor: “When I’m here I focus only on the people and serving their interest.”
Reporter: “Are you on a bank board?”
Taylor: “When I’m here I focus only on the people serving their interests. Whatever I may do on the outside is well in the rearview mirror.”
Reporter: “Are you on a bank board?”
Reporter: “Are you compensated for being on the bank board?”
Reporter: “So you’ll have to be not compensated?”
Taylor: “We’ll see. I could quit.”
Taylor said he was not certain what the bill will look like in the House, but praised Abbott for pushing ethics legislation. “The governor’s leadership is going to shepard this through,” Taylor said. “At the end of the day, we have a stronger bill leaving the Senate than the bill that I filed.”