Abbott vow to bar school districts from hiring outside lobbyists shy of drawing wide support
In a November 2013 campaign speech, Greg Abbott declared he was primed, if elected, to ban school districts from hiring outside lobbyists to lobby legislators for more state funding.
An Associated Press news story on Abbott's speech noted that the 2011 Legislature cut per-student spending for the first time since World War II, and lawmakers failed to restore those cuts in 2013. Also noted: School districts had sued the state for failing to meet its constitutional duty to properly fund public schools.
In his speech, Abbott said: "Using your money to lobby for more of your money is a conflict of interest. It needs to stop. School districts should directly represent the needs of their schools at the Legislature and not waste taxpayer resources on lobbyists."
We wondered if the 2015 Legislature warmed up to Abbott's moan.
To a degree.
To our inquiry, Dax Gonzalez of the Texas Association of School Boards identified legislative proposals focused on restricting lobbying by political subdivisions. None of those seemed to be moving.
House Bill 1257 by Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, would bar the governing body of a political subdivision from spending government money on influencing legislative outcomes or on hiring a registered lobbyist. According to legislative records, a House panel held a hearing on the proposal in April 2015 but didn't act to advance it to the full House. A Senate companion measure did not win a hearing.
Similarly, the House Committee on General Investigations & Ethics held a hearing but didn't vote on Shaheen's proposal explicitly restricting school districts in the same ways. House Bill 3219 -- which Shaheen called a "signature portion" of Abbott's agenda -- was left pending April 9, 2015.
We thought that may have settled the issue for the 2015 session.
But Shaheen's chief of staff, Christopher Paxton, pointed out by phone that a Senate proposal modeled on HB 1257 still stood a chance of making it into law. Senate Bill 1862 by Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, also gives citizens a way to challenge political bodies that break the proposal's prohibitions.
A Senate summary of Burton's proposal says: "Many political subdivisions around Texas, including cities, counties, regional mobility authorities, and water districts, are spending taxpayer dollars to lobby for their interests in Austin. According to the Senate Research Center, the Texas Ethics Commission reports that taxpayer-funded entities will spend about $29 million on lobbyists in 2015." Burton's office emailed us a March 2015 center memo stating that at that time, 42 percent of more than 1,700 registered lobbyists had as a client a Texas city or county.
The Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on Burton's legislation May 4, 2015; there hadn't been further action on it as of May 14, 2015.
So, dead in the water? Art Martinez de Vara, Burton's chief of staff, told us by phone: "It's an uphill climb."
We rate this Abbott Promise STALLED.
News story, "Gubernatorial candidate Abbott calls for greater privacy protections, legalizing open carry," the Associated Press, Nov. 14, 2013
Press release, "Representative Shaheen files major plank of Gov. Abbott's government reform agenda," Rep. Matt Shaheen, April 9, 2015
Telephone interview, Christopher Paxton, chief of staff, Rep. Matt Shaheen, Austin, May 14, 2015
Telephone interview, Art Martinez de Vara, chief of staff, Sen. Konni Burton, Austin, May 14, 2015
Memo to Art Martinez de Vara, chief of staff, Sen. Konni Burton, "Taxpayer-funded lobbyists," Joshua Windsor, research associate, Texas Senate Research Center, March 26, 2015 (received by email from Martinez de Vara, May 14, 2015)