in Houston, Texas
Ethics bill would require disclosure of lawmakers’ contracts with state of Texas
Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013, 12:53PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
see-through raincoat

Look out, Linda Harper-Brown. If lawmakers aren’t careful people are going to start calling this the See-Through Legislature.

Blissfully aware of the animus they are supposed to have for one another’s politics, hardline conservative Rep. Giovanni Capriglione and hardline liberal Rep. Mary González are staging a veritable lovefest with a bill that would require all legislators to disclose if they or their family members do business with state or local government.

House Bill 524 would require lawmakers, many of whom are also lawyers, to waive any attorney-client privilege should they choose to represent a company doing business with a state agency, a public university or a water district, the Texas Tribune reports.

The bill comes less than a year after the Ethics Commission fined Harper-Brown, R-Irving, $2,000 for failing to reveal that a brand new Mercedes Benz she had been driving was a barter payment to her husband for accounting work he did for a company with state transportation contracts.

Giovanni CapriglioneGiovanni Capriglione

Harper-Brown sat on the House Transportation Committee at the time a complaint was filed against her with the Ethics Commission.

Capriglione, in his second week on the job, is daring his colleagues to ignore their bill.  “I want to see who doesn’t vote for this,” he tells the Tribune. “It gets to the crux of the distrust between the public and elected officials: Where there’s a lack of transparency, they assume the worst.”

The Southlake Republican has a little familiarity with the topic, having beaten former Rep. Vicki Truitt, another disclosure-challenged representative of the people, in the Republican primary in District 98 this past May.

Giving Capriglione a big rhetorical bearhug, the Democrat from Clint replied, “Transparency and ethics are bipartisan issues.”

Taking this sentiment to heart, state Sen. Wendy Davis on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 178, a companion bill with much the same disclosure language as HB 524.

Davis, D-Fort Worth, was able to research her bill firsthand as a partner of Brian Newby, former chief of staff for Gov. Rick Perry. Newby Davis promotes on its website expertise representing every manner of government entity including the state’s public schools and a facility for assisting on bond financing.

Accused by her Republican opponent for state Senate, Mark Shelton, of criminal conflicts of interest, Davis this past fall insisted her practice did not interfere with her role as a representative. She declined, however, to identify her clients, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to do so would violate attorney-client privilege.

At the time she was denying any conflict of interest, Davis decided to remain mum on Shelton’s contention that Newby Davis was being paid handsomely to represent the North Texas Tollway Authority at the same time Davis was voting to support SB469 assisting the authority in collecting unpaid tolls.

Davis told Texas Tribune yesterday afternoon she would be amending SB 178 just in case it wasn’t clear enough to everyone the disclosure requirement would include her.

Capitol visitors this session, don’t worry. Should the emperors speaking on the floor of the House or Senate be wearing no clothes, assume they have filed another transparency bill.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of clear raincoat via Allyn.com, the site documenting the work of artist Mark Allyn. Photo of Texas state Capitol by flickr user Frank Swift, used via a Creative Commons license.

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