Commissioners Court Members: SB 175 by Sen. Middleton has been set for hearing at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, March 13, before the Senate State Affairs Committee in the Senate Chamber. With this late setting notice, most local officials will be unable to attend this hearing. This alert includes the email addresses of the members of the Senate State Affairs Committee and a brief explanation of the bill. Please contact the Committee members and your Senator to explain the effect of this bill on your county and its taxpayers. Please send us a copy of your communication. Thanks, Jim Allison, Senior General Counsel, County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas.
LEGISLATIVE ALERT: SB 175 – Silence County Officials
The legislature has already filed over 7,300 bills. As full-time elected officials in local government, Commissioners Court members cannot review, digest, and communicate your issues on all pending legislation without assistance from our state associations.
SILENCE COUNTY OFFICIALS LEGISLATION: Some proponents of S.B. 175/ H.B. 3538 have claimed that these bills would permit nonprofit associations to continue legislative communications and distribution of legislative information on behalf of their members. That is not true.
Section 1(a) of these bills provides that “a political subdivision may not spend public funds: (1) to hire an individual required to register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305, Government Code for the purpose of lobbying a member of the legislature; or (2) to pay a nonprofit state association or organization that: (A) primarily represents political subdivisions and (B) hires or contracts with an individual required to register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305.” Clearly, S.B. 175/H.B. 3538 would prohibit any political subdivision from paying any funds to any nonprofit association that either hires employees or outside contractors who register as a lobbyist.
In 2015, the legislature amended Chapter 305 to expand the lobby registration requirement to include all legislative communications, including communications “establishing goodwill with the member”. In Ethics Advisory Opinion No 535, the Texas Ethics Commission affirmed this new, enlarged definition of lobbying and held that registration is basically required for all communications. The only remaining exception is that a person may respond to a direct request for facts and data by a legislator without registering, but any voluntary contact or explanation of the effect of legislation would require a lobby registration. In other words, if an employee or contractor of a nonprofit association has a cup of coffee with a legislator or leaves some information with the office, that association could not receive any funds from a political subdivision, including dues or payments for other services.
This legislation would truly end the ability of smaller political subdivisions to collectively communicate with legislators through their nonprofit associations. Every local official would be compelled to separately communicate on each piece of legislation. Of course, this would be a very inefficient and ineffective use of public resources. S.B. 175/H.B. 3538 would silence the collective voices of local officials and would not serve the interests of their taxpayers and citizens.