SILENCE COUNTY OFFICIALS LEGISLATION
Some proponents of S.B. 234/ H.B. 749 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 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. 234/H.B. 749 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 Texas 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. 234/H.B. 749 would silence the collective voices of local officials and would not serve the interests of their taxpayers and citizens.
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO PROHIBIT UNFUNDED MANDATES
H.J.R. 32 by Rep. Shine and H.J.R. 87 by Rep. Burns would prohibit any new unfunded mandates on counties and cities. These proposed constitutional amendments need co-sponsors as soon as possible.
UNFUNDED MANDATE BILLS
Legislators continue to propose additional unfunded mandates. These bills will result in an increase in county property taxes. These bills need to be changed from “shall” to “may,” or the state should provide funds for the cost. Some early examples of unfunded mandate bills include:
H.B. 277 by Rep. Collier – Requiring court-appointed attorneys for defendants at bail magistration.
H.B. 486 by Rep. Wu – Increasing the age of adult responsibility from 17 to 18.
H.B. 638 by Rep. Krause – Would prohibit any reduction in expenditures for fire, law enforcement, or EMS.
H.B. 768 by Rep. Patterson – Would require all counties over 5,000 to post video of meetings on the internet.
H.B. 1639 by Sherman – Mandatory body cameras by jailers.
LOCAL DISCRETION BILLS
These bills provide the discretion for counties to implement programs that will benefit their citizens and taxpayers. These bills do not require the expenditure of local funds. Some early examples of local discretion bills include:
H.B. 228 by Rep. Murr – Authorizing the local option to use electronic court recording, instead of court reporters.
H.B. 362 by Rep. Sherman/S.B. 326 by Sen. West – Authorizing counties to require electronic bids for competitive purchases.
H.B. 537 by Rep. Patterson – Authorizing substitution of website posting for newspaper notices.
H.B. 946 by Rep. Burns – Authorizing counties to restrict sex offenders in the unincorporated area.
H. B. 1034 by Rep. Goodwin – Authorizes all counties to adopt a fire code.
H.B. 1122 by Rep. Darby/S.B. 160 by Sen. Perry – Repeals mandatory road reports.
There will be many other county-related bills introduced, and bills will change during the process. Additional analysis will be posted on the TAC listserv.
For more information, please call me at 1-800-733-0699.