4 ethics reforms state Sen. Van Taylor says are important to build public trust

Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, was the author of ethics legislation in the 84th session. He plans to do the same this year.

Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, was the author of ethics legislation in the 84th session. He plans to do the same this year.

At the beginning of the 84th legislative session two years ago, Gov. Greg Abbott declared ethics reform an "emergency item" for lawmakers to consider.

But by the end of the session, that urgency did not result in any meaningful changes as the House and Senate's ethic reforms package spectacularly crumbled. A bill field that would have restricted retiring legislators from directly transitioning to becoming lobbyists. Another piece of legislation that would have prohibited politicians convicted of corruption charges from taking pensions did not pass.

Meanwhile, a loophole allowing legislators to not disclose a spouse's wealth and potentially hide some of their own, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, landed on the governor's desk. Abbott vetoed the bill.

Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, was one of the authors of failing ethics legislation. He said last session was disappointing because of the lack of progress in this area.

"In a word: pathetic," Taylor wrote in an editorial piece in the Dallas Morning News.

This session, Taylor is trying to change the way ethics are enforced, in little increments, by going after reforms that have been widely supported by both chambers and both parties. These are the changes Taylor hopes to make to hold the Texas government more accountable:

1. Corrupt politicians will lose their pensions and their office.

2. Government contracts, bond counsel and legal referral fees must be disclosed.

3. Increase transparency in the way lobbyists wine and dine politicians.

4. Establish a clear line between elected officials and lobbyists.

As of January 13, Taylor has filed Senate Bill 137, which would prohibit any state agency to use state funds to employ a person who is registered as a lobbyist or who engages in lobbying activities.

He has also referenced Senate Bill 14, which has yet to be filed. The bill is on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's list of top priorities for the upcoming session. Patrick said the legislation will seek to strengthen ethics laws and to ensure government officials are held to high standards that promote public trust.

Taylor said that while these four issues will be his focus, he knows there is still more to do.

"This is not to say the ethics reform framework I am proposing is all we need," he wrote. "Of course it is not. ... As such, I will be filing my own separate ethics bills where I think Texas needs additional reform and encouraging my colleagues to do the same."