Senate Weighs Ban on Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying
A proposal to prohibit the expenditure of public funds for membership in the Texas Association of Counties is once again on the table. Like bills filed last session, SB 175 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) would further prohibit TAC and like organizations from employing anyone required to register as a lobbyist with the Texas Ethics Commission.
The bill was considered in a public hearing of the Senate Committee on State Affairs on Monday. A number of county officials traveled to Austin to voice their opposition. Comal County Commissioner Jen Crownover, DeWitt County Judge Daryl Fowler, El Paso County Commissioner David Stoudt, Hockley County Sheriff Ray Scifres and Schleicher County Treasurer Jennifer Henderson were among those who testified against the bill. Williamson County Auditor Julie Kiley registered in opposition on behalf of the Texas Association of County Auditors.
SB 175 was approved on a 7-3 vote in committee and will next head to the full Senate for consideration.
County Officials Testify in House and Senate Committees
Jacob Putman, Smith County District Attorney, testified in support of HB 1730 by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler). The bill increases the penalty for repeat offenders of the crime of indecent exposure from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor for the second offense and to a state jail felony for any additional offense. Putman discussed the significant amount of recidivism seen with this offense and how those convicted of this crime are already required to register as sex offenders. He said the bill would act as a deterrent, providing a narrowly tailored remedy for repeat offenders and more options for courts dealing with this offense.
Kim Ogg, Harris County District Attorney, testified in support of SB 740 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), a bill that would require an election to approve a reduction or reallocation of funding or resources for certain county prosecutors' offices. Ogg discussed the duties and responsibilities of prosecutors' offices, and, like law enforcement, she said they need to be fully funded. She said communities want more protection and as law enforcement is solving more cases, district and county attorneys are prosecuting more cases.
On Monday, HB 2 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), relating to providing property tax relief through the public school finance system and property tax appraisal and administration, was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee. Several small-business owners testified in support of the bill; however several tax consultants and the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA) warned that the bill's proposed 5% appraisal cap would have a negative impact on revenues in future years. Additionally, Dallas County Tax Assessor-Collector John Ames submitted a letter to Chairman Meyer outlining potential issues with the language requiring tax assessor-collectors to offer escrow services to all property owners. The bill was left pending in committee.
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