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Public Citizen supports bill to curb conflicts of interest in Texas government

Public Citizen urged state lawmakers today to support HB 784, an important ethics bill that would create a criminal offense if members of state agency governing boards and governing officers fail to disclose conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from decisions when such conflicts arise.

This bill continues a multi-session trend by Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston Republican, to try to improve Texas’ notoriously weak public ethics laws. In fact, in a 2015 state integrity investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, Texas was given a D- for its poor ethics laws.

HB 784 defines a “financial interest” as a five percent ownership or control interest that could result in a financial benefit.

Under the legislation, if an individual’s financial interest could lead to a conflict of interest with a position on a state agency governing board or as a governing officer, then the individual must disclose the conflict and recuse from decisions on the matter. The bill includes an emergency exception for situations in which a majority of decision makers have a conflict.

Disclosures are filed with the Texas Ethics Commission and are public information. Disclosures at institutions of higher education are still governed by the Education Code. Knowing failure to disclose is a Class B misdemeanor.

During the 85th special session this bill was reported favorably out of the General Investigating and Ethics Committee as HB 18 with 6 Ayes and 1 Absent. Because HB 784 applies ethics controls to agency officials, we are supportive.