My five cents...
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
There is never a dull moment at the Texas Capital, even during the interim. Between committee hearings, the TV show Revolution being filmed on location and the opportunity to visit with multiple groups visiting from East Texas, my staff and I stay very busy.
Here are five things happening around your state:
1. Dark Money
During the 83rd Legislative Session, I co-authored Senate Bill 346 to improve the transparency and public information available in regards to campaign finance. It required entities that spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year for political purposes to report those expenditures to the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). Individual contributions would only be made public if they totaled $1,000 every three months. Current law requires this of individual political candidates and their campaigns. The bill was vetoed by the Governor, but an important question still remains; how should Texas ensure the public has a right to know who is spending money to influence elections, while still maintaining privacy for groups that engage in other types of advocacy?
Current state law requires political action committees (PAC) who support/oppose candidates to register with the TEC. Because non-profit organizations are not required to disclose this information, some larger PACs create non-profits to channel money anonymously to candidates, thus creating the 'dark money' groups. The TEC is taking public comments on a proposed rule that would achieve a similar goal to SB 346. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts you can call the TEC at 512-463-5800.
2. Patent Litigation
The Senate State Affairs Committee has been asked to examine the negative impact patent litigation by 'patent assertion entities' has on the Texas business economy. These entities, which have also been referred to as 'patent trolls', often buy patents and then turn around and sue smaller companies who are producing similar products or services.
The original intent of patents, which is stated in the U.S. Constitution to 'promote the useful arts and sciences', has been waylaid by the patent system. Instead of companies focusing on innovation and creating new products, they are distracted by impending patent litigation. I earned 32 U.S. patents and 128 foreign patents. With first-hand knowledge, I understand the time, hard work and costs that go into ensuring your property is protected. As a state we need to ensure we address the problems which can be created by these frivolous legal actions without losing incentives for inventors.
3. Health and Human Services
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which I serve on, held their first interim hearing at the end of February. The discussion included reviewing the Department of Family and Protective Services' (DFPS) efforts to reduce child fatalities. In addition, they discussed how DFPS is updating their process of choosing foster families as well as monitoring cases within the system. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission also presented on the progress of the new Texas Women's Health Program and the newly expanded primary care program for women's health services.
4. Off into the Sunset
While the saying goes that everything in Texas is bigger, the Legislature tries to ensure we are keeping our state government small and efficient. State agencies in Texas, unlike federal agencies, are not allowed to exist indefinitely, but must be legislatively justified, usually every 12 years. The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, on which I served for four years, helps this process by making recommendations not only for which agencies should be continued, but also how they can operate more efficiently and better serve the public. If an agency is not continued through legislation it will be automatically discontinued. During my time with the Commission, I helped to eliminate six state agencies which saved the tax payers $162 million.
Part of what makes Sunset effective is the welcomed input from the public. Anyone can share their concerns with their Representative, Sunset staff or testify at a legislative hearing. To learn more about how you can participate, visit the Sunset Web page at http://www.sunset.state.tx.us.
5. Texans at the Olympics
The Olympics was a time which brought not only nations together, but also drew those in the United States together to cheer for their favorite American athlete. While our unusual winter temperatures may have rivaled those in Sochi, Texas is not known for its winter sports. However, we did have four Texans out of the 230 athletes on the U.S. Olympic team. I am always happy to see our state represented on such an international level.