PRESS RELEASE
From the Office of State Senator Dan Patrick

For Immediate Release
March 6, 2007

Contact: Court Koenning
(512) 463-0107 / (713) 876-4444

SEN. PATRICK INTRODUCES PACKAGE OF GOVERNMENT AND ETHICS REFORM BILLS

"It's 'time for change' was my campaign theme, and it is the overriding theme of this package of bills."

AUSTIN - Fulfilling a campaign pledge, and the wishes of the voters who supported him, State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) today introduced a package of bills to reform government and ethics in the state of Texas.

"I pledged to work to change the way things are done in Austin, and these bills are the first steps in that process," Senator Patrick said. "I think many have lost faith in our government and that has been evidenced in low voter turnout over the last few election cycles," Patrick added. "While I don't want to take the attraction out of being an elected official, I do want to work to end the enticements of corruption that are built into our government system. I believe if we can change some of these things, we can once again restore the public's faith in our elected government," Senator Patrick stated.

Among the ethics and government reform bills filed by Senator Patrick, the highlights include:

SB 630/SJR 26: Would establish a Public Integrity Unit at the Texas Attorney General's office. Currently, each district attorney has independent authority to investigate and prosecute ethics violations, insurance and motor vehicle fuels tax fraud. However, only the Travis County District Attorney receives an appropriation from the state. This bill and its constitutional amendment would transfer primary authority to the Office of the Texas Attorney General and with it the more than $1 million in state funds for that purpose. Should the Texas Attorney General choose not to assert his authority under this proposed law, local district attorneys could still investigate and prosecute. "If the state government wants to only fund one Public Integrity Unit, as they currently do, then they should do so at a statewide elected office; the Texas Attorney General - not the Travis County DA," Senator Patrick remarked. "Otherwise we should spread the funds out to each District Attorney who prosecutes violations of the public trust," Senator Patrick added.

SB 1190/SJR 41: Creates a government spending commission to be patterned after President Ronald Reagan's Grace Commission. Founded in 1984, the Grace Commission made 2,478 recommendations eliminating more than $424 Billion in government waste over four years. President Reagan credited the commission with reducing by half the growth of government. The Texas Spending Commission would be comprised of fifteen members, who are private citizens, chosen equally by the Governor, Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House. The commission would have audit authority over each and every state agency to root out waste, fraud and redundancy. The commission would then file a report and offer legislation to eliminate waste in government. The commission's suggested legislation could only be voted on, it could not be amended. "We have heard a lot about tax commissions, but nothing about a spending commission. Texans can't possibly expect the Legislature to find ways to cut the growth of government when we only have six months every two years to go over more than $150 Billion in state spending. President Reagan described my vision of the Texas Spending Commission best when he described his Grace Commission's charge 'to work like tireless bloodhounds to root out government inefficiency and waste of tax dollars,'" Senator Patrick remarked.

SB 1191: Would require candidates and office holders to report to the Ethics Commission by the 10th day, any contribution that exceeds $2,000 during the semi-annual reporting period. Currently, candidates and office holders for months can withhold reporting of who their major supporters are if they received contributions soon after filing a semi-annual report. "I believe in as much disclosure of the source of our political contributions. In fact, I voluntarily disclose my major contributions on my campaign website within days of receiving the donation. We need more, not less sunshine in our campaign finance laws," Senator Patrick remarked.

SB 1193: This bill would create a cooling off period for legislators who seek to become lobbyists immediately prior to leaving office. Under this legislation, former members of the legislature would have to sit out two legislative sessions before being able to register as a lobbyist in the State of Texas. "I want to slow down the revolving door of legislators turned lobbyists. And I think the public would be outraged to learn we have lobbyists who 'cashed out' after serving just one term in the Legislature," Senator Patrick offered.

SB 1194: Would end legislative pensions as of January 1, 2008. While Texas Legislators make about $7,200 a year for their service, if they serve as little as eight years in the Legislature they are entitled to receive a pension from the state for the rest of their life. Legislators in Texas are allowed to vest in their retirement much faster than teachers and police officers. According to the Senate Research Center, elimination of future legislative pensions would lower the unfunded liability in the Texas Employee Retirement System by $7.8 million and therefore save taxpayers $4.1 million in this and future budget cycles. "I campaigned on eliminating legislative pensions. Voters should expect their elected officials to serve the people, not serve for pensions," said Senator Patrick.

SB 1197: Currently in many county elected offices, if the elected person resigns the county's commissioners court chooses a successor. In Harris County, the County Judge who was elected in November 2006 has resigned after only serving 90 days of his new term. The Harris County Commissioners Court has chosen a replacement who will serve, unelected, for nearly two years before the person must stand for election. This bill would still allow for an appointment to fill a vacancy, but would call an election at the next uniform election date. In the Harris County example, the voters would have a voice much earlier than they do under current law. "The situation in Harris County is very unfortunate. As elected officials, we have a bond with the voters and if given their trust we should do everything we can to live up to our obligations. Leaving office for health or family reasons is understandable. Leaving 90 days after your election for financial gain is reprehensible. If the will of the voters is supplanted by the will of an elected official, then we should allow the voters to make their voice heard as soon as practical," Senator Patrick remarked.

SB 1200: Concerns the closing of instant games sold by the Texas Lottery. The legislation if passed, would require the Texas Lottery to close all games of chance once the top prizes have been claimed. "I think people were outraged to learn recently that some scratch off games were still being sold months after the advertised prizes were no longer attainable. And even more disturbing were the press reports that some officials were fine with the arrangement because people were still buying those tickets. This is a betrayal of the public's trust and I look forward to correcting it," Senator Patrick added.

While the above bills were the highlights of the Senator's ethics and government reform legislative agenda, he also filed the following bills on the same general subject: SJR 42 (limits terms of legislators to no more than eight regular sessions), SB 1192 (prohibiting certain legislator meals paid for by lobbyists), SB 1195 (prohibiting the use of campaign funds to rent a personal residence or to purchase gifts for other legislators) and SB 1199 (prohibiting certain meals provided to legislative employees paid for by lobbyists).

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