Today is the 74th day of the 85th Legislature. We are past the halfway mark in terms of days, but there is much more work to do! This week, we are covering the following topics:
- Committee Process
- IRS scam
- Texting while driving ban – HB 62
- Ethics Reform
It was great to have some stellar Jack and Jill teens from House District 29 stop by my Capitol office!
The legislature passed the halfway mark this week, and the committee process is in full swing. Of the 17 bills that we filed this session, 13 of them have been referred to their respective committees, 3 of the bills have been presented in committee hearings, and 1 of them has passed out of committee: HB 947 that designates a portion of FM 1462 between 288 and 35 as the Lieutenant Colonel Roy Lin Tisdale Memorial Highway.
We have Environmental Regulation Committee hearings Tuesday mornings at 8:00am. In addition to serving as Vice Chairman of the Committee, I have three bills that will be heard here, including HB 2958, the bill I filed to deal with the challenges our community is facing because of Blue Ridge Landfill's violations. In addition to pushing this legislation through the process, I continue to be in contact with TCEQ and Governor Abbott's office to get this problem fixed as expediently as possible.
I am also on the Transportation Committee, and this committee meets for hearings on Thursday mornings at 8:00am. It is estimated that over 300 bills will be heard in this committee over the course of this session. We have already heard testimony on the statewide ridesharing bill (HB 100) and have passed the texting while driving statewide ban (HB 62). The texting bill has passed in the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
These and all other House committee hearings can be live streamed at: http://www.house.texas.gov/video-audio/. Archived committee hearings can be viewed at: http://www.house.texas.gov/video-audio/committee-broadcasts/.
This Wednesday was Texas Energy Day at the Capitol. Texans came to Austin from across the state to show their support for Texas oil and natural gas and why it matters to our state, our economy and our families. The Texas First Responders joined the legislative day and had an impressive display at the South entrance to the Capitol grounds.
WARNING - IRS SCAM!
In Texas, there is a recurring tax-related scam involving unsolicited calls from people masquerading as Internal Revenue Service agents. Scam artists tell consumers that they owe back taxes and threaten to have them arrested if they don’t provide immediate payment.
If you receive an unexpected call from someone who claims to be with the IRS, please follow these tips from the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office:
- Hang up! The IRS never makes unsolicited threatening phone calls.
- The IRS will never ask you to send money via wire or a prepaid credit card.
- Don’t be fooled by caller ID indicating it’s the IRS. Scammers use “spoof” phone numbers to give the appearance of being legitimate.
- Be suspicious of voice mail messages from scam artists who claim they’re with the IRS and leave a call back number with a Washington, D.C., area code. Report the phone number to the Texas attorney general’s office and the IRS.
- If you think you may owe money to the IRS, contact it directly at 800-829-1040 or at www.irs.gov.
Some scammers use letters or emails that appear official, however, legitimate communications from the IRS will come in a form letter and typically do not demand sensitive personal information. Scam communications may include typos or other mistakes that can be a warning sign. When in doubt of a letter’s authenticity, call the IRS to find out if the letter is legitimate.
While the IRS has announced partnerships with some private debt collectors, these businesses will not operate in the same manner as a scammer. Find more information about their operations here: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/private-debt-collection. Help combat fraud in Texas by reporting suspicious solicitations. Write down the date and time of the call, the organization’s name, and the name and phone number left by the solicitor. You can file a complaint online with the Consumer Protection Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office here:https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaintand the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration here: https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml. Learn more about frauds and scams on our website here: https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/frauds-and-scams.
(Source: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton)
Last week, it was an honor to have friends and family of Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale at the Capitol to testify in favor of my HB 947, which designates a portion of FM 1462 as the Lieutenant Colonel Roy Lin Tisdale Memorial Highway. The bill was heard on March 15th in the committee on Defense and Veterans Affairs, and was voted out unanimously (7-0) that same day. The bill was just set for a vote on the House Floor on Wednesday, March 29th.
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING BAN – HB 62
HB 62, which would enact a statewide ban on texting while driving, was overwhelmingly passed by the House last week by a vote of 114-32. In an additional show of support, 44 members (including myself) have signed on as joint or co-authors of HB 62. This bill is also supported by a large coalition of businesses and organizations, including, but not limited to: telecommunications companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.), insurance companies (Nationwide, Progressive, State Farm, etc.), the medical community (Texas Medical Association, Texas Hospital Association, etc.), the law enforcement community (Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, Texas Police Chief's Association, Houston Police Department, etc.), among many others. In fact, 91 people registered their support for the bill during the public committee hearing earlier this month.
However, all that support may not be enough to pass this bill. Rep. Craddick has filed this legislation numerous sessions, and it has passed the House each of those sessions - in 2011 it even passed both the House and the Senate, only to have Gov. Perry veto it. The dangers of texting while driving are undeniable. While some may claim a law like this infringes on the personal liberty of drivers, I believe that driving is a privilege, not a right, and the state should be able to regulate actions that may be harmful to others. We are all required to wear a seatbelt while driving or riding in a car, yet the only person that action may harm in an accident is the person who made the choice to not wear a seatbelt. Conversely, a distracted driver poses a threat not only to themselves, but all other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists who share the road with them. It is my sincere hope that this is finally the year that Texas says "it can wait," because no text is worth a life.
ETHICS REFORM AND ANTI-CORRUPTION ACT OF 2017
Our democracy is founded on the belief that public servants are elected by the people to serve as their voice in government, and to represent their interests. The House ethics reform package aims to protect and restore the public’s trust and confidence in our elected bodies. The proposed ethics reform legislation is intended to build public trust and confidence in our elected leaders and public institutions. Broadly, the bill establishes needed punishments for abuse of office, shines a brighter light on lobbyist spending and public officials’ contracts with governmental entities, and cements a firm wall between elective office and lobbying. Republicans in the Texas House are committed to increasing transparency in government and holding elected officials accountable to those who elected them to serve.
House Bill 500 protects the public's trust in our state and local governments by prohibiting a public retirement system from paying a full retirement annuity to an elected official convicted and imprisoned for an abuse of office. Elected officials that violate the public trust should not be allowed to receive full public compensation in the form of a pension while serving time. The bill also provides a clear line for future reference: once a legislator or state officer is convicted of a felony, they are removed from office on the day that conviction becomes final.
House Bill 501 expands transparency and disclosure requirements for state ethics reporting by requiring elected officials to disclose contracts with governmental entities, including bond counsel services, and legal referral fees. Broadly, HB 501 proposes three disclosure reforms. First, the bill requires that elected officers and candidates disclose contracts for goods or services between themselves, or their spouse or dependent child, and governmental entities. Second, HB 501 requires legislators that offer bond counsel services to public issuers, such as water districts or cities, to disclose specific information regarding each issuance. Lastly, the bill requires state officers that are attorneys to report specific information regarding legal referrals, including the date the referral is made, the style of the case referred, and the referral fee paid.
House Bill 502 shines a brighter light on lobbyist spending on elected officials. HB 502 proposes three key reforms regarding lobbyists’ disclosure requirements. HB 502 lowers the reporting threshold for lobbyist spending on transportation, lodging, food and drink, or entertainment for a member of the legislative or executive branch from 60 to 30 percent of the legislative per diem. It also ends the practice of “ticket splitting.” The bill expands the reporting requirements for lobbyist spending on transportation, lodging, food and drink, or entertainment to include those amounts spent on the immediate family of a member of the legislative or executive branch.
House Bill 503 prohibits a person who is a registered state or federal lobbyist, or a person who is required to be registered, from running for office, and prohibits elected officials from lobbying. It does not preclude a person who is no longer a registered lobbyist from seeking elected office.
House Bill 504 prohibits former legislators from lobbying for a minimum of two years following their retirement from legislative office. This cooling off period would last for the duration of one legislative cycle, which begins on the first day of a regular session and ends on the day before the first day of the succeeding legislative session.
House Bill 505 prohibits the use of campaigns funds by a former officeholder that has registered as a lobbyist for two years following their retirement from office. This change establishes a two-year cooling off period before former elected officials can use their campaign war chests for lobbying purposes.
Each session, my constituents between the ages of 8-18 can come to the Capitol to serve in the Honorary Page Program, where they assist the House Members and the House Sergeants with performing their daily duties. Erik, Jordan, and Braden Pho joined me in Austin last week and were a big help to us at the Capitol.
As you hear about bills of particular interest to you, please feel free to email me at
or call the Austin office at 512-463-0707 to alert my team of your stance on the bill(s), so that we can track the bills that will come before me for a vote with your thoughts in mind.
Thanks for your support, and God Bless Texas!