A Little Comic Relief THE HOUSE DEBATE on the Appropriations Bill was not without its entertaining moments. In addition to Rep. Whaley’s “Two Pairs of Shoes” amendment \(see page 7 and Rep. Barrientos’ “Mr. Bill” amendment Steven Wolens’ self-destructing amendment, Rep. Bill Messer’s attack on the Bryan-College Station paper, and Rep. Bob Barton’s funeral amendment. When Rep. Rollin Khoury succeeded in attaching his amendment to Wolens’ proposed amendment providing a 15 % teacher pay raise, Wolens was forced to speak in opposition to his own amendment. “It pains me a great deal to speak against my friend Steve Wolens,” Wolens told the House. “He’s done a great job on this amendment, but the beauty has become a beast.” The amendment was defeated. During the debate on AFDC funding Rep. Al Price read from an editorial in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, which said the real losers of the appropriations bill were the poor children of Texas. Rep. Bill Messer ran to the podium and angrily denounced the writer of that editorial. “Whoever thinks Bill Presnal [Appropriations Committee Chairman] is unthinking is an idiot,” Messer declared. “Whoever wrote this editorial in the Bryan-College Station Eagle is an idiot.” Near the end of the appropriations debate, Rep. Bob Barton offered an amendment which would take $330,000 worth of repaid funeral contracts in the Texas Department of Banking and transfer them to the House of Representatives. Barton explained: “We’ve turned down the teachers, we’ve turned down AFDC, we’ve turned down state employees, and we’re going to need these prepaid funerals for ourselves when we come back here for a special session in the summer.” O course I’m not satisfied. $48 is 30% , of what’s needed. I’d do a disservice to my constituents if I didn’t vote against the appropriations bill. I’ll vote against it as a protest against the rules and because I’m not satisfied with the funding for teachers, state employees, and for AFDC.” The House passed the appropriations bill the next day with twothirds of the members voting in favor. During the House appropriations debate, Governor Mark White had held a meeting with Reps. Betty Denton, Bill Haley, Gerald Hill, and Matt Garcia, all sponsors of measures to increase teacher pay. Gib Lewis’ assistant, Buddy Jones, also participated in the meeting. As rumored, the meeting resulted in a tax proposal by White to fund a teacher pay increase. The appropriations debate itself resulted in slight increases in AFDC funding and teacher and state employee salaries with funding for the latter to come from 2 % cuts in state agency budgets that have already been trimmed to meet the demands of the revenue shortfall. “If we’re to address education, teachers’ salaries, AFDC funding, state employee salaries,” Gonzalo Barrientos’ told the Observer, “we’re going to have to look at new taxes. If we’re going to pass the version [of the budget] we have now . . . we’re going to run into problems. To stay competitive we have to strengthen the education system. When it comes right down to it, the general public will say the kids are the most , important thing we have.” LI Ethics successor, the fires of reform seem to have cooled. What follows is a survey of what we’ll likely get and where reformers need to go from here. The nation’s founders depended on checks and balances among the branches of government, rather than specific Constitutional or statutory provisions, to restrain avaricious officials, but it wasn’t long before Henry Adams could observe that “the moral law has expired.” Boss Tweed and his counterparts in Washington and around the country made more explicit legislation necessary. Texas is no exception, though even scandal-spawned ethics reform in this state has never been particularly rigorous. It wasn’t until 1957 that a code of ethics and a weak one at that was passed in response to scandals in the Veterans’ Land Program and in the State Insurance Department’s regulation of insurance companies. There was no real reform despite some three hun dred indictments and a nine-term veteran land commissioner who ended up in the penitentiary. Proposed stronger codes of ethics were passed by the Texas House in 1963, 1965, and 1967; each time they died in the Texas Senate. That succession of failures became a campaign issue in 1968 when Eugene Locke and John Hill, both candidates for governor, advocated stronger codes. Locke called for a law prohibiting lawyer/legislators from representing clients for a fee before state boards and agencies \(a measure which still hasn’t passed and won’t pass this session prohibiting legislators from accepting gifts, from voting on bills concerning matters in which they had a financial interest, and from appearing before state agencies for a fee. He also called for legislation requiring detailed financial statements from legislators. What Texas got instead was Preston Smith and Sharpstown. In the wake of 1971’s notorious bankand-insurance scandal, a tougher code of ethics was enacted only to be struck down as unconstitutional by Attorney General Crawford Martin. The 1973 Legislature tried again, and its code of ethics bill remains the law of the state. While it addresses questions involving financial disclosure, standards of conduct for state employees and public officials, open meetings, regulation of lobbyists, access to public information, corruption and abuse of office, and nepotism, it still leaves much to be desired. The two major pieces of ethics legislation passed by the 67th Legislature in 1981 were both sponsored by Speaker Bill Clayton. HB 1903, an omnibus bill, addressed ambiguities in the Texas campaign and finance disclosure law and added some new requirements. Clayton’s HB 3 set up a Public Servant Standards of Conduct Advisory Committee charged with drafting a set of ethical conduct standards for elected officials and state employees. The guidelines, Clayton told fellow lawmakers, would clean up “foggy areas” surrounding use of state property, equipment, time, and employees. Without the guidelines, he insisted, state employees could violate state law “without really knowing it.” It is ironic, of course, that Clayton’s own activities provided much of the THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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