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Ethics bill gets preliminary House approval

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX – After hours of sometimes contentious debate and the offering of dozens of amendments, the Texas House late Wednesday gave preliminary approval to HB 1606, this session's state ethics bill.

Despite criticism from consumer groups, House Speaker Tom Craddick defended the substitute that was filed earlier in the week, saying it his role to help craft legislation that will pass muster with the majority of the House members. He said the substitute is "not perfect" but is "a major improvement" in ethics practices.

The debate over amendments was provoking, heartfelt and sometimes amusing.

Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) wanted caps on donations to political candidates. His theory is that not allowing a candidate to take a $10,000 donation will instead force that candidate to seek $100 donations from 100 people. The result, he said, would be a return to "grassroots politics," where candidates get to know the people to whom they are accountable.

On the other hand, Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) said that in his hometown, if a citizen were to make a $25,000 donation to the city zoo, the city would put a plaque on the wall of the zoo honoring their donation. He suggested such plaques might be installed in the state capitol building for all those making large donations to ensure good government.

Rep. Glenn Lewis (D-Fort Worth) reminded fellow members of a former legislator's words to him once about not tearing down a fence until you found out why it was built. With that in mind he warned against some proposed changes in provisions relating to legislative continuances.

The debate also included some political wheeling and dealing as author Rep. Steve Wolens (D-Dallas) admitted late into the amendments that he was accepting a Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston) amendment in exchange for Wilson withdrawing his point of order.

Saying a point of order would mean the bill "would have gone back to committee" and the House would be right back debating the bill the next day, Wolens said, "That's why I accepted the (Wilson) amendment."

The bill was passed to third reading.