Bidness as Usual

This is one in a series of occasional stories about ethics and transparency in the part-time Texas Legislature.

Updated May 9, 5:15 p.m.: 

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione's bill to require legislators to disclose government contracts with businesses in which they or their immediate family own at least a 50 percent stake won't get a vote in the House — unless he can tack it onto an Ethics Commission reform bill.  

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The measure, House Bill 524, made it out of the House State Affairs Committee but couldn't squeeze onto the lower chamber's calendar ahead of Thursday night's deadline for taking an initial vote on House bills. The Senate companion, by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has not moved. 

"Obviously I'm disappointed that we won’t be voting on a piece of transparency legislation I think is very important this session," Capriglione said.

He said he'd be talking to the author of the omnibus Ethics Commission reform bill, but that regardless, he'd be offering his measure as an amendment to it when it hits the House floor.

"Either way, members of the House should vote to see if we should add more transparency to ourselves," he said. "Before we start to ask other elected officials, other agencies, to be more transparent, we should start withourselves." 

Updated May 2, 1:50 p.m.:

Freshman state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione's bill to require legislators to disclose government contracts with businesses in which they or their immediate family own at least a 50 percent stake has squeezed out of the House State Affairs Committee. 

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It's unclear whether there's any pressure to get House Bill 524 out of the influential Calendars Committee and onto the House floor. Even if the measure passes the House, it will face a steep climb in the Senate with just three weeks remaining in the 83rd legislative session. 

The bill, as revised in committee and voted out Thursday night, would require state officials to disclose government contracts that they, their businesses, their immediate family members or subcontractors acting on their behalf have entered into. Under the measure, contracts would have to be reported if the cost of goods or services sold exceeded $10,000 in the year of the report — or for individual contracts that exceeded $2,500.

Original story: 

Weeks after freshman state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, was publicly scolded over an ethics bill he brought before the powerful House State Affairs Committee, the lawmaker says he has found middle ground with the veteran legislators who rebuked him. 

Capriglione said there is an agreement that would get House Bill 524 — which would require legislators to disclose government contracts with businesses in which they or their family members own at least a 50 percent stake — passed out of committee and on to the House floor. He said the biggest change in the bill is how many relatives lawmakers would have to report. Under the compromise, which is still being negotiated, it would be immediate family: parents, children and spouses, and a best effort at including siblings. 

Any such compromise seemed like a pipe dream as recently as last month, when state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, and other committee members painted Capriglione's bill as a "vendetta" and "sour grapes" against their former House colleague Vicki Truitt, who Capriglione defeated last year after a bruising campaign.

At the time, Hilderbran suggested that Capriglione had "bad motives." Hilderbran couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

After the hearing, Truitt sent out an email to "selected friends" to tell them that her former opponent had been "spanked in a very public way.”

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“He had been making the rounds at the Capitol telling members he was going to right the wrongs of his predecessor’s ills, and presumed he would win the day with his pristine legislative proposal,” she wrote. “What happened to him in the State Affairs Committee was not what he expected.”  

Since the hearing, Capriglione said, both media attention and grassroots campaigns from open government proponents have kept the bill in the forefront of lawmakers' minds. On Thursday, the influential conservative group Empower Texans launched automated phone messages in the districts of the committee members most vocally opposed to Capriglione’s bill, urging them to ask their representatives to reconsider. 

Capriglione said he has now spoken with his toughest critics, who told him they "wanted to ask tough questions," but added that he had done "a good job answering those questions." 

While they didn't apologize for their initial response to his measure, Capriglione said, "they’ve been really open about working with me on this." 

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