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Straus Aims to Expand Authority for House Investigations

When members debate the proposed rules for the House on Thursday, they'll discuss a plan from House Speaker Joe Straus to expand one committee's jurisdiction in investigating state agencies and practices.

House Speaker Joe Straus gavels out the 83rd Legislative session at Sine Die 5:03 PM on May 27, 2013.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus.

Fresh off his re-election to a fourth term as House speaker, Republican Joe Straus plans to beef up the House’s ability to investigate state agencies and employees.

Straus intends to expand the jurisdiction of the Government Operations & Ethics committee in order to allow it to investigate a wide range of state agencies and practices. He also plans to expand the committee from five members to seven and rename it the Committee on General Investigating, Transparency in Government Operations, and Ethics. 

His plans are spelled out in the proposed House rules filed Wednesday by state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo. Straus' proposed changes will require the backing of a majority of the House, which is scheduled to debate the proposal Thursday morning. The new rules include the intended arrangement of committees and subcommittees that will debate the thousands of bills and resolutions filed this session, as well as each committee's responsibilities.

"If approved by Members, this proposal would allow the House to provide more effective oversight of how state agencies use taxpayer resources," Straus spokesman Jason Embry said. 

In the past two years, the General Investigating Committee has had no business before it, according to its current chairman, state Rep. John Zerwas. The committee, which has subpoena power, was set up to investigate ethical issues involving local and state government officers and employees. Yet recent investigations by the House into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall were conducted by a separate Select Committee on State Agency Operations.

Under the new rules, the committee would have the added authority to investigate “misconduct, malfeasance, misfeasance, abuse of office, or incompetency of an individual or officer” in state government, including individuals appointed by the governor. The new rules also assert the committee’s authority to investigate “transparency in the reporting of financial transactions by agencies of the judicial and executive branches of state government and affiliated entities, foundations, or related support groups.”

Straus also plans to launch a new committee this session focused on issues of juvenile justice and family issues, two areas that are currently under the purview of the Corrections Committee. He also intends to eliminate the Technology Committee and transfer its responsibilities to Government Efficiency and Reform (which will be renamed Government Transparency and Operation).

The new rules also include the creation of several new subcommittees, including one on educator quality under the Public Education Committee, one on state and local bonded indebtedness under the Investment and Financial Services Committee, and one on long-term transportation infrastructure planning under the Transportation Committee.

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Politics State government 84th Legislative Session Governor's Office Joe Straus John Smithee Texas House of Representatives Texas Legislature