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Wining and Dining Disclosure Bills Advance

Bills designed to shed more light on wining and dining of politicians by lobbyists and contractors advanced in the Texas Legislature on Monday.

Sen. Kirk Watson D-Austin and Sen. Joan Huffman R-Houston, discuss language to amendment for SB #11 relating to campus carry on March 18th, 2015

Legislation that would shed light on the rampant wining and dining of state lawmakers by lobbyists, once stuck in a Senate committee, suddenly came unstuck Monday. 

The author of the two bills, Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, had complained that he was beginning to hear the “death rattle” on Senate Bills 585 and 586 after they sat bottled up for several weeks in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

But he got a public hearing on Monday, and the committee voted the bills out unanimously. 

“I’m real gratified,” Watson said. “It continues to move this conversation that needs to happen and is part of the governor’s goals for the session.” Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said he wants to "dedicate this session to ethics reform." 

Watson's bills would close a loophole that has made a mockery of the 1990s era law that was supposed to require lobbyists to report the names of the lawmakers they’re showering with drinks and taking to fancy dinners. Technically, under current law, a lobbyist who spends more than $114 on any one state official has to report the name of the person who's being entertained with food and drink.

But the law allows lobbyists to team up so each keeps his or her share of the tab below the disclosure trigger. Now a tiny percentage — less than 5 percent at last count — of the entertainment ever appears on detailed lobbyist spending reports. 

In the Texas House, meanwhile, lawmakers passed on a voice vote a bill designed to tighten ethical guidelines and increase transparency in local government contracting.

The legislation, House Bill 23, would require enhanced disclosure for local government employees who get wined and dined by contractors and for the first time would extend disclosure requirements to close family members.

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Sarah Davis