House Backs Bill Denying Pensions to Lawbreakers

Texas politicians convicted of major public corruption crimes would lose their lucrative pensions under a bill that the Texas House tentatively passed Thursday in a unanimous vote.

The House of Representatives on May 14, 2015.
The House of Representatives on May 14, 2015.  Todd Wiseman

Texas politicians convicted of major public corruption crimes would lose their lucrative pensions under a bill that the Texas House tentatively passed Thursday in a unanimous vote. 

The bill, which advanced with a 142-0 vote, would cut off pensions for legislators and statewide elected officials who are convicted of a variety of felonies — such as bribery and theft of public money — that are connected to their service as public servants.

“If you violate the public trust, you shouldn’t be able to get a pension off of it,” said Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, the author of House Bill 681

As currently written, the legislation would not apply to former Gov. Rick Perry, who was indicted last year in Travis County on charges he abused his power and coerced a public servant. HB 681 would not apply to politicians facing charges for crimes allegedly committed before the effective date of the legislation, which is set at Sept. 1, 2015. 

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Perry has called the charges against him a politically motivated “farce."

But Democrats tacked on two amendments Thursday adding the specific offenses named in the two charges filed against Perry — coercion of a public servant and abuse of official capacity.

And state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, said he plans to offer another amendment Friday that would apply the legislation to anyone convicted after the effective date of the bill. If he is able to get that amendment tacked on the bill before the House gives final approval and sends HB 681 to the Senate, it would apply to politicians who had been charged but not convicted as of September of this year.

“If we’re taking about public corruption, if we’re talking about politicians kind of overstepping their bounds, I think that we kind of have to hold everybody in line, and hold everybody accountable,” Gutierrez said. “If the conviction has not yet happened, I think there should be some applicability.”

Another Democrat, Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg, got into a sometimes heated argument with Sheets over the bill, arguing that politicians shouldn’t lose their entire pensions if they got convicted in the final year they held office.

After joining the unanimous vote in favor of the bill, Canales admitted he was merely seeking to drag out the debate on the legislation as part of a Democratic effort to bring the House to a standstill and kill off a slew of bills that won't be eligible after midnight Thursday. Democrats are particularly keen to knock out legislation that would prohibit the government from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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“That was for the clock to die,” Canales said.