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Senator aims to open legislators' pension records to public

Sen. Van Taylor's bill would let the public find out when former lawmakers with felony convictions are receiving state pensions

Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, talks about his efforts regarding ethics and transparency during a TTEvents discussion on Jan. 31, 2017.

A bill filed Thursday would let Texas taxpayers find out if their money subsidizes the retirement benefits of politicians who have committed felonies.

On Thursday, Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, filed Senate Bill 930, which would declassify the retirement benefits records of state lawmakers.

A Texas Tribune investigation revealed that more than two dozen former Texas government employees who have been convicted of felonies could be collecting state-funded pensions. But there is no way to confirm the exact number or find out which convicted felons are receiving retirement pay because current Texas code conceals all government employees’ retirement records.

Taylor said his proposed bill would exclude elected legislators’ information from the “confidential” class, making their retirements’ existence and annual payout publicly available.

"Citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent," Taylor said in a written statement. "Yet under current law, taxpayer-funded pension information of elected officials are hidden from disclosure. We the people elect government officials as public servants, not as special members of a private club that allocates themselves undisclosed public perks."

Taylor’s chief of staff, Lonnie Dietz, said the senator filed a similar bill in the last legislative session, but it did not pass.

The bill would not apply to retirement records for other elected officials such as judges or city and county officials. Of the 27 former elected officials the Tribune found who had felony convictions and are eligible for pensions, 22 of them fell into that category — just five were former legislators.

Last month, Taylor also filed Senate Bill 14, a larger ethics reform effort that also aimed to revoke pensions for lawmakers and other public officials who have been convicted of felonies. The bill would cut off annuity payments to legislators-turned-convicts, but allow them to be refunded the money they put toward their retirement.

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