Inching toward 21st century transparency, the Texas House on Tuesday preliminarily approved — in a unanimous vote — to require that the personal financial statements of state politicians and bureaucrats be posted online.

The proposal, offered by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, was tucked into a non-controversial bill, HB 1377, making minor tweaks to the content of the personal financial disclosures. The disclosures, filed annually with the Texas Ethics Commission, can highlight potential conflicts of interest by legislators and agency heads.

Previous attempts to require online posting of the reports, which under current law cannot be published on the internet by the Ethics Commission, have gone nowhere — drawing criticism from ethics watchdogs who say the lawmakers don’t want sunlight on their financial holdings.

(The Texas Tribune periodically obtains and posts copies of the reports online but does not have immediate access to newly filed disclosures or amendments to them).

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Turner said he’s more optimistic this session because of Tuesday’s vote and because he had a stand-alone bill that would accomplish the same thing if that measure dies in the back hallways as so many ethics reform efforts do. 

“It’s moving on two tracks so hopefully the Senate will concur … and the governor will sign it into law,” Turner said. “It’s inexplicable that we don’t have these reports online for the public to be able to access if they want to. This is a fundamental transparency issue, and it’s past time that we correct this omission.”

Related Tribune coverage:  

  • The Texas Senate passed a bill that would take pensions away from officials convicted of felonies and require lobbyists to disclose more of their wining and dining of lawmakers.
  • Regulators are deciding how much lobby wining and dining Texas lawmakers can accept without revealing their names. Hint: It's a lot.

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