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Texas House approves ban on “pay for play” appointments

Big donors to Texas governors would be banned from appointments to state boards and commissions under legislation approved Saturday by the Texas House.

State Reps Todd Hunter, Lyle Larson and Chris Turner listen as representatives of the State Auditor's Office testify before the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics July 12, 2016.  The committee is investigating the use by state agencies of emergency leave and settlement payments to departing employees.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for ethics reforms at the beginning of the legislative session. On Saturday, he might have gotten more than he asked for.

The Texas House voted 91-48 to disqualify any governor’s big donors from appointments to state boards and commissions — an effort to end the practice of putting some of the most prestigious nonpaying jobs in state government in the hands of people who give big donations.

House Bill 3305, called a “pay for play” bill by its sponsor, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow a governor to appoint his or her political donors — but only if they contributed $2,500 or less in a year to the campaign accounts of the governor doing the appointing.

Larson told members he was trying to stop a practice he said was three decades old — it’s actually much older than that — of governors saving the plum assignments for their most generous supporters. Appointees contributing more than the limit would have to pay a fine three times the excess amount. Contributions by children and spouses of the appointees would apply to the total.

Ethics reform is one of four issues Abbott listed as "emergencies" in his State of the State address earlier in the session.

Before finally passing the bill, representatives approved an amendment from state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, that would bar people already serving on those state boards and commissions from using their own personal funds to hire outside lobbyists to change or block laws that apply to their agencies.

Larson’s bill passed with ayes from 51 Democrats and 40 Republicans; two Democrats and 46 Republicans voted against it.

It's now on its way to the Texas Senate for consideration.

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