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St. Mary's Law Journal

Authors

James R. Nowlin

Publisher

St. Mary's University School of Law

Abstract

Approaching the 63d Regular Session of the Texas State Legislature, the need to establish new standards of ethical conduct for the attorney-legislators had increased substantially in public support. The “Sharpstown” Bank scandal and the recent indictments of several present and former state legislators, on numerous counts of theft of state funds, had severely eroded public confidence in the moral turpitude of state lawmakers. This study examines the Texas state legislative process and the conflicting interests that arise in the task of drafting and passing bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. There were several attempts, prior to 1973, in passing bills, which legislators were re accountable but lacked public support. House Bill 1, the “Ethics Bill,” passed in 1973, could be the turning point in holding state legislators more accountable to the public. The primary concern regarding the ethical conduct of the Texas State legislature was the inability of the political system and the public to hold attorney-legislators accountable. There had been no legal requirement for legislators to disclose their financial conflicts of interest, before or after acquiring their election to public office. The House must draft and pass a bill, and then the bill must pass the Senate to then get rewritten in a joint House-Senate committee. This process undermined previous bills regarding legislative ethics, and greatly deteriorated the substance of House Bill 1. Despite several successful amendments to weaken the bill, including the provision that allows legislators to seal their financial interests upon disclosure, only to be revealed if there is suspicion, it passed with potential effectiveness. It is doubtful that the disclosure requirements of the Act would encourage a wrongdoer to clearly and accurately disclose any serious antecedent malfeasance on his part. A state officer or employee may now extend more serious considerations toward his official conduct.

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