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College Station City Council opposes anti-lobby legislation

College Station City Council opposes anti-lobby legislation

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The College Station City Council is taking a stance against Senate Bill 10, Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 749 in the Texas Legislature out of concern about how the pieces of legislation could limit the city’s ability to lobby for its interests. 

Last week, council members unanimously approved a resolution opposing the three items. Senate Bill 10 was the focus of much of the discussion at Thursday night’s council meeting, as it would prohibit a city or county from spending public funds to try to influence the outcome of pending legislation. Brian Piscacek, assistant to the city manager, said the bill as initially filed could prevent a city or county from contracting with lobbyists or other professional advocates or joining with organizations such as the Texas Municipal League, which College Station works with, that engage in advocacy at the state capital. The bill would also create liability for a city if funds were used in such a manner. 

Overall, the bill could erode home rule authority and prevent effective participation in the policy making process, and it also limits expert guidance and support and establishes “harmful fiscal and operational impacts,” Piscacek told council members. 

Councilman Dennis Maloney said that the passage of the bill would be detrimental for every city in the state of Texas. He said that he hopes the bill won’t pass, adding that TML does “a fantastic” job of making the concerns of cities known at the legislative level. 

“If this comes to be, we’re going to be spending a fortune sending council members and staff back and forth to Austin constantly to say ‘what you propose is going to negatively affect my city,’ ” Maloney said. 

Piscacek said that the bill generally does not prevent elected officials or employees from advocating for or against legislation.

A couple of changes after the bill was filed authorize cities to reimburse an elected official or employee for direct travel related to advocacy and allowed cities to provide compensation to a nonprofit state association or organization to advocate for or against or otherwise influence the outcome of legislation as long as that association or organization does not contract with lobbyists or does not try to influence legislation related to property taxation. 

But even with those changes, Piscacek said that TML would not be able to retain the same role it does now, helping cities throughout legislative sessions. 

Similar legislation — Senate Bill 29 — in 2019 failed on the house floor, Piscacek told the council.

“Taxpayer funded lobbying diverts funding from local governments’ ability to provide local needs and results in money being used to advocate for policies not always in Texans’ best interest,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, in a press release. Bettencourt filed the SB10 legislation with nine joint authors.

“The Texas Ethics Commission data showed that an estimated $32 million was spent on lobbyist compensation in 2018, a non-session year. We can’t have tax dollars being used to advocate for greater spending, more taxing authority and increased regulatory power at the local government level without taxpayers’ consent,” Bettencourt added.

Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 749 prohibit the use of county funds to support a nonprofit association that engages in legislation communication.

Senate Bill 10 remains in the House State Affairs Committee, and as of Thursday afternoon no hearing has been scheduled. Piscacek said in an email to The Eagle that the earliest it could be heard by the House is sometime next week.

Go to cstx.gov/cstv19 to view the council’s discussion and watch the presentation.

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