Legislators gaming the system?


The Texas Tribune has an interesting analysis of a quirk in state law that enables state legislators to obtain personal gain from legislation they carry.

What a crock!

I’ve long had this notion that the term “government ethics” is a bit of an oxymoron as it relates to Texas. There ought to be stringent prohibitions against any whiff of personal gain from legislation in Texas. But those prohibitions don’t exist.

The Tribune reports that the Texas Constitution contains no such ban as long as others in Texas can benefit from the same legislation. So, if a lawmaker authors a bill that benefits his or her company, it’s all right as long as others who work in the same field reap an identical benefit.

The term “public service” lacks a certain altruistic quality in Texas.

I recall a time years ago when a state lawmaker from the Gulf Coast got entangled in a situation that raised this kind of question. It turned out to be all right, in some folks’ eyes. I had a problem with it.

Then-state Rep. Mark Stiles, D-Beaumont, worked for a company that sold concrete. He then lobbied the state corrections department to build a maximum-security prison near Beaumont. The state agreed to build the prison, but then it needed to seek bids from contractors and subcontractors to provide material to build the lockup. Stiles’ company submitted a bid to provide the concrete for the prison. It was all done according to state law, meaning that Stiles had no direct hand in the bid or the state’s consideration of it. The state awarded the bid to the company that employed Stiles. The firm made a ton of money by selling the concrete to the state.

And then, astoundingly, the state named the prison unit after Mark Stiles.

I saw a problem with it at the time and said so publicly in my role as an opinion journalist. The entire transaction simply didn’t pass the proverbial smell test.

The state should toughen its rules governing personal gain, and restore a purer meaning to the term “public service.”

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