Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HB 1735: Ethics 101 Proposed for Legislators

Filed today by Texas State Representative Vicki Truitt (R-Southlake) is HB 1735, a bill REQUIRING that “a member or member-elect of the legislature must complete the ethics training required” by the bill’s provisions.

This is pretty interesting. Up to now, apparently, a member of the Texas Legislature may be in complete ignorance of Ethics as a crash course in it is being proposed.

I took a class in Ethics when I was an undergraduate. Valid ethical choices, as it turns out, vary from place to place and from century to century. That is the crux of what I learned in the class. That Ethics is a very poorly attended class these days should bring surprise to no one. Marketing classes in Business Scbools are brimming with enrollees. Ethics classes sometimes don’t “make” because of under-enrollment.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that legislators need a refresher.


Well for one thing, you have to have seen the individual ethics violation charges being reported in Bay Area Houston and Musings. Their ethics violations mainly center around campaign fund expenditure reporting to the Texas Ethics Commission. Mainly they raise questions about what constitutes a valid use of campaign funds, and also that reporting of an expenditure is merely listed as a payment, say, to American Express, and does not report what was actually purchased or from whom.

Well guess what part of Ethics that Truitt’s bill mainly covers? Yep, you guessed it.

“The training must:
(1) focus primarily on compliance by a member of or candidate for the legislature with requirements for reporting political contributions and expenditures under Chapter 254, Election Code”
Truitt is going high tech in her bill, making sure that all the latest technology is being used to bring Ethics to legislators.
“(3) be delivered through a variety of means, including seminars, digital versatile discs (DVDs), transmission over the Internet, or in another appropriate electronic manner”.
My take on all of this, of course, is that Truitt is trying to put lipstick on a pig. I have, in the past, made the point that the whole system encourages corruption. The whole notion of having citizen-statesmen who pull down about $25,120 per year (when the legislature is in session) encourages a system that requires legislators to abuse campaign contributions so that they and their families can live in comfort and security.

While having a crash course in ethics will keep the number of ethics violation complaints down, what it doesn’t do is do anything about the corrupt system itself. It just provides a vehicle to teach legislators how they can function in a corrupt system without getting caught.

So in the end, I suspect that all this bill will accomplish, should it become law, is a decrease in the amount of paperwork at the Texas Ethics Commission, except for paperwork filed on the legislators who sleep through the seminars, or have some sort of learning disability.

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