County opposes Austin censorship
By John Meng General Manager/Editor
Last week, Jackson County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution opposing S.B. 234/H.B. 749 which has been filed in the Texas Legislature. Both the Senate and House bills are largely seen as an organized effort to silence the combined voices of county officials across the state.
Senate Bill 234 by Sen. Bob Hall and House Bill 749 by Rep. Mayes Middleton would prohibit the use of county funds to support any nonprofit association that engages in legislative communication. The legislation would also terminate the ability of County Judges, Commissioners Association of Texas, the Texas Administrative Code (TAC), and all other local government associations to present a collective voice on the many bills that affect their citizens.
Under the proposed bills, each county official would be forced to analyze each bill and attempt to provide information to the legislators. S.B. 234/H.B. 749 would effectively eliminate the joint participation of local governments, however it leaves the tremendous influence of special interest groups completely untouched. In addition, S.B. 234/H.B. 749 would not apply to lobbying expenditures by state agencies and the legislature itself.
Many county officials across Texas have expressed their opposition to this effort to silence their collective communication and many county governments, like Jackson County, have passed official resolutions condemning S.B. 234/H.B. 749.
“SB 234 and HB 749 are two bills that are designed to prohibit the county, city or school from paying dues to organizations who employ staff that spend time communicating with law makers regarding legislation on behalf of the local elected officials,” said Jackson County Judge Jill Sklar. “Jackson County belongs to the Texas Association of Counties and each elected official belongs to a statewide organization made up of those with the same elected positions. Through these organizations we obtain all of our necessary training, have a large source of colleagues that we share ideas with, and we get the support we need to fulfill our obligations to our constituents.
Jackson County’s dues to these various organizations are very minimal in our budget and it is estimated that only 20 percent of those dues go towards legislative analysis and communications with legislators.
Sklar explains that removing the ability to communicate with one voice through the associations would be detrimental to Jackson County’s local taxing entities and that would in turn have an adverse effect on tax payers.
“This is the opposite effect of what the authors of the bill are trying to accomplish. It’s a bad idea,” she said. “Every two years when the Texas Legislature meets, thousands of bills are filed with the intent of becoming law. Although, many of the bills are good ideas or have good intentions for local entities, the affect that they will have when implemented at a local level is not always understood by those in Austin.
“Additionally, the majority of them cost money to implement. Our lawmakers rarely send tax payer money from the state and often require the local entities to pay for it themselves. These are called unfunded mandates. In order for a county, city, or local school district to carry out our lawmakers’ orders we must either cut services or raise taxes. Small counties, like Jackson County, rely on the ability to organize and come together with other counties through our designated representative allowing for a consistent message to those that are changing the laws in Texas. This allows our legislators the opportunity to fully understand how the legislation will affect local government, including the increase cost in property taxes. There is no way local elected officials can do their job at home and keep up with the thousands of pieces of legislation that would have an adverse effect on local government, not to mention, spend the time needed to communicate that message to those in Austin.
“We have to have a voice in Austin during the legislative session. The commissioners’ courts opposition to these two bills is the right thing to do. I believe our local officials know the ins and outs of local government better than those in Austin, not allowing us to organize and speak as a whole is wrong and I believe a detriment to local communities.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst has publicly stated she plans to support the bill.
“I would rather not see tax dollars diverted into the pockets of Austin lobbyists and away from local priorities,” Kolkhorst said.
The Herald-Tribune has reached out to Rep. Phil Stephenson’s office for comment, but has not received a response before press time.