Legislative Battles

SB 10: Lobby Restriction

Senator Bettencourt authored Senate Bill 10, which would have banned the use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying on behalf of a city or county. The House version, HB 749, was carried by Rep. Mayes Middleton.

With Senator Lucio off the Senate floor to attend a funeral, Senator Bettencourt was able to pass SB 10 by a vote of 17 to 13 (usually it would require 18 votes, but Lucio’s absence allowed for the lower threshold). After passing the Senate, the bill went to the House State Affairs Committee to join Rep. Middleton’s HB 749 where it lacked legislative support to pass committee.

Chairman Chris Paddie authored a compromise version that never made the House floor because of the refusal by Rep. Middleton to pull down a series of amendments.

The City of Houston strongly opposed this bill, which ended up failing to come up for a vote on the House floor.

Employing more than 22,000 people with an annual budget of over $5 billion, the City of Houston has many varied interests before the Texas Legislature, ranging from law enforcement policy, environmental regulations, and even manned space flight policy. The Houston Government Relations Team has worked to provide transparency and accountability for our lobby teams with both legislative reports and testimony before Houston City Council.

By searching “City of Houston Lobby Contracts” in any internet search engine, the stand-alone page is the first hit. It lists the date City Council voted, the contracts and names of firms hired. The site also includes the Legislative Principles passed by City Council and written testimony, matching exactly what was voted on to actions taken.

In 2017, the City’s biggest issue was passing pension reform for our municipal, fire, and police pension systems that ran a total unfunded liability of $8.2 billion. Thanks to the Legislature, the reforms passed with over 2/3 support in both the Senate and the House.

  • It should be noted that just as the City hired lobbyists to help pass these vital reforms, the pension systems hired lobbyists as well. Stripping the ability of cities to fund lobbyists while allowing pension systems to continue using them is a very inequitable situation.

In 2019, Houston’s focus was on lobbying for use of the state’s Rainy-Day Fund to assist with recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey.

  • The City of Houston spent $670,000 over a recent two-year biennium on lobbying. In the 2019 session, the lobby team was able to secure over $200 million from the State’s Rainy Day fund for Hurricane Harvey Repairs.

A criticism of government is often, “run it like a business,” which is valid in many aspects. When it comes to lobbying, the expenditure on lobbyists for city interests is far below that which private businesses spend.

Locally, the ability for the City of Houston to invest in lobbyists for this session has not been raised by one constituent at a City Council Meeting or through constituent correspondence to the Mayor’s Office. The lobby contract passed unanimously at City Council, and there were no budget amendments addressing the contract total during adoption of the $5.1 billion city budget.

The 2021 legislative session was going to be difficult and, in many ways, limited on what issues could be addressed in a session impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Restricting the ability of cities to advocate on the same playing field as unions, associations, and corporations will not produce better-informed policy.