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ETHICAL DISCLOSURES 2.0 HB 23 in the era of transparency Ramiro Canales

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uring the 84th regular session, Texas lawmakers overwhelmingly passed House Bill 23, which makes significant changes to the disclosure requirements in Chapter 176 of the Local Government Code.1 Effective September 1, administrators, school board members, and vendors must determine if disclosure is required in light of the new definitions and standards in Chapter 176. HB 23 is a continuation of legislative efforts since 2005 for more transparency in government.

Background Originally created by HB 914 in 2005 during the 79th regular session, Chapter 176 in the Local Government Code requires superintendents, school board members, and vendors to disclose conflicts of interest. HB 914 initially caused confusion, so the attorney general requested guidance. On August 2, 2006,Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued Opinion No. GA-0446 to clarify provisions in Chapter 176. In 2007, the Texas Legislature amended Chapter 176 by passing HB 1491, which codified some of the language in the attorney general’s opinion. With the passage of HB 23, several terms in Chapter 176 have new meaning, effective September 1: n Agent now includes an employee. n Family member means “a person related to another person within the first degree by consanguinity

or affinity, as described by Subchapter B, Chapter 573, Government Code.” n Family relationship is “a relationship between a person and another person within the third degree

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by consanguinity or the second degree by affinity, as those terms are defined by Subchapter B, Chapter 573, Government Code.” Gift means “a benefit offered by a person, including food, lodging, transportation, and entertainment accepted as a guest. The term does not include a benefit offered on account of kinship or a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of the official status of the recipient.” Local governmental entity includes a water district. Local government officer means “an agent of a local governmental entity who exercises discretion in the planning, recommending, selecting, or contracting of a vendor.” Vendor is defined as “a person who enters or seeks to enter into a contract with a local governmental entity. The tem includes an agent of a vendor. The term includes an officer or employee of a state agency when that individual is acting in a private capacity to enter into a contract. The terms does not include a state agency except for the Texas Correctional Industries.”

To facilitate understanding of the new law, direct quotes of the new statutory language in the enrolled version of HB 23 are provided throughout this article.

Disclaimer: Specific circumstances regarding a superintendent’s or school board member’s activities and the content and filing of the forms should be discussed individually with a school district attorney. Superintendents and board members should contact the superintendent’s attorney or school district’s attorney, as appropriate, if any questions arise related to interpreting the new requirements and completing the applicable forms.

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INSIGHT—Fall 2015