Bill Now Goes Before the Texas Legislature for Discussion and Approval
By a 5-0 vote, the El Paso Commissioner's Court this morning approved proposed legislation to provide statutory authority and enhanced power to the current County Board of Ethics.
The proposal calls for the creation of a 9-member body to oversee compliance of the County's Ethics Code: one appointed by each member of Commissioner's Court, and 4 representatives from the public chosen by the appointed members.
If approved by the Texas Legislature, the proposed bill will authorize the El Paso Ethics Commission to assess civil and criminal penalties for violations of the ethics code. Some of the penalties contemplated in the proposed legislation include fines of up to $4,000 for violations, fines of up to $500 for County public servants (Elected County officials, County employees and agents), lobbyists and vendors who delay providing information to the Commission, and up to 3 months in jail for unauthorized destruction or release of confidential information.
During the meeting, El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodriguez explained the proposed legislation was necessary because currently county governments under Texas law do not have the power to enact ethics codes with civil or criminal sanctions.
"In the last few months we have heard criticism from El Paso residents who rightly point out that the current County Ethics Code does not have teeth. The current Board of Ethics can only issue "public censures" to individuals who violate the code, and that to residents is the equivalent of a slap on the wrist," County Attorney Rodriguez explained.
"With the approval of this item, El Paso County becomes a state leader in demanding ethical conduct from its public servants and the individuals who solicit business from them," Rodriguez concluded.
The proposed legislation now goes to members of the El Paso legislative delegation and will be filed in the Texas House and Senate in the next few days.
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Ethics Commission Proposal Press Release.pdf
Summary Ethics Legislation 2-18-09.pdf
County Ethics Commission Bill Draft 2-24-09.pdf