Conroe, March 27 – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough had every good reason to be all smiles yesterday during and after the Montgomery County Commissioners Court. Keough led the Court – on a 5 to 0 unanimous vote – to endorse passage of the Lambright Local Government Ethics Law, Senate Bill 710 and House Bill 1495, pending before the 86th Texas Legislature.
Keough told The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, “Today in commissioners court, I presented a resolution to support Senate Bill 710 written by Senator Brandon Creighton. The bill will be carried in the Texas House by Representative Steve Toth.” The County Judge explained, “This is landmark legislation that has the potential to ‘put teeth’ in Montgomery County’s current ethics policy and equally as important all Texas counties. I applaud the Commissioners in their unanimous support of this landmark legislation.”
The bill analysis says “Currently only certain counties may authorize their ethics board ( if they have one) to impose effective penalties against those who violate ethical standards. This leaves most counties unable to impose a civil penalty and can take little action when an elected official, lobbyist, or vendor violates ethical standards. SB 710 amends current law to remove restrictions on which counties may impose penalties , allowing all counties to choose wether or not to create a county ethics commission that may adopt and enforce ethics standards.”
Another major aspect of Keough’s resolution, which the Commissioners Court approved unanimously was the commitment to revisit the current Code of Ethics to make it much stronger. Keough said, “The Commissioners Court also committed to adopt ‘a new ethics policy and adopt the various provisions of statute that will be enabled by the passage of SB 710 and HB 1495 in an effort to promote transparency and ethical reforms within Montgomery County on or after the effective date of the act.’ Both SB 710 and HB 1495 would permit county governments across Texas to adopt ethics codes and appoint local ethics committees with enforcement powers through civil penalties.”
The Lambright Local Government Ethics Law, Senate Bill 710, passed the Texas Senate’s Committee on State Affairs on a 8 to 0 vote late Monday afternoon. State Senator Brandon Creighton, Republican of Conroe and the author of the legislation, explained that the legislation will go before the full Senate next week.
“The Lambright Local Government Ethics Law, Senate Bill 710, heads to the full floor of the Texas Senate next Tuesday or Wednesday,” Creighton announced. Senate Bill 710 would give all counties the authority to enact codes of ethics which would be enforceable through civil penalties. Currently El Paso County is the only county in Texas with such authority.
Creighton further explained, “Today, the Senate Committee on State Affairs passed SB 710 with a vote of 8-0, which is legislation that allows local governments to adopt their own ethics commission, and create an ethics code for their officials and staff. This legislation will provide counties a framework that they can opt into, and be part of JD’s legacy of good government and transparency. JD Lambright was a true statesman and I am proud to sponsor ethics legislation in his honor.”
Passing such legislation was a goal of Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright who passed into the arms of the Lord on March 9, 2019, after a brief battle with cancer. Lambright, as County Attorney, had drafted a Code of Ethics for Montgomery County’s government, but the Code of Ethics is unenforceable, because counties lack such authority.
The Travis County Commissioners Court has endorsed the Lambright Local Government Ethics Law as well. Two individuals instrumental in supporting the proposed Lambright Legislation are Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and that Travis County’s Intergovernmental Relations Director Deece Eckstein.
Travis County Commissioner Daugherty explained, “We have always been in support.”
Eckstein confirmed to The Golden Hammer that the Travis County Commissioners Court has supported the Lambright Legislation. “We support the bill,” Eckstein said.
State Representative Steve Toth, Republican of Conroe, has introduced House Bill 1495, which is similar to Senate Bill 710 but would only apply to Montgomery County and to El Paso County. Toth has made clear that he’ll support Senate Bill 710, if it passes the Texas Senate and comes over to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration. The Texas House referred Toth’s bill, HB 1495, to the House County Affairs Committee. Since it’s a local bill, it faces an easier process for passage than typical legislation.
State Representative Will Metcalf has indicated that he’ll support the Lambright Local Government Ethics Law as well.
Keough also noted, “What is especially significant to Montgomery County is the naming of this bill after our friend and fellow public servant JD Lambright. This legislation would allow his wonderful legacy to endure forever and benefit all Texans.”