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The Senate State Affairs Committee met Monday, March 13, 2023, to hear testimony on several bills, including SB 175 (the one most pertinent to TASA membership).

SB 175 (Middleton, et al.) would prohibit political subdivisions from expending public funds to pay a lobbyist. Additionally, political subdivisions would be prohibited from using public funds to pay a nonprofit state organization that primarily represents political subdivisions and that hires or contracts with lobbyists. The bill, as introduced, would permit taxpayers and residents of a political subdivision that violates the prohibition to seek injunctive relief and would allow the resident or taxpayer (if they prevail) to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in seeking injunctive relief. The bill also prohibits county judges and county commissioners from using public funds to join or serve on the governing body of the association of counties. SB 175 would also repeal the provision in the Local Government Code that permits a county’s commissioners court from using public funds to pay membership fees and dues to the association of counties.

Sen. Mayes Middleton introduced a committee substitute for SB 175. TASA Past President and Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams testified in opposition to the bill on behalf of TASA. He said that this bill would dramatically limit school districts ability to advocate for their teachers and students at the Capitol.

Williams told the committee that when he was a government teacher, he discussed with students that constituents should have access to government itself, and that access should be limited only under rare circumstances and in matters of public interest. Government should show compelling reasons to limit public access for individuals and groups, and he said this bill does not show compelling reasons for this limitation.

Williams said that, if passed, this bill would harm school districts. He noted that over 1,000 education-related bills were filed during the last legislative session, and that having representation in Austin kept his district informed. He stressed that relaying the school perspective to legislators is the most effective way to be a part of the legislative process. Williams said the decision to have representation in Austin should be a local one made by a district’s elected trustees, and noted that his district spent less than $5,000 from a $23 million budget on representation.

The committee heard hours of public testimony both in support and opposition to the bill before the committee substitute was left pending.