On Thursday, February 19, Rep. Byron Cook filed HB 1671 in the Texas House in an attempt to accomplish by law what the TEC has sought to do by rule–regulate the right of non-profit organizations in Texas to participate in political speech.
The bill attempts to put into law a set of rules previously adopted by the TEC in November of 2014 that would require groups such as THSC to report the names of their political donors to the state. Changes proposed by the bill would require that groups designate a sweeping range of items as political expenditures, including the salary of employees and the time spent by volunteers. By expanding the types of items counted as political expenditures, supporters of the bill hope to raise the expenditure levels for these groups high enough that they become subject to reporting requirements that would force them to hand over their donor list to the state. In other words, the bill implements new rules on normal procedures that seek to get access to names of supporters, removing the privacy and confidentiality for those supporters.
During the 83rd legislative session, Texas House leadership pushed through a bill that would have had similar effects on conservative groups in Texas, but it was vetoed by then-Governor Rick Perry who cited the “chilling effect” that the bill would have on the rights of Texans.
In addition to THSC’s battles with the TEC, conservative organization Empower Texans has spent three years fighting against the commission’s attempts to stifle free political speech for the organization. On February 18, the 158th District Court dismissed the case by the commission, thereby defending the right of Empower Texans and its president, Michael Quinn Sullivan, to engage in political speech related to issues under consideration in the Texas Legislature.
Conservative groups and lawmakers around the state have rallied against the efforts of House leadership and the Texas Ethics Commission to enforce these provisions, which would expose the supporters of groups like THSC to political intimidation. The THSC Watchmen are planted in Austin holding the line on behalf of home schoolers and families, and defending the rights of Texans to participate in political speech. The THSC Watchmen will continue to track the bill and are scouring the legislative landscape for anything that may jeopardize the freedom that families and home schoolers enjoy in Texas.
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