Apparently spending another $1.7 million on the Special Session to Nowhere wasn't enough. We're now giving a lobbying firm for the gambling industry a cool quarter million bucks to write a slot machine law for us.
During a Sunset Advisory Commission meeting Tuesday, video lottery opponent Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, grilled Lottery Commission Executive Director Reagan Greer and agency General Counsel Kim Kipling about hiring the Las Vegas firm Lionel, Sawyer and Collins to draft the gambling legislation.
"Are you familiar with any other situation where someone has asked a state agency to use their resources to go out of state to hire a law firm to draft legislation and pay them $250,000 out of that agency's budget?" Nelson asked.
Greer said Lionel, Sawyer and Collins was hired because no one in Texas had the legal expertise on how to legalize video lottery terminals without expanding Indian gaming in the state.
Greer said the commission hired outside counsel at the direction of the staffs of Perry, Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick after consulting with Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Kipling said there was an interest among the state leaders to make sure video lottery "would be tightly run, closely supervised and a squeaky-clean operation."
Kipling said the Las Vegas firm was chosen on the recommendation of lottery Commissioner James Cox of Austin. During the 1980s, Cox ran four hotels and casinos for the estate of Howard Hughes.
Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, asked whether the law firm drafted the exact legislation that the House voted on. Kipling said the law firm's work formed the basis for the bill, but there were some changes made by House legislators.
"This was a bill, which was a specific policy agenda, and this was for a special interests agenda that benefits very few people," Dunnam said Wednesday, referring to the racetrack owners who want video lottery legalized. "For the taxpayers to pay for that is unbelievable."
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor's staff wanted the agency to provide the information on how to draft the legislation, but she said no one on the governor's staff directed which law firm should be hired.
Dewhurst spokesman Mark Miner said the lieutenant governor's staff was brought into the discussions after the Las Vegas firm was hired.
Craddick spokesman Bob Richter said the speaker's staff agreed to hiring the Las Vegas firm because of its expertise.
The firm so far has submitted a bill to the state of $176,743. The maximum it can be paid is $250,000.
Let me make sure I've got this right ... the guv wants to fund schools with slots, so his office approves the expenditure of a quarter mil of public funds to an out-of-state firm by the lottery commission--who, by the way, only have the authority kindly granted them by the Lege to administer the existing lottery laws for the good people of Texas--so they can put legislation before the lawmakers that no one in Texas except the guy in the white mansion and the gambling industry wants. Carole Strayhorn should jump on this but big.