February 11, 2005
Denny backs away

The Statesman slams State Rep. Mary Denny (R, Aubrey) for filing "one of the worst pieces of legislation in recent memory in an effort to protect themselves from criminal prosecution for election law violations." She must have gotten some flack for it, because she appears to be backing away.

"My only motivation was to get some help," said Rep. Mary Denny, a Republican from Aubrey who heads the House Elections Committee. Stymieing prosecutors "was the last thing on my mind," she said.

Under Denny's House Bill 913, prosecutors would have to get a green light from the Ethics Commission before they could prosecute election code violations, which is not what Denny had in mind when she drafted the bill, she said.

"My intent is not to make it so that the Ethics Commission has the final say," Denny said.


Democrats charge the bill is a not-so-veiled attempt to obstruct campaign-related prosecutions, like the felony cases Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has brought against three associates of U.S. House Rep. Tom DeLay.

Denny denied Earle was in her cross hairs.

"Heavens no," she said when the question was posed.

Shannon Edmonds of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, which opposes the bill, said that in a mid-afternoon meeting on Thursday Denny seemed receptive to suggestions the bill be changed so the Ethics Commission wouldn't have the final say in what cases prosecutors could pursue.

Heavens no, indeed. Looks like the TDCAA is set to come out against HB 913 in its current form.

The Texas District and County Attorneys Association will likely oppose a bill that would let the state Ethics Commission pre-empt local prosecutors in their enforcement of the Texas Election Code, Midland County District Attorney Al Schorre said Thursday.

However, he said a bill filed in Austin by state Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, might be acceptable if modified to give district and county attorneys the authority to prosecute criminal violations in cases where the Ethics Commission failed to do so.

"There are lots of instances where it's appropriate to refer cases to the commission and they can assess civil fines," Schorre said, referring to such infractions as candidates' failing to report campaign contributions.

"However, there are instances where a civil penalty would not be enough," he said. "If there was real corruption that needed to be prosecuted, we wouldn't want the commission to thwart that for some reason."

This looks to me like it's probably dead. Too early to say for sure, and there's always the possibility that HB 913 could be passed as is now with a promise to "fix it later", with "later" being defined as "some time between the turn of the next century and the heat death of the universe". But at least it got noticed.

UPDATE: Liz adds on about Rep. Denny and her bill.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 11, 2005 to Scandalized! | TrackBack