Texas AG: Lobbyists can't serve on state Board of Education

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 12, 2011


AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in an opinion issued Friday, said a subsection of the state Education Code precludes certain registered lobbyists from serving on the Texas Board of Education.

In March, Gail Lowe, then-chairwoman of the board, sought Abbott's opinion regarding the construction of subsection 7.103(c) in the Education Code and on its newly elected member, Thomas Ratliff.

Lowe said Ratliff also is a lobbyist for "several prominent firms whose business interests seem to intersect with" state school board issues.

"Concerns have been raised among various members of the public and among some SBOE (State Board of Education) board members about whether he can fulfill his duties given the restrictions in Section 7.103(c) and potential conflicts of interest," Lowe said.

Subsection 7.103(c) provides that (a) person who is required to register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305, Government Code, by virtue of the person's activities for compensation in or on behalf of a profession, business or association related to the operation of the board, may not serve as a member of the board or act as general counsel to the board.

Lowe, who has since been replaced as chairwoman by Barbara Cargill, said it is important to ensure the board is acting in accordance with statutes in the Education Code and "to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing in the disposition of our duties."

According to Abbott's opinion, "a person who has been retained to communicate directly with the legislative or executive branch to influence legislation or administrative action in or on behalf of a profession, business or association on a matter that pertains to or is associated or connected with any of the statutorily enumerated powers or duties of the board is not eligible to serve on the board.

"Thus, a registered lobbyist who has been paid to lobby the legislative or executive branch on a matter relating to board business is ineligible to serve on the board."

However, the question of whether any person engaged in lobbying activity is ineligible under the subsection is "a fact of question that is inappropriate to an attorney general opinion," Abbott wrote.

Ratliff also had requested that Lowe seek the attorney general's opinion "in an effort to shed light on the prohibition and to clear up his eligibility to serve on the State Board of Education."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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