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The Chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Paul Bettencourt, requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General on the legality of incentives allegedly provided by Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) for voting in an upcoming tax rate election.
Texas Attorney General Requested to Clarify Legal Options Related to Benefiting Employees for Voting
Paul Bettencourt, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, has formally requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General regarding the potential violation of the Texas Penal Code 36.02. This comes after reports emerged of the Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) allegedly providing incentives to its employees for voting in the upcoming voter approval tax rate election (VATRE) on November 7, 2023.
Bettencourt’s request seeks clarification on two key questions. First, he asks if providing employees with an incentive to vote, when they would normally have to pay for such a benefit, constitutes a violation of Section 36.02 of the Texas Penal Code or 18 USC § 597. Second, if such incentives are found to be in violation, Bettencourt seeks information on the available remedies to cease these potentially illegal practices.
Laying out the Issue for the Texas Attorney General’s Office
The issue centers around the distribution of “jean passes” to FBISD staff as a reward for their participation in the upcoming election. Some campus locations within the district have reportedly charged employees for these passes, establishing a pecuniary value for their distribution. However, FBISD has recently instructed campuses to discontinue the sale of these passes, although this change occurred after early voting had already begun. Notably, it seems that these “jean passes” are only offered when the FBISD is seeking financial approval from voters.
Additionally, there are reports of children being incented to pressure their parents to vote. Allegedly, if a child brings an “I voted sticker” to school, they are eligible to enter a prize draw. Similarly, Kirk Elementary School within the Cy Fair Independent School District allegedly offered teachers 500 points if they voted in the November 2023 election. These points could be redeemed at the school store for various products.
Providing the Concern to the Texas Attorney General’s Office
Bettencourt’s concern stems from Chapter 36 of the Texas Penal Code, which considers it a felony offense if someone offers or solicits a benefit in exchange for another person’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, or exercise of discretion. Furthermore, under federal law, 18 USC §597, anyone who makes an expenditure or solicits, accepts, or receives such an expenditure as consideration for voting, or the withholding of a vote, may face fines or imprisonment.
Given that employees are being offered incentives to vote in an election where their jurisdiction stands to benefit financially, it appears to Bettencourt that this constitutes a potential breach of these laws. By seeking an Attorney General Opinion, Bettencourt aims to address and rectify these concerns.
The Chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government Awaits the Texas Attorney General’s Response
The Chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government has assured that he will gladly provide any additional information to facilitate the resolution of this important matter. The request has been sent to the Texas Attorney General’s office, with a copy directed to Suzanna Hupp, the Director of Intergovernmental Relations. The community now awaits a response from the Texas Attorney General to clarify the legality of these practices.
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