After Perry presidential run, lawmakers debate travel reimbursement bill


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on March 13, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 13 at 8:10 PM

AUSTIN -- Of the thousands of bills lawmakers have filed this session, a handful either directly or indirectly concern the state's chief executive. 
After an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2012, state Democrats called on Gov. Rick Perry to reimburse the state for roughly $2.6 million in travel expenses incurred by the governor and his Texas Department of Public Safety security detail. 
"We were in a fiscal crisis," state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) told KVUE in a January 2012 interview. "And if we're going to put all the oars in the water, then we're just asking him to put his set in too."
"Not a dime of the governor’s political travel was borne by Texas taxpayers," Perry's office responded in a written statement at the time. "Gov. Perry is governor no matter where he goes and the Department of Public Safety has a policy of providing security for governors and their families everywhere they travel, as they have back several administrations. 
"These policies are determined by DPS and not the governor’s office. It’s unfortunate that we live in a day and age where security is an issue. We respect and appreciate the officers who provide security for the Governor and First Lady and other state officials, just as they’ve done for decades," the statement continued.
Inside the 83rd Texas Legislature, there may be growing disagreement among lawmakers. Filed by state Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), HB 160 would require future elected officials to report out-of-state travel expenses and pay back any that weren't incurred performing official state business. The bill was scheduled for a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
"I think we need to reform that issue," Larson told KVUE Wednesday, explaining there was "a lot of frustration" during Perry's national presidential campaign. "We were basically picking up the bill. We made dramatic cuts in health care, infrastructure and education in the last session. I think we need to lead by example."
As speculation continues over whether Perry will seek a fourth term as governor, some lawmakers are also taking a look a term limits. Filed by state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler), SJR 13 would place an item on the November ballot asking voters to decide whether to limit statewide officeholders to two consecutive terms under the Texas Constitution. 
"This isn't about any specific officeholder," said Eltife, who brushed aside the suggestion some lawmakers are chafing for a shot at higher offices currently occupied by long-serving incumbents.
"I don't see any real frustration. I just think it's good government policy," said Eltife. "I think it brings more people into open seats. I think you have more debates, I think people have to lay out their vision for the state, and if they win re-election, they've got eight years to perform. So I just think it's good government."
Larson likewise says reimbursing travel costs isn't about the governor, rather about ensuring state money is used prudently. He points out the legislation mirrors laws already in place in several other states. 
"I think it's the right time to reform these kind of things," said Larson, later joking, "I probably won't be on his Christmas card list, but the idea was not directed at him. It's directed at the future candidates that run. Let's fix this problem so it doesn't continue to reoccur."