FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 18, 2020
Austin, TX - Senator Bettencourt (R-Houston) filed SB 252 to strengthen code to allow a public servant to be charged with Abuse of Official Capacity when violating the public interest, by storing non-government personal property, including art work, at government expense, without the public's benefit. Such abuse can range in punishment from a Class C Misdemeanor for property valued under $100, all the way up to a first degree felony for property valued over $300,000 as defined in SB 252. The bill is filed in part due to the well-publicized event of a Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Harris County) storing African artwork of unknown ownership and limited public access in a publically funded warehouse in Harris County on the taxpayers dime since late summer of 2019.
"We cannot allow elected officials to store private property of unknown origin, install high-tech security, and pay for parking lot improvements with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that we know of, and this must be stopped." said Senator Bettencourt. "This is an intolerable situation to taxpayers and it must be resolved by action from either the District Attorney's office or if this bill passes, by the Attorney General's office," he continued.
Currently, the Texas Penal Code provides criminal penalties for the misuse of public property by public servants. SB 252 amends this section of the code by making it crystal clear that using public facilities and/or funding to the benefit of private personal property, including art work, without a public benefit, is a crime. It also allows the Texas Attorney General concurrent jurisdiction in cases that arise from this misuse without receiving local county consent to prosecute.
"For example, no one has paid property taxes on this 'artwork' in Harris County that is supposedly privately owned in several years so the local taxpayers are being defrauded as a result," said Senator Bettencourt. "This situation in Harris County has been known for over a year and it is preposterous to think that every elected official in the state would have a government owned facility or warehouse that could be used for such a purpose at the taxpayers’ expense!" he added.
SB 252 states that a public servant misuses non-government, personal property or any other thing of value, including art work, that has come into the public servant's custody or possession by virtue of the public servant's office or employment by storing or refurbishing at government expense, without public benefit will result in a crime. "This should not have happened and SB 252 makes it clear that it cannot happen in the future!" concluded Senator Paul Bettencourt.