Issues to consider in reviewing Texas legislative proposals that affect nonprofits and associations
The 85th Texas Legislature, Regular Session, will be called to order on January 10, 2017, but already hundreds of proposed bills have been pre-filed by sponsors in the House and Senate. More than 6,000 bills will be filed during the session. The challenge becomes how to sort through them and identify the bills that directly affect the nonprofit sector and the interests of community leaders, volunteers and those who support community-based organizations, statewide associations and foundations.
Pre-filing of bills has already commenced with early-bird legislators revealing the issues they will advance. Copies of filed House and Senate bills can be accessed at Texas Legislature Online.
A periodic Texas Legislature Summary will be posted here until the session ends in June 2017, and proposed bills and analysis will highlight the following factors:
Issues of concern:
• Whether a proposed bill strengthens nonprofit organizations’ viability under Texas law or unduly burdens or threatens their status;
• Whether the legal liability of nonprofit and association board members, officers, staff or volunteers is increased;
• Whether current “charitable immunity” and “good faith” legal protections under Texas law remain in place;
• Whether laws regulating nonprofits are justified, understandable and based on reasonable public policy concerns;
• Whether constitutional rights of advocacy groups and associations are protected;
• Whether ongoing nonprofit organization governance, operations, compliance and financial management are complicated by new laws or governmental regulations; and
• Whether nonprofit organization reporting, disclosure and transparency requirements remain reasonable and balanced.
Participating in the Texas legislature process for more than 25 years and has yielded a perspective about the legislative policymaking and government regulation of nonprofit organizations and associations:
• Many legislative and regulatory proposals have unintended consequences for nonprofit organizations. Legislators and their staffs are generally uninformed about the real operations of nonprofits and how they are different from businesses or government agencies.
• Most “reform” proposals mean more reporting, compliance, governance time and administrative expense for nonprofits, which then may be judged harshly if their administrative and operations expenses consume too large a percentage of their total budget.
• Volunteer board members and other good people must not be discouraged by lengthy, confusing or threatening governmental regulations that make service risky and enhance their personal legal liability. Criminal enforcement penalties attached to reform legislation can frighten informed and qualified leaders who otherwise might serve on a board.
• One size does not fit all. Many “reform” proposals are intended to cure mis-steps and excesses of large nonprofits or national associations. Sadly, reforms often land hard on good people doing good work in local communities.
• The evolving social enterprise sector is composed of innovators and risk-takers who are investing in new ideas, new markets, and new forms of nonprofit operations based on a business model and revenue-based sustainability. Nonprofits increasingly partner with businesses and government agencies to facilitate beneficial programs and new ideas. Innovative operations and leaders should be given breathing room by government regulators.
• Complex governmental regulations discourage start-ups and the efforts of good people with good ideas who seek to advance our society and their communities. Every beneficial and acclaimed cause, movement, charitable institution, association or nonprofit organization probably started with one person, with one idea, in one community. It then grew and grew with hard work and now serves the common good. Government policies should preserve an environment that encourages every citizen and group to engage in good works.
© 2016, Richard W. Meyer. All rights reserved.