State Legislature approves port reform

AUSTIN, TX

But it wasn't an easy decision, especially for lawmakers hailing from Houston.

The Port of Houston will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year now for the first time with state-imposed ethics rules. The process started with 13 Undercover investigations two years ago and we haven't stopped. Last night's vote was a long time coming.

Maybe it was the $100 million cruise terminal that's been empty nearly every day for the last five years. Or the former chairman who took a trip to Libya on a port vendor's dime. Or the private port tour for Gadhafi's kid. Or private parties on the publicly owned port yacht for port big wigs. Or the $300,000 sweetheart severance deal for a port PR exec.

If not that, maybe it was the current commissioner who's voted to support the development group his son runs. Or the commissioner who was reappointed in the midst of an international criminal investigation. Or just maybe it was the expensive parties with separate bartenders for commissioners that finally convinced enough Austin lawmakers they'd had enough of the Port of Houston.

On Thursday night, the Texas House finalized port reform more than two years in the making.

"And I don't want a single member outside of the Houston area to take a vote that could be viewed as weak on ethics, because that is what this vote quite simply will come down to," State Rep. Dennis Bonnen told lawmakers on Thursday.

Once the governor signs the bill, which is expected, four of the seven port commissioners will have to leave. Jim Fonteno already announced his resignation.

Kase Lawal will not be reappointed. And after losing a last-minute fight in Austin, Jimmy Burke and Steve Phelps are being forced from office before their terms are up. The chairwoman Janiece Longoria will have to leave office sooner than expected as well.

Their replacements will have to tell the public far more about their private finances.

Late Thursday, the Port of Houston Executive Director Len Waterworth issued the following statement to Eyewitness News:

"The Port Authority has worked cooperatively with the Sunset Advisory Commission, moved forward to carry out its management recommendations, and expects to implement the legislature's other requirements in the coming months."

The Texas Senate widely supported the plan -- just two no votes, both from the Houston area last week.

When it came time to vote in the Texas House, it passed 63-44. Nearly half the no votes came from Harris County. There are 24 House members from Harris County. Just four of them voted to support the plan. Four. After two years of state investigation.

The no voters who spoke said it was simply a local control issue. How did your legislator vote? See below:

House Of Representatives
Unofficial Totals: 63 Yeas, 44 Nays, 28 Present, not voting

Yeas: Rep. Harold Dutton; Rep. Dan Huberty; Rep. Senfronia Thompson; Rep. Hubert Vo
Nays: Rep. Alma Allen; Rep. Carol Alvarado; Rep. Dwayne Bohac; Rep. Bill Callegari; Rep. Garnet Coleman; Rep. John Davis; Rep. Sarah Davis; Rep. Gary Elkins; Rep. Jessica Farrar; Rep. Allen Fletcher; Rep. Patricia Harless; Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna; Rep. Jim Murphy; Rep. Mary Ann Perez; Rep. Debbie Riddle; Rep. Wayne Smith; Rep. Armando Walle Present, not voting - Rep. Gene Wu, Rep. Tony Dale
Absent: Rep. Boris Miles; Rep. Sylvester Turner

Senate>
Unofficial Totals: 28 Yeas, 2 Nays, 1 Absent-excused

Yeas: Sen. John Whitmire; Sen. Joan Huffman; Sen. Rodney Ellis; Sen. Dan Patrick; Sen. Tommy Williams
Nays: Sen. Sylvia Garcia; Sen. Larry Taylor

___________________________________________________________

Find Ted on Facebook at ABC13TedOberg or on Twitter at @tedoberg

Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.