Transparency ensures taxpayers won’t get ripped off
By Barbara Gervin-Hawkins
The opioid crisis is ravaging our nation, hurting families and creating a public health epidemic. Lawsuits have been filed by a number of local governments in Texas, including Bexar County, to pursue reimbursement from drugmakers for opioid-related costs they have incurred. As a recent editorial in your paper notes, the city of San Antonio is considering legal action as well.
As citizens, we expect every level of government to act in a manner that is thoughtful and transparent. As an elected official, I know the best way to ensure that government acts responsibly is to create mechanisms that guarantee public review and accountability.
That’s why I was a joint author of House Bill 2826, which requires all local governments in Texas — including the city of San Antonio — to act in an open and transparent manner when hiring lawyers on a contingent fee basis and to enter into a contract that most benefits taxpayers.
House Bill 2826 does nothing to prevent our city from hiring private lawyers to handle this complicated litigation. But it does ensure that when a qualified attorney is hired, the city will have gone through a public process that will result in the best possible deal for our taxpayers.
House Bill 2826 does allow the attorney general to review the contingent fee contract for legal services. However, this measure is important because it further requires that political subdivisions be transparent. House Bill 2826 requires that a political subdivision submit information regarding the description of the legal matter as well as qualifications of the attorney or law firm. These elements are important to ensure that cities are hiring the most qualified and experienced attorneys or firms to handle such important cases.
House Bill 2826 allows the attorney general to refuse the contract if a city has not met the reporting requirements. The attorney general may also refuse the contract if the legal matter presents one or more questions of law or fact that the state has already addressed or is pursuing. A contract may also be refused if pursuit of the matter will not promote the just and efficient resolution of the matter. If the attorney general refuses to approve a contract, the office is required to specifically identify why it did not approve the contract. These stipulations further ensure that all local governments are acting in a transparent matter and are entering into contracts that will be beneficial to taxpayers.
House Bill 2826 does not prohibit a political subdivision from making attempts to comply with the requirements or from contesting the attorney general’s refusal to approve the contract. According to House Bill 2826, the State Office of Administrative Hearings shall establish the procedures to govern a contest to the attorney general’s refusal to approve a contract. House Bill 2826 also creates accountability for the attorney general should he or she refuse to approve a contract.
The new law ensures attorney’s fees will not eat up the majority of the city’s legal award, leaving more money to address the challenges created by opioid addiction in our wonderful city.
Barbara Gervin-Hawkins is a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives, representing the 120th District.