The Texas House voted, 125-21, on Tuesday to pass the State Bar of Texas Sunset bill, SB 302.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously on April 4. It now heads back to the Senate for concurrence or a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.

The bill retains the rules referendum vote of State Bar members and would require a referendum in cases where a dues increase of more than 10 percent is proposed in a six-year period.

The House added an amendment that would limit the original Sunset Commission recommendation that the State Bar be required to conduct fingerprint-based criminal background checks for Texas attorneys to disclose criminal activity triggering compulsory discipline. The House amendment would apply the provision going forward.

The Board of Law Examiners already obtains fingerprint-based criminal history information for bar examinees. Under the amendment, the State Bar would have access to that information going forward. Fingerprints would not be required for those already licensed.

The House added additional amendments to require the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel to report statistics and other information on barratry as well as to require that disposition data be reported by race and gender. Other amendments would modify the bill’s subpoena provision and instruct the Supreme Court to ensure that rules for admission and practice do not limit, hinder, disadvantage, or otherwise adversely affect a person’s admission to the practice of law on the basis of the person’s deeply held religious beliefs.

If finally approved, SB 302 would continue the State Bar for 12 years. Other provisions include:

  • making various enhancements to the grievance process, including new investigative tools, sanction guidelines, and greater opportunity for earlier resolution of complaints;
  • creating an independent ombudsman to answer questions from those seeking to file grievances and to ensure that the system is working;
  • requiring the State Bar to post more data on its website about attorney disciplinary actions; and
  • maximizing the use of the informal dispute resolution program in the grievance system.

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