With members of the Texas Legislature earning only $7,200 per year, it's not surprising that most have outside jobs unless they come from wealthy families. And that's the way many Texans prefer it, having a House and Senate made up of people who live in the real world and thus can relate to them.
There's a lot to be said for that model, but it does create one possible problem: Lawmakers who support or oppose bills based on how they will affect their jobs or professions.
This is not an idle concern.
A study by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press revealed that more and more state legislators are combining their personal financial gains or losses with the legislation that comes before them -- sometimes without fully reporting those conflicts of interest.
When public and private interests clash, the taxpayers should not come in second.
Many lawmakers defend the system, saying that it gives them special insight into areas like real estate or medicine that frequently come before state legislatures.
And if they use their specialized knowledge to make a good bill better or stop a bad one, that's fine. But all too often, their familiarity leads to legislation that benefits their bottom line, sometimes at the expense of competitors or other taxpayers.
One state legislator in Iowa made sure that sales taxes would not have to be paid by businesses that buy certain supplies like saws or cutting fluids. Since he owns a machine shop and welding company, the change saved him a lot of money.
One obvious answer here is a familiar one: disclosure. As long as taxpayers know about potential conflicts of interest like this, they are better able to judge if their state representative or senator made the right decision.
Lawmakers also should not hesitate to recuse themselves from certain issues if they affect their finances too much.
When the Texas Legislature meets again in 2019, issues like this should be studied by the House and Senate ethics committees, and existing safeguards should be strengthened when necessary.
Public service shouldn't harm lawmakers' finances, but it shouldn't enrich them either.