Member Login

Forgot Password?
Need Login?

You are here: Home > News & Events > News > First Open Government,…
Welcome, guest: Login to your account

First Open Government, newsroom measures make it to Gov. Abbott’s desk for action

The first wave of Open Government and newsroom-related measures have cleared both chambers and are awaiting action by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Most add clarity to existing law but in a couple of cases, TAB and other Open Government advocates had to work with the bill author in order to prevent any unintended consequences.

SB 347 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, would apply the Texas Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act to regional water planning groups and their committees.

SB 843 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, modifies the Criminal Code to create protection for supporting documentation and applications for the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund.

It still allows release of information if the crime victim or claimant is awarded compensation.

That includes information such as the date of the award of compensation, the name of the crime victim or claimant and the amount of compensation awarded to that crime victim or claimant.

SB 988 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, amends the Local Government Code to say a county judge in videoconference meeting allowed under the Texas Open Meetings Act is the presiding officer of a commissioners court – but only when he or she is located at the public place posted for the meeting.

SB 1086 by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would prohibit the State Comptroller’s office from publishing individual hotel sales tax receipts on its website.

At the suggestion of Open Government groups, this information would still be available through a TPIA  records request.
While not technically a newsroom measure, HB 1995 by Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, would have had a disastrous effect on newsrooms if it had passed in its original form.

The bill passed the Senate chamber on Monday by a 31-0 vote.

As filed, HB 1995 amended the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act to include a provision overriding Rule 76a of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

That would have allowed companies to seal court records in trade secrets cases without the public or newsrooms from being able to petition the court to open these matters if the public concern outweighed the need for secrecy.

So why does that matter?

In KHOU-TV’s excellent 1990s investigative reporting on Firestone tire safety issues, the company’s tire deficiencies ultimately became public through the unsealing of court records that parties had “agreed” were trade secrets and filed under seal. 
It is one of many examples in which safety problems were uncovered that had been cloaked in secrecy through agreed upon, sealed, “trade secret” filings.

At the urging of TAB and other Open Government groups, Rep. Elkins added a second reading House floor amendment that struck the language regarding Rule 76a.

Gov. Abbott has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to act on these bills while the Legislature is in session.

If he were to veto any measure in the next week and a half, it is possible for the Legislature to override the veto, but such overrides are very rare.

When the 85th Texas Legislature adjourns sine die on May 29, Abbott’s timeframe to act on bills increases to 20 days.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944

« Back to News Archive
« Back to Latest News