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Fight to preserve broadcasters’ newsgathering efforts goes down to the wire

TAB staff was at work over the entire Memorial Day weekend on HB 2633 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, the bill that was the subject of Friday’s TAB email alert/call to action, but there is good news to report in this week’s TABulletin.

TAB has succeeded in protecting stations’ access to complete motor vehicle accident reports despite the Senate’s approval Sunday night of an amendment that would make the complete reports secret.

As the bill was being debated, TAB identified a constitutional weakness to the secrecy effort.

An analysis by attorney Stacy Walker with the Jackson Walker law firm, a member of TAB’s newsroom legislative policy task force, prompted the lobbying group advancing the bill to concede late Monday that they had to reinstate our original language protecting access to complete accident reports to ensure the proposed law didn’t get overturned in court. 

A conference committee is expected to reinstate TAB’s language in a matter of days and both chambers are expected to adopt the bill.

Broadcasters’ calls to lawmakers over the past several days made a huge difference in achieving this turnaround.

Austin broadcasters, in particular, should take a moment to thank Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, for his masterful Senate floor debate Sunday night to keep our bill language intact.  

Although Senate lawmakers did negatively amend the bill, Watson astutely defended our position and deserves broadcasters’ praise and thanks. 

And there is other good news to report this week.

Another one of TAB’s newsroom legislative priorities, a bill that would make public the law enforcement records of campus police departments at private universities and colleges, is on Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk awaiting his signature.

The Texas House of Representatives approved SB 308 by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, in a 146-0 House floor vote.

The bill was shepherded through the lower chamber by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

KPRC-TV Houston investigative reporter Robert Arnold testified on the bill for TAB in the Senate and House committee bill hearings. 

He detailed a 2013 incident involving a bike theft suspect whose beating at the hands of Rice University PD officers was captured on dash camera video. 

Rice officials told Arnold they would not provide information about the off campus incident because the private university is not subject to the Texas Public Information Act.  

Arnold noted similar problems encountered by San Antonio journalists covering the off campus shooting death of an Incarnate Word College student by that school’s private campus police.   

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

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