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First TAB Newsroom Priority Bill Heads to Gov. Abbott

Texas lawmakers have sent the first of a package of TAB newsroom priority bills to Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Austin, for action. On Saturday, the Texas House of Representatives approved SB 930 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, in a 142-0 floor vote.

The bill requires state and local health authorities to provide certain types of information concerning an infectious disease outbreak at a nursing home or other long-term care facility.

Releasable information would include the name and location of the facility, as well as the number of patients involved at that facility.

SB 930 would take effect Sept. 1 if signed into law by Gov. Abbott.

House Passed Second TAB Priority Bill on Tuesday
The House approved SB 1225 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, on Tuesday in a 141-1 House floor vote.  

It addresses abuses of a 2019 Huffman-authored law that codified what had been a long-standing informal practice of allowing governmental entities, on rare occasions, to temporarily suspend responding to open records requests by filing “catastrophe notices” with the Texas Attorney General’s Office.   

SB 1225 specifies that a “catastrophe” (which includes occurrences such as floods, fires, hurricanes, epidemics, and power outages) does not apply to periods in which governmental bodies are required to work remotely but can still electronically access requested information and otherwise respond to TPIA requests.  

It also defines the conditions of a “catastrophe” in relation to suspension of the TPIA and how many days a catastrophe notice and extension can remain in effect.

The measure will likely reach Gov. Abbott by the end of the week.

If signed, it would take effect Sept. 1.

Past TAB chairman, Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, was the House sponsor of SB 1225 and authored the House companion bill.

Paddie chairs the powerful House State Affairs Committee which heard both bills.

Fate of Other Priority Bills Lies in the Senate
TAB and other members of the Transparency and Accountability in Government Coalition, such as the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and the Texas Press Association, are concerned about the timing of Senate activity on its package of remaining Open Government bills.

With 15 days left for final Senate action, transparency advocates remain hopeful that all but two of this session’s packet of priority bills could see passage.

Neither SB 929 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, nor HB 2913 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, has been given a committee hearing.  

These companion bills require the online posting of many types of government contracts to promote the transparency of taxpayer-funded purchases or services by governmental bodies.

HB 2913 is now dead due to House bill deadlines and SB 929 is on life-support.

The remaining TAB newsroom priority House bills have cleared the lower chamber and are awaiting Senate committee referrals, a Senate committee hearing and Senate floor vote.

The Senate bill sponsor for the following five House bills is Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, a lawmaker with one of the most impressive bill passage records in Texas legislative history:

  • HB 2683 Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which addresses problems that have occurred as open meetings have moved online during the pandemic. It ensures public participation in such meetings whether a participant is attending or testifying via laptop, or by telephone.  
  • HB 1416 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, that clearly defines what constitutes a “business day” so as to prevent the abuse of the “skeleton crew” loophole in the tolling of 10 business days in which governmental bodies must respond to Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) requests. This TPIA allowed practice has been abused during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • HB 3015 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, which requires governmental bodies to notify requestors if there are no records responsive to a TPIA request for information, or, if the entity is withholding requested information based upon reliance on a previous Texas Attorney General TPIA decision.
  • HB 3535 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, which allows the release of dates of birth contained in governmental records unless prevented by constitutional or other federal or state law.  It addresses two Texas court decisions that have caused confusion on the release of DOBs, leading to more than 10,000 requests for an Attorney General ruling in the past four years.
  • HB 1810 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, that requires the release of electronic public information in a searchable and sortable format (such as an Excel spreadsheet) if that information is maintained in that manner.  It also clarifies that data dictionaries and record layouts that define data fields are public information subject to disclosure.  This allows requestors to make sense of the data they request from government entities.

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

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