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Open Government related interim charges issued in Texas Legislature

Earlier this month, House Speaker Joe Straus issued a series of interim charges to several House committees to examine government transparency and in one case, to review alleged abuses of existing laws.

The latter move has upset some in the Texas Open Government community who say the emphasis should be on expanding access to records, not narrowing it.

Open Government-related House interim charges include:

House Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform

  • Voluminous TPIA Requests - Review the application of the Public Information Act to requests for large amounts of electronic data. Examine whether the procedures and deadlines imposed by the Act give governmental bodies enough time to identify and protect confidential information in such requests.
  • Mobile/Online Access to Government Services - Examine the public's accessibility to government services and agencies through the use of mobile applications and online services. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Technology)
  • Government Transparency/Efficiency - Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 83rd Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner

House Committee on State Affairs

  • Political Contribution Transparency - Study Title 15 of the Election Code, which regulates political funds and campaigns, including requirements for financial reports by campaigns, candidates, officeholders, and political committees. Specifically, study what types of groups are exempt from reporting requirements in the Election Code and make recommendations on how to make the political process more transparent.
  • Government Procurement Transparency - Review state agency contracting with businesses seeking to provide goods and services to the state. Study the procedures agencies use to determine the costs versus benefits when evaluating proposals. Determine whether additional disclosure and reporting requirements are necessary to ensure transparency and accountability and to promote ethical business practices.

Over the course of the last four months, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has also issue some Open Government and other interim charges to Senate committees that are of interest to Texas newsrooms:

Senate Committee on State Affairs

  • Privacy - Examine options to protect Texas residents from a variety of governmental and commercial surveillance threats.   Review the depth of personal data collected by governmental and commercial entities, make recommendations on how to minimize the collection of this data on citizens, and examine whether sufficient protections exist for DNA samples and information, including whether there should be a prohibition on the creation of DNA databases, except for felons and sex offenders. Identify potential reforms that would increase the ability of citizens to understand the data being collected about them and with whom that data is being shared. 
  • Legislative Transparency - Study the online legislative resources available to the public from Texas Senate Committee websites and compare resources to those provided by other state legislative committees in Texas and other states. Determine how Texas Senate websites can be improved to provide a more interactive and transparent government.   Study related measures that have been passed or proposed in other states. 

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security

  • Disaster Response - Review the role of state and local governments regarding recovery operations across the state in the event of a disaster, including how state, local governments, and businesses can work together in order to assist with the rebuilding/recovery of affected areas in the event of a disaster. Identify essential personnel and resources needed to increase existing response capabilities.

Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations

  • Local Government Fiscal Transparency - Study and make recommendations to increase transparency of debt at the local level and make recommendations that will increase citizen awareness and understanding of a local government's fiscal state.  Analyze reforms such as requiring local governments to move bond elections to a uniform date coinciding with state general elections, and requiring local governments to publicly post their annual budgets, annual financial reports, and check registers online.

Senate Committee on Government Organization

  • Government Efficiency/Security - Examine state agencies' mandated reporting practices, the necessity and utility of these reports, and reporting processes to the legislature and to the public. Make recommendations on eliminating unnecessary and duplicative reports, reducing state costs through the use of technology, and improving transparency to the legislature and citizens.  Monitor the implementation of SB 1597, relating to the development of state agency information security plans to improve the security of agency information systems and to proactively protect the state against cybercrime and similar security threats.

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

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