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Perry signs several Open Government, media-related bills into law

Gov. Rick Perry signed approximately 100 Open Government and media-related measures into law and vetoed two ethics-related bills which had transparency provisions.

For the most part, the Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act were strengthened by bills enacted by Perry.

Among the measures passed were several bills advocated by TAB, along with the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

In fact, the 83rd Texas Legislature will go down as one of the better sessions for Open Government and media-law issues in quite some time.

As detailed in the June 5 of the Bulletin, many bad pieces of legislation were stopped by TAB, other groups, and the legislative process itself.

TAB appreciates the many Texas news directors and general managers for their personal contact on legislation through phone calls and emails to lawmakers during the legislative session.

“We would not have this kind of impact on a legislative session without those phone calls to lawmakers,” said Michael Schneider, TAB’s vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs.

“It made a huge difference in the positive outcome of the session.”

TAB’s Newsroom Legislative Committee monitored approximately 350 bills this session that could have impacted Texas broadcast newsrooms.

The committee arranged for testimony by broadcasters and attorneys on a host of good and bad bills during the session.

It also worked with lawmakers to amend bad bills to make them better or worked to stop negative legislation from proceeding.

“Texas newsrooms are better off today because of this hard-working committee,” Schneider said.

“These newsroom professionals and media law experts pored through nearly 6,000 bills this session and testified on a number of them to help TAB achieve the desired outcome.”

TAB thanks the members of its Newsroom Legislative Committee:

  • Stacy Allen, Jackson Walker, Austin
  • Alicia Calzada, Haynes & Boone, Austin
  • Brian Collister, KTRK-TV, Houston
  • Emily Donahue, KUT, Austin
  • Joe Ellis, KXAN-TV, Austin
  • Laura Prather, Haynes & Boone, Austin
  • Kimberly Wyatt, KGBT-TV, RGV

Good bills enacted include measures that:

  • safeguard public access to information concerning services performed by third parties for governmental bodies
  • increase financial and operational transparency of state and local government
  • require more financial transparency by candidates for public office at the state and local level and by the officials elected to such positions.
  • require law enforcement to seek judicial approval before gaining access to cell phone records and email
  • allow video and phone conferencing for open meetings with appropriate public safeguards
  • increase transparency in the administration of the state’s Major Events Trust Fund and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas
  • create an electronic message board for voting governmental bodies to publicly discuss issues before that body
  • expand the definition of public information in the Texas Public Information Act to include materials created in connection with any project, activity, or other matter funded wholly or partly with public funds of a governmental body
  • expand the definition of forms the public information may take; and codify the long standing A.G.’s office interpretation that “public information” applies to any electronic communication created, transmitted, received or maintained on any device if it is in connection with the transaction of official business
  • establish a uniform process for broadcasters and newspapers to issue retractions and minimize their legal exposure under such situations
  • clarify appropriate jurisdiction for cases brought under the anti-SLAPP law TAB and other media groups passed in 2011

On the negative side of things, bills were enacted that:

  • prohibit a court from disclosing to the public any information contained in court records that is the subject of an order of nondisclosure issued for a person who was placed on deferred adjudication community supervision and subsequently received a discharge and dismissal
  • could hamper the use of unmanned aircraft technology by newsrooms for aerial photography purposes if the FAA allows the commercial use of such
  • would potentially restrict access to murder case crime scene photos created by law enforcement, material that’s already nearly impossible to obtain under the TPIA
  • close access to information about employers of registered sex offenders currently available as part of the sex offender database maintained by the DPS
  • close access to certain state investigatory materials related to licensed professionals and those under state care or custody
  • add more classes of individuals employed in law enforcement or the judiciary who may close access to their home address and other personal information contained in certain governmental records

A complete list of good and bad bills that became law may be found here

Perry vetoed two ethics-related bills, SB 219 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston and SB 346 by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

Both bills would have brought more financial and operational transparency to the elections process by requiring increased financial reporting by candidates for office and third-party party groups such as PAC’s.

Perry also made good on a promise to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit in SB 1, unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.

The PIU investigates ethics violations and governmental malfeasance at the state and local level.

It operates under the aegis of the Travis County District Attorney.

Lehmberg recently pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge.

The decision means that prosecutors, investigators and staff will be out of work on Sept. 1 and the fate of 400 pending cases will be in jeopardy.

Travis County could step in to replace the unit’s funding, but that is seen as unlikely.

“Despite the otherwise good work of the Public Integrity Unit’s employees, I cannot in good conscience support continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence,” Perry said in his veto message.

“This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the state budgetary process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.”

Perry also vetoed SB 15, also by Seliger, which would have prohibited a university board of regents appointee (who is unconfirmed by the Texas Senate) from voting on any budgetary or personnel matter related to system administration or institutions of higher education. 

The bill also would have prohibited regents from voting on the same if they have not received specific governance training as mandated by state law including review of the Texas Open Meetings Act and Texas Public Information Act. 

Perry objected to other provisions in the bill and said in his veto message that “limiting oversight authority of a board of regents, however, is a step in the wrong direction.

“History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance,” Perry said in his veto message.

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

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