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Round Two for Pre-Session Open Government Briefing

– “Closed Until Further Notice” Webinar Set for Oct. 22

The second in a series of online webinars exploring shortcomings of Texas Open Government laws revealed or exacerbated during the pandemic is set for Thursday, Oct. 22.

Coming on the heels of TAB’s Oct. 7 program presented in concert with State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, this event is hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a partner in our 2019 Sunshine Coalition.

The series is laying the groundwork for legislative proposals to be considered by state lawmakers when they reconvene Jan. 12 for their biennial session.

Open Government: Closed Until Further Notice – REGISTER

“It’s long past time to reopen public access to government records and meetings that have been shut off for months,” says Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas in an editorial published this week in several Texas newspapers.

“This can happen even if government employees continue to work from home for safety reasons.”

Shannon cites multiple examples of failures by state and local government officials to carry out their obligation to operate transparently, such as helping citizens requesting information about COVID-19 outbreaks and testing.

“For example, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission tried to withhold data about which nursing homes and assisted living centers have experienced COVID-19 cases, even though such location information didn’t violate individual patient privacy,” she says.

While the attorney general’s office ruled in July against almost all of the commission’s secrecy arguments and the data are now posted online, barriers to obtaining coronavirus cluster information still remain with some local governments.

Among the problems Shannon identifies:

  • Technical glitches preventing viewing of online meetings
  • Lack of detail in public notices about how to log in to a virtual meeting
  • Bans on citizens attending a meeting in person when there is no online or phone option offered as an alternative
  • Unreasonable restrictions on public comments at government meetings

Shannon observes that in the event TAB presented in partnership with Sen. Zaffirini, the Senator noted Texas transparency laws are built on the principle that light must shine on our government.

“The people deserve to know how their governments are run and how their tax dollars are spent, and those entrusted with power have a responsibility to tell them,” Zaffirini said. “In other words, we should not be afraid of the light. The availability of information is essential to a functioning democracy.”

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