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Several major newsgathering wins in 84th Texas Legislature

When lawmakers left Austin on Monday they left behind a pile of unpassed bills and broken dreams, but for newsrooms there were several bright spots in measures that did pass.  Three of these wins can be chocked up to the combined efforts of broadcasters who weighed in with their local lawmakers on these measures and the hard work of TAB’s Newsroom Legislative Committee.

This session’s committee was made of TAB staff and Stacy Allen, Jackson Walker LLP Austin; Alicia Calzada, Haynes Boone LLP Austin; Brian Collister and Joe Ellis, KXAN-TV Austin, Ryan Hazlewood, KVII-TV Amarillo; Bob Morford, KRIV-TV Houston; and Laura Prather, Haynes Boone LLP Austin.

In all, the committee reviewed nearly 6,000 bills filed by lawmakers for implications to newsgathering.  The group tracked more than 400 of them and acted on many of them to help them pass, amend them to become more newsroom friendly, or worked towards a bill’s demise.

Chief among the wins was TAB’s top newsroom legislative priority, SB 627 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which Gov. Greg Abbott into law late last week. 

Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, chairman of the House Calendars Committee, shepherded the bill through the lower chamber. Because the bill passed both chambers with more than a two-thirds majority, SB 627 goes into immediate effect. 

The bill addresses a disastrous 2013 Texas Supreme Court ruling, Neely v. Wilson, that set aside nearly 25 years of case law.  The decision impeded the ability of journalists to conduct investigative reports based on third party allegations – even those made by a regulatory body.                                                                                                                                    

Prather, who crafted the legislation and negotiated many hours with the trial lawyers association to come up with a bill that restores this important newsroom protection, said “the passage of SB 627 codifies 25 years of common law, and with its passage protects the media’s ability to shine a light on significant matters of public concern.”

TAB was assisted in the effort by the House and Senate committee testimony of reporters Jaie Avila, WOAI-TV San Antonio; Greg Groogan, KRIV-TV Houston and Becky Oliver, KDFW-TV Dallas-Ft. Worth.   

“The importance of restoring this protection for reporting third party allegations cannot be understated,” said Michael Schneider, TAB’s vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs.  “This type of reporting has saved lives and money and has led to governmental investigations and legislative reform.”

Another TAB newsroom priority bill was SB 308 by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was signed into law on Monday by Gov. Abbott.  Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, carried the bill in the House.  It would make public the law enforcement records of campus police departments at private universities and colleges.  The law goes into effect on Sept. 1.

It would make public the law enforcement records of campus police departments at private universities and colleges.

SB 308 is a direct result of KPRC-TV Houston investigative reporter Robert Arnold’s original report and follow up stories on 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 was not subject to the Texas Public Information Act.  Arnold testified on the bill for TAB in the Senate and House committee bill hearings. 

It’s a great example of a Texas station’s reporting which led to a legislative remedy.  If your station reported a story that led to a bill being filed this session, please let TAB know

TAB wants to follow up with lawmakers with concrete examples of how broadcast reporting makes a difference.  Send us an email with some basic story details (links are helpful) and the name of the lawmaker (and bill number if you know it) involved.  Help us tell lawmakers of your newsroom’s contributions to improving life in Texas.

TAB was able to amend a problem bill for newsrooms to make it one that would be of great benefit if signed into law by Abbott.  

HB 2633 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, is a measure addressing barratry (“ambulance chasing”) through the release of motor vehicle accident reports. It would prohibit the release, in most instances, of the complete report. Instead, a heavily redacted version would be the only thing available to the public under the new law.

TAB was able to amend the bill on the House floor with the help of bill co-sponsor Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, with language that said complete reports are available to FCC licensed radio and TV stations as well as general circulation newspapers. 

The Senate stripped that language over the Memorial Day weekend with a floor amendment that would make the complete reports unavailable to the media. Only a heavily redacted report would be proffered to newsrooms. But TAB soldiered on and identified a constitutional weakness to the secrecy effort.  

Armed with a brief prepared by TAB Newsroom Legislative Committee member Stacy Allen of Jackson Walker LLP, TAB pressed its case. The lobbying group advancing the bill conceded that it had to reinstate the House language protecting access to complete accident reports to ensure the proposed law didn’t get overturned in court.  The bill was restored with its original House language this past weekend in a House/Senate conference committee.  

HB 2633 is now headed to Gov. Abbott who has until Sunday, June 21, to sign, veto or let a bill become law without his signature.  If signed, HB 2633 would go into immediate effect because it passed both chambers with more than a two-thirds vote.

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


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