Sunshine Month - TAB seeks tax dollar accountability and newsroom helpposted on 3.06.2018
TAB is one of several organizations celebrating Sunshine Month this March to highlight the public’s right to know how taxpayer dollars are being spent. We are encouraging Texas newsrooms this month, especially Sunshine Week (March 11-17), to report on your station’s efforts to use the Texas Public Information Act and federal Freedom of Information Act to hold local and state government accountable for the taxpayer dollars both spend.
The TPIA, Texas’ sunshine law, holds great promise with its noble preamble:
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.”
Texas journalists, however, are increasingly being stonewalled in their efforts to hold government entities accountable for how they run programs and spend tax dollars. A 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling is often invoked by governmental agencies and private contractors to conceal their contracted activities by making proprietary information claims.
How bad is the problem?
The Texas Attorney General’s Office has received more than 2,000 requests to deny release of governmental contract information citing Boeing v. Paxton as the basis. That’s roughly two instances a day since the court’s June 2015 decision was handed down. TAB and others sought to close these court-created TPIA loopholes in the 2017 Texas Legislature. While the sunshine-minded Texas Senate passed the measure not once, but twice, the measure was nixed in the House because of opposition from the business community. Our effort to pass reforms, however, remains very much alive.
Later this month, the Texas House of Representatives Government Transparency and Operations Committee will consider an interim charge examining how the Boeing and Greater Houston Partnership court decisions have affected access to records of taxpayer funded government contracts. The March 27 hearing in Austin will take invited and public testimony from groups such as TAB, the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
All three are part of a new, diverse coalition of groups promoting sunshine law reforms in the 2019 Texas Legislature. After all, sunshine laws benefit all citizens, not just journalists. And we do mean diverse – from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Texas Public Policy Foundation. News directors and reporters who find themselves unable to gain access to information because of these court rulings are encouraged to share the details with TAB.
TAB wants to know when your TPIA request is turned down by the Attorney General’s Office citing Boeing as the reason. The coalition has built an online clearinghouse, www.txsunshine.org, to compile such examples ahead of the 2019 session. A Facebook page is also coming. Both will have the latest details on sunshine law-related events and proposed legislation addressing TPIA issues.
One such event occurs late this month – a March 29 Open Government primer at the Texas Public Policy Foundation offices in Austin. Newsrooms and the public are invited to attend the free panel discussion, “Open Government, Engaged Citizens: A Conversation on Texas’ Public Information Act.”
Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.
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