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TAB newsroom legislative package advancing, other measures affecting newsrooms in play

With 33 days left in the legislative session, TAB’s top newsroom legislative priority, a measure to address a disastrous Texas Supreme Court ruling that hampers reporting third party allegations, continues to make steady progress toward passage.

The Texas Senate last week approved SB 627 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, in a 30-0 vote.  

It will now play catch-up with HB 1766 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, the House companion bill which was heard and approved by the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee last week.  

These identical bills address the negative repercussions of the 2013 Neely v. Wilson court ruling that set more than 20 years of case law on its ear and impedes the ability of journalists to conduct investigative reports based on third party allegations – even those made by a regulatory body. 

Testifying on TAB’s behalf before the House committee, KRIV-TV Houston reporter Greg Groogan provided details of staff abuse of special needs children in Houston area school districts that was brought to light by whistleblower allegations.  

Reports by Houston area media have led to school staff dismissals, reprimands and criminal charges, in addition to legislation filed to allow video monitoring of special needs classrooms. 

As planned, the Senate bill will advance in place of the House bill when the latter is set on a House calendar.

It is looking very positive that legislative relief to this bad court decision will come in the 84th Texas Legislature.

Another Senate bill, and TAB legislative priority, SB 308 by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, is set for an April 29 hearing before the House Higher Education Committee.

KPRC-TV Houston reporter Robert Arnold is expected to testify on TAB’s behalf.

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

A third TAB priority bill, HB 3997 by Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, had its House hearing last week and was left pending by the House Government Transparency and Operation Committee.  

It would allow the Attorney General to prosecute TPIA and TOMA offenses if the local District Attorney or County Attorney declined to do so.

In other newsroom-related legislative news, the fate of a bill that would offer some protection for the right to record officers’ actions as well as safeguards for equipment and visual materials, HB 1035 by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, had its hearing Thursday in the House Committee on Emerging Issues in Law Enforcement.  

Videojournalist Todd Stricker of KSAT-TV San Antonio, a past president of the National Press Photographers Association, testified for TAB and NPPA in favor of the bill which was left pending.  

Also testifying on the bill, and herself a past NPPA president, was TAB Newsroom Legislative Committee member Alicia Calzada of TAB Associate member law firm Haynes Boone LLP. 

There is serious law enforcement opposition to this measure and it faces a tough fight to make it to the House floor.

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

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