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TAB Open Government Legislative Win Paying Dividends

Just two weeks since revisions to the venerable Texas Public Information Act became effective, those provisions are bearing fruit for newsrooms in Texas.

South Texans now know what the City of McAllen paid to performer Enrique Iglesias for a 2015 performance at a holiday parade and festival - $485,000.

And the one-hour performance fee was just part of the story.

Iglesias and his entourage traveled to McAllen from Guadalajara, Mexico at taxpayer expense aboard a chartered flight.

McAllen residents also financed two dozen hotel rooms for Iglesias and his group, a generous spread of pre-show and post-show food including sushi, sashimi, steak, chicken and an elaborate juicing station replete with a wide variety of fruit, beets, kale and mint.

The Texas Tribune secured a copy of the agreement and published the 11.1 MB document here

Details of the Iglesias contract have been hidden from the public’s eyes for four years, shielded as the result of a pair of 2015 Texas Supreme Court cases which gutted much of the Texas Public Information Act.

The Iglesias concert, and taxpayers’ inability to know how their money was spent, became a cause célèbre for Texas Open Government advocates.

Still, it took TAB and other TPIA defenders two legislative sessions to restore access to information contained in government contracts that had been deemed not public by the court’s decisions in Boeing Co. v. Paxton and Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton.

While not fully restoring the TPIA to its pre-2015 condition, a multi-faceted transparency bill authored by St. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and pursued in the Texas House by St. Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, returns to public view much of the information contained in government contracts.

SB 943 went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Try, Try Again

In the four years after the court’s ruling, the Boeing decision was cited more than 3,000 times in Texas attorney general opinions to close access to government contract information or even the completed contracts themselves.

Stations are encouraged by TAB to resubmit TPIA requests for information that were denied in the past few years citing the Boeing decision.

We’re hopeful that you will now get some, if not all, of what you were seeking.

As one can see above, some of those details can be eye-opening and worthy of public attention.

TAB would like to know what your experience was like with the resubmission.

Station Help Needed Soon

Passage of SB 943 is a prime example of how newsrooms can make a difference in the passage of important legislation through their support, input, examples, testimony and phone calls placed to lawmakers.

TAB will soon survey newsrooms about public records access to identify other areas of the TPIA that need correction in the 2021 Legislature.

Stations’ feedback will help TAB prioritize the most important issues to newsrooms before it approaches lawmakers about legislative fixes.

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

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