Member Login

Forgot Password?
Need Login?

You are here: Home > News & Events > News > TAB Scores Several Open…
Welcome, guest: Login to your account

TAB Scores Several Open Government Wins in 86th Texas Legislature

Texas lawmakers passed several bills addressing TAB’s newsroom legislative priorities for the 86th Texas Legislature, as well as a major defensive win.  The session ended on Monday.

Chief among the victories was passage of SB 943 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, a bill offsetting the negative impact to the Texas Public Information Act brought on by two 2015 Texas Supreme Ct. decisions, Boeing v. Paxton and Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton. 

The rulings shut off access to information concerning taxpayer funded government contracts and funding of certain non-profit initiatives.

This is the second legislative session in which Watson, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and Open Government groups such as TAB have sought to restore transparency to how taxpayer dollars have been spent by state and local government.

TAB’s efforts in the 2017 legislative session were stymied by an unsympathetic House committee chairman who was later defeated in his 2018 election.

The focus now shifts to Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Austin, and the hundreds of bills he must consider for approval or veto.  Abbott has already indicated to Watson and Capriglione that he will approve SB 943.

TAB was also able to address a third legislative priority this session, fixing a TPIA loophole which prevents the public from getting records concerning public business that are in private email accounts or held on a private electronic device.   

SB 944 by Watson marks TAB’s third attempt in as many sessions to fix the “custodian of records” problem. 

There were two other major victories this session – one offensive and one defensive. 

Lawmakers passed SB 1640 by Watson which fixes a Feb. 27, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision that said the “walking quorums” prohibition in the Texas Open Meetings Act was unconstitutional. 

It’s a remarkable achievement – moving from bad court decision to a bill on Gov. Abbott’s desk in just three months’ time.

Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, shepherded the bill through the lower chamber.

The other big win is a defensive one and a true case of turning a lemon into lemonade.  

What started out as a perceived attempt to gut the state Anti-SLAPP law’s free speech protections for Texans speaking out on matters of public concern has turned into a stronger law for members of the public in general and for journalists and content providers.

HB 2730 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, is a revamp of what is officially known as the Texas Citizen Participation Act. 

Leach and Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, worked closely together with a broad range of Free Speech advocates, judges, trial lawyers, tort reform advocates and citizens groups to rework HB 2730 to address a plethora of concerns.

Chief among them was the fact that the anti-SLAPP law was being asserted in cases to which it was never intended to apply.

The result is a revamped law that includes a section devoted to media interests that provides an absolute right to use the statute for journalists and content providers that isn’t tied to other legal constructs.   

It is a huge win for Texas newsrooms, TAB and the Texas Free Speech Coalition.

Sadly, TAB’s remaining newsroom legislative priority, restoring access to date of birth information in public records, died on the Senate Intent Calendar last week.  

HB 1655 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would have a clarified that dates of birth, unless statutorily or constitutionally protected, are subject to release. 

It was meant to address a 2015 Third Court of Appeals decision, Paxton v. City of Dallas, that extended a common-law right of privacy to dates of birth of all Texans. 

Although the measure passed the Senate in 2017, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s office this session expressed last-minute concerns about the bill which TAB and others tried to assuage up to the closing hours of last Wednesday’s final regular Senate floor session. 

Fixing the problem is important because journalists use DOBs to differentiate between two individuals with the same or similar names.  Inability to do so accurately creates liability issues for reporting.  

TAB’s legislative history has shown it often takes several legislative sessions to win final approval of a measure.  This year’s passage of the custodian of records legislation as well as enactment of the 2009 Texas reporter shield law are prime examples.

TAB will be back championing the DOB fix in the 2021 session.

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

« Back to News Archive
« Back to Latest News