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TAB’s newsroom legislative effort underway as 85th Texas Legislature convenes this week

The 85th Texas Legislature convened this week to face a slate of thorny state issues including Texas’ budget priorities as lawmakers are projected to have nearly $8 billion less in projected income with which to work in 2017 than they had in 2015.

TAB’s newsroom legislative efforts began long before lawmakers arrived in Austin this week.

TAB has monitored 2016 interim legislative hearings, staged grassroots meetings with key lawmakers and been part of working groups on Open Government issues which have been meeting since last summer.

Already the work has produced fruit with last week’s filing of SB 407/HB 792 and SB 408/HB 793 by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and state Rep. Giovani Capriglione, R-Southlake.

The two sets of companion bills are meant to address two of TAB’s newsroom legislative priorities by righting two egregious 2015 Texas State Supreme Ct. decisions involving the Texas Public Information Act.

The Boeing v. Paxton and Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton court rulings have damaged the public’s access to records related to governmental expenditures to private and non-profit entities.

The Boeing decision broadened an existing AG ruling protecting governmental competitive interests such as economic development efforts. 

It also lowered the standard by which a company can block the release of information in a government contract if the company asserts it would face competitive harm if the information is made public.  

Since the court’s ruling, the A.G.’s office has been asked by local governments to close off information in an estimated 300 cases citing the Boeing case.

The Greater Houston Partnership case allows third-party groups to conduct business on behalf of government, using public money, without being required to divulge the expenditures of that money if such a group does not rely exclusively or heavily on government funding to exist.  

TAB is joined in its efforts to pass these Open Government reform measures by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and the Texas Press Association.

Another court ruling is the impetus for another TAB newsroom legislative priority this session.

A May 2015 Third Court of Appeals decision, Paxton v. City of Dallas, extended a common-law right of privacy to dates of birth of all Texans. 

It based its decision on an earlier Texas Supreme Ct. decision which held public employee dates of birth could be withheld from the public. 

The battle over the release of DOBs has been going on in the Legislature and in Texas courts for nearly two decades.  

Journalists use DOBs to differentiate between two individuals with the same or similar names in order for reporting to be accurate.  

As a result of the court’s decision, some Texas police departments are now redacting DOBs from the “basic information” that must be released when an individual is arrested or charged, thereby creating liability issues for crime reporting. 

TAB and others are seeking, at a minimum, a legislative clarification that DOBs of candidates for public office and those of individuals arrested or charged with a crime should be public.

TAB is also seeking a legislative solution to an Open Government issue that has been raised at the Capitol for several decades.

Open Government advocates acknowledge there is a problem with individuals who use the TPIA to harass local government.  

They do so by filing voluminous TPIA requests that would take days and weeks to fulfill, either because of the amount of material requested or the number of requests that have been made.  

Some have even written computer programs to systematically send bulk emails requesting information.  TAB is working with others to come up with a solution to a legitimate problem but to do so in a way that legitimate requestors, such as Texas newsrooms, are not curtailed in their efforts.

What TAB has accomplished for newsrooms – a Jan. 19 webinar

TAB hopes to build on its successful record of passing legislation in the past decade benefitting Texas newsrooms. 

Newsrooms can learn about these newsroom legislative measures and how the benefit news reporting by signing up for a special Jan. 19 TAB webinar, Newsroom Legal Toolbox.

TAB member station newsroom staff can register for the webinar here.

Stacy Allen of TAB’s Texas general counsel, Jackson Walker LLP, a longtime defender of Texas newsrooms and part of TAB’s newsroom legislative efforts, will review the libel and other media defense tools that TAB has secured for broadcast newsrooms in the past decade and beyond.

The 90-minute seminar will cover:

  • The Texas Public Information Act (the basics of the law, what is and isn’t available, as well as tips for filing requests for information)
  • 2015 Third Party Allegations statute (a clarification to existing Texas libel law in response to the disastrous 2013 Neely v. Wilson court decision)
  • 2013 Defamation Mitigation Act (a uniform corrections/retractions law)
  • 2011 Citizen Participation Act (the anti-SLAPP litigation law for early dismissal from libel cases)
  • 2009 Free Flow of Information Act (the Texas reporter shield law protecting newsroom work product and preventing compelled testimony)
  • 1993 Interlocutory Appeal statute (a pre-trial dismissal appeal mechanism for newsroom cases)

Allen will also discuss the Boeing and Greater Houston Partnership court cases and their effect on newsrooms.

Q&A time is planned at the end of the presentation to answer other general newsgathering legal questions on privacy, trespass, illegal/improper photography, etc.

Keep up to date and be involved

TAB has been assisted in its successful efforts by Texas broadcast journalists who provided background information and testified before lawmakers in hearings on important pieces of legislation.

There are two ways newsrooms can continue to help TAB advance a newsroom legislative agenda.

News directors and newsroom staff can keep up with the legislation by reading TAB’s weekly newsroom legislative Billwatch emails.

These informative dispatches begin this Friday and will detail legislation filed by lawmakers which could impact newsgathering in Texas.

News Directors and other newsroom staff can also get a deep-dive into the legislative issues affecting Texas newsrooms by attending TAB’s biennial Legislative Day Conference in Austin on Jan. 24.

See event details and register here

The event highlight is the Lawmaker/Broadcaster Luncheon at which lawmakers are seated with their local broadcasters so they can discuss issues important to their communities and briefly review TAB’s policy interests.

Broadcaster participation in this event is imperative to TAB’s success in the legislative session, whether advancing bills such as the two filed this week to strengthen the Texas Public Information Act, or fending off attacks on it.

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

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