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TAB’s Newsroom Priority Legislation Faces Uncertain Fate

A group of House and Senate companion bills aimed at addressing five problem areas within the Texas Public Information Act faces an uphill climb in the remaining three weeks of the 88th Texas Legislature. 

The Open Government agenda has been stymied by committee chairmen who have refused to schedule hearings for all of the Sunshine Coalition’s Senate-filed TPIA-related bills, and a handful of the House measures.

The coalition includes more than a dozen advocacy groups supporting government transparency.

Two of the House measures, however, have moved from the lower chamber to the upper chamber, while elements of a third also made the trek as part of another positive open records measure.

This past weekend, the House gave final approval to HB 2493 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, a TAB newsroom priority bill, by a 137-0 vote. 

HB 2493 would codify guidance the Attorney General’s office has provided to local governments that public information stored in spreadsheets be released in its original format, rather than converting them to PDF images that cannot be easily sorted, searched, and analyzed.  

It’s a major gripe amongst the Texas investigative reporting community which uses spreadsheets for enterprise reporting on many governmental policies in need of reform.

In mid-April, another TAB newsroom priority bill, HB 2309 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, passed the House on a near unanimous vote, but it has languished in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee since its bill referral there on April 18.

It clarifies that dates of birth contained in criminal justice records and electoral candidate documents are a public record, subject to release.

This is the same committee in which the Senate version of TAB’s package of bills have not been granted a hearing by Chairman Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.

Portions of a third TAB-backed measure have gone to the Senate in the form of HB 3033 by Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, which received its final House approval on Saturday by a 134-1 vote.    

Landgraf’s measure strengthens the Texas Public Information Act by fine-tuning the Attorney General’s Office open records review process and timetable. 

It also would create a searchable online database of Attorney General decisions on open records requests.  

It includes portions of HB 2135 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, a TAB newsroom priority bill stuck in a House committee.

Language added to HB 3033 as a Canales floor amendment clarifies what constitutes a “business day” under the Texas Public Information Act, the main component of HB 2135.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments declared they were closed for business when it came to TPIA requests, even though they were operating with a full staff of employees working from home and most records were available electronically. 

For months, some governments declared their remote work amounted to a “skeleton crew” or office closure, citing outdated Texas attorney general opinions as a basis for ignoring TPIA requests.

Future Doubtful for Other TPIA Measures

House bill deadlines this week killed other TAB-backed House bills that were still in House committee which also addressed Texas Public Information Act issues, including the full version of HB 2135 noted above.

The other house bills were:

  • HB 2492 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, clarified state law to ensure that local and state officials expedite the release of statutorily designated “super public” information such as the dollar value and descriptions of goods and services.
  • HB 2874 by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, required governmental agencies to pay requestors’ attorney fees when an agency voluntarily releases records after a suit has been filed.

The senate versions of these measures have been refused a hearing in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

As is typical at this point of a legislative session, TAB will fight for ways to further the cause of broadcast newsrooms regardless of the current playing field.

TAB will keep stations informed as developments occur.

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

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