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Texas House Breaks Bill Filing Record, Texas Senate Comes Close

In a wild finish to the 60-day, regular bill filing period of the constitutionally set 140-day Texas legislative session, Texas House lawmakers smashed their previous record of 4,836 bills filed in the 2009 regular session by filing nearly 5,300 bills by the close of business last Friday.

In the frenzy, some bill numbers were skipped and yes, there were even a few duplicates filed by the same author as well.

It appears Texas House members filed 5,295 bills in the regular bill filing period.

State senators nearly passed their record 2,566 bills filed in the 2009 session, but fell just short of doing so this year, filing 2,565 bills.

Lawmakers can still file bills this session, but the filing requires the approval of the bill author’s chamber.

TAB’s Newsroom Legislative Committee now has the unenviable task of sorting through the 2,000 or so bills filed in the last week, 1,030 of which were filed on Friday alone, to identify what could help or hurt the newsgathering process in Texas if these measures were to pass.

In an update to the March 8 TAB Bulletin story on TAB’s newsroom legislative priorities, the Senate companion bill has been filed to HB 2874 by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, a measure that would require governmental agencies pay requestor’s attorney fees when these entities voluntarily release records after a suit has been filed.

That bill is SB 2286 by Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, which was filed on the final day of the regular filing period.

This means there are bills filed in the Texas Senate and the Texas House to address TAB’s five areas of Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) concern: 

  • Contracting Transparency - clarify 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.
  • Public Information Requests & Remote Work Policies - Amend the Texas Public Information Act to clearly define what constitutes a “business day” under the Act to ensure the timely response to public information requests and that officials honor their obligation to respond to all requestors whether working remotely or not.
  • Searchable-Sortable Records - Codify guidance from the Texas Attorney General’s office directing government officials to release public information stored in spreadsheets in their original format, rather than converting them to PDF images that cannot be easily searched and analyzed.
  • Dates of Birth - Protect Texans’ privacy and safety by ensuring public access to dates of birth records in criminal justice and electoral candidate documents.
  • Texas Public Information Act/Attorney Fees - Require governmental agencies pay requestor’s attorney fees when these entities voluntarily release  records after a suit has been filed.

Troubling Anti-SLAPP Measure

Also at the Legislature last week, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved SB 896 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, that could chip away at the effectiveness of the Citizen Participation Act, the Texas version of an anti-SLAPP litigation law which is used by citizens (and newsrooms) to dismiss frivolous lawsuits meant to silence critical speech.  

Newsrooms are often dragged into such lawsuits by reporting on those critical comments.

The measure seeks to address abuse caused by unscrupulous parties who file meritless motions by or after the statutory deadline for the sole purpose of delay.

TAB Newsroom Legislative Committee member Stacy Allen, an attorney with TAB’s state counsel Jackson Walker LLP, testified against the bill as filed as did Tom Leatherbury, an attorney in private practice and director of the First Amendment Clinic at SMU’s Dedman School of Law.  

Leatherbury represented the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.  

While Committee Chairman Hughes asked Allen and Leatherbury to submit their recommendations in writing for how to address the problem without undermining the Act, the committee voted out the bill later that day. 

The bill could make it to the Senate floor for action as early as next week.

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

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