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Texas lawmakers file second highest number of bills in state legislative history

The March 13 regular bill filing deadline passed with Texas lawmakers filing more than 6,100 bills, the second highest total on record.

The final two days of regular filing alone saw more than 1,600 bills put into the legislative hopper for consideration.

This session’s bill filing juggernaut surpassed the 2013 Legislature but fell short of the all-time high of 7,400 bills filed by Texas lawmakers in 2009.

All of TAB’s legislative priority bills outlined at the TAB Legislative Day conference have been filed.

Several other measures affecting the broadcast industry were filed in the last week.

A joint effort by TAB and the Motion Picture Association of America to clarify the franchise tax liability for companies with operations in other states is being supported by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Reps. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, and Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

SB 1783 by Bettencourt, HB 2896 by Parker and HB 3482 by Bonnen would establish that the Comptroller should attribute revenue from content licensing to the state in which the purchaser is located, rather than where the ultimate viewer is located.

Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, filed HB 3997 on Friday, a significant Open Government measure that puts real teeth into enforcement of Texas’ two main transparency laws, the Texas Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The move comes just in time for the 10th annual observance of “Sunshine Week”, a national recognition of governmental transparency created by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors.

The reluctance of local district and county attorneys to prosecute city and county public officials for running afoul of either law has been a chief complaint of Open Government advocates.

In fact, only a handful of cases have been prosecuted in the more than 40 years the two laws have been on the books.

HB 3997 allows the Texas Attorney General’s office to step in and prosecute alleged infractions of the TPIA and TOMA if the local district or county attorney declines to prosecute.

Other measures filed were not so welcome.

HB 2918 by Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, increases the penalty for anyone, other than a station, newspaper or magazine employee, who photographs the actions of a police officer and is viewed by that officer as impeding them from performing their duties.  

Stringers are technically not newsroom employees and they could be at risk if the measure were to pass.    The measure is likely unconstitutional as a federal court recently reaffirmed a citizen’s First Amendment right to capture the actions of law enforcement on camera.

A pair of companion bills, HB 3169 by Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, and SB 1223 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would do away with Texas’ one party consent law for recording conversations.

Broadcasters routinely get the other party’s consent in order to satisfy the FCC requirement to broadcast a conversation.  

This measure, if passed, would hamper news staff who just want to record a conversation for note-taking purposes.

HB 2633 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, would prohibit the release of motor vehicle accident information, in most cases, to the public. 

This measure is an attempt to combat barratry and other types of “ambulance chasing”, but punishes newsrooms that use accident report information to report on bad road conditions, problem intersections, etc. 

Another bill, HB 3199 by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, better approaches the issue by creating a civil penalty for using information gleaned from an Open Records request for marketing purposes.

The battle over release of date of birth information is back again at the Legislature. 

HB 2766 by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyside, would prohibit the release of an individual’s DOB contained in government records.

TAB and other FOI groups have fought for several sessions to keep the information open as it is one of the only reliable ways to differentiate between two individuals with same last name. 

Questions?  Contact TAB's Oscar Rodriguez or Michael Schneider.

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