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Texas’ Public Information Act Shows There’s More than One Way to Shut Down Government

- Tops Agenda for TAB Jan. 22 Legislative Conference

With the partial federal government shutdown claiming most headlines, a series of Texas Supreme Court rulings over the past several years have nearly gutted the state’s Public Information Act and fostered a culture of secret government contracts and secret tax giveaways to non-profit companies doing government business. While not a literal shutdown, the results have clearly shut off Texas taxpayers’ right to know how their elected officials are spending tax dollars.

Closing these loopholes is essential to ensuring that Texans – including journalists – can hold public officials accountable, so this issue tops TAB’s agenda for the 2019 Texas Legislature.  It was our 2017 session priority, as well, and was almost unanimously approved by the Texas Senate twice, but never got a full hearing in the Texas House.

TAB’s Jan. 22 Legislative Day Conference launches our effort to raise the issue personally with state lawmakers one-on-one during the closing Lawmaker-Broadcaster Luncheon where broadcasters will be seated with their local lawmakers.  The event – which is popular with lawmakers for its absence of any program or distracting speakers – also is an opportunity for them to outline their agenda for the session and identify community issues that stations may be able to help address.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presents the opening keynote at 10 a.m., followed by detailed issue briefings for broadcasters only. The luncheon, set for 12:30 to 2 p.m., closes the event, though TAB encourages broadcasters to visit lawmakers who can’t attend at their Capitol offices.

Anti-SLAPP, Tax Policy, Sports Betting
As in every legislative session, TAB and other business groups mostly play “defense” to protect hard-won policies from past sessions.  The Anti-SLAPP law we passed in partnership with the Texas Press Association in 2011 is one such example as various interests want to reclaim the ability to silence critics with lawsuits the critics can’t afford to fight.

Lawmakers got the good news last week that they’ll have an additional $9 billion to build the state’s next two-year budget. But serious commitments by top legislative leaders to restructure the Robin Hood school finance system that’s driving school property taxes through the roof and lower growth in those taxes could well absorb most, if not all, of that increase.

Combined with crushing pressures on the state’s Health & Human Services department and other major agencies, broadcasters and other industries are closely monitoring any attempt to tinker with important tax exemptions for key business inputs.

And when it comes to sports betting, stations in a few other states already are benefitting from an advertising boon.  While at least one lawmaker is rumored to be mulling legislation allowing sports betting in Texas, any form of gambling is unlikely to garner support among the religious conservatives who hold sway over many lawmakers.

Individual Broadcasters Key to Success
Our lobbying mantra is “TAB can help lawmakers understand an issue, but only YOU can make them care!”  Showing up in Austin at an event like TAB’s Legislative Day Conference isn’t a guarantee we’ll succeed in passing our bills or killing bad ones, but NOT showing up guarantees that we won’t succeed.

So, if you haven’t already signed up, do so today!

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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