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Where does Open Government go from here?

TAB’s annual convention last week gave broadcasters a much needed call-to-action on Open Government advocacy.

After a brutal legislative session which saw much of TAB’s Texas Public Information Act-related proposals go down in flames in May and a positive measure vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June – the question on the minds of many is – where do we go from here?

Outgoing TAB Chairman Ben Downs of Bryan Broadcasting posed the question to Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, during the Community Service Awards Breakfast event.

Both lawmakers authored transparency legislation in the regular session that would have done much to reverse the effects of several bad court decisions at the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as address some vexing issues with the current Texas Public Information Act.

Although TAB and others’ Open Government advocacy was strong, it was not enough to overcome the Texas business community and an intransigent House committee chairman.

Watson and Capriglione said broadcasters must collect examples of Texas Public Information Act problems, particularly those which illustrate how the public is being negatively affected by non-release of information.

It is the ammunition that will be needed during the interim and in the next session of the Legislature.

Watson said the primary focus of efforts in the coming months is an Open Government study authorized by SCR 56, a resolution he authored at the eleventh hour when it became apparent that TAB’s legislative agenda was in peril.

The concurrent resolution requests the Lieutenant Governor and the House Speaker to create a joint interim committee to examine all state open-government laws, including the Texas Public Information Act, for opportunities to improve transparency and accountability.  

It also calls for the committee to issue a full report, including its findings and recommendations, to the 86th Texas Legislature before it convenes in January 2019.  

Watson urged broadcasters to take part by providing testimony in this committee’s hearings.  

TAB President Oscar Rodriguez announced that TAB will be proactive during the interim.

Efforts will included documenting Open Government abuses and staging an awareness campaign to rally the public behind the cause of transparency.

Despite the gloom of the regular session, there are already signs of hope.

Although there were no Open Government items on the specific call of the legislative special session, lawmakers were poised to send SB 17 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham , a measure to renew the state’s maternal mortality task force,  to Gov. Greg Abbott with provisions that called for more transparency of that panel’s work.

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

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