American Heart Association 300x250

Transparency at the Texas Capitol: A bipartisan effort

by | Mar 16, 2023 | Latest, Opinion

By Kelley Shannon, executive director of the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.  For more information go to www.foift.org.

To witness bipartisanship at the Texas Capitol, look to the lawmakers who are working to improve open government laws.

Legislators from both political parties are igniting interest in transparency and creating the opportunity for all lawmakers to protect the people’s right to know. They’re carrying on our state’s legacy of openness. 

When the reform-minded 1973 Legislature enacted the Texas Public Information Act, known then as the Open Records Act, it established one of the nation’s strongest transparency laws. This year marks its 50thanniversary. Court rulings and other actions have weakened the law since its passage, but as we celebrate open government during Sunshine Month throughout March let’s rally around the bills Texas legislators have filed this session to fortify the landmark act:

Contracting transparency: Access to government contracts allows taxpayers to see how their money is spent. A bipartisan proposal would enhance a law passed in 2019, ensuring the release of “super public” information, including the overall contract price and description of items and services. Senate Bill 680 by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, and House Bill 2492 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, are the bills addressing contracting transparency.

Public records business days: A definition of “business day” in the Public Information Act is needed to provide consistency for everyone seeking public records. Currently, governments declare on their own which days they are open or closed for handling TPIA requests. Sometimes they don’t respond to requests. Proposals to correct this are contained in Senate Bill 618 by Johnson; House Bill 2135 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; and Senate Bills 43 and 44 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Dates of birth: Birthdates in criminal justice documents, such as police reports and incarceration records, and in candidates’ applications for public office allow the public to accurately identify a person. Correctly identifying someone charged with a crime protects the reputation of those who have the same name but aren’t facing charges. A date of birth also helps with thorough vetting of political candidates. Senate Bill 46 by Zaffirini and House Bill 2309 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, allow access to birthdates in these records.

Public records and attorneys’ fees: If a records requestor runs into roadblocks and must sue to obtain public documents, the ability to recover legal fees levels the playing field between that individual and the government, especially if a government hands over records at the last minute after months of costly litigation. This legislation is House Bill 2874 by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo.

Searchable-sortable records: While some governments provide data in searchable-sortable spreadsheet form, often making it easier to analyze, others do not. Senate Bill 965 by Johnson, Senate Bill 45 by Zaffirini and House Bill 2493 by Capriglione would codify the ability to obtain searchable-sortable records if such a format is available.

These measures are supported by the Texas Sunshine Coalition, made up of more than 15 diverse organizations united around the principle that access to information is essential in advocating for public policy and participating in our democracy.

Additional proposed transparency measures deal with public meetings, police accountability and other timely subjects.

For example, when someone dies in police custody, the public needs to know what happened. Some law enforcement agencies use a loophole in the Public Information Act to withhold records. Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 30 to remedy the problem.

Addressing public notices, Senate Bill 943 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and House Bill 2178 by Hunter would require government notices that by law must be published in a newspaper to also be posted at no extra cost on the newspaper’s website and on a Texas Press Association statewide public notice website. This posting through a neutral third party provides an easy, reliable source for viewing public notices. 

Transparency advocates will be speaking out until the legislative session ends May 29 to urge passage of these proposals that shine light on government, enabling us to hold it accountable.

Simply put, open government is good government.

Stay informed, support your local newspaper, subscribe today at The Princeton Herald.

Photos online

0 Comments

American Heart Association 300x250

Related News

The Lawn Moore

The Lawn Moore

America really is The Land of Opportunity. Even if there’s only one opportunity, and that opportunity is cutting the grass.  Ashdown, Arkansas, was a pretty typical small American town in the 1960s and 1970s.  Kids weren’t just handed things. If we wanted...

read more
Class of 2024 top two

Class of 2024 top two

Princeton High School Class of 2024 valedictorian is Jonathan Waithaka. Mackenzie Akkerman is the salutatorian. The top two students in Princeton High School’s Class of 2024 have some sage advice for students entering ninth grade this fall: perfect your study skills...

read more
How PISD is dealing with growth challenges

How PISD is dealing with growth challenges

Brantley Duke walks the stage at Mayfield Elementary to collect his kindergarten diploma from Principal Jason Brown Saturday, May, 16. The young grad was a student in Ms. Lafon’s class. All six elementary schools in the district held ceremonies Saturday. Princeton ISD...

read more
Council OKs trash collection fee increase

Council OKs trash collection fee increase

Community Waste Disposal crews helped hundreds of Princeton residents get rid of trash they had been hoarding all winter at the Saturday, April 6, Trash Off & CWD X-treme Green event in Caldwell Park. If Community Waste Disposal picks up your garbage, you’ll be...

read more
District honors top teachers

District honors top teachers

PHS Science Department Chair Tanya Summers, left, is the Princeton ISD’s Secondary Teacher of the Year and Madison Wilson, a third-grade teacher at Smith Elementary, is the PISD’s Elementary Teacher of the Year. Summers is also the head girls’ cross-country coach. The...

read more
A myth understanding

A myth understanding

In the South, we believed with all of our hearts what we were told when we were children. Even if it was wrong. In the 1960s, the RCA color console TV my family had on Beech Street in Ashdown, Arkansas, could make you go blind. It could if you believed what our mom...

read more
Bois d’ Arc Lake beckons

Bois d’ Arc Lake beckons

NTMWD’s newest lake, Bois d’Arc Lake, is now 100% full and open to public access. Courtesy NTMWD After 20 years of planning and four years of construction, Texas’ first major reservoir to be built in more than three decades glistens in the sun as a recreational...

read more
Awareness program features grim scene

Awareness program features grim scene

PHS theater students help stage an accident scene as part of a national safety awareness program. Courtesy Photo Princeton High School students have experienced a realistic vision of what could happen to an impaired driver. On Thursday, May 2, School Resource Officer...

read more
Collin County cities score high on safety

Collin County cities score high on safety

The Collin County city of Melissa ranked No. 1 on the 2024 list of the “safest” cities in Texas, according to the annual survey of FBI data by SafeWise.  The rankings were compiled from data sent to the FBI in October 2023 for crimes reported in 2022. According...

read more
Total property values up 14.63%

Total property values up 14.63%

The estimated average market value of a home in Princeton is now $340,434. Once again, Collin County property values are generally higher, according to 2024 certified estimated taxable values released by Collin Central Appraisal District (CCAD).  However, the...

read more
Photos online