Keeping a close watch on open records bills
Levels of trust sometimes depend upon how closely we know someone, if they share our beliefs or politics, or if we have established a firm relationship with them.
I recently attended the Texas Press Association’s Mid-Winter Convention and Trade Show in Frisco. At these meetings, we rekindle our friendships with other publishers, editors and advertising managers whom we rarely see, we share a beverage, talk shop and learn about new industry products.
Our association’s Legislative Advisory Committee also meets to keep an eye on state bills that affect public information or the right to know. “The media,” particularly newspapers, may not be held in the highest regard by some, but our association and members from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT) are keeping an eye on the foxes in our governmental henhouse.
And like clockwork, about every two years in the new legislative session, someone introduces a bill that places separation between the public and lawmakers or others receiving taxpayer funds. There is a belief among some that the public does not have a right to know what is being done with their money. Executive sessions cover things like personnel files that may cover sensitive information of nonpublic players, but we believe about everything else should be fair game and open for information consumption.
Yet, that’s not always the case.
Here are three (of many) bills introduced in the Texas House our committee is watching:
HB 53 (Ramon Romero Jr., Fort Worth) — Prohibits settlement terms worth more than $30,000 between a governmental entity and an individual or company to remain secret. When they are “settling” with your money, you should know about it.
HB 349 (Terry Canales, Edinburg) — Makes sure contracts with entertainers or for parades or other public events are open for public view.
This stems from a concert held in the rep’s hometown, in which Mexican singing star Enrique Iglesias was paid $100,000 for an appearance, yet his contract forbade the city from making that amount public. Uh, whether your name is Enrique Iglesias or George Strait, the public deserves to know how much you are being paid with their money.
HB 792 (Giovanni Capriglione, Keller) — Clamps down on “trade secrets exemptions,” which keeps information secret during proposals or negotiations between a government and business.
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