The Texas House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved two bills Wednesday addressing governments that quit responding to Texas Public Information Acts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The panel approved House Bill 1416 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, specifying which days are to be counted as business days for purposes of the Public Information Act. Currently, the law doesn’t define TPIA business days. Many governments, citing long-ago attorney general guidance, decided on their own how to calculate business days when the pandemic set in. The legislation next moves to the full House.
Committee members also voted in favor of House Bill 3627 by Chairman Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, which clarifies 2019 legislation allowing governments to file “catastrophe notices” with the attorney general’s office when a disaster prevents them from responding to Public Information Act requests. The notice allows a seven-day halt to TPIA responses. In some situations, a government can file for another seven-day extension but that is the limit. The bill now heads to the full House.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation hosted this online event on March 18, 2021, during Sunshine Week 2021. Click here to watch “Sunshine Week 2021: Regaining Trust in Texas Government.”
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas was pleased to participate, along with other transparency advocates
Conservatives optimistic, too
James Quintero is director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Local Governance, which is concerned with issues such as the state’s dependence on property taxes and an “alarming amount of debt” accumulated by cities, counties, and other taxing entities.
Quintero said, “I’m bullish on the prospect of passing significant legislation expanding government transparency.”
“Government secrecy is a bipartisan problem,” he said. “The Texas Public Policy Foundation wants taxpayers to have the ability to see where their tax dollars are going. In the absence of strong transparency requirements it’s impossible to hold our elected officials accountable.”
“I’m very excited to be part of a coalition to reverse course on Texas Supreme Court decisions, Boeing and Greater Houston Partnership,” Quintero said.
The latter case reversed lower court decisions and ruled that the Greater Houston Partnership, a nonprofit corporation that provides economic development services to the City of Houston, was not a “governmental body” under the Texas Public Information Act because it is not wholly or partially sustained by public funds.
“I’m not just blowing smoke,” Quintero said. “I think we have an excellent chance of passage. It’s been good to see people who we don’t normally agree with come out of the woodwork and be on same page with us on how things ought to work.”
But it’s not going to be a cake walk.
“I think we are going to see a lot of fierce opposition on these issues, but primarily behind closed doors, because it’s hard to go out and argue in public setting that taxpayers shouldn’t know how their money is being spent.
“In the last session, opponents used back-channel methods to stall and defeat our legislation,” Quintero said. “But our coalition has learned a few good lessons about tactics of the other side and we’re coming in this session more prepared to handle these tactics.”