News

Texas Open Government Laws Have Been Weakened in Recent Years

The Texas Tribune | March 26, 2019

  • Lawmakers in the House and Senate have filed bills that aim to address a pair of 2015 court decisions seen as threats to open government.
  • Sarah Terrell was surprised to learn in 2016 that her son’s Houston high school was being renamed. In the span of one October week, it was announced — and then made official — that the High School for Performing and Visual Arts would now be called HSPVA Kinder, in honor of a local foundation that had donated $7.5 million to the school.
  • Terrell was curious: How could that have happened so quickly? Did other schools handle renaming decisions the same way?
  • So she filed an open-records request to see how the University of Houston had renamed three of its sports venues.

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UNT System Officials Challenge Release of ‘Branding Audit’

Denton Record-Chronicle | March 21, 2019

  • The University of North Texas System has challenged the release of a brand audit document that looks at what people think of the three UNT schools and their marketing strategies.
  • Renaldo Stowers, senior associate general counsel for the UNT System, protested the release of the document to the Denton-Record Chronicle and asked the state attorney general to let UNT keep the entire document private.
  • The request for a ruling could be a stalling tactic, but the information should be made public, said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

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Analysis: Secrecy Reigns as Information Requests Almost Always Denied by Attorney General

abc13.com | March 15, 2019

  • ABC13 analyzed 10 years (nearly 250,000 open records letters) to determine secrecy rates
  • 94.6% of open records requests are withheld in some way
  • Court decisions have aided agencies in keeping information from the public
  • Long held deadlines are being ignored with little penalty

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State Approves Cleanup Plan for Radioactive Waste in Denton

Denton Record-Chronicle | March 13, 2019

  • State health officials recently approved a new plan to clean up low-level radioactive waste being stored at a former Denton business.
  • A contractor already has been seen on-site but details are scant – including whether some of the waste will remain in Denton for the long term.
  • Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen confirmed the state received a decommissioning plan from a lien holder of the US Radiopharmaceuticals and has approved it.
  • But the agency is withholding its copy of the plan from public view for now.

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Free Speech, Public’s Right to Know Under Attack in Texas – So Let’s Act Now

Victoria Advocate | March 10, 2019

  • We Texans are fiercely independent and like to make our views known. On that, surely, we can agree.
  • Using our First Amendment right to speak out goes hand in hand with access to public information that helps us understand how our government functions.
  • Unfortunately, both basic American principles – free speech and the people’s right to know – are under attack in Texas. There’s no better time to urge our state lawmakers to protect these precious freedoms than “Sunshine Week,” March 10-16, a nationwide celebration of open government.

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Bipartisan Effort Aims to Make Public-Private Deals More Public

The Texas Monitor | March 6, 2019

  • For the first time since a Texas Supreme Court ruling in 2015, two state legislators think they can shine some light on the millions of dollars in business that private companies do with governmental bodies.
  • Senate Bill 943 and an identical House version aim to peel back a blanket of secrecy on government contracts granted by the court in its ruling in Boeing v. Paxton.
  • The decision in favor of the aeronautics corporation has allowed companies to keep secret the financial details of contracts with governments with the excuse that release of those details might give an advantage to competitors.

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Public Records Act Badly Needs Repairs

Austin American Statesman | Feb. 27, 2019

  • It’s your money. You deserve to know how it was spent – and whether you got what was promised.
  • The Texas Supreme Court’s 2015 Boeing decision has been contorted to try to block taxpayers from seeing the details of hundreds of government arrangements with private firms.

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Enterprise Editorial: Open Records Law Needs Important Boost

Beaumont Enterprise | Feb. 25, 2019

  • The Texas Public Information Act is pretty good, but a nagging loophole has undermined the public’s ability to know what happens to their tax dollars in certain circumstances.
  • Two members of the House and Senate — one a Democrat, one a Republican — have filed bills that would close this gap, and that legislation needs to land on the governor’s desk.

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Sen. Kirk Watson Tries to Restore Strength of Texas Public Information Act, Again

Austin American Statesman | Feb. 21, 2019

  • For the second legislative session in a row, state Sen. Kirk Watson will push to close a loophole in the Texas Public Information Act.
  • The loophole was created by a 2015 state Supreme Court decision that critics say allows governments and the private companies that contract with them to withhold basic records about how taxpayer money is spent.

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Texas Records Law Finds Requesters Jumping Through Hoops for Records

muckrock.com | Jan. 11, 2019

  • A “pre-appeal” system and an overused exemption are creating headaches in the state.
  • FOIA states that agencies can hold information hostage based on certain exemptions, which in turn press the requester to challenge that action through an appeal.
  • However, the Texas Public Information Act places the onus on the agency to provide its justifications for applying exemptions to the state’s Attorney General.

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In Reversal, Pharr Releases City Manager’s Salary

Progress Times | Jan. 9, 2019

  • After attempting to keep City Manager Alex Meade’s salary a secret, Pharr announced Wednesday that “in the interest of continuing its commitment to transparency” the city would release the information.
  • Former Mission Economic Development Corp. CEO Alejandro “Alex” Meade III, 42, of Mission accepted the city manager position last November.
  • When the Progress Times requested Meade’s contract and personnel records — which included his salary — Pharr refused to release the documents and asked the Texas Attorney General’s Office for a decision.

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Texas Sunshine Coalition Seeks Greater Transparency

The Austin Bulldog | Jan. 7, 2019

  • The 2019 session of the Texas Legislature starts at noon tomorrow when both the House and Senate are gaveled to order.
  • Open government advocates have high hopes that this time they will be able to convince lawmakers to demolish the legal barriers created by court decisions that are preventing access to important public information.

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“Lone Star Politics” Covering Politics throughout the State of Texas

KXAS-TV NBC DFW | Dec. 23, 2018

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In 2019, Another Chance to Fix the Texas Public Information Act

Texas Observer | Nov. 28, 2018

  • With a GOP committee chair gone and new bills in the pipeline, state lawmakers and government transparency advocates seek to close loopholes in Texas open records law.
  • It’s been three years since Enrique Iglesias walked away from the Rio Grande Valley holding a proverbial sack full of taxpayer cash. 
  • City officials still refuse to tell residents how much Iglesias was paid to perform — a decision supported by Attorney General Ken Paxton. 

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Bills introduced by Rep. Canales to promote government transparency, create University of Texas at Austin School of Law distance learning at UT Rio Grande Valley, reduce fraudulent telephone calls, register 3D handguns with DPS

Legislative Media | Politics |Nov. 15, 2018 

  • The first round of legislative measures by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, that will be considered by the Texas Legislature were introduced on Monday, November 12, 2018 at the Capitol.
  • Including proposals to promote government transparency, establish a University of Texas at Austin School of Law distance learning program at UT-Rio Grande Valley, reduce fraudulent telephone calls, and require secretly-made 3D handguns to be registered with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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With Texas Legislature returning, open government advocates work to strengthen Public Information Act

FOI Focus | Nov. 27, 2018

  • State lawmakers are already filing bills for the legislative session that begins Jan. 8, 2019.
  • That means the FOI Foundation of Texas and other open government advocates are at work, too, on their goal to protect access to public information.

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Show us the money, let us see how tax dollars are spent

Caller Times  | Sept. 6, 2018

  • We Texans have a right to know how our taxpayer dollars are spent.
  • Our elected public officials represent us. They manage and spend our tax money. But we, the people, get to decide whether they are doing it well.
  • To do that, we need light shining on the workings of our government. But that essential element of our democracy is in jeopardy in Texas.
  • Now, in response, more than a dozen diverse organizations have come together to form the nonpartisan Texas Sunshine Coalition to ensure our government doesn’t operate in the dark.

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UT, UNT resist releasing their deals with soft drink companies

The Texas Monitor | Aug. 31, 2018

  • A Boston University journalism student’s nationwide quest for records on state universities’ dealings with soft drink companies has turned up two Texas college systems reluctant to provide that information.
  •  The University of Texas is resisting the request with a referral to the state attorney general’s office. The University of North Texas provided her with its contracts with Coca-Cola dating back to 1997 but, like UT, referred her request for the current contract to the AG’s office for a ruling on whether it had to be released.

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Mayor used personal email for arena talks

El Paso Inc | July 30, 2018

  • El Paso Mayor Dee Margo appears to have sidestepped public information laws during negotiations with arena opponents earlier this year. 
  • El Paso Inc. found that at least seven emails sent and received by the mayor were not forwarded to his official city account. 
  • The city should have produced those emails in response to a public information request, but they were missing.

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Public officials often choose what to release to public

ABC 13 Eyewitness News | July 23, 2018

  • Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s former press secretary Darian Ward may be facing criminal charges after withholding information from journalists.
  • Many Houston journalists have lamented about government officials withholding information. 
  • Ward was asked to hand over any work-related emails she had. Officials found out that she withheld nearly 5,000 important emails. 

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Mayor Turner’s former press secretary indicted for withholding public records

The Houston Chronicle | July 19, 2018

  • Houston mayor Sylvester Turner’s former press secretary, Darian Ward, has been indicted by a grand jury this week.
  • Ward failed to supply hundreds of emails to a journalist, violating the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Ward resigned from her position in late January following her suspension for withholding emails. 

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AG office tells Victoria school district to release superintendent search details 

Victoria Advocate | July 13, 2018

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State audit slams Alamo oversight, appears similar to ‘doctored’ draft

Austin-American Statesman | May 31, 2018

  • The General Land Office released an internal audit critical of its management of the Alamo
  • The audit’s conclusions are consistent with a draft audit the Statesman reported on in February.
  • Land Commissioner George P. Bush had said that draft audit had been “doctored.”

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Government transparency advocates prep for fight over public information

Corpus Christi Caller-Times | May 18, 2018

  • As the 2019 Texas Legislative session approaches, open government advocates are preparing to challenge court decisions that have restricted government information.
  • A forum hosted by Rep Todd Hunter, was held on May 17, 2018 to discuss the need for greater government transparency.

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Why Austin bomber Mark Conditt’s confession may be kept secret — forever

Austin American-Statesman | April 6, 2018

Hours after the Austin bomber killed himself as police closed in, investigators revealed that the man responsible for a series of attacks that killed two and injured five had left behind a 28-minute recorded confession.

Reporters asked interim Police Chief Brian Manley if police planned to release the audio to the public, who had suffered through nearly three weeks of terror caused by Mark Conditt’s crimes.

“No, not at this point,” Manley said.

They may never.

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Access Denied

The Texas Observer | April 2, 2018

By most measures, McAllen’s 2015 Christmas parade and concert was a wild success. Telenovela stars, radio personalities and local dignitaries waved to cheering crowds from an impressive line of lighted floats that glided through the streets of this city of 142,000 in the Rio Grande Valley. Fourteen marching bands strutted their stuff. Towering over the festivities were larger-than-life balloons: Santa Claus, the Gingerbread Man and Angry Birds characters.

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District seeks AG ruling on releasing information on school board candidates

Waxahachie Daily Light | March 14, 2016

  • A change in the Public Information Act which rules birth dates are protected under common-law privacy is too vague.
  • The change in the PIA is causing in the Texas Election Code and the Texas Government code to conflict.
  • Because of this, citizens of Waxahachie cannot get access to a school board candidate’s application without going through the office of the Attorney General.  

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TPPF Forum: A Conversation on Texas’ Public Information Act

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Laura Prather

Viewpoints

During ‘Sunshine Month,’ put spotlight on government accountability

By Kelley Shannon

Shining light on government to hold it accountable is hardly a new idea. In fact, Texas was a national leader in this realm for more than 40 years.

Sadly, the flow of public information in this huge state is slipping from the sunshine into the shadows. 

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Important Stories

Texas Press Messenger: Sunshine Coalition forms to promote open government in Texas, April 2018

House Research Organization: Lawmakers may review effects of court ruling on public information law, 03/21/18

WOAI/News4SA: Court ruling preventing public from seeing how taxpayer money is spent, 03/19/18

Austin American-Statesman: Texas open-government advocates look to 2019 to improve transparency, 03/17/18

Texas Tribune: A cloudy day for sunshine laws in Texas, 02/7/18

San Antonio Express-News: Alamo transparency, 12/5/17

Texas Monitor: Secrecy, transparency problems beset Bush, Alamo ‘partners’, 12/4/17

Austin American-Statesman: Though late, council makes right decision not to hide names from public, 11/10/17

CBS 4: Exclusive: Agua Special Utility District approved secret severance payments worth $489,000, 11/3/17

Austin American-Statesman: Austin vs. Watauga? City claims competition to keep candidates secret, 10/27/17

San Antonio Express-News: Form special committee on public records, 10/22/17

WFAA: Judge orders lower temperature in sweltering prison unit, 07/19/17

Houston Chronicle: Closed records, 06/1/17

Austin American-Statesman: Parents of teen who died in police custody testify for change in law, 04/25/17

News4 SA: Dental board refers out criminal investigations, 03/14/17

KXAN: http://www.kxan.com/news/local/austin/downtown-shooting-leaves-man-in-critical-condition/994771536, 01/8/17

Houston Press: For A Price, You Can Get Behind the Closed Doors of Fort Bend Business, 10/11/16

Texas High Court Carves “Monstrous Loophole” for Government Secrets 8/5/16