Editorials

Some efforts hamper open government

As public transparency advocates nationwide observe Sunshine Week, Texas can lay claim to what is considered one of the strongest public information tools in the country — a 42-year-old law that has enabled journalists and frustrated taxpayers alike to unearth tons of data exposing the deeds and misdeeds of government entities.
As public transparency advocates nationwide observe Sunshine Week, Texas can lay claim to what is considered one of the strongest public information tools in the country — a 42-year-old law that has enabled journalists and frustrated taxpayers alike to unearth tons of data exposing the deeds and misdeeds of government entities. The Associated Press

To give credit where credit is due, there’s serious effort in this year’s legislative session to enhance transparency and openness in Texas government.

It’s appropriate to recognize those efforts this week during Sunshine Week, an annual effort to strengthen the public’s right to know what elected officials are doing.

Gov. Greg Abbott has even called on lawmakers to “dedicate this session to ethics.”

Fort Worth Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren, with Abbott’s backing, has authored a bill to strengthen restrictions on conflict of interest. He’s also filed campaign finance legislation and restrictions on legal referral fees offered to lawmakers and statewide elected officials who are lawyers.

A bill by state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, would boost financial disclosure for legislators, even take pensions away from politicians who are convicted of crimes. The bill would also keep legislators from working as lobbyists until they have been out of office for at least one legislative session.

But while Abbott and others have established some momentum for open government, there are also some pretty stinky bills in the legislative hopper.

It’s also appropriate to point them out during Sunshine Week.

Close to home, Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, have filed bills to change the way the public is informed about government business.

Burton’s Senate Bill 392 would take notices of public meetings out of the newspaper and allow them to be posted online instead. The bill does not specify where on the Internet they should be posted, how far in advance of the meeting they should be posted or for how long.

Posting these notices in the newspaper has been an effective way to keep government bodies from hiding what they do.

Similarly, Stickland’s House Bill 139 would move some public notices to the comptroller’s website. Why should people have to go searching for the information they deserve to know?

Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, has filed House Bill 1019, moving notices to newspaper websites and restricting how much newspapers can charge for publishing them.

Several bills would exempt certain types of information from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act, including complaints about official oppression, information in government contracts and criminal history records.

Perhaps strangest of all, House Bill 1118 by Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, says nobody can use the Texas Public Information Act but Texans.

What do we have to hide?

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