During a session with transparency a favorite buzzword, news organizations and other advocates of access to information were largely successful before the Texas Legislature this year.
Access to police records, video and audio recordings of public meetings and more clarity on the legal liabilities of news reporting were among the advances. And freedom of information advocates helped keep some bad ideas from becoming law.
Senate Bill 627, by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, clarifies state libel law after a long-running lawsuit involving an Austin TV station. The station accurately reported on allegations involving a physician, which 25 years of common law in Texas would have protected, but it still encountered legal problems.
The Texas Supreme Court delivered a murky opinion on the issue and even attempted a clarification that still left legal standards in doubt. SB627 protects journalists who accurately report on accusations of wrongdoing even though the accusations are not yet part of an official government inquiry.
Senate Bill 308 makes the records of private university police departments subject to the Texas Public Information Act. As with municipal police departments, not all records are required to be open — but more than before the bill, by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was approved.
Under Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, university regents must broadcast their telephone meetings online.
House Bill 283, by Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, makes more video and audio recordings of public meetings available online.
Injuries and deaths that involve police officers must be reported to the attorney general under House Bill 1036, by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas.
News organizations fought efforts to remove public notices from newspapers and publish them online instead, which would disadvantage people without Internet access. Lawmakers ordered an interim study of the issue.
Also scuttled was an attempt to bar news media access to vehicle accident reports.