Pushing for more openness

BY PAUL COBLER

AUSTIN — The Rio Grande Valley’s role in the open government debate during the 85th Texas Legislature just keeps growing.

Thursday, Rep. Eddie Lucio III’s House Bill 2328 passed the Texas Senate 30-1, in what normally would have been a minor victory for access to public information in Texas. But this version of the bill, that originally was intended to simply speed up the response time for public information requests, had several major additions included to it by Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

“Several of the major (open government) bills had stalled in the House Government Transparency and Operations Committee,” said Kelley Shannon, the Executive Director for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Meanwhile, Representative Lucio III had this bill, HB 2328, that passed the House and made its way to the Senate. When it was becoming clear that these major open government bills were stalled in the house committee, Kirk Watson decided that this would be the vehicle for getting these bills passed that so many people want and are so important for the public information act.”

The bills added to HB 2328 by Watson are Senate Bills 407 and 408, both authored by Watson. SB 408 reverses the Greater Houston Partnership decision, and SB 407 reverses the Boeing decision; the decision cited by the City of McAllen when it refused to disclose how much Enrique Iglesias was paid for his performance before the 2015 holiday parade.

SB 1655, HB 2670, HB 2710 and HB 3848 were also all added to HB 2328 and each measure addresses various open records issues.

“(HB 2328) was something that we had worked on in cooperation with the attorney general’s office and others,” Shannon said. “It wasn’t one that was one of our major bills necessarily, but we had given input and tried to help. By allowing these amendments on, (Lucio III) will be a real champion of open government this session, assuming they pass and there is the support for them. It will definitely put him and his bill in the spotlight as a really strong advocate for open government.”

Rep. Lucio III was unavailable for comment, but Sen. Watson said he expects broad support in the House for his additions to the bill.

“In the Senate I was able to work with all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and this became a very bipartisan recognition that we need to assure the public has access to public records,” Watson said. “There was broad and overwhelming support, so I think when it gets to the House in this vehicle, I’m anticipating that House members are going to recognize the enormous value this has to ensuring their constituents have access to information that’s important to them.”

Watson continued to say that all representatives owe it to their constituents to vote for HB 2328.

“I think those that vote for this, their vote is recognition and respect for their constituents,” Watson said. “If you respect your constituents, you vote for this because you know it gives your constituents and the taxpayers of Texas access to their government.”