Lawmakers file bill to repair Texas Public Information Act, help citizens track spending
AUSTIN – Two Texas lawmakers filed bipartisan legislation Thursday to strengthen the state’s Public Information Act and give Texans the ability to once again track the spending of taxpayer money.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, filed Senate Bill 943 and House Bill 2189, respectively. The identical pieces of legislation address citizens’ access to information contained in and surrounding state and local government contracts.
The proposal takes into account months of work by the diverse Texas Sunshine Coalition as well as the competitive concerns of businesses and non-profits that contract with the government.
“Without the contracting transparency reforms being proposed by SB 943 and HB 2189, governmental entities and third parties who contract with them can keep Texans in the dark about basic issues such as the amount of money spent in a contract and whether promises are kept. Transparency is necessary to accountability and having trust in our government,” saidFirst Amendment attorney Laura Prather, legislative co-chair for the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Texas Supreme Court rulings in 2015 interpreted the Public Information Act to allow governmental bodies and firms and organizations contracting with the government to easily block release of information to the those requesting it.
“In many cases, even the final contract and amount spent cannot be viewed by citizens because of how the court’s interpretation is being used,” Prather added.
The FOI Foundation of Texas and more than 15 other groups formed the Texas Sunshine Coalition to raise awareness and emphasize that the Public Information Act serves all Texans. Individual citizens, businesses, journalists, researchers and many others use the law.
"For decades, Texas had one of the strongest open government laws in the nation. We are thankful for this legislation to repair the Public Information Act. The ability to see how tax money is spent is a foundation of our democracy. It’s basic American civics,” added Kelley Shannon, executive director of the FOI Foundation of Texas.
The legislation by Watson and Capriglione is one of several open government measures the FOI Foundation of Texas is working to pass in the current Texas Legislature. Information on other transparency issues can be found at www.txsunshine.org and www.foift.org.