Posted: Mar 2, 2013 12:52 PM
Updated: Mar 8, 2013 11:17 AM
EDITORS: Not for broadcast, publication or use online
Welcome to another installment of the Texas Association of Broadcasters' Open Government/Newsroom Billwatch. The 83rd Texas Legislature is in session and TAB's Newsroom Legislative Committee is at work with its session-long review of bills that might impact Texas broadcast newsrooms.
Committee Hearings This Week:
HB 166 - Innocence/Exoneration Commission By Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio
Creates a Timothy Cole Exoneration Commission to review wrongful convictions and exonerations. Annual and interim reports are public record. Working papers and investigatory materials are not. Heard on 3/5 by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and left pending
HB 688 - Autopsy Photos and X-Rays By Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso
Current law says local government may withhold autopsy photos and x-rays, except in cases in which an individual died in law enforcement custody. The actual autopsy reports are public. Marquez's bill says local governments don't have to request a decision from the attorney general under the Texas Public Information Act in order to withhold autopsy photos and x-rays. Joe Larsen, a TPIA specialist attorney with TAB Associate member law firm Sedgwick LLP and member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas board testified against the bill saying that as a practical matter, autopsy reports are being withheld regardless because of the "law enforcement exception" in the Texas Public Information Act. Larsen said this bill would further stymie release as it removes, entirely, a much-needed check on law enforcement - an Attorney General's office review to determine release of records. Heard on 3/5 by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and left pending
HB 919 - TPIA / Law Enforcement Vehicles By Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball
Adds another provision to so-called "law enforcement exception", 552.108 of the Texas Public Information Act. This proposal says information that would directly or indirectly reveal the physical location of or route used by a peace officer or vehicle operated by a peace officer could be withheld. It also says vehicle information may also be withheld if the law enforcement agency determines that the release of the information may create a hazard to a peace officer, the public, or another person. Heard by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on 3/7 and left pending.
Committee Hearings Next Week:
HB 1350 - Political Advertising By Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio
Prohibits a state agency (which is headed by a statewide elected official) from using appropriated money to broadcast an advertisement, notice, or announcement featuring the office holder within the 60-day period preceding the date of any election in which the officer appears on the ballot as a candidate. As a practical matter, most broadcast outlets refuse to accept such advertising during election years anyway because of the "equal access" provision of the FCC's political broadcast regulations. Set for hearing on 3/11 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment in House Elections Committee
HB 1398 - "Stand By Your Ad" By Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston
Would impose the "stand by your ad" provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act on state and local candidates. Currently, only federal candidates are subject to them. This is the provision that requires a candidate to acknowledge that they approved the content of their own political ads and who paid for them. Set for hearing on 3/11 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment in House Elections Committee
HB 1390- Electronic OAG Request for Opinion By Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving
Allows those individuals who are authorized by law to request a formal attorney general opinion to submit requests electronically. Under current law, the only way for someone to request a formal opinion from the Attorney General is to file that request through certified or registered mail, with return receipt requested. In OAG's experience, most requests for formal opinions are sent electronically (via e-mail) or through the regular U.S. mail. This may help speed up, slightly, the decision making process for potential release of information. Set for hearing on 3/11 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment in House Government Efficiency and Reform Committee
HB 1487 - State Expenditure Databases By Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving
Amends existing law concerning the searchable online state expenditure database maintained by the State Comptroller's office. The database allows users to search and aggregate state funding by any element of information and ascertain through a single search the total amount of state funding awarded to a person by a state agency. It also allows a download of such information. HB 1487 adds that for a state expenditure in the form of a grant, users must be able to ascertain the specific purposes for which the grant money was used. Set for hearing on 3/11 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment in House Government Efficiency and Reform Committee
SB 471 - Texas Open Meetings Act / Recording Meetings By Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston
Amends the Texas Open Meetings Act by removing the word "tape" from the existing law requiring recordings of meetings. By doing so, it brings the law into the largely tapeless, digital age. Open Government forces have asked for a clarification in the proposal that would indicate audio must be included in any video recordings of proceedings. Set for hearing on 3/11 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment in Senate Open Government Committee
SB 636 - Bond / Debt Obligations By Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney
Requires the Texas Bond Review Board to establish a searchable online database of state and local debt statistics and government issued securities. Set for hearing on 3/11 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment in Senate Open Government Committee
SB 656 - Cities / Budget and Tax Record Votes By Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney
Requires municipalities to have record votes on tax rates and when approving budgets. Also calls for notice requirements when a tax rate or budget is increased from the previous year as well as Internet posting of the same. Set for hearing on 3/11 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment in Senate Open Government Committee
HB 1295 - Motor Vehicle Accident Reports By Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball Allows
TXDOT to outsource the administration of release of accident report information currently held by the department. Requestors will still have to provide two of the following: date of the accident, address where accident occurred, name of any person involved in the accident. The fee for a copy of the report is still $6. Set for hearing on 3/12 at 8 a.m. or upon adjournment in House Transportation Committee
HB 879/SB 369 - Sex Offender Registry By Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth; Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
Adds to existing law on the public sex offender database maintained by the DPS. Currently, it shields a registered offender's SSN, TDL , home or work or cell phone number. HB 879/SB 369 would also shield any information regarding an employer's name, address or telephone number. HB 879 set for hearing on 3/12 at 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment in House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee SB 369 set for hearing on 3/12 at 1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment in Senate Criminal Jurisprudence Committee
TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTERS NEWSROOM BILLWATCH - March 8, 2013
SB 754 Government Lobbying By Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston
Requires further disclosure when an individual is retained by a governmental entity to lobby before the Texas Legislature.
SB 765 Major Events Trust Fund By Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Houston
Creates an event oversight committee for an event eligible to receive state funding through the major events trust fund. Sen. Watson said he wants to infuse some "healthy skepticism" into oversight of a state incentive fund that is used to recruit major events such as Super Bowls, All-Star games and Formula One racing to Texas. SB 765 would force Comptroller Susan Combs to share authority over the Major Events Trust Fund with at least two others: the state auditor and a representative of the host city or county.
SB 786/HB 1608 Warrants for Cell Phone Information By Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola
Allows law enforcement to seek the information necessary to allow tracking of the location of an individual's cell phone for purposes of an investigation. The application may be sealed up to 180 days with an additional 180 day period allowed. Interestingly, this bill also calls for an annual report to the state by phone service providers on the number of requests made by law enforcement for information of this type. It also requires prosecutors to prepare an annual report on the number and types of warrants requested of this type, the number of arrests made as a result, number trials commenced, number of convictions as a result. The report is public information.
SB 834 Grand Juror Information By Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls
Prohibits the release of a grand juror's name. Currently, the following information about a grand juror may not be released: home address, home phone number, Social Security number, driver's license number, and "other personal information."
SB 843 Government Financial Transparency By Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney
Directs the state comptroller's office to create an online database detailing all governmental bodies with the authority to impose ad valorem or sales and use taxes, or issue bonds, notes and other obligations. The database would detail tax rates and current debt. Depending on the capabilities of the governmental body involved, it may also include budget information, check registry and other types of financial information available.
SB 850/HB 1833 TMICO / TPIA By Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas
This is a general bill on the Texas Mutual Insurance Company, but it includes a provision repealing existing state law that exempts TMICO from the Texas Public Information Act. This will free up information for the public on how TMICO operates.
SB 881 TPIA / Archaic Information By Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston
Would free up information deemed confidential under the Texas Public Information Act 75 years after the record was created or after the expiration of a specified period for maintaining the confidentiality of the information. It's a follow up to an effort in the last session by historians who sought to open up birth record information that is 75 years or older. This TPIA amendment would not apply to: 1. information relating to the location or character of archaeological or historic resources if the state archaeologist determines that the disclosure of the information may create a substantial risk of harm, theft, or destruction to the resources or to the area or place where the resources are located. 2. Social security numbers 3. Information specifying the location of any site or item declared to be a state archaeological landmark.
SB 894 Public/Private Development of Capitol Complex By Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
Creates more legislative oversight when public-private partnerships are under consideration in the Capitol complex, the roughly five square city block area north of the Capitol. Sen. Whitmire was concerned after news reports indicated a 47-story mixed-use tower was under consideration at the north end of the Capitol complex as part of a public-private partnership.
SB 895 Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas By Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth
Requires the records of a nonprofit organization established to provide support to the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to be public.
SB 897 Freedom to Film Act By Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls
Creates a civil course of action for individuals who are arrested and unsuccessfully prosecuted if a "preponderance" of the evidence shows that their photographing or observing a peace officer carrying out their duties led to a "retaliation" arrest. "My hope is that this bill will cause our police departments to think twice before arresting and charging a person who is doing nothing more than filming the police," Estes said when the bill was filed. "The police are public servants, so they should not be doing anything that they would not want caught on film."
SB 983/ HB 2246 TPIA / Judicial Review By Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving
Allows in camera review of the documents involved in public information act lawsuits for the purpose of decision-making by the judge.
SB 1277 / HB 2264 Collective Bargaining By Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin
This is a general bill on collective bargaining by municipal employees. "Meet and confer" agreements are public. Deliberations may be open to the public, but private caucuses could be held during such.
HB 2185 Visual Invasion of Privacy By Rep. Tracy King, R-Batesville
Amends the Civil Practices and Remedies code with a new section on visual "invasion of privacy" which could set many decades of Texas case law in this area on its ear.
HB 2190 Officeholder Financial Transparency By Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington
Significantly lowers the financial reporting dollar amount threshold for required reporting of financial donations and gifts to public officials and candidates. It also requires officerholders to identify other sources of income such as pensions, IRA's, retirement plans, etc. The information will be posted on the Texas Ethics Commission's website.
HB 2191 Political Campaign Financial Transparency By Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington
Lowers the financial reporting threshold for in-kind contributions to political campaigns.
HB 2211 Candidate Financial Transparency By Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin
Requires the financial statements required to be filed by JPs and County Judges (or candidates for same) to be posted on the County's website (if it maintains one)
HB 2258 Grand Jury Witness Confidentiality By Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso
Allows grand juries to approve use of a pseudonym in an indictment for the name of a witness if disclosure of that individual's name would place them in danger of retaliation or if the attorney representing the state asserts the identity of informer privilege under Rule 508, rules of evidence. If it's the grand jury, nine members must vote in favor of it.
HB 2314 Appraisal District Board Training By Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton
Requires, among other things, annual open government training by each member of a board of directors of a property appraisal district.
HB 2267 Medical Examiner Home Address By Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio
Would make confidential the home addresses contained in property tax records for medical examiners or others who perform forensic analysis. This is the latest class of law enforcement employees that have their home addresses shielded in such records.
HB 2337 State Vendor Performance By Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving
Requires the Comptroller's office to maintain an Internet accessible database of the reports of vendor performance by those who have contracted to perform work for state agencies.
HB 2377 State Video and Photos / Political Advertising By Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth
Prohibits audio-visual materials produced by House or Senate media from being used in political advertising.
HB 2408 Probate Judge Home Addresses By Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin
Adds another type of judge to the list of judicial branch employees whose names can be shielded in property tax records - a statutory probate court judge
Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider 512-322-9944.