Q: We're looking ahead to our county day at the Capitol in the coming session of the Texas Legislature. What's the process for getting access to the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate?
A: After undergoing the screening process at any of the four Capitol entrances, media and the public enjoy access to the full Capitol, minus certain restricted areas.
Floor credentials allow media to be on the part of the floor that is outside of the brass rails on the perimeter of the desk and dais areas. To get media credentials for the House and Senate, go to http://www.house.state.tx.us/resources/media-credential/. There, you'll find a media credentials application to complete and instructions for your newspaper publisher or group manager to write and submit an official, formal letter of request. House Rule 5, § 20(a)] provides that "no media representative shall be admitted to the floor of the house or allowed its privileges unless the person is a salaried staff correspondent, reporter or photographer regularly employed by a newspaper, a press association or news service serving newspapers, a publication requiring telegraphic coverage, or a duly licensed radio or television station or network."
FYI, Senate Rule 2.04 says: "Every newspaper reporter and correspondent and radio commentator and television camera operator and commentator, before being admitted to the Senate during its session, shall file with the Committee on Administration a written statement showing the paper or papers represented and certifying that no part of the person's salary or compensation is paid by any person, firm, corporation, or association except the paper or papers or radio station or television station represented." The House administers the credentialing of media for both bodies.
Q: Does a close family member of the deceased victim in a crime have a special right of access to the full, unredacted police report of the incident? I am doing a story with a family member and the police would only give him a heavily redacted report.
A: The Public Information Act, Government Code Chapter 552, does not contemplate a special right of access for family members. In 2013, the Texas Legislature added Government Code Sec. 552.1085 to the Public Information Act, a subsection titled "Confidentiality of Sensitive Crime Scene Images." That subsection says the next of kin may be granted access to crime scene photos. It's possible the police department is using the Public Information Act's so-called law enforcement exception (552.108) to withhold the full report because release of certain information might hamper an investigation in progress. When normally releasable information is withheld, it can lead to speculation. So, you can ask the police if the matter is under investigation and include the answer in your story, even if the answer is, "no comment."
Q: A local official resigned from office and sent the newspaper a resignation letter. He is asking us to publish his letter as a paid advertisement. I'm thinking it should it be designated "political ad paid for by" or "ad paid for by" with his name, so it's clear it's an ad. What should we do?
A: Your recently resigned local official is presenting you with an opinion piece. If it were political advertising, the piece would endorse a candidate or a ballot measure. Open your browser and search for the Texas Ethics Commission publication titled "Political Advertising: What You Need to Know" or click: http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/guides/G11polad.htm.
Some newspapers publish in their masthead box or on their editorial page a disclaimer that says something like: Opinions contributed by readers for publication in this newspaper are not necessarily the opinions of the newspaper's owner, manager or staff and should not be construed as such.
Q: When a person declares candidacy for school board, isn't that a matter of public record? Our school board won't give me the phone number or the addresses of three candidates.
A: The names and addresses of candidates for public office are public information and should be on file with your county election judge. See Election Code Sec. 141.031, titled General Requirements for Application. Next see Sec. 141.035, titled Application as Public Information. It says: An application for a place on the ballot, including an accompanying petition, is public information immediately on its filing. Acts 1985, 69th Leg., ch. 211, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1986."