The General Election is behind us and the deck has been shuffled in the halls of power in Austin. Even though Republicans continue to hold every major office in the state, the faces in those offices are changing.
To begin with, Greg Abbott will become the 48th Governor of Texas and the first new occupant of the Governor’s Mansion since 2000.Inside the Capitol building, State Senator Dan Patrick is taking over as Lieutenant Governor. That is especially important since it is he who will preside over the State Senate during the upcoming legislative session.
The 84th Legislature will be gaveled into session on January 13th. One of the first items of business will be the election or reelection of the Speaker of the House. Current Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, is being challenged by Scott Turner, R-Frisco. It is always difficult to unseat an incumbent speaker. Just how well Turner fares will be an early indicator of the relative strength of the moderate and conservative Republican groups in the House.
Bills are now being filed for the upcoming legislative session and already the effort has begun at Texas Press Association headquarters to dig through the bills, line by line, in order to identify those that would erode government transparency laws. Likewise, we want to quickly identify those that would strengthen the public’s right to know what its government is doing.
Donnis Baggett and Ed Sterling are already working with Jim Moser and the TPA Legislative Advisory Committee to score the various bills. Their work will continue throughout the session. You can expect to hear from the committee about some of these bills and it is possible that you will be asked to call your State Representative or Senator in support of or opposition to one or more of the bills. You may even be asked to come to Austin and testify before a committee. If and when you are called upon, I encourage you to follow through. Your voice, added to those of your fellow publishers, carries a lot of weight, especially with the representative and senator from your district.
It is no secret that powerful groups like the Texas Municipal League are eager to dilute the state’s public notice laws even to the point of removing notices from newspapers and placing them on government controlled websites. State Representative Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has already filed HB-139 that would do just that.
It is essential that we work together to ensure that the public’s right to know is protected by the continued publication of public notices in newspapers. My community will be represented this session by a new State Representative, Andrew Murr, R-Junction, as well as a new State Senator, Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. I made a point of visiting with each of them prior to the election about the importance of open records, open meetings, and public notices. And, just last week, I had the opportunity to visit with Senator Perry again about my concerns.
My point is that it is important that you get to know your senator and representative before you call asking them to support your position on a particular bill. It is also important to let our elected officials know that newspapers are alive and well in Texas and that we continue the proud tradition of delivering timely information to our readers. Explain to them that time and again our readers have told us that they want and expect newspapers to provide a complete and accurate record of events, including public notices.
The upcoming legislative session will be a challenge, especially for those who are closely involved in the effort. So, if and when you have the opportunity, tell a member of the Legislative Advisory Committee that you appreciate their efforts. I certainly do.
Before I close, I want to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous 2015!