Legislation bringing government contracts back into public record and repairing several harmful court rulings have been signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
By the deadline June 16, Gov. Abbott signed several important pieces of transparency legislation lawmakers sent to his desk this year, including:
• SB 1640/HB 3402 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, repairing damage done by a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that the Open Meetings Act is “unconstitutionally vague.” The high court struck down the OMA’s prohibition of a “walking quorum,” a series of private meetings between small groups of elected officials to reach consensus on issues rather than do so in public. SB 1640 clarified the definition of a walking quorum.
• SB 943/HB 2189, by Sen. Watson and Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, repairs damage inflicted by the Texas Supreme Court’s Boeing ruling that allowed governments and businesses to seal information about their contracts, keeping taxpayers from seeing how their money is spent. Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation, said the Boeing decision had resulted in more than 2,700 rulings by the attorney general’s office denying some or all of information requests about government contracts.
• HB 81 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, commonly known as “Boeing Lite,” requires governmental entities to disclose information about contracts for concerts and other public events funded by taxpayer dollars. The loophole used by the city of McAllen in refusing to disclose how much it paid pop singer Enrique Iglesias for performing in a concert at a holiday event that lost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
• SB 944/HB 2191 by Sen. Watson and Rep. Capriglione closed the “custodian loophole” that some officials use to hide public information on their private devices. The law has said for years that a government document is defined as public based on its content — not on the device that holds it. But until SB 944, there was no legal mechanism to compel officials to release the public documents stored on their private phones or other devices.
• HB 2730/SB 2162: Another important piece of legislation that became law concerns TPA's legislative priority protecting Texas' Anti-SLAPP law. As originally written, HB 2730/SB 2162, a reform bill by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and freshman Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, would have gutted the law, which protects defendants with modest means from being bled to death financially by meritless nuisance suits. Leach listened to objections and amended the bill to address TPA's concerns. As a result, TPA supported the amended version of HB 2730, which features robust First Amendment protections.