Sen. Kirk Watson, delivering the keynote address at the FOI Foundation of Texas conference, warned of efforts by some lawmakers to block access to redistricting information and urged Texans to demand more transparency.
Watson, D-Austin, said that while many strides were made in the 2019 legislative session, there are still hurdles to overcome.
He said House Bill 4181 makes more government records subject to legislative privilege, thus shielding them from public access. He said the bill “blew through the House without a hearing” in May and ended up passing the Legislature.
In court fights over previous redistricting – the drawing of boundary lines for legislative and congressional districts every 10 years – courts have relied on emails to show the intent of lawmakers. Watson said he worries that the new legislation will allow use of the “giant umbrella of legislative privilege” to block the release of such information in a future court dispute.
He also warned that the upcoming U.S. Census, a prelude to the redistricting process, has so far been cloaked in a narrative of fear and misinformation.
Redistricting is difficult and needs sunshine to keep the process transparent, Watson said.
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” he said, adding that citizens should insist on remaining informed.
He quoted the opening section of the Texas Public Information Act:
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”