11 proposed state law changes that could affect how the public accesses Texas open records

As the Texas legislature gets into full swing, a number of bills have been filed that could potentially impact current open records laws in Texas.

Here are 9 pieces of legislation that, if passed, would open public records laws further to allow easier access for to public information:

1. Senate Bill 407 and House Bill 792, filed by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, respectively, would eliminate the loophole private businesses can use to claim exceptions to open records based on maintaining a competitive advantage. The loophole originated in a Texas Supreme Court case involving Boeing. The sponsor of the House bill, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said this loophole creates a category wide enough to render the Public Information Act useless.

2. Senate Bill 408 and House Bill 793, filed by Watson and Capriglione, addresses another loophole created in Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton. The court case's decision changes language that allows publicly-supported private entities to withhold certain information. The two bills filed would require any private entity receiving public funds to comply with the Public Information Act unless money was received at an arms-length contract for services.

3. House Bill 2710, filed by state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, maintains that dates of birth are public information. Birthdays are often key when trying to differentiate between persons with common names or when distinguishing if someone is old enough to run for office.

4. House Bill 2670, also filed by Hunter, creates a criminal offense for "temporary custodians" of public information who fail to submit public records held on private devices back to governmental bodies. If passed, this bill would improve access to government documents on private accounts.

5. House Bill 2441, filed by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, makes clear under what circumstances juvenile court cases can be closed to the public. Currently, these types of cases can be closed for good cause shown.

6. House Bill 3234, filed by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would eliminate a loophole that currently lets law enforcement close records because a suspect in an ongoing court case is dead. If this law is passed, that information would no longer be an allowed exception.

7. House Bill 349, filed by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, would require governmental bodies to disclose information related to the use of public funds used for a parade, concert, or other events open to the public. The bill also forbids contracts for these types of events being made with a clause prohibiting disclosure. In the past, governmental entities have claimed they don't need to disclose how much they paid entertainers for certain events because it would eliminate their competitive advantage in negotiating future contracts.

8. House Bill 523 and House Bill 1251, filed by state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, and state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, respectively, relate to requiring the videotaping and posting of meetings online. In addition, Senate bills 116 through 127, all filed by state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, would require the Internet broadcast of open meetings of various state agencies.

9. House Bill 3107, filed by state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, allows governmental agencies to protect themselves against requestors who repeatedly file requests but never come to pick up the requested information or pay the associated costs. It would also allow requesters to file complaints with the Attorney General's office should the local district or county attorney not take action on the complaint within 90 days.

Here are 2 other bills that, if passed, would make it harder for the public to access open records:

1. House Bill 526, filed by Schofield, would only allow individuals with primary residence within Texas to request records within the state. This would be problematic for those doing national research projects, individuals new to Texas or those from out of state requesting information from someone who lives in state, such as a parent or child.

2. House Bill 760, filed by state Rep. John Raney, R-College Station, would allow governmental bodies to redact dates of birth from any public records.
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