Two legislators filed bills March 6 to restore the provision of the Texas Open Meeting Act regarding government transparency that was struck down last week by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, co-filed Senate Bill 1640 with Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Rep. Dade Phelan, D-Beaumont, filed House Bill 3402. Both bills are intended to restore the Open Meeting Act provision.
“Texans want their elected officials to be transparent and allow honest participation in the process,” Phelan said in a press release. “If we do not act this session to address this ruling, we deny them the open government they deserve.”
This comes after two of the nine justices dissented the criminal appeals decision that dismissed charges against former Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, according to a Senate newsletter.
“Greater specificity is required when First Amendment freedoms are implicated because uncertain meanings inevitably lead citizens to steer far wider of the unlawful zone,” presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote in the court’s majority opinion.
The bipartisan bills reword the provision, intended for clarity and precision.
“We simply couldn’t let this ruling go unanswered,” Watson said in a press release. “Without some kind of walking quorum prohibition, there’s nothing to stop government actors from meeting in smaller groups to avoid the spirit and intent of the Open Meeting Act.”
Bettencourt and Watson took to Twitter to inform their constituents.
PRESS RELEASE: A well-balanced Open Meetings Act is critical to the cause of good government in the 21st century, and #SB1640 restores that for all citizens of Texas! @KirkPWatson @DadePhelan #txlege pic.twitter.com/Q12jIisHKf
— Team Bettencourt (@TeamBettencourt) March 6, 2019
— Senator Kirk Watson (@KirkPWatson) March 6, 2019