Open government, free speech protections to become Texas law

Legislation updating the Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act along with measures that further protect freedom of speech and the press have been signed by Gov. Rick Perry and will become state law.

Perry signed these open government and First Amendment protection bills Friday. They are among the major legislation supported by the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas during the 2013 regular legislative session, which concluded May 27.

Here are some of the leading open government bills signed into law:

SB 1368: Modernizes the Texas Public Information Act by specifying that electronic messages dealing with official business are public and providing that contracts between a state governmental entity and a vendor involving the exchange or creation of public information contain a provision that requires the vendor to make the information publicly available. (SB 1368 was authored by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and sponsored by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. It was amended with the electronic communication language of SB 1563, authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and sponsored by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi.)

SB 1297: Allows members of a governmental body to communicate in writing about official business between meetings on a publicly accessible, real-time online message board. (Authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and sponsored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.)

HB 1759: Provides a framework for someone who believes he or she has been defamed in a publication or broadcast to come forward in a timely fashion to request a retraction, correction or clarification or else seek only limited civil damages. (Authored by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.)

HB 2935: Clarifies the right to appeal protection for whistleblowers, journalists and bloggers in lawsuits filed with the intent of clamping down on free speech. (Authored by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.)