Numerous transparency bills get hearing at Texas Capitol

Major bills at the center of the FOI Foundation of Texas open government agenda had hearings Monday in the House Government Transparency and Operations Committee, including proposals to restore public access cut off by two Texas Supreme Court rulings.

“We have the right to know how much was spent, and we have the right to look at those contracts,” said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, as he described House Bill 792, which he filed to address the court’s Boeing ruling of 2015. That ruling has placed hundreds of government contracts with private businesses off limits to public requests and created a “jumbo jet-sized hole” in the Public Information Act, he said.

“We’re not trying to do something new at all. We’re trying to go to where we were two years ago,” before the Boeing ruling, Capriglione said.

One of the contracts that is being kept confidential is how much the city of McAllen spent hiring entertainer Enrique Iglesias. In another case, a $265 million power plant contract in Denton has been kept secret, explained Denton Record-Chronicle publisher Bill Patterson.

Among the other bills before the committee was one that would address the Texas Supreme Court ruling in the Greater Houston Partnership case (HB 793).

One bill would restore access to dates of birth, which were put off limits by an appeals court (HB 2710).

The “custodian loophole” bill would improve access to public records that are kept on the private devices of public officials (HB 2670). Still others would provide access to record layouts in electronic government files (HB 3581) and would protect requestors from lawsuits when they seek information under the Texas Public Information Act (HB 4144).

Another bill would allow the release of police records in a case when a suspect is deceased (HB 3234), and one bill is an omnibus bill that incorporates several Public Information Act measures from individual pieces of legislation.