Information blackout on Texas public pensions must end

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Originally posted Feb. 13, 2013

By now, it should be clear to every member of the Legislature, even the new ones, that HB2460 should not have been approved two years ago.

The bill, written by then-Rep. Vicki Truitt of Keller, dropped a curtain of secrecy around information about public retirement funds in Texas.

Pretty much, it said the people who run those funds, not the attorney general and not even state courts, get to decide whether to release information about their finances, even requests for broad overviews not violating the privacy of any individual.

Last year, Truitt said her bill’s intent had apparently been misinterpreted. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being used, she said, and, “Certain key information about public pension plans absolutely should be make public.”

But that’s not what’s been happening.

A few months after the bill was passed, an Austin judge allowed the Fort Worth Employees Pension Fund to deny the Star-Telegram access to information about lump sum payouts to some recent employees.

Last year, another Austin judge said the Teacher Retirement System of Texas did not have to grant the newspaper’s request for a list of the 10 highest average salaries used to compute benefits and annuity amounts for May 2010 retirees.

Recently, an Austin judge ruled that the watchdog nonprofit Texans for Public Justice could not overcome objections to release of the grand total of retirement benefits being paid to 103 former lawmakers, including Truitt, who are now lobbyists.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, who defeated Truitt in last year’s Republican primary, has filed HB526 to repeal key parts of the law passed two years ago. Most notably, the bill would strike out the part that lets retirement system administrators be the sole judges of all requests for information.

Capriglione’s bill returns transparency to the way public pension money is spent while keeping individual pension records private.