Key open government legislation taking effect Sept. 1

Two major open government bills passed by the 83rd Legislature become law on Sunday, Sept. 1.

A modernization of the Texas Public Information Act contained in Senate Bill 1368 makes it clear that electronic messages dealing with official business are public, regardless of the type of message or device it’s transmitted on. That means the TPIA will adapt to modern modes of communication, such as text messaging, emails and instant messaging. Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has been ruling for some time that these messages are public, and now it will be codified into law.

The legislation also provides 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 TPIA electronic communication language of proposals by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi.

Another measure taking effect Sept. 1 is Senate Bill 1297 affecting the Texas Open Meetings Act. It allows members of a governmental body to communicate in writing about official business between meetings on a publicly accessible, real-time online message board. The bill was authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and sponsored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.