Senate committee hears Boeing, Greater Houston Partnership repair bills

AUSTIN – Witnesses who support repairing the Texas Public Information Act and boosting citizens’ access to records showing how taxpayer money is spent urged a state Senate committee Tuesday to rework parts of the act.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, in a hearing before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, presented legislation that would strengthen the Public Information Act. Senate Bill 407 and Senate Bill 408, respectively, would undo two Texas Supreme Court decisions in 2015 known as the Boeing and the Greater Houston Partnership rulings.

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is supporting the two bills as part of its major legislative initiative of 2017.

Describing the Boeing ruling, which put many government contracts with private business off limits to public view, Watson said the court’s decision created “a big loophole” in the public records law, even though it is supposed to be “liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information.”

Sandra Sanchez, opinion editor at The Monitor in McAllen, testified that because of the Boeing ruling citizens in her community cannot obtain records showing how much the city of McAllen paid entertainer Enrique Iglesias to perform in a holiday festival.

Don Williams of Dallas, the founder of the non-profit Foundation for Community Empowerment and the former chairman of the Trammell Crow Company who led economic development efforts in Dallas, testified on SB 408 stemming from the Greater Houston Partnership case. Williams said non-profits that are supported with government funds and act in a government agency fashion should be covered by the Public Information Act to provide much-needed transparency and accountability.

“Simply put: Citizens have a right to know how their tax money is spent,” he said.