Sen. Kirk Watson, delivering the keynote address at the FOI Foundation of Texas conference, warned Friday of efforts by some lawmakers to block access to redistricting information and urged Texans to demand more transparency.
Watson, D-Austin, noted that House Bill 4181 makes more government records subject to legislative privilege, thus shielding them from public access. He said the bill “blew through the House without a hearing” in May and ended up passing the Legislature.
In court fights over previous redistricting – which is the drawing of boundary lines for legislative and congressional districts every 10 years – courts have relied on emails to show the intent of lawmakers. He said he worries that the new legislation will allow use of the “giant umbrella of legislative privilege” to block the release of such information in a future court dispute.
Redistricting is difficult and needs sunshine to keep the process transparent, he said.
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Watson said, adding that citizens should insist on remaining informed.
He also warned that the upcoming U.S. Census, a prelude to the redistricting process, has so far been cloaked in a narrative of fear and misinformation.