Champions of open government lamented incremental, compounding wounds to the Texas Public Information Act and suggested at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’s annual conference Thursday that state legislators need to step in to stop the bleeding.
Jay Root, a reporter for The Texas Tribune, stated it plainly, calling the act “broken and taking on water year after year.” Root was among a group of investigative reporters from publications across Texas who detailed their difficulties obtaining information from governmental offices and officeholders.
The latest, and perhaps largest, wound to the information act is a 2015 Texas Supreme Court decision known as Boeing v. Paxton. The ruling essentially allows both governments and the private businesses with which governments do business to keep records secret by asserting that the business could face competitive harm if the information is released. The problem, open government advocates agreed, is that more and more governments are seeking refuge beneath the decision and refusing to release documents that detail the spending of the public’s money.
Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, suggested legislators in the upcoming session will try to clarify the act to tighten up the loophole created by Boeing v. Paxton.
The conference honored newswoman Wanda Garner Cash with its James Madison Award for her tireless work on behalf of open records and government transparency. Three news organizations — Victoria Advocate, KXAN-Austin and The Dallas Morning News — were awarded Spirit of FOI awards for investigations that made use of state and federal open records laws. Pulitzer Prize winner Lisa Falkenberg, a metro columnist at the Houston Chronicle, was the keynote speaker.
The State Bar of Texas honored journalists with its 2016 Texas Gavel Awards at the conference’s John Henry Faulk Awards luncheon. The winners are: Michael Hall of Texas Monthly; Jessica Priest of the Victoria Advocate; Mark Curriden of The Texas Lawbook; KPRC’s Robert Arnold, Scott Sherman, Jon Hill and John Barone; and KLTV’s Julia Jenaé and Cody Lillich.
Read more about their winning pieces here.