NTMWD Plant Smart 2024

Abbott’s pen cut transparency like a sword

by | Jun 29, 2017 | Opinion

Republished courtesy the Corpus Christi Caller-Times

 

With the simple act of signing his name, Gov. Greg Abbott completed a trifecta of failure by all branches of state government to defend the people’s right to know.

Earlier this month, Abbott was proud of himself for vetoing 50 bills that he claimed were government overreach. One of those was House Bill 2783, regrettably the only government transparency measure to survive the 85th Legislature.

HB 2783, one of the more modest of the sunshine bills introduced this session, would have allowed plaintiffs who sue a government entity for withholding public information to collect attorney fees when the entity ends the suit by turning over the information. Public officials are known to slow-walk an information request to the attorney general’s office when they already know good and well that it’s public information, or to foot-drag until a lawsuit is filed. They sorely need a deterrent, and HB 2783 would have been one — a mild one, but better than nothing.

Abbott’s objection was that the bill would have been an incentive to sue and collect damages at public expense. There is no such thing, and there would have been no such thing, as predatory information-request filing for the purpose of collecting attorney fees. This is a get-rich-never scheme. Find us the worst lawyer in Texas and we’ll show you someone whose time is too valuable to waste on this.

“Texas Public Information Act lawsuits are not common, and when they do occur it’s because a

governmental entity has refused to hand over public information — the people’s information,” said Kelley

Shannon, executive director of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation. “Going to court is a last

resort, and an option not many Texans can afford. When a lawsuit is necessary, a judge should have the

ability to award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing plaintiff who had to turn to the courthouse when all else

failed in seeking public records.”

We agree with that.

The people’s right to public information has suffered miserably since Abbott became governor two years ago. Under his administration, the judicial, legislative and, now, administrative branches of government have either actively damaged or failed to protect and restore the public’s right to know.

Notably, in 2015, the Texas Supreme Court decided to let government entities withhold contracts with private businesses from public view on the premise that disclosure would put the contractor at a competitive disadvantage. Any harm caused by disclosure should be an accepted cost of doing business with government — as it was until that ruling.

The court also decided in 2015 to allow nonprofits such as economic development corporations that receive public funding and perform government functions to shut their books from public view.

Ken Paxton also took over from Abbott as attorney general in 2015 and began a new tradition of siding with government against the public on disclosure disputes. One of the more memorable ones was interpreting the court ruling on competitive disadvantage to allow the city of McAllen to keep secret what it paid singer Enrique Iglesias for a performance. Did he underbid Lady Gaga or what?

Among the most notable failures of the 85th Legislature was the death of bills to remedy those two court rulings. Lawmakers spent too much time bickering about the discriminatory transgender bathroom bill, which failed, thankfully, and the anti-Hispanic show-me-your-papers so-called sanctuary cities bill, which passed, unfortunately, and which Abbott signed with gusto.

“It’s so unfortunate that an anti-transparency attitude took hold at the Texas Capitol this year, resulting in

the death of multiple open government bills,” Shannon said. HB 2783 “is but one example. The people of

Texas are the losers in all this.”

Indeed. Texas’ transparency laws, formerly among the strongest, emerged in the 1970s as remedies

for government scandal. What has happened to them since Abbott took office is a scandal. He didn’t elect

the justices of the Supreme Court — not by himself, at least. But he has provided no leadership in

demanding a remedy for the damage the court has caused. And when he had the opportunity to let the lone

meager transparency measure of the 85th Legislature become law, with or without his signature, he killed it.

Texas needs the commitment of its government leaders to restore, protect, defend the people’s right to public information. Or it needs new government leaders.

For more stories like this subscribe to our print or e-edition.

Photos online

0 Comments

Public Notice - Subscribe

Related News

Comic Relief

Comic Relief

People use different ways to learn to read. Some folks use the vowels and consonants method. Others memorize how the words look.  I used both, but I had a secret weapon many didn’t know about.  Comic books.  While most kids were having, “Fun with Dick...

read more
35 Texas counties eligible for individual disaster aid

35 Texas counties eligible for individual disaster aid

Residents in a total of 35 Texas counties now qualify for individual disaster assistance following a series of severe storms and flooding that began in late April, The Dallas Morning News reported. “I thank our federal partners and emergency response personnel across...

read more
Texas could face long-term water supply deficit

Texas could face long-term water supply deficit

Texas is facing a reckoning on water that we must address if the state wants to secure its future prosperity. The State Water Plan prepared by the Texas Water Development Board projects that Texas faces a long-term water supply deficit of 6.9 million acre-feet in 50...

read more
Hogging the channels

Hogging the channels

 I have a lot of my grandparents in me. I’m cheap. I also love the Arkansas Razorbacks. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to radio, television, and an Arkansas game. I grew up listening to free radio and watching free television. So, the idea of paying...

read more
Laundry: There’s more than one way to fold

Laundry: There’s more than one way to fold

You would think that there’s only one way to fold towels. But, you’d be wrong. Growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas, my momma showed me how to fold them, as well as shirts, socks, underpants, and other personal sundries. I assumed that this skillset would carry me all the...

read more
The Lawn Moore

The Lawn Moore

America really is The Land of Opportunity. Even if there’s only one opportunity, and that opportunity is cutting the grass.  Ashdown, Arkansas, was a pretty typical small American town in the 1960s and 1970s.  Kids weren’t just handed things. If we wanted...

read more
A myth understanding

A myth understanding

In the South, we believed with all of our hearts what we were told when we were children. Even if it was wrong. In the 1960s, the RCA color console TV my family had on Beech Street in Ashdown, Arkansas, could make you go blind. It could if you believed what our mom...

read more
On the road again and again

On the road again and again

Back in the 60s, some American college kids protested the Vietnam War, but mostly, they conducted sit-ins. Few protests were violent. Other American college kids would have contests to see how many of them they could cram into a Volkswagen. Today, some college kids...

read more
Aisle be seeing you

Aisle be seeing you

As a child growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas, we had two main grocery stores. Shur-Way and Piggly Wiggly. Or as my dad called it, “Hoggly Woggly.” A trip to the store was like each TV commercial had come to life. Advertising agencies at the time were very good at what...

read more
Just plane fun

Just plane fun

My wife and I are scheduled for an Alaskan cruise in the fall. By all accounts, it’s something to which we should look forward. I’ve been told the same thing about other trips, including a Vegas excursion that included a stay at a strip motel that still had beds that...

read more
Public Notice - Subscribe