In 2019, Another Chance to Fix the Texas Public Information Act

It’s been three years since Enrique Iglesias walked away from the Rio Grande Valley holding a proverbial sack full of taxpayer cash. He got the money in 2015 for crooning in the city of McAllen’s annual holiday concert and parade, a boondoggle that saw taxpayers losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. City officials still refuse to tell residents how much Iglesias was paid to perform — a decision supported by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” said state Representative Terry Canales, whose district encompasses McAllen. The Iglesias debacle was preceded by a 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling — Boeing Co. v. Paxton — finding that records could be kept secret if their release would put the government or businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The decision blew a gaping hole in the Texas Public Information Act, the 45-year old law enshrining the public’s right to access information kept by the government. It’s since been cited more than 1,850 times to withhold all kinds of records: power plant dealsschool cafeteria contracts, even the identities of Austin city manager candidates.

Last week, in the lead-up to the 2019 Legislature that begins in January, Canales filed House Bill 81, which would prevent the government from invoking the Boeing exception to hide payment information related to concerts, parades and other taxpayer-funded entertainment events. (Canales filed a version of the bill in the last legislative session, but it was killed in the Senate.)

This bill is part of a slate of planned legislation meant to shore up the state’s open records law, which has been weakened not only by the Boeing ruling but also by decades of attacksfrom the Legislature, attorneys general and the state’s Supreme Court. “The bottom line is this: The way the law functions right now is that government entities are able to hide what they’re doing with taxpayer money,” Canales said. “When the public is denied the right to know how its tax dollars will be spent, it’s a breeding ground for corruption.” (Read more…)