Texas Legislators Push to Re-Open State Spending Data Next Session

In 2015, two rulings closed records for government contracts and nonprofits receiving state funding to the public. Now two lawmakers want to open those back up.

By Rhonda FanningJanuary 4, 2017 9:30 am

Citizens and journalists requesting Texas public records won’t have a lot of luck getting government contract information right now. Requests for information on nonprofits getting state funding also will come up short.

But two Texas lawmakers want to change that. Tuesday, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) and Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) filed identical bills to strengthen open records laws.

The Texas Public Information Act used to be one of the strongest in the nation, but in 2015 two rulings weakened the state’s government transparency laws. Boeing vs. Paxton made secret contracts between the state and private businesses. Greater Houston Partnership vs. Paxton eschewed a precedent mandating nonprofits using government funds to disclose where their money was going.

The new bill would require private entities – like nonprofits and businesses – to open up their records if they receive public funds or give services traditionally provided by a governmental body.

David McSwane with the Dallas Morning News is reporting on the new bill. He says Capriglione and Watson hoping to get at least one version of the identical bill through the House or Senate.

“Coming out against the release of public records isn’t a politically popular idea most of the time,” McSwane says. “If there is opposition I imagine it’ll be behind the scenes.”

The lawmakers worked in part with the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, which supports more government transparency, to create the bills. Part of the reasoning is that the public should get to see where their tax dollars are going.

“The release of contracts can very easily make life difficult for a state agency or a local government,” McSwane says. “We’ve seen some pretty sweetheart deals in the past that have led to resignations and scandals and inquiries. … In general, life’s just easier for a government if they don’t have to release these sorts of contracts.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.