Dewhurst Plays in the Sunshine

Lieutenant governor pushes recorded votes, other open-gov initiatives

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Friday issued an eight-point plan on improvements the state can make in providing information to the public – including, most importantly, a request for all on-the-record votes in the Senate, greater transparency in government contracts, and an expanded C-SPAN-style of television programming for Texas government.

"I feel strongly that Texans from Texarkana to El Paso should feel a connection to the lawmakers they elect," Dewhurst said in a press release. "Folks interested in seeing legislators make the policies that affect their daily lives should have a front seat to the legislative process without necessarily traveling to Austin. ... Today I'm calling upon the Senate to open the windows and let the sun shine in." The eight points included:

· Creation of a centralized consumer complaint clearinghouse site that would route complaints regarding state government to the appropriate agency, probably at the www.texasonline.com Web site.

· Requiring electronic posting of all filings with the state Ethics Commission into a fully searchable Web database.

· Creation of a C-SPAN-type program for Texas government, including not only sessions of the Legislature – which are already seen on some cable systems – but also selected meetings of major agencies, and webcasts of many others.

· Changing the Senate rules to require that most votes be recorded (as opposed to a voice vote) and that the votes be posted on the Web.

· An easier Web-based system for citizens to track bills.

· Posting of contract details on the Web.

· A Senate review of the necessity of the various exceptions to the open-records law.

· Improved wireless access in the Capitol.

The proposed changes have been met with huzzahs by news organizations and open-government advocates as a great step forward, although, in fact, calling for a record vote on the floor of the Lege is already quite easy and rarely rejected. (Just as obviously, opposing recorded votes is right up there with coming out against Mom, apple pie, and cute kittens.)

The changes might not be enough to satisfy all open government advocates, however; some have called for constitutional amendments, rather than just rule changes. More on this story as it moves through the Lege process.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

David Dewhurst, lieutenant governor, Texas Senate, open government, recorded votes, C-SPAN, Texas Online, Ethics Commission

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