Legislature Restores Public's Right to Know
Bipartisan public records bill likely to become law
Here's a bit of good news from the dismal session: Some public records should be a little more open, thanks to a bipartisan bill to make it possible once again to acquire information about public contracts with private businesses. SB 943 (authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, with a House companion by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake) will restore as open records certain contracting information that had become difficult to obtain after Texas Supreme Court rulings allowed companies to declare unspecified "proprietary" information off-limits for disclosure. Two 2015 decisions, the more famous involving aerospace giant Boeing's dealing with state incentive funds, allowed these private entities to unilaterally exempt their filings from the state's Public Information Act by deeming it "proprietary information," without any outside review. In one notorious case, the city of McAllen had used the "Boeing exemption" to avoid revealing how much it paid singer Enrique Iglesias for a 2015 holiday performance. Under SB 943 – awaiting Senate confirmation of amendments before submittal to the governor – in order to exempt contractual information from release, a company would have to demonstrate how disclosure would jeopardize its competitive position or expose trade secrets.
Watson released a statement thanking the bill's co-sponsors and varied stakeholders for their participation in drafting the bill. The "Sunshine Coalition" includes a politically varied crew: ACLU Texas, the League of Women Voters of Texas, the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and others. "The Legislature is finally in a position to restore the public's right to know," Watson said. Capriglione called the bill "a strong statement for transparency in government contracting," as the court rulings had made it difficult for the public to determine whether companies like Boeing were fulfilling their obligations under public contracts.