Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Yet another plea to kill HB 2564

HB 2564 is the antithesis of good and open government. It's beginnings can be traced to two school districts. Eanes ISD and Lake Travis ISD.

In Lake Travis ISD, a couple by the name of Lovelace had a disagreement with school district officials about their child. I am not privy to the details, but to make a long story short, The Lovelaces apparently decided that they would inundate the school district, in part to punish them, and in part to try to find some dirt on some of the officials, with numerous open records requests. To my knowledge no wrongdoing on the part of the school district has been discovered. This case would appear to be truly a case of abuse of the open records system

In Eanes, a couple of parents were concerned about spending priorities of the district. Monies were being spent on other priorities (such as a Jumbotron, astroturf, and new lights for the HS football stadium) and were not being spent on educating special needs kids. This IS a valid use of the Texas Public Information Act (TXPIA).

Eanes ISD approached Todd Baxter during the 79th legislature to introduce HB 2264, but it never found a Senate sponsor thanks to a number of taxpayer watchdog groups that lobbied to kill the bill. During the 80th legislature it was reintroduced in the Senate as SB 889 By Senator Jeff Wentworth R-San Antonio and similar bill in the House as HB 2564 By Rep. Kelly Hancock R-Ft. Worth. SB 889 was killed through the efforts of the same watchdog groups, but HB 2564 was flying under everyone's radar. The only people arguing against it in the Senate Committee were Ken Whalen of the Texas Newspaper Association and Bruce Bower from the Texas Legal Services Center. In the House Committee only Whalen argued against it. Whalen's objections were apparently bought off by writing into the bill an exception for newspapers and broadcast media, one in which Whalen wrote the text of. The bill was passed without a whole lot of debate late in the evening for both houses. Now it is sitting on the desk of the Governor awaiting his signature.

Here is the problem with the bill, it imposes a YEARLY CAP of 36 hours of document preparation time per requester. If the cap is exceeded, the government entity may impose large fees for document preparation. And this bill does not just apply to school districts, it applies to ALL government entities subject to the TXPIA law. This includes MUD districts, METRO, DART, the City of Houston, Harris County, you name it, even the State itself.

Recently a number of corruption allegations have surfaced around the state. Most of which did NOT originate from investigations by the media. TSU's scandal did not, DISD's credit card and bribery investigations did not. HISD's embezzlement was turned up internally by HISD. These investigations took weeks and months to tease apart. There is no way that a realistic investigation could possibly be done in only 36 hours a year.

TSU's scandal came from three students that became concerned about expenditures. They risked their academic careers trying to expose it. they shopped the story all over town before the Houston Press became interested.

DISD's scandal was broken open by investigations by Allen Gwinn at beginning 2 years ago. It is only recently that the Dallas Morning News became interested, and then they fail to credit him with doing most of the legwork.

FIOA and TXPIA were written into the law so that government entities could not hide their activities from the public. This bill turns back the clock to the bad old days when government could do anything it liked and the public was not allowed to know how it's tax money was spent and what was done in their name. I encourage the Governor to VETO this bill.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I voiced my objection to passage of this legislation to the Governor's office. I also asked in an open records request to Rep. Debbie Riddle's office for any documentation they had regarding this bill. I was informed they had NO paperwork on this bill, but Riddle certainly DID vote in favor of limiting open government by voting to pass this bill into law.

I plan on asking her about this next Saturday when she has her town hall meeting at Brookside Funeral Home here in Houston!!!!!

June 15, 2007 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometime in the near future...

Me: I would like the details for the check written on xx/xx/xx for $15,000.00

School: That will take 37 hours of labor, so I'll have to charge you.

Me: OK. How much will that be.

School: About $15,000.000

June 16, 2007 9:21 AM  

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