Freedom of information actions
The legislature rushed through a measure that shielded from the public the emergency action plans required for potentially unsafe dams — an idea that arose after nearly 200,000 people were forced to evacuate following a spillway failure at the state’s second-largest reservoir.
Texas again considered a plan that would effectively shut down its public records law to any requesters who live outside the nation’s second most populous state.
Lawmakers succeeded in passing a bill that allows unprecedented secrecy for the state’s $1 billion gambling industry by closing access to the detailed annual financial statements of the state’s 19 licensed casinos. Those records had been public for decades. The change came in response to lobbying from casinos, which had objected to a request from an out-of-state competitor for the records.
Lawmakers passed 19 new exemptions to the Sunshine Law, the second most in at least two decades. The details of how public universities investigate cyberattacks and prepare for emergencies are now confidential. The identities of people who witness murders, use medical marijuana or get injured or killed at workplaces must also be withheld. Lawmakers also approved a bill requiring records of criminal charges that result in acquittal or dismissal to be automatically sealed. Opponents argued it would harm public safety by depriving employers of relevant information about onetime suspects who avoided convictions for any number of reasons. Supporters said it will protect the wrongly accused from employment and reputational repercussions.
Lawmakers proposed a bill that would keep the state database of fired police officers secret after Wichita television station KWCH exposed how some cities were hiring officers with checkered pasts, including a chief facing a federal investigation after being fired three times. The bill, which was backed by the state’s law enforcement training agency, stalled after the station’s news director warned lawmakers it would make government “less open, less transparent” around the critical issues of police misconduct and public trust.